…Convergence. The real shift is an AND, not an OR. It’s not about personal or professional, purpose or profit. It’s all increasingly connected. I think about moms during the pandemic. You’re not one role. You had to be a teacher, manager, caregiver, parent, everything. You can also see examples of this in “purpose-driven” companies like Patagonia and Toms Shoes.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Connie Steele.
Connie Steele is a Human-Centered Future of Work Expert, Author, co-founder of management consultancy Flywheel Associates, and host of the Strategic Momentum podcast.
Having been a marketing and strategy executive working at Fortune 500, start-up and scale-up organizations, and now consulting with C-level executives, Connie has observed firsthand how business is no longer rigid and linear but collaborative and fluid. Connie has always been intrigued by the “why” behind companies and careers that thrive and she has spent the last ten years studying workplace trends that are now permanent changes.
Today, she partners with organizations to help them adapt to the new world of work so they can drive real progress in their company. She is also passionate about helping individuals navigate the ongoing changes in the workplace so that they can achieve personal and professional fit in their careers.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
I was working as the VP of Marketing / CMO of a technology company… and I just realized that the role and the environment weren’t a fit for me. I was a mom of young children. And like many working moms, I felt tremendous stress from trying to juggle my professional and personal lives. You just feel like you’re being pulled in so many different directions, but you’re not actually able to devote the amount of energy you want to in each place. And “doing it all” really felt like a myth.
Was that really what I wanted to be doing for the next 10 years?
At the time, leaving your job without having another job in place wasn’t common. Leaving a corporate executive job at a tech company wasn’t common. And I mean, this was what I spent most of my life working toward up until this point. Being in the C-suite was the goal — the pinnacle of achievement!
But I needed to make a change, for my family, for my life, and for my own mental health.
That one choice catalyzed a journey of testing and learning and iteration, I began the process of re-evaluating and redefining what success means to me, and it shaped me into who I am today. That’s why I do what I do, why I think the way that I think, and why I’m passionate about helping others redefine success.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
If you’d asked me two years ago, I would have said very little would be the same. But I think we are seeing the beginning of the future of work:
- New technologies and platforms are making it easier for anyone to work for themselves, either as a part-time gig or full-time job.
- Hybrid workplaces where locations and roles are more fluid.
But there’s still a lot that’s going to change:
- There will be a rise in entrepreneurship and decline of enterprise as new technologies and platforms continue to make working for yourself more accessible.
- Most of the workforce will be made up of digital natives, with millennials being the first generation of digital natives.
- The population in the U.S. and in our workforce will be majority non-white.
- These huge demographic shifts will force organizations to change to accommodate workers with different attitudes, behaviors, and goals. Every organization will need to be more fluid and agile.
- Everyone will be a hyphenate, a hybrid, because they either have to or want to develop different skills for different roles.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
You need to find a way to align your organizational goals with your employee’s personal development goals. Finding that alignment requires testing, learning, and iterating together with your team and colleagues. It’s a constant process:
- Understand the value of everyone that works for you. If you don’t understand the contribution that each individual makes, then you aren’t realizing the underlying potential that may exist.
- Spot the trends with your own people to know their strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats so you can determine where you can best help them.
- Create a clear and compelling vision that gets alignment and commitment because without it, chaos and confusion ensues.
- Proactively and consistently communicate with your team on activities and actions to keep them in sync with where you are headed.
- Work to manage the fear that comes with change. The rate of change is only going to increase.
- Build your team’s network, not only your own. The more you can foster those connections within your organization, the more effective they will be in their job.
- Model and teach the necessary soft skills to build valuable working relationships with others, which will create a cascading effect of ‘good’ behavior throughout the rest of the organization.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
The biggest gap is going to be in how employers define success vs. how individuals define success. Organizations usually define success based on metrics and how well they align to the goals of leadership. People feel successful when they have some combination of happiness, fulfillment, personal growth, social impact, and purpose.
Organizations need to understand that this is a two-way relationship and actively work to create alignment between their goals and their peoples’ priorities.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
This experiment was already happening, but a lot more people were forced to participate in 2020 and 2021. And although some organizations may like to, there’s no way to put this genie back in the bottle. People are going to expect working from home as an option in many industries, and as a result, we’re going to see increasingly globalized teams.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
In the future of work, individuals will want to figure out what works best for them; they will not want to conform to specific roles, schedules, and methods. So we need to normalize a more two-way relationship between employers and employees, one where each role looks different based on the person in it. Our society is also going to need to get better at embracing and accommodating differences.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
Throughout most of the 20th and 21st centuries, our careers felt very cookie cutter-ish. You had to pick a lane and then you had to fit yourself into a box. I don’t think anybody ever felt like that box was really an expression of their whole self. But that’s all there was, so you accepted it.
