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Katy Tynan

Katy Tynan is the leading expert on how work culture is evolving, and a bestselling author, speaker, and consultant on the future of work.  We had a chance to speak with Katy about employee engagement, the importance of corporate culture, and the evolution of what we all call “work.”

Why are you so Passionate About Employee Engagement and Company Culture?

I have a pretty eclectic background. I started my career in publishing, and then discovered I had a passion for technology. I spent 10 years in IT, and that’s where I had a chance to see the impact of culture and engagement. I was fortunate to consult with over 200 companies in just a few years, and I got an inside look into how the leaders of those organizations did (or didn’t) develop a strong, inspiring vision and culture. The ones that were successful in doing that were invariably more successful in every part of their business simply because everyone was aligned, could see the goals, and was engaged in the work of moving the organization forward. I realized that many issues that present as IT challenges are actually problems with vision, culture, communication, and process. I’ve been working to help organizations solve those problems ever since.

Talk about what you refer to on your site as the “evolving landscape of work.” What must employers and corporate leaders do in order to adapt to these changes? It’s easy to say that work has changed. I think we all feel that intuitively, but what’s harder is to pin down what that change looks like and what organizations need to do about it. The biggest changes I see fall into two categories.

First, the nature of the work itself is different. It’s more creative. Hardly anyone is doing repetitive, task-oriented work anymore. Automation can do that much more easily and at far less cost, so humans aren’t doing that work anymore. What we do is creative, and creative work is motivated and organized differently and doesn’t fit as well into some of the legacy business structures many organizations still have – from work hours to compensation strategies.

The second thing that has changed is how people work. Technology has transformed our ability to collaborate, share information, and be flexible in where and when we work. Smart organizations are shifting to a more nimble or fluid model of management. We have seen a lot of trends towards self-organizing teams, as well as more self-determination across the board. These are all good things, but they have to be done with intent and vision, not reactively just to keep up with the latest management fad.

When I work with organizations, I always start with the vision and values. I ask a lot of questions. What are we trying to do here? Why are we organized the way we are? What’s working well? What feels hard? These are fundamental questions that I think every business leader needs to ask, because the status quo answer (we’ve always done it this way) isn’t good enough in today’s work environment.

How has the typical employer/employee relationship changed over the past 25 years or so?

We’ve seen a strong trend towards what I describe as “unbundling.” A job used to be something you did at your employer. You had a job description, you were hired to do a specific type of work, and you got paid to do that. Today, some of the things people used to do are being done by technology. Some organizations are outsourcing some types of work entirely. Hardly any organizations hire photographers or writers anymore, so workers in these occupations have all become freelancers. We’ve seen a tremendous increase in the number of people who are working independently, many of them in addition to working a full-time job. The variety of how, when, and where people choose to work is staggering. There is no “one-size-fits-all” model anymore.

Finish this sentence: “The biggest reasons that over 70 percent of employees are disengaged are…”

1. Fit – the recruiting process is not great in most organizations, again because of legacy ideas about how it should work. Companies post jobs and try to match skill to skill instead of finding people who are a great culture fit for their organization or team and then building on the skills they already have. We live in a culture of constant learning. I have certifications in technologies that are completely obsolete. Skills are things we acquire and discard throughout our career, so why hire for skills?

2. Management – many organizations are still using compensation and management strategies that were invented for the industrial revolution. Today’s work is much more agile, and management needs to be as well. I have a book coming out this year where I talk about the mismatch between what people think management is all about and what it actually is. People don’t quit companies; they quit managers. They get frustrated with the person who has the single biggest impact on their day-to-day experience. To fix this, organizations need to focus on giving managers, especially new managers, the tools they need to succeed.

Since telecommuting is becoming more popular these days, could you provide some guidelines on this subject for companies and managers regarding whether to embrace telecommuting and to what extent? First of all, the term “telecommuting” is way out of date. Telecommuting is what we did when we used telephones to do our work. Today, it’s all about virtual working. It’s a complicated topic, because it requires both companies and managers to stop thinking about “time in a seat” as the primary metric for how they measure their employees. Today’s work is about results.

It also requires the right tools in order for people to be successful. Just because I work virtually doesn’t mean I work alone. Wherever I am I’m collaborating, so organizations need to be thoughtful – not just about whether or not they allow virtual work (and I believe they should), but how they approach the process so that people who work virtually are fully engaged.

If a leader is trying to change the culture at his or her company, what should he or she avoid doing at all costs?

Lying. The biggest problem I see with culture change is when the leadership does it for the wrong reasons. Sometimes they hire consultants who tell them that they need to change. They get talked into trying to execute a culture change that they don’t personally believe in. People will always sense a lack of authenticity. If your goal is to make huge profits, but you try to put in place a culture that’s about valuing the customer or community, it will quickly be obvious based on your actions that you are not being genuine – and a lack of trust will kill engagement faster than anything else.

How can a manager or corporate leader increase employee engagement in a way that doesn’t rely on salary raises, freebies, or other tangible “bribes?” I wrote an article recently about things employees care about more than money. There’s quite a lot of research that says creative work is intrinsically motivated. It’s not about the money, it’s about the enjoyment of solving the problem. Sure, people want to get paid, and they want to get paid fairly. But beyond that, they want autonomy, self-direction, learning opportunities, the right tools to do their jobs well, and a work environment that doesn’t make them crazy (open offices, I’m looking at you).

Tell us what you think the landscape of work will look like ten years from now. What will be some of the biggest challenges for companies and the people who run them? The biggest challenge for companies is that no one can answer this question! There has been a lot of talk about the robot economy, globalization, or new technologies that haven’t even been invented. Here’s what we know: nothing is written in stone. Your best bet is to build an agile organization that moves with change, rather than a static, fragile organization that will be broken by change.

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