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Deloitte’s Michael Gretczko: “To create a fantastic work environment create purpose and meaning at work, while connecting the dots”

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Gretczko, principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP. For more than 20 years, Michael has spent his career helping others find innovative solutions to their most pressing business issues. He is known for his ability to […]


As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Gretczko, principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP.

For more than 20 years, Michael has spent his career helping others find innovative solutions to their most pressing business issues. He is known for his ability to motivate and engage with leaders of all levels, inspiring them to challenge convention and create new opportunities for their organizations. Michael has dedicated much of his energy to developing the next generation of leaders by working closely with Deloitte’s practitioners as they drive impact and for the clients they serve.

Michael’s consulting experience centers on digital solutions, business strategy, service delivery, process design, enterprise cloud technology, and operating model transformation. Michael has traveled the globe helping clients define and execute their organization’s strategy, transform and globalize operations, enter new markets, increase employee and customer engagement, and manage with better business insights. As the Global Human Capital as a Service Leader he is responsible for leading the development of Deloitte’s Human Capital software assets, the Human Capital Managed Services businesses and the Human Capital ecosystems and alliances. As a market influencer, Michael has served as the Editor-in-Chief of Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends Report for two years and is responsible for the Bersin Research business. He is a regular contributor to leading Human Capital and business publications and is a member of the Forbes Human Resources Council. When not traveling, Michael resides in New York with his wife Sarah and their twins. A self-proclaimed foodie, Michael enjoys cooking, skiing and SoulCycle.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Michael! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Igrew up in a family of self-employed auto mechanics, one of which was my father. As a child, my father would bring home car parts — carburetors, radios, etc., and he always encouraged me to take them apart to learn how they worked and to try to fix them. This was the spark that started a lifelong fascination with how ‘things’ work and most exciting for me was learning how to help fix those things when help was needed. As I began my job search in college, I didn’t know anything about consulting. But when I learned that you could actually make a career out of learning how things (i.e., organizations) work and then help them improve how they work, I was instantly hooked; I have worked at the same firm since College and it has not disappointed. I’ve worked across many different countries, with many different companies, in many different industries, all with many different challenges… and its been exactly what I hoped it would be.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I have been with Deloitte for over 20 years, and part of my new goal as a leader is to help our clients determine how to use technology to improve the employee experience and bring a more human experience to the workplace. Deloitte recently conducted a study which concluded that organizations with highly engaged workforces reported a three-year revenue growth rate that was 2.3 times greater than the average. That’s a massive difference. And it’s become important that companies make sure that an experience is a big part of what they offer their talent.

What we’ve concluded is now, more than ever, employees really want a couple of things. They want meaningful work that inspires them and to be able to identify with the purpose of the work. They want supportive management — leaders who are helping them achieve their maximum potential. They want a positive environment and one that has a number of growth opportunities. They really want to trust in their leadership. And they want visibility into how their leaders think and visibility into the value system that their leaders have and are driving at that organization. Their organizations need to be focused on those five things in order to be able to achieve that growth rate that we’ve seen with the best organizations.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

In our practice, we are constantly striving to innovate in ways that are helpful for either our people, our clients, or ideally, both. As a part of living this mission of innovation that improves people’s lives, we always have projects in the works that really excite me. Our solutions for the workplace and workforce drive innovation through a marriage between technology and people — and that kind of power drives results.

However, due to the always-on mentality of the workforce these days thanks to things like flexibility in where and how work gets done, coupled with the rise of work-based social media platforms for constant contact with coworkers, employees are left feeling burned out.

These stats scare me. Not because of the financial cost (which to be honest doesn’t not scare me), but because of the damage to people’s health because of feeling burned out by work. At the end of the day, while we may love our work, we work to live and not the other way around. We have to find ways to make work better for people, so people can, in turn, be better not just for work, but for themselves and their loved ones.

We have too many projects going on around reducing burnout and lack of engagement at work for me to even try to cover, but I will highlight one initiative we have started at Deloitte to help our employees feel better to get to the bottom of why they weren’t feeling good in the first place.

