Workday Podcast: Tapping Human Potential in the Workplace

How can you increase employee engagement and collaboration to get the best from your teams? Building community can help, though it’s easy to say and much harder to do. I talked to Matthew Hanwell, director of HR process and operational development at Fiskars Group, a leading consumer goods company based in Europe, to get his advice. Take a listen:

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If you’re more of a reader, the transcript is below, edited for clarity.

Greg Thomas: The idea for the next blockbuster product is in the head of one of your employees. Is your company built to unlock their knowledge and potential? For global organizations that’s no mean feat, particularly as traditional structures of hierarchy can blunt the creative impact of individual employees.

I’m Greg Thomas from Workday, and today on the Workday podcast we’ll learn more about the importance of employee engagement and collaboration in releasing human potential. To do that, we’re joined today by author and HR leader Matthew Hanwell, director of HR process and operational development at Fiskars Group. Welcome, Matthew.

Matthew Hanwell: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

Thomas: Glad you’re here. Let’s start just with a little bit about Fiskars. For those who don’t know, the company has been around for a surprisingly long time.

Hanwell: 369 years this year.

Thomas: It’s amazing.

Hanwell: Yes, and when you think back at what was happening 369 years ago, Charles I in England was being beheaded, so that was a different era, right?

Thomas: That is a different era, yes.

Hanwell: And through those 369 years a lot of change has happened. To survive 369 years, you have to change, you have to embrace, you have to adapt, and you have to remain relevant.

Thomas: Yeah, which probably gives you a pretty unique perspective as an organization on the constant change that businesses live through today?

Hanwell: Absolutely.

Thomas: Let’s dive in for you. You’ve worked at a number of different companies that had different approaches when it came to using technology (Nokia, now Fiskars). When you think about what is needed from a cultural and technological perspective, what goes into the longevity of a company and making it successful?

Hanwell: I think all companies need to reinvent themselves. Obviously, there are business cycles. I think remaining in touch with your consumers and the market is critical for the survival of any company. I also think internally, you have to remain aware of the external world and how disruptions are happening; I think what is fatal for companies is to ignore that external reality.

I worked at a company, Digital Equipment Corporation, which tended to ignore things like PCs for a number of years. Then you go from being a market leader to becoming a follower—you become a fast follower, and that’s a much more difficult place to be. So, I think keeping aware of what’s happening outside, maybe disrupting yourself before others disrupt you, would be very good advice to any company in the modern world.

Thomas: Yeah, and I think for companies that have been successful, it can perhaps be particularly challenging to realize that the product line that has sustained you for however many years is no longer what’s resonating with consumers and, as you say, if you don’t change, someone’s going to be quite happy to take your business.

Hanwell: Absolutely. When I was at Nokia, it had a 40 percent market share in the mobile-phone space. The iPhone came out, and the people at Nokia sort of ignored it and said, “Well, it’s actually not very good technically. It doesn’t have certain features and functions.” I think they were missing the whole usability that changed the game. And that’s why Apple is where it is today, and Nokia isn’t really making mobile phones anymore.

Thomas: Of course, there are many examples like that: Blockbuster Video in the U.S., Kodak, Xerox…

Hanwell: Kodak with the digital camera.

Thomas: Absolutely. They invented it.

Hanwell: In 1975.

Thomas: Yeah.

Hanwell: Kodak made a lot of money on royalties for digital photography, but that would have disrupted and cannibalized its film business, so it decided not to do it. Fatal.

Thomas: Fatal, in the end, absolutely. One of the things that’s interesting about you as an HR practitioner is that you wrote a book a few years ago, “The Workplace Community.” Talk about that. What was the basic idea behind that, why did you write it, and how has it held up? How has the world changed since you put those thoughts down on paper?

Hanwell: Firstly, I’d say, I never thought I would write a book. It wasn’t one of my dreams or visions, but I noticed at my time at Nokia, where I was responsible for community and social media, that something different was happening. With the technologies that are now available to us, we’re able to communicate at almost zero cost around the world, and that facilitates the emergence of communities.