But really, most of us just want to find a job (or jobs) that tap into our skills and talents, that allow us to continually stretch and grow, that gives us flexibility, that makes us feel fulfilled. Right?
And I’m optimistic because I can see the cultural shift from conformity to individual agency. Not everyone is going to do it, some people will still want the traditional 9-to-5, but there are going to be so many options for people to create a career that truly reflects their whole self and fulfills them.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
The solution to the mental health problem is not innovation; it does not rely on a new tool or new technology or new information. Leaders simply need to be more human-centered and proactive.
I think leaders and managers can actually learn a lot from “Pandemic parenting.” We were working from home and working as part-time teachers, and a lot of our kids had more stress and anxiety than ever before. I had to be more mindful about connecting with my kids and checking how they were feeling, I had to communicate differently, I had to support them differently.
Really, the greatest innovation might just be introducing soft skills to the C-Suite. And it wouldn’t hurt to, as a society, do a better job of normalizing therapy.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
The new world of work has fundamentally shifted from one that is siloed, narrow, sequential, linear and rigid to a world that is collaborative, broad, agile, and fluid — a cultural shift from conformity to individuality. And that cultural shift necessitates organizational changes.
For organizations to thrive in the future of work, they must become fluid organizations.
Fluid organizations are able to constantly shift, adapt, adjust, and learn — all while staying connected to the goals of their people and clients or customers. This requires intentional effort and strategy, this requires a significant shift toward more human-centered management. But in the end, organizations will benefit from better talent that wants to stick around longer.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- The shift from conformity to individuality. And I think we’re all examples of this. Do you want to go to a 9-to-5 or do you want to set your own schedule? Do you want a choice in where you’re working any given day?
- Convergence. The real shift is an AND, not an OR. It’s not about personal or professional, purpose or profit. It’s all increasingly connected. I think about moms during the pandemic. You’re not one role. You had to be a teacher, manager, caregiver, parent, everything. You can also see examples of this in “purpose-driven” companies like Patagonia and Toms Shoes.
- Modular teams. Our organizations will all be hybrid organizations, both in structure and in the way people do their jobs. I talked to Jen McDonald on episode 101 of Strategic Momentum about how her team adapted to the pandemic, and I think it offers a glimpse at the transformation most organizations will have to go through. Jen is Chief Client Officer of North America at VMLY&R, a global marketing agency where she leads a 250-person client engagement team that went remote overnight. They changed the way they communicated with clients. They rapidly shifted people to different teams, flexing resources up and down as needed. Jen made sure employees were working on projects that aligned with their priorities to get the best out of them. And they condensed all of North America’s profits and losses to one P&L statement, creating a greater sense of collaboration instead of competition. I don’t think I’ve seen a leader go through this transformation more elegantly than Jen.
- The Decline of Enterprise and Rise of Entrepreneurship. The MBO Partners 2021 State of Indepence report shows that 2021 was the first year that Millennials and Gen-Z made up the majority of the independent workforce, 34% and 17% respectively. These two generations also currently make up over half the population in the U.S. Additionally, in 2020 and 2021, people created new businesses in record numbers. People don’t necessarily want to work a traditional job, and for the first time, there are a lot of other viable options.
- Everyone will have a career mashup. And you can get a great illustration of this if you look at the way people describe their jobs and titles. Here are examples from three guests I spoke to on Strategic Momentum:
Chris Krimitsos. Chief Creative Officer | Speaker | Author | Executive Producer | Business Leader | Guinness World Records Holder.
Eva Sadej. CEO | Founder | Forbes Business Council Member.
Catherine Bowman. Lymphedema Researcher | Medical Student | Speaker | Advocate | Association VP | Board Member.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
“Feel the fear, but do it anyway.”
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
Adam Grant. As an organizational psychologist, he consistently provides such an insightful perspective on work culture, and he’s very much that person that gets to the Why behind the What. He truly provides insight into the human side of work. Why are we emotionally reacting in this way? Why do we perceive things a certain way? Why do we behave in that fashion? How do we, then, more objectively manage our behaviors?
It opens up your mind to alternative approaches and viewpoints, often getting to the simplest root cause around the core drivers behind various situations.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.