Building A People-Centric Culture: From Employees To Contributors written by John Jantsch read more at Duct Tape Marketing
In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interviewed Kai Anderson, a seasoned strategist and the leader of workforce transformation at Mercer. Kai has spent years guiding organizations throughout Europe. His book Digital Human (2017) championed the concept of prioritizing humans in the digital transformation. Amid the pandemic’s upheaval, Kai continued his mission, helping clients reimagine their work and navigate decisions in a time of immense pressure and uncertainty.
Kai brings a wealth of experience, guiding organizations throughout Europe. Today, our discussion centers around his latest book, “Work, different: 10 Truths for Winning in The People Age.”
This podcast episode with Kai Anderson offers a deep dive into the transformative journey from employees to contributors, defining the people age, navigating the new rhythm of work, evolving leadership styles, and understanding the dynamics of the great resignation. Tune in for valuable insights on building a people-centric culture in the ever-evolving landscape of work.
Gain valuable insights into navigating the transformative shift from employees to contributors in the dynamic landscape of the people age. Kai illuminates the essence of this era, emphasizing the paradigm shift from command and control to a more balanced relationship between employers and contributors. Addressing the challenges of remote work, he introduces the concept of “The New Rhythm of Work” and advocates for finding synchronization in virtual environments. The discussion extends to the evolving role of leadership, with a focus on empathy as a crucial competency. Additionally, Kai delves into the great resignation phenomenon, shedding light on the quest for purpose and the changing preferences of individuals in the workforce. This episode offers a comprehensive exploration of building a people-centric culture in the context of the ever-evolving dynamics of work.
Questions I ask Kai Anderson:
[00:48] How do you describe “the people age”?
[01:32] What aspects make today the people age?
[02:37] According to your book, what are the most significant truths about the people age?
[04:21] How does the popularity of remote-work relate to the people age?
[05:58] What advice do you have for people trying to develop leaders in this new age?
[08:04] How does desire for individual wellbeing manifest itself in the workplace these days?
[10:58] Explain the value individuals have towards diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
[12:04] How do the 10 truths outlined in your book, help create a more inclusive environment?
[13:49] How do you leverage AI while keeping the human touch?
[15:12] How do you create a culture of learning that feels natural?
[16:58] How do you help people realize the return on investment in their people?
[19:25] Where can people connect with you and find a copy of your latest book?
More About Kai Anderson:
- Connect with Kai on LinkedIn
- Get Work Different: 10 Truths for Winning in The People Age
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Connect with John Jantsch on LinkedIn
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John (00:08): Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch. My guest today is Kai Anderson. He’s a seasoned strategist who started with his own company and now leading workforce transformation for Mercer has spent years guiding organizations throughout Europe. His book, digital Human, championed the concept of Prioritizing Humans in the Digital Transformation. And today we’re going to talk about his new book Work, different 10 Truths for Winning in The People Age. So Kai, welcome to the show.
Kai (00:41): Thanks much, John. Great to be here with you.
John (00:43): So I always like to pick apart titles and subtitles particularly, and so let’s start with people age. How do you describe this thing you’re calling the People age?
Kai (00:52): I’m glad you’re picking that, John, because in fact, the idea was that the initial title was the People Age, but we turned it around. So why is it the people age? We had some major trends evolving in the past like 50 years, which brought us from the industrial age into another age. Some people argue it’s the digital age, we say it’s the people age, right? And of course we have some short-term events like the Pandemic that also accelerated some of these trends.
John (01:26): So what are some aspects that make this, I mean, what you referenced the industrial age, what are the aspects that make this the people age?
Kai (01:36): John the industrial age was very much the core paradigm of the industrial age was command and control. And that worked pretty well. And we have to see that employers and employees were not on eye level. So this was, as we see still in some organizations like military, that was a different kind of organizing work and it was a different relationship. And that has changed significantly through of course, demographics. Now that labor, we all face labor shortage, things have turned around, values have shifted. So that is something which is very different to what we’ve seen in the industrial age where we are now coming towards, well, the balance of power, if you would like to say. So where we’re coming to a new kind of relationship between employers and employees or contributors as we say.
John (02:36): Yeah. So the book also unveils 10 truths. I’m not going to ask you to name your favorite truth or name all 10 truths, but I wonder if there’s one or maybe two that you would say, Hey, these are the most significant things, or these are the things people get wrong the most in this age.
Kai (02:54): It really starts with John, what I just mentioned, the contributors. So the first chapter is Goodbye employee, hello contributor. And I think we need to get rid of the idea of an employee. People want to contribute, they want to bring their very best to work, and they want acknowledgement for that. And that is something that has changed a lot. I guess when we started working, it was all about getting a good paycheck and that was it. And that has changed dramatically. So the contributor, and we see that in our global talent trends, you might know that we do annual of course, surveys on what is trending and what people expect. And more than 40 of people say that they want appreciation for what they bring to work for their contribution. So that is a very important chapter. One of my favorites. It’s the first one. Of course, I have others.
