NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Are humans at the center of your business? That was the big question during Workhuman 2019, where a wide range of workplace luminaries shared their stories and insights with thousands of rapt listeners — all of them focused on what HR and talent execs can do to bring humanity back into companies and workplaces.
Speakers and executives weren't afraid to criticize the current state of business and the world, and many were quick to take Workhuman's "be more human" ethos to heart. Many leaders at Workhuman noted that attendees likely already knew "why" businesses need to adopt a "humanocracy" — the data on the upside of engaged, happy employees is pretty clear — and instead focused on the "how."
Some of the best quotes from speakers about implementing a more human approach to work are below.
"We call it human resource management. It's great except for resource and manage."
Professor at the London Business School, management expert and director of the Management Innovation eXchange
Hamel was one of the first keynote speakers of Workhuman, and rallied hard for employers to break up with bureaucracy at their organizations. To do so, leaders will have to get comfortable with giving up control of every aspect of their businesses; no company will win because they have the best control, Hamel said. "Letting go" was another theme echoed in a few talks, including in a later panel discussion with Marriott executives, who said that the only real way to establish a strong, shared culture is to let employees do what they need to do. Real human organizations, Hamel said, help people maximize their contributions — and there's no resource managing to be done in that regard.
"It's a plague of young and diverse leaders: ‘Who am I to question them?' I'm the only woman, I'm the only college drop out, I'm the only one who didn't come out of these more mature industries. It is a risk of diverse leaders. It is predictable, and should be solved for."
Chief Operating Officer, president of North America, Focus Brands
Companies that don't enable people to assertively speak out when they think something is wrong could be setting themselves up for business-destroying errors, Cole said in her keynote. This type of thinking happens everywhere precisely "because we are human."
"I knew better, but it happened to me, too," she said.
The people who are closest to the action, often front line employees, in any business tend to know the right thing to do "long before the leader does," she added. But they may not have the language to express it or access to decision makers — meaning good leaders have to actively seek out and encourage input from everyone across an organization.
"If there's something that keeps me up at night...it's how machine learning is amplifying and creating an exponential response to something we are trying to solve one-off."
Candi Castleberry Singleton
VP of of diversity, partnership strategy and engagement, Twitter
The digital transformation of businesses has introduced a number of tools that promise to help leaders with any number of challenges, including hiring and retention. But a poorly trained algorithm can have devastating effects on any number of initiatives, including diversity and inclusion, Castleberry Singleton said during a panel. Once an algorithm makes an unnoticed and uncorrected mistake, it can exponentially double-down on that mistake until the effects are too disastrous not to be noticed. Leaders will need to be especially aware of their own biases when building and instituting a new tool and the risk that those biases could bring a company back to square one.
"You can have inclusion without diversity ... this whole notion of dropping diversity and just moving to inclusion, I don't agree with that.
VP Human Resources, Global Chief Diversity Officer, Walgreens Boots Alliance
Getting executive buy-in for diversity initiatives was top of mind for many attendees, and audience members asked diversity experts what to do when leadership isn't committed to the whole D&I package. But in these times, one cannot exist without the other, Cubia said. Workers all from a similar background will of course feel included, he added, meaning a more diverse coalition — and therefore, the potential for innovative thinking — may never come to be if employers don't actively focus on diversity, too.
"Who we are is how we lead."
Speaker and research professor, University of Houston
The human brain craves stories, Brown said, and in the absence of actual data, humans tell themselves stories to fill in the blanks. The stories we tell ourselves, she noted, can create new and often inaccurate realities based on these crummy "first drafts" that try to make sense of the world. Relying on those stories — assuming a whole background scenario based on a single gesture or comment, for example — could lead to a behavioral nightmare, Brown said, spiraling what was likely an innocuous gesture into a series of troublesome interactions. All of that could be avoided if leaders just ask the hard questions.
Courageous leaders, which Brown said are sorely needed, step back, self-reflect and open themselves up to difficult conversations. Vulnerability can be a leader's strength, if they are self aware, she said.
"It's impossible to say that we hire and promote based on merit. Not unless you close the curtain and have them take their shoes off can you be sure."
Actor, Founder of Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
Davis told the story of an orchestra that brought more women into the fold by making auditions completely blind — to the point where orchestra auditioners could not wear shoes, because even the sound of a woman's shoe would tip off the listeners and make her less likely to be picked. Unconscious bias is that pernicious, she said. But making leaders recognize their own biases through training can and does help, in her experience; when leaders are made aware of exactly how much impact their unconscious biases have on their decisions, their "jaws drop to the ground," she said.
"I will tell you we have found that increases in employee engagement tend to precede increases in hotel financial performance at a higher rate than the opposite."
Executive Vice President and Global CHRO, Marriott International, Inc.
Marriott has landed on a number of best place to work lists in the past year, and Rodriguez credited it entirely to the company putting its people first. Companies that take care of their employees will have employees that take care of their customers, he said, and that's been a driving ethos for Marriott since its founding. For that sense of care to permeate a company, company leaders have to give employees the power to express the company's core values, and not just dictate what they believe will best enable the company's culture.
"This is the time to be a human resources leader … I think society will continue to put things in front of us that may even be best handled by companies and industries."
CHRO, Randstad North America
Speaking during a CHRO panel, Link said that the best people to take care of the world's problems "may be the people sitting in this room" — aka talent leaders. Trust has eroded in public institutions such that employers are now considered the most trustworthy institution, Workhuman CEO Eric Mosley said in an earlier keynote. But that also means employers may be more responsible now than ever to create the world their employees want to see, be it through how they hire, how they listen or how they interact with the community outside the office.