Amid changing expectations and shifting workforce dynamics, how can organizations reimagine how they conduct work to not only adapt, but thrive? How can we empower individuals to shape what work means to them?
In the final chapter of our series on becoming talent-centric, Randstad Enterprise's Talent Advisory team explores:
- the shifting motivations of talent and how organizations can respond
- why placing talent at the heart of organizational strategy determines long-term viability
- how to elevate HR as a proactive force through a balance of fixes and innovation
- why experimentation, imagination and forgetting predictions are key to success
- how to build a human-centric future of work with HR and talent at the forefront
a future of work that talent wants to be part of
Of the approximately 8 billion humans on Earth, around 3.4 billion are employed worldwide. Those engaged in work are shaped and influenced profoundly by their professional environments, employers and organizations at a time when the very dynamics of it — how, where, when, and even why we work — are being radically reimagined.
Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer found that 72% of employees believe employers need to rethink what work means to their teams. Talent is calling for the principles of leadership to be redefined, questioning the role of businesses as environmental stewards and advocates for inclusivity, and seeking a world where work enhances their lives and brings them closer to their aspirations. As McKinsey points out, “Getting organizations right is not just about individual companies and institutions; it’s about the broader well-being of society.”
So what role does the talent and HR function have to play in bringing us closer to a future of work that talent wants to be part of? In our previous chapters, we’ve examined the need to build a solid foundation and ensure talent strategy is fit for an ever-changing landscape; we’ve also explored why focusing on skills, aspirations and human potential forms the cornerstone of talent agility.
But beyond this, in a world where CEOs are looking to innovation, technology and talent to drive revenue and profit growth, what does it take to start from scratch and reimagine how your organization conducts work? How can you co-create a vision for the future and start to bridge the gap between today and tomorrow? What are some of the key considerations to help supercharge productivity, eliminate barriers to equity, enhance joy at work and foster sustainable performance driven by people?
In the age of AI, building a future of work designed for humanity and empowering individuals to shape what work means to them, all while supporting the business to achieve its goals, presents a liberating opportunity for HR to reshape its relationship with talent and their organization as a whole. If you are willing to lean into this and not be bound by current constraints, the future becomes exciting.
understand the motivations of talent
These days, being an employee is far more than just turning up, completing tasks and switching off. As we touched on in chapter 1, amid a fluctuating societal landscape, employee attitudes and motivations have shifted, and people want more from their jobs.
For the first time, we now have four generations working alongside each other — Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials and Generation Z — against a backdrop of continuous change. This has caused significant disruptions both in team dynamics and the expectations across generations. Beyond technological changes, demographic shifts encompassing evolving beliefs, experiences, strengths, priorities, habits and values are fundamentally reshaping the world of work.
The motivations of today’s talent blend both financial and non-financial drivers; while some elements remain constant, others sway with market and organizational shifts. As our Workmonitor research shows, pay still holds significance (particularly in a market with such uncertainty) but embracing flexible work arrangements, nurturing positive company cultures and providing avenues for meaningful career development are now also high on the priority list. Some 80% of talent have changed employers because they have not been given the opportunity to grow, move or shift within their organization.
Simply put, the traditional employment contract, based solely on monetary exchange, is outdated; talent seeks meaningful connections, community and purpose-driven work.
But not all employees are motivated by the same things at the same time. McKinsey identified five distinct employee personas and highlighted the difference in desires and motivations of each group. In understanding these diverse personas, organizations can tailor their talent strategies to attract and retain people across these segments.
redefine work and purpose
The shift in generational dynamics aligns with workers' increasing expectations of purpose-driven roles and a focus on impact and contribution from their organizations. The concept of business as a force for good has gone beyond simply being part of a CEO's speech at Davos; it has become a daily metric by which people evaluate their employer.