The firm has created an interactive, user-friendly dashboard called Vitals that aggregates information from a variety of internal systems to see when people may need a break. Our US Chief Well-being officer Jen Fisher, explained to Forbes how employees can see a complete picture of how many hours they are working — during the week and on weekends — how much of that time they’re spending away from home, how many flights they have taken in the past week, and when they last took PTO. It also allows employees to share their energy levels with their coach. Vitals provides data to identify people at risk of burnout well before they crash. The dashboard also incorporates training in a number of areas, including meditation.

We are fighting hard in the battle against burnout and working to ensure the Future of Work is one without it.

Ok, lets jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

An organization’s most important asset is its people. While the workforce is often the biggest cost for an organization, it is also the biggest driver of success or failure. So how that “asset” is behaving should be extremely important to leaders. An unhappy workforce has consequences that reverberate throughout an organization and can be hard to come back from. Without meaning at work, and without meaningful growth at work, employees simply won’t be happy. Yes, things like flexibility and rewards are important to employees, especially when competition for skilled talent has skyrocketed, but at the end of the day, employees are simply people, and people want to feel connected to their work and to each other, allowing them to feel engaged. Deloitte recently conducted a study which concluded that organizations with highly engaged workforces reported a three-year revenue growth rate that was 2.3 times greater than the average. That’s a massive difference. And it’s become important that companies make sure that an experience is a big part of what they offer their talent.

Also, this rise of the mobile workforce is coinciding with a rise in longer days, and overworked and oftentimes burnt-out employees are the result. The much-wanted flexibility that for many years we’ve looked for, has actually led to this always-on mentality. Employees and employers haven’t figured out how to set guidelines around when to turn off at work and when to be able to unwind from a day. And this has really driven quite a bit of the dissatisfaction that employees feel at work.

With daily challenges like an ever-increasing influx of new tools and technology, the possibility of a recession, and being generally overworked, people are feeling discouraged. Our Deloitte 2019 Global Human Capital Trends Report shows that only 49 percent of respondents believed that their organizations’ workers were satisfied or very satisfied with their job design. Only 42 percent thought that workers were satisfied or very satisfied with day-to-day work practices, only 38 percent said that they were satisfied or very satisfied with work-related tools and technology, and only 38 percent thought that they have enough autonomy to make good decisions. There are a lot of factors combining to create a generally unhappy workforce, and it is up to leaders to turn that around.

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

Deloitte defines personal experience as the focus on opportunities to create personal connections and build mechanisms that create a high level of purpose and meaning between workers and the organization. My colleagues said it best in a recent blog, that “at the core of any human experience is the desire to belong and feel connected with others and to contribute to something of significance and value. While this may sound like a tall, existential goal to deliver on, there are tangible ways organizations can design a powerful personal experience, and they essentially boil down to two primary components: (1) personal connections and (2) purpose and meaning.”

Without these, motivation levels plummet and with it, productivity. To feel empowered and motivated, employees need to feel seen, appreciated, challenged, and encouraged to grow (while feeling safe to make mistakes, fail, and reassess along the way). If they don’t, it will either reflect in their work, attitude, and contributions, or they will leave. MIT research shows that enterprises with a top-quartile employee experience achieve twice the innovation, double the customer satisfaction, and 25 percent higher profits than organizations with a bottom-quartile employee experience. It pays to have happy employees.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

Establish personal connections

People want to feel connected to their work and to each other. As I mentioned in a recent Forbes article, to engage with people on a truly human level — that is, to get beyond the employees-as-interchangeable-assets mindset — we need to be far more responsive to employees as individuals. Every employee brings unique strengths, perspectives and needs to the workplace, and they want to be seen and appreciated for them. What motivates people is as unique as the group of individuals who make up your workforce. Process, procedure, and data collection isn’t enough to really get personal, and I would argue that any segmentation based on perceived interests, characteristics, personality type, role, etc., can never really get granular enough to understand a person enough to make them happy and engaged at work. Yes, it can be useful information, but alone it doesn’t take us far enough. Leaders need to step up to encourage and celebrate their workers individuality and find ways to work with them to set up each individual, and ultimately the business, for success and growth.

