Leadership Reimagined with Ellyn Shook: Key Takeaways
As we close in on the end of 2022, amidst global instability, economic pressures, and an irreversibly changed world of work, people are redefining what is important in their lives and re-evaluating their relationship with work. With the talent market in flux, very few desire a return to the status quo and are instead prioritizing flexibility, health, and a sense of meaning and belonging.
We wanted to tackle the big question, Can work become more human and if so, what does that look like?
"People are looking at how work fits into their life in a different way now," said Ellyn Shook, Chief Leadership and Human Resources Officer, Accenture, during our recent Leadership Reimagined event, where she chatted with our founder and CEO Rasmus Hougaard about the future of work, and how leaders can help shape a more human future for themselves and their teams. “People are looking for flexibility, but not the flexibility of the past. Now it’s about how they work, where they work, and why they work. People are looking to work with an organization that aligns with their personal values.”
As Rasmus shared, it’s all about the human component of work. “Human employees are looking for more human-ready experiences, a greater sense of care, a greater sense of connection to their peers, to their direct manager, and a more human workplace.” And both speakers agreed that organizations need to rethink whether they are really delivering on the fundamental needs for belonging, connection, and purpose.
As a leader, you’re probably wondering how to make this more human world of work a reality within your own organization. We posed the question, how would you describe a human leader in one word? to event participants, and you can see their answers in the word cloud above. Compassionate, caring, and authentic were some of the most answered responses, but if you look at all answers, there is a common thread: humanity.
Moderator Adi Ignatius, Editor-In-Chief at Harvard Business Review, posed a similar question to Ellyn: “When you have 700,000 people in your organization, how do you make work more human?”
And while her answer applies to their mega-sized organization, it’s relevant regardless of company size: make sure there is a business aspiration and a people aspiration. At Accenture, change has been driven from the highest levels of leadership. Their mission: become ‘the most truly human company in the digital age.’ They put a major emphasis on helping people to be successful personally and professionally—a whole human view—because a well-rounded human makes the best employee. “We care deeply for our people, so that they can be successful professionally and personally.” This approach is rooted in the importance of care, kindness, and connection as driving values.
So, what does this look like from a practical implementation perspective? Ellyn talked us through a recent initiative, Care to do Better: How to Leave People Net Better Off. It focuses on the four fundamental human needs that unblock human potential:
- Marketable skills, a currency that workers can take anywhere with them
- A sense of belonging and connection
- A strong feeling of purpose and that work has meaning
- Health and wellness – physical, emotional, mental, and financial
“Companies need to ask if their people are net better off.” said Ellyn. “And if not, how will you fix it?”
Next, Adi asked Rasmus, How do you institutionalize humanity? “The human potential is to be happy, to lead a fulfilled, good life, and to be able to show up as you are,” said Rasmus. “And right now, the workplace is not set up to be a particularly human place.”
But as leaders running workplaces all over the world, we need to create space to help bring this vision to life. We need to cultivate a sense of connection and put value on embodying attributes like care, kindness, and compassion – all different words that ultimately suggest the same kind of experience in the workplace. When the focus is on profits and performance, there is no space left for balancing the human needs we all have.
“Now is a golden opportunity for companies to rethink and reset what it means to be a workplace, and how to bring humanity into that,” said Rasmus. “Simply put, when you care for people, they perform better.”
During the conversation, many participants shared that their company’s culture has been struggling for the past 2.5 years with hybrid and remote work. As a response, Ellyn challenged the group to not associate culture with a space or place but to root it in a sense of caring. “Culture is glue,” she said, “and people need to feel connected to each other in order for culture to flourish. You don't need to be in a physical place to care."
Rasmus explained how leaders can show up in more caring ways – by mastering the four attributes of presence, candor, courage, and transparency:
- Caring presence: Be in the moment
- Caring courage: Find the strength to enter into a difficult situation
- Caring candor: Say what needs to be said
- Caring transparency: Make the invisible visible
The panelists also discussed how critical it is for leaders to unlearn management and to relearn human. As Rasmus shared, this means letting go of the old idea that you have to be tough or kind as a leader and accepting that a leader can and must be both. Ellyn explained that doing this means having the humility to let go of how you’ve always worked and to learn something new.
Leaders have an opportunity to operate from a revised playbook that is now more grounded in people-centered leadership qualities, such as compassion, presence, courage, and vulnerability. With a new emphasis on the “human,” leaders can drive higher levels of engagement and performance in their teams and better deliver on bold solutions for this new era of work.