Bain & Co's research underscores the relationship between inspired and satisfied employees, revealing that those inspired by a company's mission experience greater meaning. Satisfied employees, while feeling secure in their work, lack the same inspiration to excel. An employee who feels inspired at work is nearly 125% more productive than a satisfied one; the productivity gap between these two types of workers is approximately two and a quarter times. So the higher the percentage of talent that is engaged and inspired, the higher their productive power will be.
If you know what motivates an individual and can understand their strengths and aspirations, you can continue to engage and retain them. Highly engaged employees (who are not just satisfied but emotionally committed to the organization and its goals) are 87% less likely to leave their place of work, according to Gallup. Their organizations are also 21% more profitable than those whose employees are not engaged.
Conversely, employees who have become disengaged may simply put in the minimum effort needed to hold onto their jobs, but withhold their discretionary effort, failing to go the extra mile for their employer. This undermines wider morale and productivity.
“We should not assume that a lack of motivation is an intrinsic problem,” argues author Simon Sinek. “As leaders, we should first evaluate whether or not we’ve created an environment that inspires our employees. In order to spark motivation, people must feel seen and valued.”
what’s your relationship value proposition?
For people to feel seen and valued, we must embark on a journey of understanding. It begins with a simple, yet profound, question: What do employees want and need to thrive? By actively engaging with talent and valuing their insights, aspirations and challenges, you pave the way for a work environment that is not just productive but also deeply fulfilling.
The crux of this lies in a fundamental principle: listening, rather than assuming. McKinsey research revealed a huge disconnect when employers made assumptions; employers thought employees were quitting because they were looking for better jobs, compensation and work-life balance. But the reasons employees actually gave for quitting included not feeling valued by the organization or individual managers, and not feeling a sense of belonging at work. Employers are focusing on transactional elements of the work experience, and while those are important, employees are asking for more emphasis on relational factors.
Understanding and prioritizing the overall relationship between your organization and its people — your relationship value proposition — is essential for cultivating a dynamic talent culture that nurtures positive human connections (By “people,” we do not just mean permanent employees but your wider contingent workforce, which includes freelancers, independent contractors and consultants).
It's crucial to recognize that this isn't just about implementing more technology to support people in their jobs or offering a few employee perks. It’s about listening and fostering a deep understanding of what the entire ecosystem of talent truly needs and wants.
Increasingly, employers are recognizing this. In our Talent Trends research, a staggering 76% of organizations said talent experience had become more important in the past 12 months.
Author of “The Experience Mindset: Changing the way you think about growth,” Tiffani Bova, believes that organizations should be scrutinizing employee experience in the same way that they have been focusing on customer experience. While this strategy may unsettle some leaders, it allows companies to address the imbalances created by decades of prioritizing customers above all else.
“Employees will recognize and appreciate this change, with great results for the company and its growth,” says Bova. “The result of this kind of equity can be spectacular: Research shows that employees who report having a positive employee experience have 16 times the engagement versus their counterparts with a negative experience — and are eight times more likely to want to stay at a company.”
Listening to feedback is the first step, but it doesn't end there. It’s about taking this valuable information and translating it into actionable strategies. It means actively incorporating employee insights into your decision-making processes.
4 tips for boosting talent experience
build social capital and unleash imagination
Prioritizing employee experience necessitates a thorough evaluation of your social capital — the networks, relationships, shared norms and trust among individuals, teams and business leaders that allow people to work together to achieve a common purpose or goal. In this context, social capital serves as a fundamental foundation of organizational performance. It's the glue that holds your big ideas, important tasks and people together.
Social capital is all about how your employees see the organization, its culture and its intent, and how these perceptions influence their actions. How do people interpret the organization's goals and values, and how does this influence their behavior?
For instance, what you tell people — and how you present this information — influences their approach to their work and what they prioritize. If your talent review process is primarily driven by getting succession plans in place, that is exactly what will happen. But, if you shift the focus and emphasize that the aim of the talent review process is to highlight the crucial tasks and build effective teams to accomplish them, you’re creating social capital that drives action.
