The last time I spoke with Pat Wadors was at ServiceNow's Knowledge event in Orlando last year. We had a very thoughtful discussion on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the enterprise - and more importantly, why making people feel uncomfortable is sometimes a good thing.
Fast forward a year or so and not many could have truly anticipated how the world would change, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. This week I got the chance to sit down with Wadors again during ServiceNow's Knowledge event - although this time the event and conversation are both carried out digitally.
For access to the online Knowledge 2020 event, follow this link for a full agenda of sessions. And for diginomica's ongoing coverage of the event, take a look at our dedicated Knowledge 2020 resource hub here.
As a Chief Talent Officer, Wadors is in a perfect position to share insights into how the ongoing impact of COVID-19 may affect the changing nature of employee engagement and organisational structures.
Some points that Wadors was particularly keen to highlight include - enabling managers to effectively lead with a digital, distributed workforce; leading with compassion; and rethinking productivity measures.
But first, Wadors said that during this unprecedented time she and her peers have been leaning on each other to discuss constructive routes forward for employees and to think about the enterprise of the future. She said:
[COVID-19] is giving cause for me and my peers to come together and actually collaborate and share ideas more urgently than ever before. There's less competing on the war on talent and more collaborating for the care of talent. It's opening practices, points of view, people are coming to the table like never before. I think in the past, people were ashamed and anxious and overwhelmed when they had to furlough or layoff talent.
And so they don't talk about it. Now my peers and I are coming together and saying, how can we help bridge the care of those employees? Help them find a job quicker, better, faster.
For example, Wadors said that her and her peers are having discussions around how companies can get in front of the decision to reduce the size of the workforce and connect them to employers that are hiring, which could take advantage of that talent.
In addition to this, the talent leaders and managers are thinking through how to manage the knowledge in an organisation to enable people to work from anywhere, to be safe while they work, and thinking about creating safe workspaces for people that do eventually return to the office. Wadors said:
What does that all mean? We have an immediate need to communicate, to automate, to make sure the right information is in the right hands at the right time to keep us safe and efficient.
Thinking through the challenges
It's clear that the future enterprises that succeed will be more digital and more distributed - much more so than before the Coronavirus pandemic took hold. Wadors anticipates that at ServiceNow as much as 60% of employees will work outside the office, from wherever they please. That's up from approximately 20/25% previously. This has an impact. She said:
I think we've removed the stigma of working anywhere. You don't judge people any longer, I'd hope, for working anywhere. You judge them on their output. You judge them on their communication and how they collaborate. It changes performance management. It will change how we look at empowering you, onboarding you, caring for you.
Wadors said that this holds a number of advantages for companies from a competitive standpoint, which may now feel more comfortable hiring employees and talent no matter where they are based. However, she adds that this could also give underrepresented parts of the workforce - such as women - a better opportunity to earn an income from home, with flexibility. Wadors said:
Think about people working anywhere within their communities. That's a big deal. I can get more diverse talent, I can create better economic opportunities for more people around the globe by giving them more freedom. We're going to change our job descriptions. We're going to continue to remind managers that you've already been leading a distributed workforce, let's do it more with grace and intent.
However, this change in the structure of organisations does present new challenges and requires new ways of thinking. For example, Wadors said that companies need to ‘pulse' their employees more frequently to see how they're doing, what they like, what's working, and what isn't. She said "if you haven't' started listening, listen".
But in addition to this, organisations need to be thinking through how they enable managers to lead effectively within these new digital structures. Wadors explained:
It's engaging, training, teaching, guiding and modelling for managers and leaders. What does it mean to lead in a healthy way with digital work and a distributed workforce?
[You've got to] empower managers, especially frontline managers, to give them more confidence in hiring digitally. If I've never met you, I can still get a vibe of who you are on video. I can see your smile. I can see your engagement. I actually know more about you by talking with you in your kitchen and in my kitchen. I can learn a lot by being invited into your home. And so I need to teach managers and leaders to really appreciate that nuance and lean into it. Give them the confidence.
Also, show them how to run a staff meeting in a digital way that lets every voice be heard and know when there's fatigue, given the freedom from working anywhere. Teaching managers to allow for flexibility in scheduling is also a big deal. And resiliency, especially during the pandemic, is needed to be taught. How do you practice gratitude? It makes conversations more personal and for many managers that's uncomfortable. But it's needed.
However, and what is critical to all of this, is that the enterprise needs to rethink how it measures productivity. So much of ‘productivity' in the past has been based on being ‘present'. Wadors joked that someone's measure of productivity in the past was frequently based on how long their car was in the office car park and the hours they put in. This has to change. She said:
I think how people measure productivity [is going to be interesting]. How do you gauge it? Is it always on Slack? How quick they respond to an email? Micromanagement is not the answer.
We've got to have much better discipline around goal setting and measure people on their results. Not on the hours. I worry about burnout, setting the right boundaries and helping them be more efficient.
Empathy + Action
Related to all of the above, and most importantly, Wadors spoke about the need to bring compassion to the enterprise. She said that some of the things she is currently worrying about, but doesn't have the answers to, are situations that involve an inequity in household work. For example, both partners working but also managing childcare or have elderly care responsibilities - and then having to work around a ‘traditional' work timetable.
Again, Wadors said that it is up to managers and leaders to work directly with employees to help solve these situations. Peoples' home lives are nuanced and companies need to understand that there is not a one size fits all approach. She said:
There's not an easy answer. I wish I had better answers for that. You need empathy, but what you really need is compassion - which is empathy plus action. It's feeling someone's pain, knowing that they're going through some wonky times, and then helping them problem solve, together - that's compassion. You've got to actually help problem solve together as a collaborative community.
These sorts of conversations are my favourite to have, as they speak to the core of any company's greatest asset - it's people. And it's very promising to me that the conversations we are now having don't just involve how to make people as productive as possible, on as little money as possible. But they speak to our complex situations and human nature. We should all learn how to lead with more compassion.