Think of Wikipedia. Think of Linux open-source development. These things wouldn’t have been possible without a technology platform, and so what I’d started to become interested in was this sense of community, and what drives people to come together to achieve something. Then, when I really did some research on it, I came to the conclusion that actually community’s the oldest form of organization that has existed. Communities existed before hierarchies, before line organizations, before project teams, and back in the hunter-gatherer days; if you were not part of a community, that was a death sentence.

Thomas: Literally fatal.

Hanwell: Literally, so humans are wired to commune. Humans come together. We are social animals, but sometimes in organizations, the way we set them up doesn’t allow for that natural human behavior to be exhibited. So we’re put in boxes—I sometimes call them cells—and we’re told to do our job, and we’re limited by the job description that we’re given. We don’t tap into the passions, ideas, thoughts, willingness, generosity that we might have to contribute to other things in other parts of the organization, or even outside of the organization. I think if you look at people’s hobbies and interests, where they belong to clubs or societies, you’ll see a high degree of community behavior.

Of course, I think community is one of those words that’s very easily said—and we all have a feeling we know what it means because we live in communities—but achieving that behavior in a company is much more difficult, much more challenging, because people set us goals, set us targets, limit what we’re able to do, and expect us to deliver against certain timelines. Communities are much more agile, flexible, and emergent than that.

Thomas: I would say that thesis has held up quite well. There’s a lot of conversation in the workplace community today about those exact concepts: agility, how you tap into people’s full potential. So, how do you think the industry is doing?

Hanwell: I think we’re a long way from tapping into the full potential of people. When I look around the organization I work in, and other organizations, people do good jobs, they do good work, they do some great work sometimes. But what would they choose to do every day if they could choose for themselves? What would they contribute to, what ideas are they really having, what’s that discretionary effort that could be tapped into that could be used for other purposes rather than their specific job? I think the challenge is how to engage people in such a community effort.

Three things are critical for me: The first one is that there has to be a purpose to it. Communities don’t exist without a purpose. Tapping into and believing in that purpose is critical. Second, having the tools and technology to enable you to collaborate in ways that contribute value to that purpose. And third, what’s the bargain? What’s in it for me? Why would I contribute? Why would I waste my time? Why would I give something away for free, even if it’s just my time or knowledge or whatever it may be? What do I get back from it? And that can be intrinsic or explicit, but I think those three things are critical to any community.

Thomas: You’ve got an interesting cross-section there, so purpose perhaps could be an organizational purpose. It could be a team purpose. It could even be that intersection of my individual purpose, tools, and technology, to bring that collaboration to life.

This notion of the bargain is interesting. There’s been research done about intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivation, and especially when it comes to that discretionary effort. It seems to come more from intrinsic motivators. What’s your thinking around that?

Hanwell: Well, I think it’s interesting when you look at performance management systems and approaches around the world and system support, and if I were to pay you money to do what I tell you to do, that’s sometimes called blackmail, right? And I reward you if you do what I tell you to do. But when you believe in something, when you believe in a purpose, or an igniting question, or an inspirational thought, you tend to give away more. You contribute more, not because of a reward that’s going to be given to you, but because it makes you feel good. You feel good about yourself, and that’s a very powerful motivator for people.

I’ve seen in communities fantastic things be created with no financial reward whatsoever. Again, think of Wikipedia. The interesting story there is in the first two years of Wikipedia, before it adopted a wiki technology, it had produced, I believe, 190 pages, and it had formal approvals, reviews, and more approvals. That limited the contribution that anyone could make. Once it adopted a wiki platform, it now had the millions and hundreds of millions of pages and knowledge that it was able to put together through the generosity of people, so communities also require generosity. People give something, but the reason they do that is that they feel good about doing so.

Thomas: That’s right, and that is not monetary, as you said.

Hanwell: Not normally.

Thomas: Not normally. Let’s shift a little bit to what organizations can do to tap into potential. You mentioned communities preceded hierarchies, but a lot of companies are still organized, at least loosely or at least in some places, on a hierarchical model, and many are still fully hierarchical. Is that the right model for today, and if not, how do we evolve past it?