Create purpose and meaning at work, while connecting the dots

Once leaders encourage, embrace, and appreciate the individuality of their employees and the diversity of thought, experience, imagination, and potential that come from that individuality, they need to act as the maestro — artfully bringing together the perspectives and strengths of each employee into a collective, collaborative, adaptive workplace. Additionally, leaders need to ensure that each employee understands the goals and objectives at both the organizational and individual levels, and how to work together to constantly improve processes and outcomes. Employers that seek to understand the needs and preferences of their workers, acknowledge their humanity, and respond with personalized and optimized working arrangements and rewards offerings can enjoy differentiated employment brands and superior workforce experiences.If leaders can articulate goals that connect to purpose and meaning, they won’t need to micro-manage anyone because everyone will be playing to the same tune.

Stay ahead

Leaders do not have the luxury of executing a new policy or improvement and then sitting back and passively watching it unfold. People change, markets change, technologies change, and leaders that don’t have eyes and ears ahead of them to predict and prepare for upcoming disruptions will fall behind. Staying in tune with the workforce and predicting their needs allows for leaders to mitigate potential risks before they happen.

Customize & Communicate:

Throughout my career in Human Capital, I have seen many cases of death by email. Situations when employees are bombarded by content and overly communicated with by leaders who equate transparency with over-communication. Instead of sending email blasts, whether company-wide or segmented, use two-way communications, feedback loops, focus groups, surveys, employee data and more to understand what kinds of information individuals want, how they want that information shared, and how often. Our research has uncovered that high-performing organizations are six times more likely to use data and analysis to understand employee preferences than low-performing organizations.

How you communicate matters, but what you communicate may matter more. Sending a company-wide email blast about a happy hour in a local office may not be a great way of communicating to that office cohort, let alone the entire nation-wide organization. The information is good, but maybe there is a better way to get the information to the right people. However, if there is an enterprise-level change or new initiative, the workforce should definitely be informed. Our research shows that just 54 percent of high-performing organizations, compared to just over 22 percent of low-performing organizations, state that they “very frequently” or “always” communicate the broad strategy when changes are made to enterprise or business units. Just make sure you have a clear, informed strategy in place before communicating at large.

Lead by example

For employees to feel empowered to bring their full, authentic selves to work, leaders must do it first. Employers should show up every day ready to be open, honest, collaborative, and authentic. If employees can see full transparency from leaders, and clearly know the goals, working style, and direction of each leader, it is easier for that employee to come to the table energized, prepared, and motivated. People want to work for organizations and leaders with whom they feel safe to explore new areas. Transparency and honesty leave little room for surprise, so leaders should keep that in mind too.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

Reskill for today and tomorrow’s demands: The old ways of doing work are over. The world we live in is one of constant change, and leaders and workers need to be prepared to stay agile to learn new skills. Few people still climb the corporate ladder vertically. Careers today look much more horizontal as people want exposure to more types of work and opportunities. Preparing future workers, and enabling the current workforce to reskill, ensures the supply of workers can meet new demands for talent. The workforce of tomorrow will be more fluid.

Find ways for humans and machines to work together: I constantly hear comments from people who are terrified of robots and AI coming to take their jobs. Entering this new frontier can be scary, but really it is a boundless opportunity to learn new skills, automate the work no one wants to do, allow humans to work smarter not harder, and to open new markets that haven’t existed.

Stop romanticizing the idea of being “busy” — take PTO!: In today’s culture, society views being busy as good. Busy people are good contributors to society. The problem is when “being busy” becomes a way of life, and when success feels like winning a competition to be the busiest. However, busy, stressed people burn out. Let’s make taking our PTO cool. Let’s encourage others to make time for their passions, spend time with loved ones, and get enough sleep to be able to come back to work refreshed and reenergized.

