BY: Maggie Gough // Director of Member Experience • WELCOA
“Innovation is the death of business success” said no one ever. All successful business leaders understand the necessity of curating and prioritizing innovation. They know it helps them stay ahead of their competitors, they know it creates efficiency in processes, and they know it excites and engages their top talent. Yet, there seems to be a disconnect between innovation and our people practices in business. It’s like HR and Wellness are where innovation goes to die (much to the frustration of the leaders there).
I have a lot of theories about why that is. One of these theories is that people’s issues are much messier and progress happens iteratively — meaning we get something right, learn a lot about what we got wrong, and try again, just like we do with all human relationships. Conversely, for example, using the science of engineering to improve a piece of machinery for efficiency allows for a fairly streamlined process from start to finish, not to mention machinery doesn’t have differing opinions about the outcome.
Regardless of the reason, the reality is that the Great Migration we keep hearing about is a result of a lack of innovation in our people practices within the business. For at least five years leading up to 2020, employment service industries, like wellness, engagement, learning and development, and human resources, had begun responding to and leading movement in service to innovation that would meet the needs of the US workforce. These industry leaders were making progress too. Take, for example, WELCOA. We updated our Seven Benchmarks, developed a technology-based workplace self-assessment tool, and saw an increase in engagement.
When the pandemic dismantled business as usual, the pressure employees were already facing from a lack of innovation in human resources was broken open. The attitudes and beliefs about employment simply no longer apply. Here is what I mean; If a manager believes that a good employee shows up at the office 15 minutes early and works productively until they leave, that belief can’t exist in a remote work environment, because there is no way to validate it. What we see today are managers, in the midst of having their attitudes and beliefs unraveled, grappling to hold onto them rather than leaning into the disruption as an opportunity to innovate.
Let’s pause here and say that managers are people too. Managers are people who have been psychologically conditioned with these attitudes and beliefs. They are also humans who experienced a pandemic. I think we can all agree that a pandemic that dismantled business as usual is not an ideal time to unravel and rebuild our attitudes and beliefs about anything. And yet, here we are.
Now let’s focus on you. Maybe you are overwhelmed by what the past 18 months have thrown at you or maybe you are excited by the opportunity to create change in the midst of this disruption. Either way, you are a leader whose work demands that you innovate right now. If you are overwhelmed, that’s your starting place. What would make your work life better? What needs to change to make the workplace one that would serve you AND those you serve? If you are excited about the opportunity, move in the direction of your creativity.
Right now, we (you and me and all of the professionals who lead this people-centric work) are creating the workforce landscape for the next 50 years of work. You may be thinking, “but I am just a company with 200 employees, how am I changing the landscape of work?” Here’s how. You will either be a part of a company that everyone leaves or one that will attract the top talent. Where the top talent goes is where the momentum of growth will go.
Businesses innovate to avoid becoming stale and meaningless. Right now, the priority of any business innovation should rest solely on your people practices. Innovation requires that you recognize that things could be better. This is a vulnerable move when it comes to being in relationship with other human beings. Maybe this is why we’ve been avoiding it. It’s time to think bigger, to be vulnerable, to build better trust by serving employees’ needs rather than measuring their productivity, to apologize for what you’ve gotten wrong, and communicate openly about your efforts to create a better workplace for your people. They are, after all, giving their livelihood to your success.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Maggie Gough // Director of Member Experience • WELCOA
Serving a variety of populations in a multitude of industries, Maggie understands the complexity and depth of the corporate wellness industry and the needs of the professionals and employees they support. Her role at WELCOA is to ensure members receive stellar service and build sustaining connections as a community.