Employee Activism Seeks Education And Opportunities To Thrive In Global Economy
Economic uncertainty at home and abroad fuels the ire of both the pool of talent looking for work and those searching for the right candidate. Add a tumultuous hiring market and the infusion of new graduates, and you have a hot talent market walking into tempered environments.
Traditional business models and management styles now intersect with a talent pool seeking workforce environments with more inclusivity and global concerns as part of their mission. Activism collides with the workplace, and companies face a broader scope of requirements and pressures to attract talent.
According to MIT Sloan Management Review, “Employees are demanding that managers engage on topics like climate change and racial equity—and leaders need to be ready to respond.” As the work climate shifts with more jobs than workers to fill them, voices that were once muffled are now being listened to more intently.
The Human Resource (HR) sector is also stepping up with major leaders inviting conversations that bolster Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) as a key part of workforce culture. Research by Society for Human Resource Management SHRM indicates that 95% of U.S. Employees were involved in polarized discussions in the workplace, and 41% quit their jobs over stigmatization. As a result, partnerships with innovative inclusion programs, such as Diversity Without Division, are being added to improve job settings with empathy and listening at the forefront.
There’s an interesting mix of concerns entering the hiring market as companies and talent move back and forth in a dance of needs and concerns to find balanced results.
Talent expert, Debbie Goodman, has been in the corporate trenches supporting the pursuits of executives and the companies they call home into better suitable placements that match intention and vibe. She is Group CEO of Jack Hammer, a global group of executive search, talent advisory and leadership coaching companies. For the last 20 years, she has been helping boards and CEOs diversify their leadership teams.
Her first book, InTheFlow – Taking Mindfulness to Work, was listed as one of the ‘Top 10 Best’ business books. Her newest work, The Living Room Leader – Leadership Lessons for a Hybrid Future, shot to the top of Amazon’s Bestseller list.
I sat down with Goodman to discuss the current market in the field of talent placement and the shift from an in-office mindset to remote workforce expansion. She paints an intriguing picture of present conditions where hiring switches from hot to cold and then back to hot again, much like the weather in our climate-changing world.
Rod Berger: When it comes to human capital management and understanding leadership, there have been plenty of shifts to support corporations. From your perspective, how have things changed over the last 18 months?
Debbie Goodman: In the U.S., we’ve had the hottest talent market in decades. I’ve been doing my job for 20 years, and it’s probably the hottest talent market I’ve seen, compounded by many things, including people exiting the workplace.
Demand has massively outstripped the supply at all levels. Take engineering. There is a big imbalance in available jobs versus those capable of the positions.
At the leadership level, where I concentrate, the demand for qualified, capable, functional experts that can lead during this unprecedented time in history is very high. Add to it the fulfillment of diversity requirements and agendas, and it’s.been a tough market to hire.
In addition, there’s been a groundswell of employee activism. Quality people with experience and expertise can now ask for working conditions, salaries, and preferences that they might not have been able to ask for or expect during any other time in history.
Berger: Does the environment change the qualities that a leader needs to be able to handle, understand and conceptualize their role?
Goodman: Yes. It’s hard to manage hybrid teams and lead remotely. The job relies on energy, and personality, which is difficult through a zoom screen to ascertain.
Leaders asked to lead a certain way must now learn through an unfamiliar and uncomfortable channel. There’s an expectation that leaders can handle all of this, but it is challenging.
Many leaders prefer to be in person, calling executive teams back into the office. However, employees aren’t asking to go back to the office, it’s the executives who want to be in person. Why? Because it’s easier for them, and they believe their job would be better together.
Yet, the data doesn’t support the sentiment. Multiple data points show productivity, collaboration, and other factors are not necessarily impacted by being in person. But for a leader, who is not familiar with or dislikes the virtual channel, it’s a more comfortable place to be in person if given a choice.
Post-pandemic skill sets that leaders need to have now differ from what was expected in February 2020. However, we are never returning to February 2020 and any leader who expects that deludes themselves.
Learning and Adapting
Berger: So what does it look like moving forward for leadership hires?
Goodman: The hope is that companies will be able to employ skilled and experienced people to do the job, with the capabilities to handle the leadership role. There is the functional aspect of the job and the people part. On top of that, employers are looking for individuals that can function well in hybrid or remote settings.
