Despite The Pandemic, We Have A Lot To Be Thankful For


This week is US Thanksgiving, and despite all that’s happened this year I believe we have a lot to be thankful for. So let me give you some thoughts, as we all buckle in for a winter season of pandemic, vaccines, political change, and economic growth.

1/ We all got closer together.

I remember back in March when I first wrote The Big Reset, I felt that the pandemic had brought us together. And yes, despite a year of arguing about masks and whether or not the pandemic is real, people are more connected than ever. I know many of you have been isolated from your families, but thanks to Zoom and Microsoft Teams, we are communicating with each other more than ever. In my case I”m on hours of calls every day, and I have gotten to know many of you face to face like never before.

Much of the time we’ve spent commuting, travelling, or transiting in the past has been converted to time on the phone, video, or internet. And this creates stronger bonds.

And the concepts of collective thinking and citizenship have grown. As I discussed with our Senior Faculty last week, the pandemic points out how we are all interdependent. You cannot catch the virus from an inanimate object: it has to be transferred by a person. So as Public Health professionals teach us, we need a culture of common good to get through this in a safe way.

My mask protects you, and your mask protects me. What better way to feel connected than that.

And this gets to the issue of corporate citizenship. You as a company want to keep your employees, customers, and supply chain partners safe. And your company, in a way, is like a society. So the Pandemic has heightened our sense that we are all one global society, and what is good for everyone else is also good for us. And I’m thankful for this.

The 2020 Deloitte Global Millennial study, which surveyed more than 20,000 professionals under the age of 45, found that 75% believe the pandemic has made them more sympathetic to other people’s needs and plan to contribute to their communities. This population makes up 74% of the global workforce, so this is a huge trend.

global citizenship

And I’m not naive: I know there’s still a lot of tribalism. But this year, for the first time in a while, we are having discussions about Public Health, Public Good, and some of the other big problems we face as societies.

2/ Leaders became more empathetic.

I’m doing a big research study on corporate leadership with DDI this season and one finding is startling. Employee perceptions of “leadership capabilities” are the highest we have seen since 2011. This is a pretty amazing statistic. As you’ll see in the data, more than 48% of employees (more than 3,000 business people responded to this) believe their leaders are performing well or very well – the highest DDI’s study has ever found. (The report will be published in January.)

Why is this happening? Because this year leaders have learned that if they don’t take care of their people, they won’t have a company at all.

While the pandemic has had many impacts on work, products, services, and business strategy, the biggest thing it exposed is that human resilience is everything. For those of us in HR we know this: but hard-nosed business executives now feel it. So the focus on wellbeing, patience, flexibility, and safety has paid off.

Note also that HR’s perception of leadership has slightly dropped. I’ll talk more about this in the DDI report, but the growing gap between what HR people believe and business people believe is important. We, in HR, have to look at this carefully and it’s telling us to simplify our leadership models, and focus on what matters.

For myself, as a leader in my own way, I think this year has taught me a lot about empathy, forgiveness, and listening. These are lessons we need to remind ourselves whenever we can.

3/ Digital Transformation got “unstuck.”

I’m kind of tired of the phrase “digital transformation” and now we can just let it go. Consulting firms and bloggers have been talking about this forever, but this year we woke up and realized “digital is now the way we do business.” It’s not a balance between “e-commerce” and “regular commerce” or “e-learning” and “regular learning.” It’s just the way we do our work, develop our offerings, and live our lives.

What happened in most companies, as our Business Resilience research points out, is that companies just started using their digital tools to do things they never realized were possible. More than 90% of companies now offer remote work options; most retailers provide online purchase and direct delivery; media companies that don’t have digital offerings are developing them fast; and disciplines like design thinking, iterative design, video and audio production, and website design are growing faster than ever.

If you read our Big Reset Playbook: What’s Working Now report you can read about how Pizza Hut, L’Oreal, Sainsbury’s, and other companies went digital overnight. And they didn’t have to hire a consulting firm to do it. We are past this theoretical discussion about what it means to “be digital” now: we are all just doing it.

This means, of course, we are now in the second-order effects of all this. How do we maintain our culture and sense of energy when we’re digital all day? How do we avoid bias and make our AI recommendation engines smarter? What is the best user interface for our consumer offerings? Is TikTok a new paradigm for everything?

We are going to enter a new era of creativity in design across all aspects of our companies, and this is unleashed by the year of the Pandemic, where digital became the backbone of our lives.

4/ Wellbeing crawled out of the benefits department and landed on the desk of the CEO.

As I’ve stated in dozens of webcasts, the Wellbeing industry has also grown up this year. I used to give speeches on mental, physical, financial, and emotional health – and the audience was mostly “wellbeing managers.” Well now this is a topic for CEOs, leaders, and every person in HR.

It turns out the Wellbeing industry is more than $400 billion in size (including resorts, fancy food, diagnostics, yoga, etc) and the corporate segment is over $40 billion. We are going to publish a report on this soon, but you can read our existing report here.

What’s happened this year is that the topic became central to leadership. How do we keep people on track, improve their productivity, and give them a sense of resilience? Our Resilient HR program in the Josh Bersin Academy is filled with stories about this – and I know you’ve all been talking about it.

In a sense, the Wellbeing topic has subsumed almost everything we do: Inclusion, Belonging, Pay, Flexibility, Benefits, Safety – they’re all part of the wellbeing program. And so is corporate citizenship, responsibility, and sustainability. Remember one of the most energizing things you do at work is to help others. So this topic, which started as a set of perks in the benefits team, is now central to what we do.

I, for one, am thankful for this. It lets us think about work in a more human way, and reminds us that in the end of it all, work is just another stage of life – and the people we spend days with at work have the same human needs of our family, friends, and neighbors.

