The Great Resignation & The Future Of Work: Dominic Ashley-Timms of Notion On How Employers and…

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The Great Resignation & The Future Of Work: Dominic Ashley-Timms of Notion On How Employers and Employees Are Reworking Work Together

Embrace the next generation. The trend to watch here is the influence of the newest generation entering the workforce, and how we’re able to move their insights into the heart of how we’re informed as an organization, because it is this new generation that matters most, they will be the future stewards of our world. We need to be respectful of the very different eyes that are coming into our organization from people who’ve experienced life through a very different set of lenses than perhaps our generation have. Leadership of today needs to think about how we can capitalize on this fresh digital insight and how that affects our thinking, our policies, our engagement, contribution, and how we perform as an organization.

When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.

As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Dominic Ashley-Timms.

Dominic is the CEO of Notion, and a graduate Ergonomist with an EMBA from IMD (Lausanne). After a top-tier consulting career running multi-million dollar change programmes and training leaders in 37 countries, Dominic now applies his passion for human-centered design to learning and behavior change. He is also the co-author of The Answer Is A Question: The Missing Superpower that Changes Everything and Will Transform Your Impact as a Manager and Leader.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.

Thank you for inviting me and that’s a really great question. I think there are two particular insights I’ve developed in my career which have really shaped the work that I currently do today.

The first is based on my experience of managing people within a busy retail environment. The insight I gained is that no one comes to work to purposefully do a bad job and given appropriate circumstances would like to be able to take pride in the work that they do.

This really helped to shape my mindset around what people want to derive from their work; they want to be able to engage with other people and collaborate on interesting work, they want their work to matter and feel valued for their contribution.

The second insight came from my consulting career. I specialized in change management and specifically the human side of the change equation. I’d often be involved in challenging organizational integrations between different companies or internal change programmes where organizations were closing or amalgamating various departments.

The one thing I noticed in all of those change situations was the level of fear amongst employees when they didn’t know what was happening, thinking “Am I still going to be employed? or Will I be able to pay my mortgage? or Who will I be reporting to now, will they help me to advance my career still?”

However, I noticed in those situations that the more questions that managers asked their team, the more people started to engage in the change happening around them.

Psychologically it doesn’t matter if the situation is positive or negative. The fact that they were being asked questions, enabled them to at least make some distinctions in their mind. They were able to grasp onto some aspects and feel that they had some control back, which gave them some measure of certainty.

It’s better to be able to develop the insights around how you will engage in that change and have that certainty, then to be in the dark and be fearful.

And so this idea that the more questions we ask, the more we can reduce the fear around change and help people to engage in making that change real, led me to a really powerful insight, which is that “change is what people choose to make of it”. That sounds very simple, but at the same time, it’s quite profound because any organization wanting to bring about change for the positive or to drive better value into their organization needs to note that the changes they want to accomplish will be implemented and put into practice by the people in the organization making the best of it. This really should be a siren call to most leadership teams to STOP and THINK about how they engage their employees fully to help them to generate the best possible outcomes from their investment in any form of organizational or cultural change.

Should it be done by email, or should we be thinking of a much better way of engaging our workforce and making that change a reality?

Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?

An all-remote or hybrid workforce would have seemed an unlikely prediction as little as two years ago. But that’s exactly what’s happened as a result of the global pandemic.

Work is likely to evolve in line with technological advances and cultural and environmental factors, and the resulting business opportunities that those changes might herald for us all.

I believe though, that fundamentally we must rehumanize management and by that, I mean that we must elevate our thinking about Human Resources beyond simply the metrics to truly engage all of the talents of everybody. Employees will continue to want and expect to feel that their roles have purpose and to be valued. As a result, I think how the workforce is managed will change vastly, because it needs to. I also hope the workforce continues to advance in diversity and inclusion.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

We’re in the midst of a workforce crisis wrapped up in a huge social experiment. The unrelenting global circumstances — pandemic, war, financial crises — means that our sense of how short our lives have, for many, been brought into stark relief. As a result, a lot of people are questioning how they’re spending their time. As a result, many are experimenting with how and where they want to work, and for who. Employers too are flexing to find more accommodating patterns that might allow productivity to flourish. At the same time, a real shortage of skills in the marketplace is inhibiting innovation and growth for many organizations and a war for talent seems to be their only response.

If organizations are to overcome this great shift in work culture and mentality, they need to recognise that now is the time for management to come out from behind its screen, look up from crossing items off their to-do lists and start to engage more with the people that they manage. They will also need to redouble their efforts to encourage the development of the workforce they have now instead of trying to buy new skills into the business, becoming experts at nurturing the future skills that they’ll need.