Berger: Walk me through how it impacts your business from a challenge perspective. What effect is there on searching for candidates? I would imagine some of the favorable traits that existed pre-pandemic now require added technology elements and skills to adapt to remote leadership. How do you bridge that when dealing with talent and placement?
Goodman: It’s a critical piece of the jigsaw puzzle. It’s misguided to think we can transact the way we did two years ago. There is a great need for more support, education, development, and coaching.
At Jack Hammer, a search methodology adds support and development on both sides. An executive search company can’t just be involved in the finding process. Education and support are necessary for the employer, as well as coaching and development of the leader.
Our platform has a leadership coaching component. Regardless of the method, any leader who is not working on personal or professional development to learn to function in the new world is unlikely to be operating optimally.
Berger: Please explain what you see when you walk into a corporate environment today?
Goodman: Companies in various phases of their journey are thinking about employee experience. Some are more advanced and cultivate thriving cultures and employee-centric environments with leadership development. Others are jolted by the new environment and are catching a wake-up call on how to attract talent.
A Cooling Effect
Berger: Are there any trends you are noticing most recently that companies are reacting to and affecting their decision-making process?
Goodman: We’re at an interesting juncture. It’s been a rude awakening in the economy over the last month. Companies report layoffs, hiring freezes, and concerns about recession. It feels like the early early days of Covid-19.
People are asking, “Where’s the bottom? How long is it going to last? Because we see the economy stray.”
Suddenly, this very hot talent market walked into the freezer. It became super chilly very quickly. However, it’s weird because it’s been so employee-driven until this recent shift. So the market that suddenly got tempered by the unexpected frigidness is in a wait-and-see mode.
Berger: How much of the hiring freeze and layoffs are moments of recalibration for companies? Is it more of a pause to better understand the market, the recession, and exactly where things are heading?
Goodman: That’s 100% accurate. The interesting thing to look at is how this wait-and-see moment will affect employee power, activism and voice? Does it remain loud and powerful and intentional?
Many individuals do not wish to return to the way it used to be and have been asking for work scenarios that suit them better. They may now be concerned about a tighter job market, if their needs will be met, and possible layoffs—the whole scenario could change.
For the forward-thinking companies struggling to fill key roles for a while, now’s the time to hop on it. People that were not available two months ago may now be available.
Next Generation Leadership
Berger: How do we understand and support the next generation of supposed leaders to give them the skills to plug into a changing economy? If we could get more young professionals with a baseline, won’t we be starting from a better place in time?
Goodman: The skills are the same ones needed for a long time. Excellent listening skills, adaptability, and willingness to engage and leverage the capabilities of a team without needing to have all the answers. Also, a desire to be collaborative in pooling the resources of the room and asking instead of telling. These skills are nothing new; they need to be thought of and applied differently.
There are inequity pitfalls in the hybrid workplace. If leaders are unaware of how inequality creeps into a hybrid work environment, they are ill-equipped to combat it. It’s not rocket science, but it requires a little extra thinking and then behavior change. Doing things the same way will not work, and it’s misguided.
Berger: This reminds me of the education space and the dragging of feet with digital learning. Only when Covid-19 hit did they [education sector] fully recognize the need. Do you see old beliefs holding back preparation for the global economy?
Goodman: Anybody willing to go about a learning process will be successful in this new era. We have to apply new material and experiment. We are used to making policies and sticking to them but not experimenting. Why not beta test interpersonal areas? We are so used to the iterations that need to happen to get a product-market fit, but when it comes to our interpersonal engagement, we don’t give each other the same grace.
It takes a growth mindset around self-learning, leadership, and management. Everything you thought you knew and believed was right, needs a rethink.
Previous generations of workers relied heavily on the tradition of skill acquisition paths to obtain professional positions with granite-like expectations. Yet, the current crop of employable professionals has subtly grown into their collective voice, expressing wants and needs to thrive and align with corporate missions.
With an updated version of activism inside the workplace, they are altering the roles employers and employees play in the grander scheme of the business world.
While opportunities abound for employees seeking new positions, the hot hiring climate may have received a bit of a cold blast from recent recessionary constraints. As a result, some companies highly active in job hiring are pumping the brakes a little to see where the recession and financial markets balance out.
Nonetheless, it may represent a lull and “wait and see” approach before aggressive hiring reengages at post-pandemic levels.
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.