How Consumer Expectations Are Driving The Future of Work, with John Healy

8 min read
John Healy
Managing director of the Office of the Future of Work for Kelly Services, is a frequent presenter to the World Employment Conference, The Institute for the Future, and SIA.
How Consumer Expectations Are Driving The Future of Work, with John Healy

Anyone in procurement and HR knows the macro changes behind the evolving on-demand workforce: shifting generational attitudes, skill shortages, and the talent gap. But what role do consumer expectations play in the way organizations interact with their workforce?

Staffing.com sat down with John Healy of Kelly Services’ Office of the Future of Work (FOW) to find out how employee expectations are mirroring consumer expectations. Healy reveals how organizations can embrace B2C insights to understand how employees want to work, provide an employee-centric culture for their workforce, and gain access to the best talent.

The Sky Is Not Falling

In 2017, Kelly, like many other large organizations, brought in a big box consulting firm to help them understand the potential digital disruptions entering the workforce management industry. Kelly received a Chicken Little story—the sky was falling. Between robotic process automation (RPA), the infusion of AI and machine learning, and the emergence of the platform economy, the entire industry was at risk.

“The sky is falling” analogy gave Kelly some defensive strategies to use, but it left them with no offensive position. Thus, the Office of the Future of Work was born to figure out how Kelly could be a disruptor in the workforce management industry, spearheaded by a 26-year employee of Kelly, John Healy.

Healy runs the Office of the Future of Work without any Kelly staff, relying entirely on freelancers, crowdsourcing, and outside researchers to evaluate the market and help the organization think about talent through an entirely different lens. Ultimately, this information is translated into products that they can bring to the market to change the way Kelly assists their customers and connects people with work in ways that enrich their lives.

Through this research, Healy has become a subject matter expert in how consumer expectations currently change the way work is being done and what it will look like in the future. What follows are his best takeaways for how organizations can best position themselves to adopt an employee-centric approach to workforce management and take advantage of these industry shifts.

Consumer-centric Expectations in the Digital Age

Employed individuals are consumers, and consumers are employed individuals. It is not surprising, therefore, that the consumer-centric mindset that affect one group also affect the other. Let’s look at four consumer expectations that are shaping the new talent economy.

  • Speed of expectations. Consumers expect everything to move quickly. They make decisions faster, want faster downloads, and expect fast delivery; their tolerance for inconvenience and arrogance is decreasing. The State of the Connected Customer Report by Salesforce shows that 64% of consumers expect real-time interaction, with 80% stating that real-time interactions create loyalty.

Healy says, “You wouldn't dream of building a fast-moving consumer goods company without an intimate knowledge of consumer behavior. The most successful B2C companies know what their customers like to see, what colors they want to find, and what experiences they want customers to have when buying their products. Very few organizations have reached the stage where they understand and treat their workforce with the same reverence as they do their B2C customers. However, they should.”

“The only thing that moves faster than the speed of technology is the speed of expectations.”
— Martin Harbech
  • Multiple me. Consumers are different people from moment to moment. Healy, for example, is a corporate officer with fiduciary responsibilities, charged with disrupting the Kelly organization and pushing his colleagues to think differently. He’s also a dad who needs the flexibility to be able to respond to his daughter’s texts. He’s a Red Sox fan who cares that the Astros are beating the Yankees. He is also an uncle, a mentor, and a traveler.

Each person working in an organization has a similar mix that they bring to work.

Workers no longer want to separate their work and personal life—they want the freedom to bring all of their different selves to work. Organizations that don’t understand the Multiple Me’s that talent brings to the office will sacrifice access to talent because the talent now demands the freedom to blend work and play.

Algorithm-led discovery. The State of the Connected Customer Report by Salesforce also shows that consumers want:

  • 84%: To be treated like a person, not a number
  • 70%: Businesses to understand how and why they use a product
  • 59%: A tailored engagement

Today’s employees want something similar from their employer, a customized experience that considers each worker’s uniqueness as an individual: who they are, what matters to them, and their needs while on the job. They want to work for employee-centered companies.

According to the IBM Institute for Business Value, true employee experience touches on three areas: physical environment, social connections, and the work to be done. Employee-centric plans, programs, and policies look at all the elements of employment, from hiring to training to retirement. They include the tiniest details, like how employees want to be communicated with and the lighting used in different spaces within the office setting.

Creating an employee-centric culture requires analytics, similar to that which would be used to determine a customer’s experience with a brand. And this, of course, requires gathering information from employees who volunteer that information through such channels as:

  • Administrative data
  • Meeting notes
  • Surveys: Anonymous and non-anonymous; annual and pulse; open-ended and closed-ended questions
  • Personal interviews
  • Feedback meetings
  • Suggestion boxes
  • General Observation

Once you have the data, analytics will help you gain insights about workers and their needs, changes required in the working environment, and productivity issues.

Healy recommends using data to bring people into initiatives based on their interests—not just their credentials—for a richer, more productive outcome.

For instance, in a blockchain initiative he worked on, the company first created an interest in blockchain by setting up an area where employees could learn about the concept. People from all over the organization co-mingled in this area to learn more. The data team took note of interest and the reasons for interest in blockchain.