This social capital is particularly vital during periods of change and uncertainty. When changes occur, people need to have complete clarity about the organization's mission. Social capital reconnects employees with the wider purpose (beyond profit), ensuring that work continues effectively even amid changes and uncertainties.
Years of research on social capital have demonstrated the benefits for both individuals and organizations, including reduced turnover rates, enhanced performance, amplified knowledge sharing, heightened innovation and expanded career opportunities.
Fostering social capital by aligning work with individuals' strengths, motivations and aspirations enhances engagement and organizational performance. Furthermore, when you build on this and start to give people permission to use their imagination at work, it sparks even more creativity, innovation and problem-solving, preventing the "frozen middle" productivity slump often affecting middle managers.
According to Lynda Gratton, managers serve as the “golden thread” holding teams together, yet the "frozen middle" — resistant middle managers — can hinder change and innovation. Thawing the frozen middle is crucial for success, emphasizing change benefits and providing support for adaptation.
Lack of imagination results in stagnation and decreased productivity. Organizations can overcome this by creating spaces for innovation, breaking free from the frozen middle's constraints and fostering a dynamic workplace that thrives on pushing boundaries.
make time for innovation
Creating an environment where work isn't just a set of tasks to complete but a source of inspiration and joy is difficult, requiring a mindset shift. But, this shift might prove to be a positive — and necessary — transformation.
Instead of focusing all your energy on reacting to immediate challenges, make space for innovation and creativity, proactively infusing the workplace with a sense of meaning, purpose and fulfillment. This approach not only helps individuals to thrive emotionally, intellectually and professionally, but also contributes to a more vibrant and dynamic organizational culture.
Where there are issues to address across the talent lifecycle, it is helpful to distinguish between tactical fixes (short-term, immediate remedies) and getting to the bottom of root causes (uncovering the underlying causes and taking a longer-term view). Tactical fixes may offer quick solutions, but they don't tackle underlying issues.
For instance, streamlining your hiring process for speed may seem effective initially, but it doesn’t truly address the core issue. Consider what the real challenges are here. It could be that there is inconsistency among your hiring managers, or you have a culture that discourages process improvement. Rather than opting for a rapid fix, focus on changing these fundamental aspects for long-term benefits.
Encourage a more strategic approach by shifting from reactive thinking to forward thinking. Ask: Is the current way of operating producing the best results? If not, how can we make it better? For example, you might want to completely automate your hiring processes, or you might want to retain a more human touch. Envisioning a liberated future (essentially, a blank sheet of paper) and exploring different scenarios helps you grasp your organizational essence, and begin to design a future that is aligned with your core values, rather than being restricted by what you have now. It propels you from reactive problem-solving to a proactive, forward-thinking mindset.
move to a forward-thinking mindset
While the aspiration for more emphasis on talent experience is shared by HR and the C-suite alike, translating this into tangible actions within the realm of day-to-day operational complexities can be difficult. As well as lack of bandwidth, there is often a lack of clear mandate, which can inhibit your ability to experiment.
Operational demands often take precedence, with around 80% to 90% of time and resources geared towards reactive problem-solving. This leaves a mere 10% to 20% for strategic initiatives, and minimal room for scenario building.
Breaking free from perpetual firefighting involves recalibrating time and resources. Imagine a shift to spending, say, 30% of your time on transformative endeavors; it’s a small but significant move. Business schools worldwide are emphasizing that survival and growth hinge on HR's capacity to evolve from reactive crisis management to proactive, forward-thinking strategies, so this is more than worth considering.
grow a culture of experimentation
Although it’s challenging, some organizations do attempt to experiment and create pockets of innovation and space for imagination alongside their business as usual activities. They focus on building a strong identity, centered on innovation.
