Whitney Johnson is the CEO of Disruption Advisors, a tech-enabled talent development firm that is on the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing private companies list in America. She was ranked 8th on the Thinkers50 list for 2021, which includes the world's top 50 business thinkers. Johnson is a best-selling author, a frequent keynote speaker, and a lecturer at Harvard Business School's Corporate Learning programme.
What are the top concerns leaders should ask and address to create a more engaging, productive and humane world of work today?
Talent development is a challenge for every organisation. Sometimes forgotten in the effort to boost our people is our own growth.
- Leaders must ask themselves, "Am I growing?" and then evaluate their progress honestly. This isn't only progress in a role; it's also growth as a person. We can make the workplace a more humane place to work by being more humane as leaders and individuals.
- Leaders are critical to the health of the ecosystem. Are you a builder of a healthy ecosystem? If you are growth-oriented for yourself and care about people reaching their potential, then your efforts to help others develop are more authentic and effective.
- Does your organisational ecosystem support positive growth? Are you helping others grow in positive ways? Early, open, and frequent communication with every individual supports an ecosystem where people feel seen, heard, and understood.
- Is your mission and value as an organisation clear to your employees? Do they feel that what they are working on has meaning? There is no substitute for understanding what your people aspire to do and be in the world.
So, leaders will probably feel that they have too much on their plates. How can they put people first, deliver superlative employee experience and turn them into their competitive edge?
There’s a lot of talk about putting people first, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. We don’t put people first, but we mean to. For all our love of novelty, we can also be change averse. The industrial model of the workplace is deeply wired in our brains and our society.
Human capital is different from any other asset class and we should know by now that it needs to be managed differently. In the age of technology, the innovative power of human beings is the competitive edge. Individuals with nothing more than a dream and their own resourcefulness have built amazing organisations of every kind. Why would they choose to work for a business that doesn’t care about their dreams and goals?
What are your clients saying about their top talent-management challenges?
Talent retention is number one. The media is calling it the Great Resignation; I call it the Great Aspiration. More than half of American workers plan to change jobs this year. That’s pretty dire if you’re a company that treats people like auto parts on the assembly line.
On the other hand, it’s a great opportunity for organisations who recognise it. Workers who are on the move, looking for a better place to contribute and help get things done are an asset to the organisation who values them.
A related but different problem is burnout. It’s also contributing to retention problems. But sometimes people aren’t leaving; they’re exhausted. They’re ossifying in place, with a commensurate loss of productivity for the organisation.
What is this Great Resignation or Great Aspiration leading us to? And how can organisations gain a competitive edge in the talent war?
Evaluate your own growth as a leader. Commit to it. What do you need to do to grow not just professionally but personally? Then help other people grow. Be dedicated to that work and make yourself known for it. A great recruiter, trainer, developer of talent has the competitive edge this year because they have it every year. Of course, I recommend my new book Smart Growth, and our S Curve of Learning model to help. But have this as your priority set: grow yourself, grow your people, grow your business.
Coming to the other side, can you share one piece of advice for workers globally to manage work and life priorities better?
Start with yourself and start small. Have goals that are doable, even laughably easy. One day a week when you don’t send emails or texts. A time of day after which you don’t send emails or texts. A standing lunch date with your spouse/partner. A monthly date night with a child or parent. Pick a single, simple goal to focus on at first and tell your employees what you’re doing and why. This gives them permission to rearrange some priorities too. Tell your family and/or friends, so that you feel accountable to follow through.
One book that every HR leader should read today to find answers to all these challenges?
I have two: Just Work by Kim Scott and Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute.