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Employers of the Future – We Can Do Better

May 12, 2020


  • MARGARET-ANN COLE EVP, Global Talent Leader and Chief People Officer at Porter Novelli
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Before the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, the economy was prospering. Big business was largely healthy; consumers were buying and investing; companies were hiring at exceptional rates, and talent was diverse and dynamic. The competition was fierce, and my focus, and that of many other global talent leaders, was how best to attract and entice the most innovative minds to our business.And then COVID-19 happened, leaving no industry or market untouched and altering our lives forever.

Managers everywhere are amid one of the most unsettling times in history. And although some areas of society are slowly starting to emerge from lockdown, most of us are still grappling with massive unknowns: What will our lives look like when we return to “normal”? Will our economies rebound, and how quickly? Will our workforce rebuild, and if so, how do we balance virtual vs. real-world environments?

While we may not have all the answers, it’s important to remember that as leaders, we must be prepared to tackle all that lies ahead – step by step.

“Future of” is still a critical conversation worth having, but the aperture and lens through which we make decisions over the course of the next month matters greatly.

We must take this unique opportunity to pause, assess, and evaluate.

While there are many things we’ve likely gotten right over the years, there is always room for improvement. If there’s one thing I’ve learned – as someone who has spent most of her career in management consulting and business transformation – it’s that this global pandemic has refocused us on our most important stakeholder: our people.

In the past few months, we have experienced a radical merging of our professional and personal lives. We’ve literally seen inside each other’s homes, met one another’s children and pets, and witnessed, in real-time, how our workforce has responded to this unprecedented crisis. As leaders, while we need to protect our people from burn-out and enforce some boundaries between work and life, we also have a responsibility to take the positives of this trend and continue to build a human-first approach to employee engagement that is focused on bringing your “whole self” to work.

We must reimagine and reinvent how we lead our workforce going forward, and I am confident that we can all do better. It’s now or never.

Here are some considerations for driving new decision making that prioritizes people over profit, encourages our people to continue to bring their “whole self” to work, and helps shepherd your organization through this crisis and into the future:

  • 1) Prioritize and protect
    People want to work for organizations that see them as human beings first and are willing to prioritize and protect their needs, while also rewarding their loyalty. HubSpot is a great example. They’ve enacted unlimited vacation time, paid family leave (16 weeks for a primary caregiver and six weeks for a secondary caregiver), and they recognize employees who hit their five-year anniversary by giving them a four-week paid sabbatical with the equivalent of a $5,000 bonus. It’s not surprising, then, they ranked number one on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work in 2020.

    As the coronavirus pandemic began impacting Porter Novelli, we immediately explored the challenges this would present, particularly for working parents or full-time caregivers, and developed solutions that put our people’s mental, physical, and emotional health first. We reassessed our family care and vacation policies and expanded those to allow for more flexibility, including additional mental health and family care days. These programs ensure our people can create balance as they adapt to new routines and rhythms, while also maintaining their contributions to their colleagues and clients.

  • 2) Invest in and grow
    Acquiring and retaining top talent is an art—one that greatly contributes to the culture and service of your business. But it’s extremely difficult to retain top talent if you aren’t willing to invest not only in their future success but also in their lives in general. One wouldn’t expect the human body to thrive or become optimally healthy without providing it with the proper nutrients and exercise. That holds true for our workforces, too. In order to develop the leaders of the future, who are wise and brave enough to create change in this world, we must invest in their success and continue to cheer and coach them as they grow.

    Organizations like Bain & Company provide opportunities in higher education and top training and development programs. LinkedIn offers their people an “InDay,” one Friday every month when people can focus on themselves, the company, or the world. At Porter Novelli, one of our marquee offerings for top performers is the annual Discovery & Development program which allows individuals across our global network to apply for an internal secondment in another office. We support their temporary relocation for four to six weeks, as they are immersed in another office’s culture, clients, and city. It’s an incredible opportunity for growth – both personally and professionally. We have also implemented a Performance Achievement program that replaces the old review process with one that is about ongoing constructive conversations to help our employees continuously learn and grow.

  • 3) Creativity is key
    The importance of innovation, especially when it comes to talent, cannot be understated. As global leaders, we must be willing to break the mold, tear things apart, and reimagine the workforce of the future. This requires us to test and fail quickly, learn, and rebuild—all in quick succession. As a communication consultancy, we are constantly challenging ourselves to move faster and to find creative ways to serve our clients. And the same holds true for us talent leaders.

    We’ve used the coronavirus pandemic as a lever to be nimbler and think outside of the box—from flexible work schedules and temporary partial furloughs versus layoffs, to crowdsourcing ideas and input from our staff directly before returning to the office.

    There is no limit on the benefits your people and business may reap through the power of creative thinking. There is, however, great risk in being unimaginative.

  • 4) Purpose is power
    If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s that we are all on this rollercoaster together. And while we may be sitting in different seats, we’re certainly on the same ride. When making important decisions about talent, it’s critical that we do so authentically, by leaning into our purpose – or North Star – to guide decision making.

    Nearly two-thirds of U.S. employees surveyed in Porter Novelli’s COVID-19 Tracker research believe their company is doing a good job supporting efforts, while four-in-10 think their company should have acted faster. Moving forward, companies that do well in the eyes of employees stand to benefit from increased loyalty, pride, and feeling inspired on the job.

    Now more than ever, workforces are demanding that companies and brands show up authentically and make a difference for society. Leading with purpose and allowing your people to join in on that journey is a sure way to create company ambassadors or champions who will last long after this global crisis.

We have the chance to help shift what the future workforce looks like – one that prioritizes the success of our people as professionals and productive members of society. We can all continue to do better – to grow and thrive as our best “whole self,” and encourage the same in our people. Are you up for the challenge?

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