Hanwell: I think it’s a very traditional model. Of course, it developed in the industrial era, and I think if you read anything by Frederick Taylor around 1911, he’ll describe exactly how you organize people and work according to hierarchy. At Nokia, we looked at four ways of working: The first one was entrepreneurship or intrapreneurship—how do you develop intrapreneurs within an organization and give them the freedom to explore, innovate, and develop? Then, of course, a traditional hierarchical command-and-control or matrix organization that goes with that. Then we also looked at project modes, and how you bring skills and competencies together to accomplish a task. And, ultimately, how you develop communities and allow them to flourish—not in competition with any of the other modes, but side-by-side with it.

What we found was that these were very distinct modes of work that can be applied to different tasks or different challenges, and sometimes it’s not the right way to use a community; sometimes it’s not the right way to use a hierarchy. We talk in the book about default modes, and because people have usually built hierarchies and command-and-control, that’s what they tend to do, And that’s what they’re used to in their career, so they perpetuate that. Actually, in today’s world, you can tap into this community way of working. The challenge with community is that it needs to be led a little differently. It isn’t about giving orders. It isn’t about instructing. It’s more about emergent leadership and followership, and people believing in the purpose and wanting to contribute.

Typically, communities take time to be created. The worst mistake I’ve ever seen is when a leader stands up and says, “We are a community.” And then gives a direct instruction that, “You will contribute so much by the end of the week.” You are a community when you behave like a community, and I think you see it in the Workday community, by the way: the contribution from customers, from partners—online, giving away knowledge, giving away experiences, sharing advice for free—is an extremely valuable resource for all of us Workday customers.

Thomas: So, this notion of communities being, perhaps, more emergent, self-organizing, traditionally in a hierarchy—there’s a top-down strategy that everyone adheres to. How does the role of a business strategy, a product strategy, mesh into a different way of working and the notion of purpose so that those teams, whether they’re big or small, self-directed or not, are all rowing in the same direction?

Hanwell: There can be tensions in communities. Communities go through a lifecycle. It’s a bit like a maturity curve of a teenager, or a child becoming a teenager. In the early phase of community, there’s usually an idea, a thought, a wish, a purpose, but the community will come together around it. People will coalesce around that, and discover the real purpose. Quite often communities, early communities, split into different factions. Sometimes there’s tension there. Sometimes they never get beyond that stage, but I think they coalesce around a specific purpose that is interesting to the people, and then once they mature, they start to add value as an organization.

One thing I would say is that every organization is laced with communities. It’s those networks of people who share a passion or an interest about a topic, and share information and help and support each other. Sometimes that’s by email, sometimes with chat messaging, sometimes by in-person meetings, and those communities just aren’t utilized in a broader sense because they’re not visible or they’re not transparent.

Thomas: They’re not on an org chart.

Hanwell: You don’t see them, and I think if you do a social network analysis of an organization about who people talk to, who people go to, where people get support, it does not reflect your hierarchical org chart, typically. So, how work really gets done is a much more social endeavor I would claim.

Thomas: Yes, so let’s shift a little bit and talk about HR technology, and the role of technology in helping work get done, as you’ve been talking about. Just as you talked about communities having purpose, collaboration tools, and a bargain, when people think about technology there’s the technology itself, there’s the process behind it, there’s the cultural adoption, but throwing technology at a problem very often is not the right answer. So, talk about the role of culture and of building some consensus around the user adoption of technology so that it achieves the goals that it’s intended to achieve.

Hanwell: Sure. The way I think about it is in two dimensions. I think in one dimension, you’ve got technology change, and I think that that’s the easy part. You can implement, you can launch, you can buy, you can adapt, and adopt new technology very, very quickly today. The other dimension is behavior and culture, and that’s what people actually do, and if you just focus on technology adoption, you tend to get 10 percent adoption. You know, the early adopters will pick it up, the IT department will start using it, but you don’t reach a critical mass.