Then, when the blockchain initiative was set up, people flocked to volunteer for it. “We struck their passion, and suddenly, you had people coming together doing something because they were excited about it,” says Healy. “Think about the difference in outcome between this team and that of a team who was told ‘here's something you know nothing about that you have to work on because I told you to.’”

  • The understood self. Consumers want to find balance in all aspects of their lives, especially at work. In fact, they will pay a premium for an experience that supports their mental and physical health and wellbeing. There are many ways to better adhere to this expectation within an organization, including:
    • Benefits packages. Does your organization prioritize mental health and wellness or is there still a stigma attached to this changing perception?
    • Workforce policies. Are your policies human-centric? Do they reflect an understanding of what employees may be going through?
    • Atmosphere. Everyone talks about the “open” concept, but that atmosphere isn’t right for everyone. Introverts, for example, often prefer smaller or quieter working environments. Do you offer a variety of spaces that meet every employee’s needs?
    • Job descriptions. Do your company’s job descriptions describe the physical work environment that your next hires can envision themselves working in?
    • Empathy. “Leaders can’t just be bosses anymore,” says Healy. “They have to be coaches as well. Gen Z, in particular, demands mentorship from their superiors, along with empathy and openness. Many of the policies created to avoid lawsuits actually mean that organizations lose touch with their employees.”
    • Policies. Are your company policies good for both full-time and on-demand employees? In April of this year, all of Google’s workers went on strike because of unfair on-demand workforce policies. The on-demand employees, who make up 53% of Google’s workforce, were not notified of an active shooter on campus because the policy at the time stated that management could not communicate with the temporary workforce. For a company like Google, only addressing that 47% is a huge risk for both the organization and their workforce.
If your workforce planning only accounts for your full time employees, you got a problem there.

The Market Is Changing – Are You?

The Industrial Revolution is now in its fourth iteration: We call it The Digital Age. The first iteration harnessed steam and water for power. Then came electricity, which powered assembly lines. Then came computers and automation. In today’s era, we’ve moved on to smart systems that learn and enhance automation. However, Healy says that organizations need to look at the moves from one revolution to the next as more than just an introduction of new technologies.

“Look at the Second Industrial Revolution,” he says. “For companies that employed the new electric motor technology by simply replacing the big steam turbine, they got zero incremental value. Nothing new was produced. Business went on as usual, except that they spent a lot of money replacing one system for another. It wasn't until Henry Ford used the new technology to rethink the process of work distribution to create an assembly line that the new technology suddenly had exponential value and created exponential wealth.”

“In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.”
— Warren Buffet

Healy says that in many cases today, we're just replacing the steam engine. Organizations grasp new tech gadgets, artificial intelligence, or RPA, and throw it on top of a process. “If you take a mediocre process and just make it happen faster, have you really done anything of value?” he questions. “It's only when you show a new way to create value by looking at the situation differently that a real revolution occurs.”

Healy’s Three Big Pieces of Advice for Companies

Similar to industrial shifts, as organizations begin employing new business models and talent solutions to address the digital age, they will not be successful unless they create new processes and systems that add value. This requires doing more than throwing today’s digital tools and talent models on top of the old, hierarchical models of business—it will require the risk, and rewards, brought on by experimentation.

A 2016 Microsoft study found that Australian organizations that follow a test-and-learn approach were more successful with digital transformation. Similarly, Healy believes that organizations that are constantly learning and experimenting are less likely to suffer disruption—of any kind—because they are always evolving. However, this is only true when experimentation actually solves business problems.

Unfortunately, too many organizations think too big when considering business problems. They envision the digital disruption of the entire organization—the transformation of the entire business. They look for the perfect solution that will solve all problems simultaneously.

Instead of grandiose ideas of perfection, Healy suggests thinking smaller. “Getting the work on my desk done faster today is not a multi-year project. I can just ask someone, ‘Hey, is there a better way to get this done?’ There are plenty of people in that gig market who are doing things in really cool ways that you can learn from by just asking.”

Innovation happens on the edges. It doesn't happen from coloring inside the lines.

But where can you start? Healy has a few suggestions.

  • Capture the full scope of your workforce. Most organizations who have a strong employer value proposition already capture stories and information about their internal workforce. You likely know why your employees enjoy working for your company, but are you capturing that information about your external workers too? Without added investment, you won’t have the information needed to create a more holistic, employee-centric culture that suits your entire workforce.
  • Co-create talent communities. Start recognizing the different talent communities you have and begin developing co-communities within them. See what you can learn from each other.
  • Collect data on your employees and learn from it. As an organization, you should want to get to know your workforce better. Use the same technology that personalizes your customer experience to learn what your workforce wants and needs from your organization.

Rather than trying to continue using old paradigms, it is time to welcome the Fourth Industrial Revolution—with all its benefits—into your organization. Look beyond HR practices from the past, experiment with new concepts and technologies, and apply consumer trends to your on-demand workforce policies. By doing so, you can create a truly employee-centric culture that embraces the talent economy and thrives.

John Healy
Managing director of the Office of the Future of Work for Kelly Services, is a frequent presenter to the World Employment Conference, The Institute for the Future, and SIA.