Talent strategy for contingent workforce: The contingent workforce has become embedded into work culture and often is critical to an organization’s success. Today, these workers have limited “rights” and access to benefits, and can be treated more like an employee number than a person who is part of the team, no matter how distant they may seem. Government and private sector leaders, as well as managers inside of organizations, should find ways to bring the contingent workforce into the fold.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

I’m always seeking new ways to create engaged, high-performing teams. While I am an avid proponent of digitalization and using technology smartly, I also truly believe there is no replacement for human power. As a leader, I wake up asking myself two questions: 1. How can I help my clients? And 2. How can I help my employees? If I can work with my people to find answers to ideally both of those questions, I have done my job well that day. Notice, I didn’t say if I can type my problems into a search engine or make a decision in a silo from my home office to find solutions, then I have done my job well. As a leader at Deloitte, I know leading means using all of the assets available to me to find collaborative solutions. I lean heavily on the expertise, insights, and opinions of not only fellow Partners at Deloitte, but my employees as well. Why harness the power of one, when the power of many is so much stronger?

I also know that I have to practice what I preach. If I expect my workforce to be transparent, honest, motivated, productive, collaborative and positively contribute to company culture, so must I. And I must do so actively and visibly. While I lead our organization into the future and advise our clients on how to do the same, I also develop our next generation of leaders, and am making sure they are prepared to lead in the digital world. This is a full-time job in and of itself — the most important one there is next to raising my children.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’d like to answer this question in two ways. The first being a general answer and the second being a little more tangible. By having the position I do, I am able to bring the power of Deloitte –our experts and our research, to the public. We are very serious about not only helping our clients to solve their day to day business issues, fill gaps, or plan ahead, but also about improving the workplace overall. Our size and reputation allow us to inform policy, advise industry leaders, and educate the public. I am also personally able to reach a great number of people, advising them personally and professionally. I like to find what motivates people and help them find meaning in the work they do. Helping to mold future leaders who are passionate about what they do, and to do it in an impactful, responsible, and innovative way, creates a pay it forward culture where thoughtful leaders breed thoughtful employees who eventually become leaders themselves.

A more solid and specific example is how I was able to recently patriciate in Deloitte’s Human Capital People to People (P2P) program in San Juan, Puerto Rico this year. P2P is a skills-based social impact initiative in which our junior professionals undertake an intensive week-long pro-bono engagement aimed at assisting several nonprofit organizations. Our goal was to help the leaders of nonprofits that serve the people of Puerto Rico to address their most pressing organizational challenges by bringing the insight and capability of our Consulting firm to these organizations.

I was certainly not there to lead the show, but rather acted as an advisor, champion, and mentor the junior professionals as they navigated their way through the difficult tasks ahead of them. If I had gone on this trip with fellow senior partners at Deloitte, the job certainly would have gotten done, but I wonder if the impact would have been as strong. The junior practitioners were able to feel empowered to lead, make decisions, find solutions, and deliver the project on their own (all in front of me, one of their senior leaders). They connected and identified with the people they were helping. They saw what for many of them was a new place in the world, and they came home more motivated than ever. The passion they developed for not only problem solving, but helping people, became contagious to their fellow analysts and consultants. This passion brings new ideas and initiatives to their teams, and they are sharing their experiences on social media — thereby spreading the movement past the reach of just the folks who attended or were helped. Through volunteering our services, our own employees were able to feel appreciated, empowered, and passionate about charity work in a way that may not have been possible without the power of Deloitte’s success. I feel honored to have been invited as the senior leader to witness the magic happen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.”- Charles Kettering

I have always considered myself an innovator. Even as a child I was always trying to find solutions to problems, better ways of doing things, and ways to help people along the way. This quote has always reminded me to keep searching and exploring. My career is like a series of science experiments where I generate and test hypotheses, recreating the experiment time and time again to find how to do it better or get more out of it. And each time I break something apart to rebuild it, sometimes throwing it out altogether, I learn a lot. Just because something has been done a certain way, doesn’t mean it should be. I am reminded by this quote to expect the unexpected, do what hasn’t been done, fail, and do it all again. Even in the failures, I succeed, because I am doing something to move the needle, and learning a hell of a lot along the way.

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