If you just focus on the culture and behavior, you end up with a lot of frustrated people who haven’t got the tools to be able to interact the way they want, so you have to find this balance among culture, behavior, and technology. It’s a little bit like a winding road between those two dimensions—finding the right steps, pushing the technology forward, pushing the culture—and I think the technology can drive the behavior and culture, and equally, the behavior and culture can drive the technology. It’s finding the balance between those two, which I think is a sweet spot. Don’t focus purely on technology, and don’t focus purely on behavior and culture.

Thomas: There are more generations in the workplace today than ever— this is not news—and expectations around technology, around the way people work, around almost everything you could think of in the workplace reflects that broad generational set of differences. How do people navigate those waters? How do you approach the idea that you’re going to have different cultural biases in the workplace—people who’ve had very different experiences in the workplace, with technology in the workplace, with how to work? But things are obviously changing, and we all need to continue to show up, do our best work, and feel part of that purpose you spoke of earlier. How can one harness all of the goodness of a multigenerational workplace?

Hanwell: I think it’s a fascinating time in the workplace for that reason. I do think of the younger generation—I have teenage children who teach me every day that they are the digital natives. They’ve grown up digital. They’ve grown up not knowing the world before Google, not knowing the world before the mobile phone. If they want to find something, they’ll find it immediately online, and they have no fear. It’s a little bit like fish swimming in water, right? They do it naturally. They don’t fear anything. They’re not aware of all the risks that they might be taking there. People of my generation are more like the swimmer who puts their foot in the water to see how it feels—acutely aware that perhaps it’s dangerous, maybe there are some sharks out there, perhaps something could go wrong.

I think you have to bring these people together. One good idea I’ve seen is actually reverse mentoring—when you take somebody from a younger generation and you have them mentor somebody of, perhaps, my generation, to help them become more familiar, more comfortable in the digital water, as I said. And it’s surprising how the older generation will adapt to those technologies once they feel comfortable with them, once they feel safe, once they understand what’s going on. I think the challenge for the older generation is just understanding this way of working, this level of collaboration, because they’re just not used to it. A little bit like in the earlier years people were afraid of email—who’s going to read them, where are they going to go? Even with the telephone, when that was introduced, people were afraid of who’s going to call who, and who has access, and can we control and restrict?

Thomas: Yeah, and new cultural norms, new behaviors.

Hanwell: Exactly, so all those things. I think the younger generation does it naturally because they’ve grown up submerged in it. Literally submerged in it, and the digital immigrants have to learn to adapt to the new ways of working.

Thomas: At the same time, this might be a place where technology in some ways has enabled what perhaps people have wanted since the time of hunter-gatherers in the savanna, that the notion of community was not possible in a workplace or even a societal sense without some of the technologies that have come with the internet and mobile phones and the like. So, those digital natives, perhaps, take to it natively, but the rest of us also say, “Well, that’s wonderful now that we have this.”

Hanwell: Yeah, and as I said, I think you’re a community when you behave like one, and when you feel the benefit of a community you tend to be more generous, and you tend to adapt and adopt to the technology and the capabilities that it gives you. A classic example from my life is I have a 52-year-old car, which I tend to maintain myself, and there’s a wonderful global community that just talks about how to maintain this type of car down to every little nut and bolt and rivet. I have no idea who these people are around the world, but if I ask, “How do you do this?” or, “I’m hearing this sound,” I can guarantee that within a few minutes, maybe an hour at most, I will have dozens of responses, people willing and offering to help me solve my problem. That’s the power of community, and when you feel that, you get it. In the hunter-gatherer days, we felt it physically because we were connected physically together, we saw each other. Now, with the digital technology, these communities can be global and have no restrictions. There’s no head count for a community.

Thomas: Let’s carry on with the notion of digital natives and how technology has changed the workplace. For those who have recently entered the workforce, they bring those expectations from their digital nativity—if that’s a term—and businesses don’t always have internal systems that match that consumer experience outside, whether it’s Google, Amazon, Facebook, what have you. How do companies adapt to this so it doesn’t become a talent-hiring and retention inhibitor for companies?

Hanwell: Yeah, I think companies are learning to catch up. I think, historically, companies had the money to invest in technology, but as you correctly say, now the youngsters have access to technology that’s more enabling than what companies have. So, I think when joining the workforce, the younger generation will generally be disappointed and surprised. They will ask, “Why can’t I download this app? Why can’t I use this tool that I’ve used in my university to collaborate with my peers?”