What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?

Succession within organizations is a hugely underestimated risk to businesses. Unless companies invest time and resources into building effective and actionable career paths for their employees, they risk huge disparity in workforce expectation and reality. As a result, they’re likely to create a conveyor belt of employees in and out of the business.

Employees join a company because they want to contribute to and be a part of something bigger. Every time an organization recruits an employee from the outside to fill a recently vacated role, it may well say something about their succession planning. Because they’ve got no one ready to step up and take on that role.

Why is there no one ready to step up? Because the current leadership is so focused on solving the big problems, even diving down to solve problems beneath their pay grade. The problem is that every time they do that, they undermine the person who should be solving that problem, hindering them from learning.

Leaders define themselves by being problem solvers. They still want the personal satisfaction of having solved the problem themselves rather than having had the strength to hold themselves out of it and instead provide the safety net for their natural successor to step up and learn from trying to solve it themself.

People become leaders by being put in harm’s way. By risking jeopardy. By solving problems and stepping up, not by having you as a leader repeatedly step in to rob them of the opportunity to learn. That’s why there’s no decent succession and that’s a real loss to organizations.

It’s really hard for managers to have the presence of mind to say, you know what, I could solve this, but actually, there’s someone who could benefit more from solving it themselves with my support, and that’s a real mindset shift.

When you start getting people to step up and gain organizational kudos, that’s when you have a successor starting to look like they’ve got what it takes to step into your role once you move on.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

The pandemic has given rise to a mass hybrid work culture, though I’ve mentioned before that this is a period of great experimentation and readjustment. There are though a cohort of people who have never set foot in a full and thriving office and who only know their colleagues from a screen. Whilst there’s another proportion of employees who prefer to be in an office and some need to be for personal reasons.

Whilst the collective experience has, on the whole, created a shared understanding about work-life balance, which many organizations will benefit from in the long-term, it has also created unique challenges especially in the short-term. We need to be mindful too though, of a generation that is growing up in smaller social communities preferring to spend their time communicating virtually. With a notable rise in mental health challenges (loneliness and the sense of being disconnected is very real) it is a path that we should very carefully advance down.

Whereas before, business office culture would have been part of many companies’ appeal to employees. Now the appeal is more on how flexible a business is. Very few, if any, offices will be at full capacity again. And employees will make conscious decisions depending on where and how they can work.

As a result, the future of work will depend on how leadership teams choose to equip and support their managers. Today’s modern managers urgently need a toolkit which will enable them to spend less time doing the doing and more time enabling and supporting their team members to develop the autonomy to carry out tasks themselves and be confident in their own abilities.

We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?

We need managers to engage with people differently and respect individual contributions.

We want organizations to be inclusive and collaborative and we want our managers to foster that. Managers must look at themselves and consider the purpose of their role. Our work over the last 15 years has focused only on helping managers to change their mindset and develop an attitude of enablement. They’re aided in this by a model for managers that we have codified through years of behavioral work, the STAR® model, which helps managers to develop their situational awareness and choose the appropriate response, learning to use purposeful enquiry wherever it can generate a better outcome in a given situation.

We’re not saying that anything anyone’s ever done is wrong. We’re just saying that here is an advancement on where we’ve got to so far.

The tools covered in pretty much all management development programmes are very transactional. They’re specific skills such as how to conduct a coaching session or negotiation skills or learning about aspects of employment law for example. And none of these transactional skills play to the intuitive capabilities of who managers are as individuals. So, I think when we’re talking about tools in this context, the tools that my company is equipping managers with as a part of the work that we do with our clients are not typical to most management programmes. We’re enabling managers with the behavioral skills they need to confidently engage with their team members in an authentic and human way that encourages them to engage in the challenges they’re faced with every day. This is entirely contrary to most managers’ natural habit of stepping in to fix and solve the problems presented to them by their team members all the time.

In my recent book, The Answer is a Question, we draw attention to the entirely underutilized skill set of purposeful enquiry, something that we’re never taught to use, and for which there is little to no academic research. The book explores the behaviors associated with truly engaging with others, listening authentically and learning how to structure questions that can stimulate thinking in the most helpful way to that individual in that moment.

By learning how to craft powerful questions that can stimulate the thinking of others, managers can really help to progress the conversations at hand and develop the people that they’re working with.

