This article is reprinted with permission from Medium
The pandemic has allowed people to reevaluate what they want from work. This “Great Reevaluation” has led to the “Great Resignation” which has left the US with a great big labor shortage and a supply chain crisis. What can we do to reverse this trend? What can be done to attract great talent to companies looking to hire? What must companies do to retain their great talent? If not just a paycheck, what else are employees looking for? In this interview series called “The Labor Shortage & The 5 Things We Must Do To Attract & Retain Great Talent” we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and ideas from their experience that can address these questions.
As a part of this interview series, we had the pleasure to interview Andy Binns.
Andy Binns is a co-founder of Change Logic, a Boston-based strategic advisory firm. He works with CEOs, boards, and senior teams as they lead significant business change. His goal is to help organizations liberate their potential to excite the world with innovation. Andy has 25 years of consulting experience as both an external and internal consultant for McKinsey & Co., the IBM Corporation, and Change Logic. At IBM, Andy was deeply involved in the Emerging Business Opportunity program, for which he received an award from IBM’s vice chairman. He is the co-author of the new book Corporate Explorer: How Corporations Beat Startups at the Innovation Game.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
Iam a displaced Welshman living in Massachusetts. In 2007, after a career in corporate life convinced me that I am a terrible employee, I co-founded a strategic advisory firm to help corporations innovate and grow. I love helping people do things that scare them and seeing them succeed. You get so few chances to do this in a large corporation, so when it happens it generates its only special energy. I got to be a part of this at IBM from 2000 to 2005 when we created new billion-dollar businesses inside the corporation. The friends I made at this time, particularly those from IBM Life Sciences will always have a special place in my life.
Let’s jump right in. Some experts have warned of the “Great Resignation” as early as the 1980s and yet so many companies seem to have been completely unprepared when it finally happened. What do you think caused this disconnect? Why do you think the business world was caught by surprise?
One of my friends coined the phrase that ‘success is a sleeping pill’. Because big organizations have mostly succeeded, at least if you measure them by the standard of the revenues and profits that they generate, we believe that they will always work in the same way. Managers that get to the top of those companies have had the motivation of getting to the top. They did not stop to think, ‘what if other people have a different motivation?’, ‘what if they have untapped aspirations and capabilities?’. I truly believe that is what the great resignation is all about, people deciding it is time to live to the beat of their own drum, not someone else’s.
What do you think employers have to do to adapt to this new reality?
We need to create a lot more autonomy for people in corporations to act. We have got wrapped up by an ideology that companies are monoliths, that there is one truth, one strategy, one way of doing things. It is time to rethink this whole approach. Instead of departments within goals, we need to think about teams that have a unified purpose, and the freedom to make it happen.
Based on your opinion and experience, what do you think were the main pain points that caused the great resignation? Why is so much of the workforce unhappy?
The great resignation has gone side by side with a four-fold increase in new company formations, according to the US Census Bureau. These people are voting with their feet to have more control over their destinies. Some will be looking for a lifestyle business, but many others have decided it is now or never for those entrepreneurial aspirations that they have long had and failed to act on.
Many employers extoll the advantages of the entrepreneurial spirit and the possibilities of an expanded “gig economy”. But this does come with the cost of a lack of loyalty of gig workers. Is there a way to balance this? Can an employer look for single use sources of services and expect long-term loyalty? Is there a way to hire a freelancer and expect dependability and loyalty? Can you please explain what you mean?
Yes! Employers need to think about giving more managers a ‘license to explore’. Make it possible for your Corporate Explorers to emerge inside. That means creating opportunities for people to form exploratory teams that can develop new, disruptive businesses from inside the corporation. Look at Amazon. In 26 years, it has gone from 1 employee to one and a half million. It has not done that with a single strategy, it has created opportunities for managers to explore new areas with its famed ‘two pizza teams’, and then a few of them have scaled into new businesses like Amazon Web Services.
It has been said that “people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses”. How do you think this has been true during the Great Resignation? Can you explain what you mean?