These organizations embrace challenges as opportunities for growth, fostering a workplace that is dynamic, efficient and forward-thinking. They encourage a culture that values creativity, adaptability and proactive approaches — which not only helps overcome obstacles but also shapes an organizational identity that thrives in the face of change.
Economically, it is beneficial. According to research by the Haas School of Business at the University of California, organizations that cultivate a culture of adaptability benefit from superior economic performance. Their study reveals a substantial 28% increase in revenue over three years for high-tech companies with established adaptable cultures. McKinsey also highlights that fast-moving organizations report 2.1 times higher operational resilience, 2.5 times higher financial performance, 3 times higher growth and 4.8 times higher innovation.
If you want to embrace this mindset, start by asking: What is the essence of our organization, and what is it built on? If you are squarely focused on cost savings, for example, your firm is likely built on process and efficiency. So, the challenge lies in transitioning people to integrate innovation seamlessly into these processes. Consider the language within your organization and strategize on moving in a more innovative direction.
forget prediction: learn and unlearn
In the past, success relied on thorough preparation and having all the necessary information. But dynamics have changed significantly. We crave predictions and certainty about the future, yet the intricacies of modern life make this challenging. You can't always have all the information you desire, and relying solely on past practices can be misleading.
It's vital to unlearn certain habits and adapt to new approaches. Sometimes, it's not about adding more knowledge, but recognizing what no longer works. Striking a balance between learning and unlearning is essential, understanding that skills have a shorter shelf life in our rapidly evolving world. The way things were done in the past may no longer be effective, requiring continuous adaptation and a willingness to embrace new perspectives.
Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson believes that organizations must find ways to build learning (and failing) into daily work, what she terms “learning as execution.”’ When learning is part of daily activities, we become more thoughtful and responsive to feedback from our work. This leads to better problem-solving and encourages innovative thinking. Focus on practical learning that happens in everyday tasks.
Ensuring that these kinds of behaviors (such as learning, experimentation and authenticity) are role-modeled at the very top of organizations is critical. As talent seeks more authentic and empathetic leadership, leaders must be agile, adaptable and self-aware to navigate the complexities of the future and inspire those around them.
Developing a culture of experimentation will ensure leaders remain agile in the face of unknowns and guide their teams effectively. Dilemmas around generative AI or hybrid working, for example, demand adaptive strategies. So, active listening, experimentation, risk-taking and permission to fail contribute to a culture of continuous learning. Crafting a clear narrative offers stability amid uncertainty.
Too often, leaders claim they will set an example but don’t. For instance, they’ll say they want people to feel safe when they make a mistake. But rarely do leaders openly admit their errors, learn from them and articulate changes they'll implement. This kind of narrative isn’t just rife in organizations, it is prevalent in politics and other domains. But this approach stifles productivity because it hinders a culture of open communication and growth.
a springboard for a new work paradigm
Recently, Edelman's CEO declared, "We are living in a period of huge systemic change in a multi-polar world. Business needs to play a leading role, restoring economic optimism by creating jobs."
Today, organizations must strive to inspire, liberate and empower the individuals who dedicate their working lives to them. Looking ahead, tomorrow’s markets will be shaped by commercial solutions addressing some of the world's most persistent and challenging issues. Providing people with the chance to contribute meaningfully taps into their intrinsic motivation, unleashing discretionary effort.
In this complex environment, HR can have a significant impact not only on business outcomes but also on wider societal well being. Creating a future of work designed for humans is an empowering and exciting mission, going beyond the creation of jobs.
If you are eager to champion a forward-looking philosophy that places talent at the heart of organizational strategy, ensuring both positive business outcomes and a flourishing and fulfilling future for all involved, you will succeed. This opportunity awaits those who are prepared to imagine and embrace it.
reimagining work: 8 ways to start
These tips are not one-size-fits-all. Tailor them to fit the specific context and needs of your organization. Embracing a balance between fixing immediate issues and fostering a culture of innovation will position HR as a proactive force in shaping the future of work within your business.