Issue #64
#64 - What’s going on at work?
April 28, 2023

#64 - What’s going on at work?

What’s up, everybody?

After 60 weeks of deep-diving into the world of work with this newsletter, and scores of offline conversations with employees and leaders, we've arrived at a crazy-simple story about work:

The “work” we knew – commutes, command + control, centralization, cubicles! – persisted for decades, even as our jobs shifted from mass production to creative and knowledge work.

By the time the pandemic hit, work was broken; plagued by burnout, toxicity, endless hours, stagnant wages, and vanishing work-life balance.

[Enter: the pandemic 😷 ]

COVID didn't just accelerate work trends. It obliterated work as we knew it. And it smashed the trust we held in the old model to smithereens.

Employees have emerged with a new set of work values and expectations. They've embarked on a wholesale re-imagination of what works means to them, what it needs to provide, and the role it plays in their lives.

And guess what? They've got some leverage! With persistent demand for labor and a systemic undersupply, employees are calling the shots: quiet-quitting, ditching crummy work, and hopping jobs with abandon. The power play's going strong even after the return-to-office push, a struggling economy, and a slew of interest rate hikes meant to cool things down.

To sum it up:

  • Work's changed. Big time.
  • Workers have changed, and have new needs.
  • The talent market's done a 180, giving workers new leverage.
  • The economy? Yikes 😳

And leaders and organizations?

By and large, they have not changed.

Picture a captain and her officers on a submarine – the sub is work as we knew it. Then, bam! A pandemic iceberg. Our sub is smashed, and the crew is rebuilding it -- this time, into a cruise ship. Meanwhile, the waves from a huge storm of economic uncertainty are thrashing the new ship, making the crew mighty anxious. Lucky for them though, their new ship is now surrounded by other boats, all of which are happy to welcome aboard anyone who wants off the cruise ship.

What about our captain and her officers?

Heads in the sand sea. Acting like it's 2020; like they're still in a sub, safe beneath the storm; complaining about their entitled crew and wondering why its team is disengaging and abandoning ship.

Sound familiar?

So many organizations are failing to demonstrate that they appreciate the world has changed. They've yet to acknowledge the pieces on the ground, much less a vision for how to pick them up and reassemble them. Even as their people are doing exactly that. All in all, it's a painful lack of self-awareness, communication, adaptation -- leadership -- being modelled to teams that are, in fact, quite clear about what they want and need: clarity, flexibility, and connection; empathy, growth, and purpose.

This week our 3 Stories are insights and quotes from different observers of work on the great disconnect that's afoot, and the need for leaders to adapt to our changed, never-going-back-to-the-way-it-was world:

Story #1 - A Brené Brown podcast guest calls us "nuts" if we think we're leading the same workforce we were before the pandemic, and urges leaders to adapt or get "crushed". You's subtle, mild advice. 🤣

Story #2 -
Some quotes manage to capture so much meaning, so dramatically, using so few words. Story #2 is one of them. And its summary of the way companies persist in using decades-old -- if not centuries-old -- management practices to run their cutting-edge businesses is all the more damning for it.
Story #3 - The final line of our final Story is a question. We happen to think it's the only one that matters. 🙌🏻

Thanks for reading and exploring with us -- and have a great week!

Aki + Usman

P.S. Our podcast of issue #63, "Wisdom from Jeff Bezos, a Poker Champ -- and Ants 🐜 -- on risk-taking, exploration, and knowing when to go all-in"? Right here.


#OverIndexing #AvoidingAverage #BigSwings #OutsizedReturns

Two things stand out and make this quote great:

One is the candor of Scott's language: "nuts" is spot-on; so is "crushed". ✅

Two, given the lack of trust, engagement and connection that defines work right now, there is absolutely an opportunity in front of us to lead: to adapt and communicate, and provide what people want and need. And by doing that, to repair and reallocate the trust that is up for grabs.


#Disconnect #OldHabits

Hierarchy. Formal dress. Five-day work weeks. Specialization. Centralized decision-making. Physical presence. Commutes. Standardization. Mass production. Company loyalty.

Looking back, many of us knew -- intuitively, if not consciously -- that these traits, which had defined work for decades, may have been suited to the industrial age, but were irrelevant to the knowledge age. But in the end, it took a full-on cataclysm in the form of a global pandemic to jolt us into really questioning the status quo. Even then, management professor Gary Hamel's quote highlights the bizarrely persistent combination of today's digital businesses -- powered by data and cutting-edge technology -- that still rely on decades if not centuries-old management practices and processes to lead 21st-century employees with a new set of needs, expectations and work values. 🤯

We use the term, "bizarre", but if we consider what's at stake -- the status that so many managers worked so hard to achieve, the system in which they learned to thrive, and the power they accrued as a result of thriving in it -- then the stubborn attachment to the way things were begins to make more sense.

The question, though, is this: if power is shifting so sharply to employees, and if people and teams are ultimately just a form of leverage to grow your business -- then is Shohenstein in Story #1 not spot on when he says the need is to "change or get out of the way"?


#Adaptation #Awareness #Communication #Authenticity

In our last Story, author Doug Conant diagnoses how unequivocally people are questioning their careers, companies and leaders. He suggests -- and we agree -- that what may have worked in the past just doesn't cut it anymore. And then we get to this gem of a question, which cuts to the heart of everything:

"As a leader, how are you adapting to this shift?"

The need is not to fix everything, or claim that we can. It's to start with the basics: by communicating, signalling awareness, and acknowledging the shift. It's for authenticity in seeking to listen and understand where people are at. It's to acknowledge the fear and uncertainty that so many teams are feeling.

We've suggested before that modern leadership is about asking others to "trust your compass, not your map". Perhaps the need is simply to let people know that you felt the iceberg; to let them know that your compass is out, and that you, too, are seeking the way forward in a new and changed world. 🧭

Thanks for reading. 🙏🏻

Work moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
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