Legacy mindsets are the biggest hurdle to making real progress in our workplaces

Legacy mindsets are the biggest hurdle to making real progress in our workplaces

Originally published in the Globe & Mail May 12, 2023


Technological advances are pushing workplaces and work forces to transform before our eyes, yet organizations are largely under-prepared to handle the resulting trends that have emerged. 
In Deloitte’s 2023 Global Human Capital Trends report, across the board, there is a significant gap between organizations’ commitment to identified trends (for example, the degree to which they believe the trend is critical to organizational success) and their readiness to address them. Specifically, in most of the trends, organizational commitment is more than 80 per cent, whereas readiness hovers around 20 per cent. The trends run the gamut from skills-based work and workplace technology to employee data and sustainability.

In a recent episode of the foHRsight podcast, Steve Hatfield, Deloitte’s global future of work leader, and I discussed this year’s theme of “boundarylessness” – the notion that the structures that made our organizations successful in the past are falling away. The boundaries between humans and robots, employees and employers, what’s in one’s job scope and outside of it, and work life and home life are getting blurrier and falling away. This creates an exciting opportunity for reinvention – to create more meaning in the workplace and in work itself, and as Mr. Hatfield says, “to circle back to a time when we are more human, unlike previous industrial revolutions where we became more robotic.” This year’s trends report certainly reflects this aspiration.

What is the biggest barrier to making real progress toward this opportunity in our organizations? As Mr. Hatfield puts it, “Legacy mindsets.” For many leaders, there is a perceived recipe for success, which relies on the technology and structures available in one’s formative years as a professional. These recipes, however, often don’t consider the significant impact technology and other macro trends have had on our ability to work and lead differently, with greater impact. For example, being in the office for a set number of hours and days can be interpreted as a recipe for success to “preserve culture” and “improve collaboration” because this was the only possible way of achieving these outcomes in decades past. Deliberating other possibilities, particularly in an environment where many are stretched thin and burned out just “running the business,” could be scary.

Letting go of legacy mindsets unleashes significant opportunities for a more equitable, productive work force. Here are a few ways how, from Deloitte’s report:

1. Navigating the end of jobs
: According to a Deloitte study, only 19 per cent of respondents believe work is best structured through jobs. Moving past organizational design and structures and instead focusing on matching skills to work enables more agility and equity in our workforces. As Mr. Hatfield refers to in our podcast, a Philadelphia fed study revealed that 36 million Americans could earn 70-per-cent more if we hired based on skills rather than pedigree.

2. Activating the future workplace: 
Despite the work organizations have done over the past two years to reimagine their ways of working (for example, 3+2, anchor days and mandates), there is still a significant gap between organizational commitment (87 per cent) to the future workplace (including hybrid and remote working) and readiness to address it (24 per cent). This gap will continue to exist until organizations are prepared to focus on the work itself, including individual and team needs versus where and when work is done. This means being equitable, not always equal. For example, the needs of a technology team are different from those of a front-line sales team. However, an equitable approach ensures flexibility and physical and digital workplaces are offered in consideration of what’s needed to deliver the work.

3. Negotiating worker data: 
“Who owns the data?” is a complicated question in our consumer and now professional lives. Access to employee data can be powerful in providing better employee and organizational outcomes. For example, knowing about cross-functional collaboration (through Organizational Network Analysis) or burnout (through tools like Microsoft Viva) can improve outcomes both for the organization and for individual employees. “Digital exhaust” as Mr. Hatfield describes it, helps us to lead people better, and to focus on the right key performance indicators (KPI) for the business. Trusting that data will be used for positive, and not disciplinary, outcomes is critical in shifting mindsets to embrace data transparency.

Legacy mindsets are getting in the way of real progress in our organizations, but they don’t have to. Across all elements of the employee experience, don’t be afraid to ask employees what they want, and deliver. Regularly tapping into the voice of the employee provides different perspectives and enables a shift in mindset, to focus on what matters.