John (03:46): And I also like the use of new language too, because I think a lot of times old language employee is kind of loaded with how people think about that. And I think it probably in some cases almost takes an entire, you mentioned paradigm, almost a paradigm shift of what an employee or the term employee even is.
Kai (04:03): Absolutely.
John (04:04): So you also mentioned the pandemic, and it’s hard to talk about any kind of thing around team and staffing without bringing it up. Hopefully we’ll grow out of that at some point. But remote work certainly has been around for a period of time, but talk about accelerating that. It’s certainly changed a lot of organizations dramatically. How does the people age, how do the 10 truths really relate to the idea that so many people now are not physically in a building with their place of employment?
Kai (04:31): I’m glad you’re asking. Of course. We have a dedicated chapter on that. It’s called The New Rhythm of Work. And that is, by the way, we have a lot of musical references. So if you’re not into music, you might not like the book, but if you’re into music, we have a lot of references here. And the new rhythm of work is the good thing. There was one good thing about the Pandemic then it was that it showed us what is possible with regard to working virtually. And in the beginning it worked out pretty well. But then we kind of struggled in organizations started to struggle because we were getting out of sync. So some people were starting early, others were starting late, some were commuting, others were working from home. So we are not in sync anymore. And that is why some companies are calling people back into their offices, which is of course not the answer because the ghost is out of the bottle. You cannot turn it back. But we need to find that new rhythm. We need to get back in sync with each other to make that entire thing work.
John (05:42): If the workplace is changing, if organizations are realizing this is the people age, what leadership, how does leadership have to change? Does training need to change? Do who we think of as a leader need to change? Certainly the hierarchical structure of leadership has to change. What do you tell people now when they’re trying to think, how do we develop leaders in our organization in this kind of new age?
Kai (06:04): First of all, leaders should read our book, John, obviously, of course,
John (06:09): Yes. Well, that of course,
Kai (06:14): Because, no, I think the book is not targeted at HR people, not primarily it’s targeted at leaders, at executives. It’s targeted at people that want to understand how this new world of working is working and what it takes. And I think we have some really great advice also for leaders in here. Let me take one or two things. The basics of good leadership have not changed, not really being on eye level, these kinds of things. But of course there things that are new. And let me take empathy for example. Empathy is something that has really emerged strongly with the pandemic because we had to get into the other’s shoes, really understand what is bothering you, how do you feel? And that kind of notion, think back 30 years ago, that would’ve been impossible, but now it’s a leadership competency we’re talking about. And empathy is the beginning of inclusion. And what we all want is a diverse and inclusive workforce. So the basis for that is empathy. So we are drawing the line here to make sure that people understand what is good leadership about what has changed and what do you need to know as a leader in the people age.
John (07:40): So there were a couple of terms that were certainly used throughout the us. I’m not sure if they were used as much in Europe, quite quitting, and the great resignation where people were up and leaving, choosing other jobs. And I think a lot of people initially kind of pegged that as, oh, people just don’t want to work anymore. But I think what really came out of that was people just don’t want to work for you anymore or at this place. So how does this real sort of desire for engagement, for wellbeing in the place that they work manifests itself?
Kai (08:12): It’s also something that has very much been accelerated by the pandemic. We were sitting in our homes, we were considering and thinking about what’s life about and what do I expect from life and what do I expect from work? What do I expect from my employer? And so it wasn’t really surprising that people in the pandemic and after the pandemic thought, is that it or is there more to it? And what am I going to do? And of course, we have to be fair, John, this was fueled to some extent by the labor market situation. Of course, when I can change like this, that’s not that much of an issue. I think it’s now a bit harder and the great resignation has stopped as a movement. But also here, I think we see a genuine shift of preferences with people. And we see people asking for purpose, for purpose of their companies, for purpose in their lives. And I think that’s a good movement.
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(10:25): Now, this offer is limited to new active campaign customers only. So what are you waiting for? Fuel your growth. Boost revenue and save precious time by upgrading to active campaign today. So you already mentioned diversity and inclusion. I think that workplaces have become more diverse generationally, I think, which is probably driving some of this. You think of some of what we’ve talked about has really been attributed to millennials. The I want to work at a place that matters necessarily that’s higher than what I’m paid. Maybe talk a little bit about, I know you have a whole chapter on diversity and inclusion and not as a regulatory process and more of a people want to work in companies that value that.
Kai (11:11): That is also some of the shift in preferences that we are seeing that is very much tied to, I want to bring myself to work. I want to be looked at as an individual. That entire idea of the workforce, the human resource is a very abstract thing. And that is not John. We are living in a world of hyper individualization. People want to be seen as an individual. I have been working with the former CHO from Betina Fox, and she’s a great woman. I did my last book with her and she said, everybody wants to be seen. That was her mantra. Everybody wants to be seen with an airline. Imagine. That is so true, isn’t it? And that is the genuine idea of inclusion and diversity.
