Every business, no matter the sector, is facing exponential change. And an organization’s leadership — and its culture and people practices — need to be prepared, according to Michael Hyatt, executive chairman of BlueCat, speaking at a Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) Toronto Chapter event in May.
“We’re facing absolute and complete disruption,” he said. “Every business you’ve ever worked for is getting turned upside down.”
Recruitment and retention are becoming more difficult as social media continues to change the game, said Hyatt, co-founder and former CEO of tech companies BlueCat and Dyadem and a dragon on CBC’s Dragon’s Den: Next Gen Den.
“Everyone is recruited. Remember when we started companies 20 years ago, we were worried about people getting our staff list? Well, everyone has our staff list now — it’s called LinkedIn. Everybody is recruited.
“Having a concept of stopping recruiters or stopping people from talking to your people, that’s long dead. What I’ve learned as a CEO is the best way to get around this is to accept it and to understand what people really want,” he said.
Leaders — especially in HR — need to understand why people leave companies and what they are really looking for in a workplace, he said.
“If you want to build a company… what we have to do with people is ignore the fact that people are recruited. That’s going to happen. (It’s about) where are you taking me and why?”
Giving employees that sense of purpose and direction — bringing them into the discussion on where the company is going — is a mark of a good leader, said Hyatt.
“A fish rots from the head, so does your CEO, (so) does your leadership team — show (employees) that this is where you’re going, this is why you’re going there, this is why you’re doing this. Do they have a sense of purpose?” he said.
“What’s the number one reason why people leave companies? They don’t like their boss. That’s the number one thing I’ve seen over 20 years. But once you get past that, it’s a more complex concept.”
It’s also about whether employees feel empowered with knowledge and purpose about where the organization is going, he said.
“All companies have unions. Whether you like it or not, there’s an organic union,” he said. “There’s a collective, breathing community. And… if people don’t feel like they’re going somewhere, they will always look for other opportunities.”
For human resources professionals in particular, it’s important to have a seat at the strategy table. Yet, at many organizations, it’s still rare for HR executives to be looped into key meetings with the CEO, said Hyatt.
“If you’re not in the senior exec meetings, why aren’t you? What’s wrong with that company? That’s a mistake — that’s a CEO mistake.
“The minute we don’t start understanding that our business is only about people and only about (the culture) and getting people to do something great, we’re in trouble.”
If you’re not in that meeting — you’re not part of that process, that inner circle, sitting alongside the CEO and VP of sales — you’ve got to question that, he said.
Creating a safety net
Part of understanding the importance of people and culture is understanding the need to make employees feel safe, said Hyatt.
“If there’s that insecurity, is it your job to make your partner and your team feel safe? It really is. And if you’re not making your team or your partner feel safe, think about that when you step back — why are you not doing that?” he said.
Chief executives are paid to make cuts and hit the bottom line, he said.
“We do things that are not safe. We’ll unemploy 5,000 or 10,000 people and give ourselves big bonuses. And that has never ended well,” he said.
“One of the problems we have right now in the United States (particularly) is the tremendous gap between CEO and labour pay has never been bigger. And this ends in one of three ways — war, revolution or taxes. Always.”
But, at the same time, some of the rapid changes we’ve been seeing may result in more pay equity for workers, said Hyatt.
For a very long time, there was no upward wage pressure — but then recently behemoths such as WalMart increased wages for some employees in the United States.
“Not because they want to — because they have to,” he said.
If there’s one thing organizations need to keep in mind when planning for the future, it’s that change is moving at an exponential pace, said Hyatt.
“Everything that you know will be disrupted significantly but the reason you don’t see it coming… is because you believe it’s linear and not exponential. And you believe, and I believe, that it’s based on what we’ve seen in the past — that’s not what’s going to happen.”
Change is exceptionally difficult to predict because we can’t do so using logic — we can’t base future predictions based on what we’ve seen in the past, because change doesn’t unfold in a linear manner, he said.
And that means rapid and unforeseen changes to jobs, hiring, human resources and even the way we think about work, said Hyatt.
“The sharing economy is the way we’re going to do things and as artificial intelligence rolls in, it’s going to happen more and more,” he said.
“The future will be shockingly different.”
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