Thomas: “Why do I have to remember all these different passwords?”

Hanwell: Yes, “Why do I have to come to the office? I can do this and this and this. It’s my contribution.” So, I think they’ll be a little bit surprised, perhaps disappointed, but I would ask them to challenge their organizations that they join, because all organizations in time will become more like the digital natives. To survive, that will be essential, and it will be the older generation that needs to adapt more and embrace these new capabilities and these new ways of working, particularly if we want to tap into this human potential.

Thomas: There’s a lot of technology on the horizon that promises to change the way we work: there’s automation, machine learning, robotic process automation, block chain. As these technologies percolate out there, how do you see them entering more of the HR mainstream and changing the way we work?

Hanwell: I think all technology has a purpose, and that’s to make us do better work, to enable us to do better work, and no matter what that technology is, I think as long as we feel it’s helping us and enabling us to do greater things, I think it will be adopted. I think if there’s a fear that it’s threatening us or will replace us, obviously, there will be a reaction to that as well. But I think history tells us, going back to the printing press, that you can’t resist technology. It will happen, and so I think a healthy adoption approach is the best way forward.

The challenge is always this balance between technology and behavior, and if you go too far on the technology front, you lose the people. I don’t like the word adoption anymore. I would rather say addiction, and the reason for that, again, when I look at my teenage children, they’re addicted to their phones. It stays with them day and night, and there are the apps they use that are frequently on, frequently connected, so they are frequently collaborating with someone somewhere. I hope that in the future HR space, we will have equally addictive applications that we can’t live without. You know, ones that we are constantly using because they help us get our job done better. I think that’s the challenge for HR technology in order to move from adoption to addiction.

Thomas: How do you think we’re doing on that front at the moment as an industry?

Hanwell: Well, I think most of the products I look at help us execute processes, execute tasks, but I’m not sure they help us get work done better, and I think the sweet spot will be connecting processes, tools, communication, and collaboration with actually doing better work and getting work done better. I think AI and machine learning will help us, guide us, advise us. I’m excited by that, but actually doing better work I think is the ultimate goal.

Thomas: We’re here at Workday Rising Europe, and there was some talk this morning in the keynote about the role of prediction—machine learning-enabled predictions to help bring us information that we otherwise wouldn’t have, to then have a person consider that information in order to make a decision. That seems like something you’re describing: the way in which I work has been improved by a piece of technology, helping me learn something I otherwise wouldn’t have learned or taken the time to learn.

Hanwell: I think it’s about quality. How we spend our time. Return on time may be the ultimate measure. How do we get more done, better work done in less time? I think things that tell us, inform us, predict, shape our thinking, and enable us to get a better result faster will all benefit us. And I think maybe time is the ultimate resource that we can’t ever get enough of. So, a return on time, I think, is the ultimate measure of success.

Thomas: Let’s turn to your advice for folks. You’ve been part of some pretty ambitious HR transformation projects. For members of the audience who are nodding their heads as they listen, what advice would you give them about how they should start to use technology to achieve this new world of work, and to move them meaningfully in that direction?

Hanwell: My first advice would be step into the water, jump in, and move very quickly. I think the old days, where people went through long processes of definition, of everything up-front, and then launched something a couple of years later, are over. I think this is much more about evolving prototypes, where you try something and if it doesn’t quite work, you adjust it. You change based on the actual reality and the actual data, not on your thoughts of what it might be. So, I think I would advise people to adopt and move as fast as they possibly can. But I would also say that, and I’ve learned this with my own Workday deployments, is the go-live isn’t the end of anything, it is just the start. Once you’re live, reality kicks in, processes are executed, people do use the system, but perhaps in different ways than you could possibly imagine. Learn to listen to that, learn to learn from that, and adapt very quickly to the reality that you see with your users.

Thomas: That is all the time we have for today. I want to thank Matthew Hanwell from Fiskars Group for joining us today on the Workday podcast. If you’d like to hear more, please subscribe, and thank you for listening.