As managers, most people know the ‘why’ but they don’t know the ‘how’. For example, take one of those management courses which are very transactional in nature, such as learning how to give feedback. We’re not really taught the layers underneath that — how the other person may be feeling, how to manage the flow of the conversation, what position you should adopt, how to establish a respectful sense with the other person, or even, how to question your own assumptions.

The majority of management training is transactional in nature. You come away knowing what you should be doing in this situation or in those circumstances. However, training like that is episodic. It’s not wrapped into everyday real life or the flow of day-to-day situations; it’s not offered to you in a way that makes it easy to adopt and then apply those new found skills in a range of circumstances.

Coaching actually is a really great example. Most managers are taught the GROW model. It’s a fantastic model and everyone sees the benefits of it, but it’s difficult to use as a quick draw approach, because the behavioral side just hasn’t been addressed and it’s not something that can be easily adopted. It’s not that GROW is wrong, it’s just not fit for purpose in the way that it’s being used by most organizations as a model for their managers to use in the moment. It is primarily an Executive Coaching model.

People understand the concept and purpose of, for example coaching, but they don’t do it because it doesn’t fit into their natural behavior in what they’re doing every day and the flow of their work. When we’re talking about Operational Coaching™, we’re talking about equipping managers with genuine skills that they can incorporate naturally into who they are every day, rather than something which is reserved for occasional use.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

The leaders who proactively join our STAR® Manager programme.

We are fortunate enough to see firsthand that there is a huge bank of individuals and Executive teams who want to become the best managers they can be. Both for themselves and their teams. They do care.

The result of managers using more of an enquiry-led approach to management is the increase you see in employee engagement, productivity, and performance levels as well as in overall capability. This benefits both the employee and the employer in terms of improved relations, authenticity, and sense of purpose.

Whilst the past few years have been a rollercoaster, I genuinely believe, and am a witness to, change and growth in management styles which will change the future of work for the better.

We are at a tipping point where there can be a real catalyst for change.

Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?

There are several approaches businesses are taking. However, no manager is going to become an expert in this area whilst juggling their other roles and responsibilities.

You can offer all of the benefits, all the rewards and all of the hygiene factors that you want but if you don’t get your managers to talk to people and engage with them differently, and help build a picture for them of how they can contribute and advance and offer appreciative and constructive feedback, where people really believe that they are being managed and pulled forward and opportunities being opened up to them, then they will go elsewhere. And that’s the crisis.

Managers have a big impact on employee wellbeing and so equipping them with the Operational Coaching™ skills they need to create working conditions that actively buoy good health and happiness is key.

The value of an enquiry-led approach is that it’s a new style of management that gives you a safe method to be able to have a lot of those conversations, which might otherwise be really uncomfortable, by learning to use the power of questions that demonstrate authentic interest and then learning to respond appropriately.

It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?

I would like to add the Great Realignment to that conversation too. We are in the midst of reinventing work for the modern era. Video conferencing has existed for many years but it took a pandemic to prove its use case. And the world of opportunities has been opened up as a result.

The message is loud and clear though. Companies need to invest in learning and development that has a tangible and measurable return on investment not only financially but also through measures such as engagement, productivity and capability.

Employees are currently communicating with their feet. They want more from their workplace. And they are willing to give more too, but they want to feel supported in what they do and how they do it.