5/ Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging went mainstream.

We are doing a massive research study on DEI right now and the whole topic is somewhat frustrating. While there are dozens of lists of “top diversity” companies, most leaders tell us their company is not doing that well.

Only 15% of companies believe their leadership is highly diverse; only 22% believe their company is well regarded as an inclusive place to work; and only a third of companies believe their HR business partners are able to consult on inclusion and diversity issue well. Our Global HR Capability Assessment, which we are publicly launching soon, shows that DEI skills are the weakest area of all across the entire HR profession.

This year, despite the issues with Black Lives Matter, Racial Injustice, and an entire presidential administration focused on various forms of racism, we are talking about the topic in a meaningful way. And I’m thankful the space is moving fast.

For example, as I wrote about in The Chief Diversity Officer is the Toughest Job In Business, the role of Chief Diversity Officer (or Chief Advocacy Officer) has gotten serious. And this is a good thing.

I won’t pre-release our research findings, but we are actively finishing our research and you’ll soon see the results, along with an exciting new program in the Josh Bersin Academy.

I’m thankful we’ve had a good year to openly discuss these issues, and I encourage you to join us to learn more. As I put this in our latest webcast, Inclusion is the goal, Diversity is the result. Think about it a little and you’ll see what I mean.

6/ The corporate learning market grew up.

This year a lot of the hype and faddishness of corporate training went away. And I”m thankful for the sense of reality that has set in.

For the last few years, companies have really over-rotated toward LXP platforms, deploying lots and lots of content, and revamping their LMS to meet the urgent training needs from the Pandemic. Well I’m thankful for two things: first, companies are now taking L&D very seriously, which is a very good thing; second, companies are becoming skeptical of the “skills clouds” offered by vendors, and pushing vendors to be more realistic.

I’ll be writing a lot more about this in the upcoming HR Technology Market 2021 report soon, but I”m thankful for the focus and investment in this area. Every company we talk with is reinvesting in their L&D team, looking at VR, LXPs, and Talent Marketplace offerings, and the focus is shifting from “skills” to “capabilities.”

I’ve invested a lot of time in our own HR Capability Model and we’ve learned that the most advanced and successful training companies spend a lot of their personal energy on “capability development.” They don’t just buy software and expect “skills” to appear – they focus heavily on identifying the strategic capabilities they need, and they do this in a business-driven way. I’ll be writing more about this and explaining how Lockheed Martin, Intermountain Healthcare, and some other advanced companies do this. For now, I’m just thankful that the market has really grown up.

Let me also mention that the JBA Capability Assessment is now ready to launch, and more than 3,000 people have already joined. If you want to understand how to build a capability model and join our HR Capability Network, please read this whitepaper and contact us.

7/ We have a new presidential administration: Unity not discord.

I won’t get into politics, but I am very thankful that we have a sea change in Washington. For the last few years, the United States has been focused on anger, divisiveness, and blame. For those of us in California, it has felt like we aren’t really part of the country. And this lack of empathy in the Federal bureaucracy has been translated into fear, discord, and unrest in our cities.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about business over the years, it’s the lesson that “win-win” always outperforms “win-lose.” Yes, business is often brutally competitive and management teams often read The Art of War (we read it at Sybase) to learn how to compete. But as a society, community, and workforce, we work better when we work together. And many of the problems we now face (Pandemic, Climate Change, Income Inequality, Racial Justice) are systemic in nature: they cannot be addressed unless people work together.

And all signs show that the Biden administration believes in uniting the country, bringing diversity into the White House, and not blaming anyone for the challenges we face.

I’m in the middle of reading The Upswing, by Robert Putnam, the Harvard economist who wrote Bowling Alone (another of my favorite books). He explains that the real problem we face in the United States is a huge cycle toward income inequality, driven by inequality in wages, wealth, education, and housing. Pointing fingers and blaming people won’t solve this problem – and I hope the new administration will take this on.

8/ I’m thankful to work in Human Resources.

This has been a bizarre year. Not only are we working from home, but the pace, demand, and uncertainty has been unrelenting. Every day I wake up at 4:30 or 5 am and find myself flooded with news, inquiries, and challenges to think about.

Well, I’m thankful for what I do. I truly love my work and I love the people I work with. And that means every HR leader, HR professional, vendor, and peer.

We are fortunate to work in one of the most noble and important roles in business, and this year we’ve shown our strength. Many of you have joined us in The Big Reset Initiative, and I am thankful for your time and sharing. Many of you have helped us with research, and I’m thankful for your data and insights. And many of you have contributed to the Academy, and I am thankful for your contributions.

As many of you know I started my career in engineering and spent almost 20 years in sales, marketing, and product management. While I loved much of my work during that time, it doesn’t come close to the fulfillment I get from being part of HR. So I want to thank the profession for letting me join and contribute as I do.

9/ I’m thankful for my team and my family.

Finally, and I hope you all feel this way, I feel thankful to my team, my family, and my friends. This is a year when we leaned on each other a lot, and in my case, the results have been inspiring. Our team at JBA has been amazing, and we support each other in very important ways. I am closer to my family than ever this year, and I hope you all feel the same.

I know Thanksgiving is an American thing, and it carries plenty of baggage. Many believe, for example, that the early settlers of the United States pillaged the land, and the Native Americans and environment suffered as a result.

But that’s not what this holiday is really about. Thanksgiving is a chance to reflect, be with family, and say thanks for what you have. Even as the Pandemic has interrupted and disrupted our lives, let’s all think about what we can be thankful for, and we’ll build a great future for the year ahead.

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