John (12:04): So how do the truths that you share in this book or the insights you share in this book help people create a more inclusive environment, help people be more seen?
Kai (12:15): I think it’s the combination, and I think it starts with a general idea of this people age that has come and we have a dedicated chapter on AI and technology, but the idea is it starts with the people. And if you consider that when you ask executives what’s your most valuable resource? What will they answer to the people? It’s the people. But that has been a lip service, John, for years and years now. It’s becoming true. Now people start realizing it is the most valuable resource and that is the first thing I think that needs to not necessarily change, but that needs to be top of people’s mind to say, yeah, it’s the people that will make us successful or not. And it’s the diversity of people that will make us more successful. And we have studies on that. We know that diverse teams are better performing than non-diverse teams. So we know that. And I think you don’t have to argue about that anymore. The question is in fact, how do you do it?
John (13:29): Right? So you mentioned ai. That was my very next question. Certainly a lot of hand wringing in some circles just about the idea that AI is going to replace people, that robots are going to replace people. So how do you leverage technology? Because we also know that this technology sometimes affords us some great things. So how do you leverage technology with also then keeping some sort of human touch?
Kai (13:55): John, I’m a big tech fan, frankly, and I’m a big believer of technology being an amplifier for our capabilities, which is why the chapter on AI we call intelligence is amplified. So we see it as an amplifier for our intelligence. And then you mentioned the gains. We’re talking 10 to 30% productivity increase. So this is incredible, especially if we consider that the past years have been stagnating with regard to productivity increase. So here’s the kind of boost that we all want, and I see it as a means, or we see it in the book as something that is highly beneficial for the organization, of course, but also for the contributor for people within the organization. If we manage to of what we call have a fair distribution of the digital dividend.
John (14:56): I know in my organization, most of the members of our team are fit into the millennial generation, age wise. And one of the things that I find is very valuable to them, they always want to continue to learn what we talk about it every week. You learn this week, what’s a new thing you can share this week? How do you cultivate that kind of culture without also cramming stuff down people’s throats? It’s like you have to keep learning, you have to keep training, you have to keep reading. How do you create that in a way that feels very natural?
Kai (15:28): That’s a cultural thing first. And look at Microsoft. They did an entire campaign on learn it all versus know it all and look at where they are. So to me, that is first of all, really cultural development. And you need to get to a culture that first of all is about curiosity, being curious, trying new things, exploring things. I think we have cultural differences when we look at the US versus Europe versus Asia. Europeans are much more hesitating when it comes to new technology that’s different in different parts of the world. But start with the chances first, have that kind of curiosity. And then it’s about of course, embedding learning into everyday work, giving people the tools, giving people also some time, and most importantly, having the freedom to fail. So what we call psychological safety, create that psychological safety. You say you try it goes wrong, doesn’t matter. You’re not supposed to do it wrong twice, but once is.
John (16:41): Yeah. Right, right, right. So I’m sure you get this question, especially in a consulting role. If you’re talking to a CEO, you’re talking about change in some instances. This is not how every business is run, right? Today. So you’re talking about some significant change sometimes equates to significant investment. So how do you help people realize the return on an investment in their people? Like we’re talking about, is there a way to measure this has been successful?
Kai (17:07): Good question, John. When we are embarking on these exo, the first thing that we make sure is we are not really convincing people like the return of investment, but rather is it the right thing to do? So you want to get more profitable? Where does it start? What are you going to do without the kind of performance mindset? You want to be more innovative, you want to be more customer centered. Is that a structural thing or is that a mindset kind of thing? So this is first of all, you believe it or not, and there are people that don’t believe it, that rather want to get into structures, into processes and say, this is not about people. More and more people buy into the idea of at least people have something to do with it. So I’m not saying that we are not, of course we are setting objectives like net promoter scores where there’s a whole bunch of objectives and we are doing extensive employee listening to see what arrives with employees, with contributors. So this is something, and in the end, of course you want to see the business results of all of that, but it’s caused an effect. I know, and we know we have great examples also in the book from organization that managed to kind of become a digital champion, for example, by at least investing heavily into their people, into their cultures and their people practices. There’s the hardwired stuff as well. There’s objective setting, incentive systems, performance management, you name it. Of course, that plays a role.
John (18:54): I suspect if you want to default or what I would default maybe as a simple metric is retention too. I mean that’s so many people left companies they didn’t like working for and it was very expensive to replace them.
Kai (19:09): Retention. Meanwhile, retention is a business objective. Exactly. Just diversity is just as diverse, just as engagement. Of course. You’re absolutely right.
John (19:22): Well, Kai, I appreciate you taking a moment to stop by the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. You want to invite people where they might connect with you. Obviously find a copy of your latest book work different.
Kai (19:33): John, thank you so much. Yeah, please reach out LinkedIn, great channel. Make sure that we follow you, John. Great talking to you. Good fun.
John (19:41): Yep. Awesome. Again, thanks for stopping. Bye. Hopefully we’ll run into you one of these days out there in Europe.
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