I think that applies in normal times, its not so relevant to the great resignation. This is bigger and reflects a loss of faith in the corporate structure overall. The ‘great resignation’ has not happened in isolation. We have also seen the mass adoption of virtual working, surging new company formation, and the rise of agile work practices. This is a big shift in how we think about work and the role of corporations.
I am fond of saying, “If it’s fun they charge admission. But you get a paycheck for working here.” Obviously, I am being facetious, but not entirely. Every job has its frustrations and there will be times when every job will aggravate employees. How important is it that employees enjoy their jobs?
I think talking about ‘happiness’ at work misses the point completely. Humans are social animals that are motivated by a sense of collective purpose. We will endure pain and suffering if it is for a cause that we believe in. Companies that connect purpose (what it’s for) to practice (what we do) are prospering, while those that ignore this connection start to struggle.
How do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?
These are difficult connections to make, it all depends on a company’s context. The issue is not so much profitability and productivity in the short term, it is the long-term value you create as a community. If you are in semiconductors today and you have a product to ship, then you make money regardless of the happiness of your employees. However, as you see this industry mature, and it is now more than sixty years old, then the companies that remain are those with purpose and integrity, like Analog Devices or Intel. You have to see this over decades, not quarterly results.
What are a few things that employers, managers, and executives can do to ensure that workers enjoy their jobs?
Stop pretending you are invincible. Corporate cultures have developed so that certainty and confidence are prized even when the facts don’t justify them. If managers ask more questions, open the assumptions to testing, run more experiments, then everybody learns, the environment is one of growth and exploration, not simply execution to a master plan that is later shown to be flawed.
Can you share a few things that employers, managers, and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture?
The biggest thing you can do to rejuvenate a company’s culture is to open it up to more external influences. If you are a senior manager, how many times have you sat in a call center listening to your customers in the past six months? If you are a finance administrator, when did you last go on a sales call? These are the easy steps, more adventurous is using open source or crowdsourced platforms to get ideas and input from total strangers, people with a fresh perspective. The cultures that are driven ‘outside-in’ have much greater resilience to change than those that are driven inside-out for the benefit of managers and experts whose power is based on the successes of the past.
Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things employers should do to attract and retain top talent during the labor shortage?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Turn Outside-In — it is energizing to be a part of a learning environment, it helps you feel you are pushing your boundaries, and growing as a professional. I remember the first time that I took a bunch of engineers out to do an observation of customers, watching what they do and how they behave, it created an enormous buzz.
- Ask questions — curiosity is infectious. If you are curious about your colleagues, this starts to affect how you treat customers, and soon you are building deeper levels of empathy and commitment to one another. Ask employees simple questions like, ‘what do you most want to achieve?’. If you learn something useful you get a chance to help create opportunities for that team member and perhaps head off their resignation, even if this is harder, they remember that you were interested in them as a person and are more committed to the team.
- Challenge assumptions — take what you learn to challenge assumptions, rather than just accepting how things have always been done, from that can come great insights and opportunities. In my book, Corporate Explorer, I tell the story of a manager at an insurance company in Hungary. He challenged the assumptions of the entire industry, like the one that says customers are trying to file fraudulent claims and proposed an entirely new digital business model to the company’s CEO. Seeing a leader that has the self-confidence to be challenged is tremendously motivating.
- License to explore — when people generate new ideas, give them the ability to explore them, and see what will happen, this license to explore should not be unconditional, people have bad ideas as well as good, but the benefit of experimentation is learning, even if you fail. My Hungarian manager, Krisztian Kurtisz, got backing for an experiment, and four years later he is rolling the new business, called Cherrisk out across a dozen countries. Everyone else in the company sees that new ideas are acted on.
- Autonomy for best explorers — let the best ideas flourish rather than making them beholden to the past organization. Stop trying to control how people achieve the outcomes. Say what you want people to achieve, give them the resources, and then go take a back seat. Senior managers spend too much time telling people how to achieve results, rather than giving them the space to succeed. That’s why the great resignation becomes the great rebellion!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.