Companies need to create an enquiry-led culture.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Wellbeing falling away. The well being industry has sprung up as a poultice to the very challenging environments we are all working in. However, the need for wellbeing services should fall away because our workplaces should become more accommodating, more thoughtful and more respectful. As we learn to become more resilient to this information rich and constantly accelerating society, we should be able to develop those skills which help us to adapt, chameleon-like, to different work environments because of our ability to ask more insightful questions and to collaborate more effectively with the people we work with. The wellbeing industry is an indicator of whether we’re starting to adapt our workplaces and move wellbeing into the mainstream of how we respect each other and learn to collaborate even more effectively together.
  2. Learning never stops. The second trend is the dawning realization that people are beginning to wake up to that they need to continue to develop their own skills. You simply cannot rely on what you will learn as a part of your current role anymore. It’s my constant frustration when I hear from the senior leaders we work with, that people aren’t investing in themselves. We have a culture of education where we go to school, we prepare ourselves for life, then our motivation to learn sort of drops off and somehow, we just expect our employers to do everything in their power to make us better. Employers have a job to do, they’re running their organizations for the specific outcome they want to run those organizations for. And whilst they might reasonably be expected to invest in developing their employees, sitting back, and expecting your employer to be your social welfare, your trainer, your everything, has gone too far. There needs to be equity in the relationship and the investment in training. So, the trend I hope to see is a revolution in how we’re learning and how we’re sustainably improving our skills in order to improve our personal skills.
  3. Voluntarily going to the office. Hybrid and remote working will be an interesting one to watch. It is true that people have reevaluated their personal values in the past couple of years and are looking for a better balance in their life. It’s also true that we’re social creatures. So much of our validation comes from being around other people in working environments. We still need that in-person interaction. We are currently going through an experimentation phase of working from home, but already we’re starting to see a return to work. The figures are showing that gradually more and more people are returning to their offices. For example, a recent client asked employees to be in the office for at least one day a week, but people have naturally started coming into the office and are already back to three to four days a week. People are recognising that they actually do enjoy working around other people. Now, of course, there’s clear obstacles if people have a very difficult commute and it’s too costly to go to work. As such, it might be that people look about where they work or change jobs to work more locally and make things more convenient, but we’re in this period of experimentation. So, this trend around hybrid working is one to watch.
  4. Rehumanizing Management. Management has not really evolved since the Principles of Scientific Management were laid down back in 1911 by Frederick Winslow Taylor. Since then, there has been little conversation about what is the purpose of management in today’s world. I see it as the marshaling of effort, the corralling of outputs, it’s helping the work of the organization get translated into activity. But for the majority, this idea has been lost with managers being overburdened with the work they believe they need to deliver themselves. I think this is a response to not having clarity around what a manager should and could be doing in their workspace to pull in the contribution from all the people that work within their team. We’re simply not trained at any point on how to get the best out of or engage with people. We undertake all sorts of management development training. We’ll look at all sorts of videos and gain the knowledge we need to be an excellent manager. But that’s quite aside from anyone having sat down us down and saying right now that you’re a manager you’re responsible for the advancement of the people in your team. This is how you work with them in a way that encourages the best in them. This is a conversation that needs to be had. We need to be thinking about how we’re going to be able to equip our managers with the engagement skills that they need to invite the contributions from the people that work for us and pull from them all the talent they have to offer and make that something that’s valued and recognised and appreciated and rewarded. The trend needs to reflect how we are reconfiguring our management and our cultures to create the epic workplaces of the future and that are really engaging, productive, inclusive, and collaborative workplaces, which people enjoy coming to.
  5. Embrace the next generation. The trend to watch here is the influence of the newest generation entering the workforce, and how we’re able to move their insights into the heart of how we’re informed as an organization, because it is this new generation that matters most, they will be the future stewards of our world. We need to be respectful of the very different eyes that are coming into our organization from people who’ve experienced life through a very different set of lenses than perhaps our generation have. Leadership of today needs to think about how we can capitalize on this fresh digital insight and how that affects our thinking, our policies, our engagement, contribution, and how we perform as an organization.

I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?

The one I like, at the moment, which has spoken to me is, we are all creatures of habit.

There’s so much in that because to change and embrace opportunity, we need to break with the comfortable situations that we’ve put ourselves into.

We don’t really change or we don’t really grasp anything new unless there’s some impetus that provokes us and stretches us to accommodate a new reality. And so, I think we need to be mindful of slipping into comfortable routines because the minute we do that, we become less creative. We become less inquiring, we become less resilient.

I know anyone reading this will recognise we live in an era of constant change. But we also need to recognise why we get upset by change, because we are creatures of habit and we are creatures of comfort. However, if we can, we need to recognise that change enables us to develop skills that help us become more adaptable.

This is really the focus of the work that we do with very large groups of managers and leaders. We teach them to be able to use enquiry in a way which invites constant reevaluation, constant thinking, and continuous improvement. And I think that those skills, those enquiry skills, help us to develop resilience, to be able to react in the positive, to take advantage of the moment to grow as individuals.

Yes, we are all creatures of habit, but we need to become aware of that because it can inhibit us. And right now, if you’re not being swept along by the stream, then you’re stuck on the bank watching it all go by.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.

Tim Ferriss is someone with whom I’d like to share lunch. Tim is someone who has mastered the ability to turn thinking upside down, to look at situations from a completely oblique angle and distinguish new pathways to accelerate our personal development and that is a way of thinking that inspires me. His insights are so refreshing and I think he is one of the most provocative thinkers of our time. But more than a thinker, he has actually pursued some of the most interesting personal projects to evidence the power of his insights, and that level of personal insight translated to action makes for a very rich life to which any of us can aspire.

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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.

The Great Resignation & The Future Of Work: Dominic Ashley-Timms of Notion On How Employers and… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.