Where We've Never Gone Before with Kerry Brown

06/03/2020 20 min read
Where We've Never Gone Before with Kerry Brown

Welcome to Talent Economy Live, a weekly broadcast for you. I’m Paul Estes, editor-in-chief of Staffing.com and host of The Talent Economy Podcast.

Current events have completely reshaped the way that we work and live. Overnight, in-person meetings turned into video conferences, and the team happy hour went virtual. While we’re all adjusting to our new normal, questions about distributed teams and the future of work are still being raised.

We’re live every Wednesday with key insights and direct experiences from talent, executives, and remote work experts. This show is aimed to keep you informed and up to speed on the ever-evolving workforce as we all navigate these challenging times together.

This episode’s guest is Kerry Brown, VP of Workforce Adoption, SAP Americas, where she has focused on the Future of Work: how jobs will change, where we work, how we work, and who we work with. She has a passion for making employees successful at their jobs and helps companies achieve organizational excellence with SAP.

Kerry has spent 20 years helping organizations prepare for the future of work, and that future is now.

She is a regular contributor to Staffing.com and was a guest on The Talent Economy Podcast back in February—and only two weeks later, the way we worked and where we worked completely transformed for many of us.

Transcript:

Paul Estes:

Welcome to Talent Economy Live. I'm your host, Paul Estes, editor-in-chief of Staffing.com and host of The Talent Economy Podcast. Current events have completely reshaped the way we work and the way we live. Overnight, in-person meetings have turned into video conferences, and the team happy hour, well, it went virtual. While we're all adjusting to the new normal, questions about distributed teams and the future of work are still being raised. We're live every Wednesday with key insights and direct experiences from talent, executives, and remote experts. This show is aimed to keep you informed and up to speed with the ever-evolving workforce as we navigate these changes together. I want to welcome back to the show Laurel Farrer, founder and CEO of Distribute Consulting and a Forbes remote work careers contributor. Laurel, welcome to the show.

Laurel Farrer:

Thank you for having me as always. It's a pleasure to be here.

Paul Estes:

All right. Well, I want to talk about an article that we just published on Staffing.com, it relates to the guests we have today: Where We've Never Gone Before: Easing the Transition to Remote Work. I know you may have had a chance to read the article, but the idea we want to talk about today is change management. I think a lot of people had talked about remote work. I know you've been in the business of helping corporations. I mean, corporations and public sector folks transition to remote work. But tell me a little bit about what you got from the article and how you think of change management in general.

Laurel Farrer:

This was such a great article because Kerry is really highlighting the fact that what we're dealing with right now is unprecedented. So often, the change management process that consultants traditionally facilitate is based on prototypes, and best practices, and research, and learnings. So we can understand how to really facilitate this change management process, whether it'd be large or small, in the best, most efficient, most successful way possible.

However, this change that we have right now is completely unprecedented. There is no guidebook here. I have been a change manager in remote work for over 13 years, and I'm still in shock, and reeling, and trying to figure out new solutions every single day. So yeah, I think that my big takeaway from this article is this is a time of self-reliance and of innovation for everybody, period. There is no other option.

Paul Estes:

She talks about a book, Journey to the Emerald City, which talks about four main reasons people resist change. I thought it was interesting building on the idea of, "Hey, there were no best practices for this playbook." In fact, Jeff Bezos just released an open letter on Instagram telling people that, "Hey, we're learning real time on how to adapt and how to evolve," and, "Hey, take care of your family and take care of yourself."

But in that book, there were four things that she outlined in the article. People don't change because they didn't know, they weren't able. Most importantly, they weren't involved. Normally, in change management, you bring people along. In this case, you went to work one day, and the next, everything changed immediately. What are your clients saying they need help with as they think about change with their organizations?

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. That's exactly what's making it so unprecedented, right, is that we have... Especially at Distribute Consulting, we do have those best practices of change management for the conversion of a company from physical to virtual. We have that. We've facilitated that process, and we understand what that process is, and what it should be, and what those best practices are. However, what's making it different is exactly that, that balance of personal and professional. We can change our businesses, but this is changing every aspect of our lives. So we can't just make a decision for the company and say, "Okay. This is how we're going to do it, and this is going to be... how it impacts your workers," and done.

Now, we have so many ripple effects of, "Okay. We've got this distributed workforce. What is the economy like in their local area? What are lockdown regulations in their area? Are schools closed in their area? What is this going to look like in three months, in six months?" There's just so many X factors that are really fueling that resistance to change what Kerry mentioned in the article that they're saying even in the best of times, we would still have a conversation about change readiness and change resistance. But right now, it's just so subjective and it's so transient that it really feels impossible to continue to plan.

Paul Estes:

Now, you brought up a really good point when you talked about, "Are the schools open?" I know this is something that's a very active conversation in my neighborhood and the people that we talk to because there is a chance that some school districts will not reopen or will have very different rules, and some will have other rules. So that makes it that people are experiencing this in their own way and may not be able to go back to the office, and then you run this chance of discrimination and some other things. So I know you're going to talk a little bit about this. I want to turn it over to you for this week's Laurel's List.

Laurel Farrer:

Yeah. I mean, that was a great segue because there's a lot of safety in being able to bring people into the office because you get to control that environment, right? Like you come into the office, and in this world, in this space, everything is the same for everybody. But now, when you distribute, especially in such a transient, chaotic time in our society, the employee experience of what a workday looks like is going to be completely different.

This is exactly what's so different about change management relating to remote work right now, as previously, pre-COVID, when we at Distribute Consulting were facilitating the conversation about the change management process, it really was based so much on, "Is this a viability for your company? Is this a realistic option? Is it possible for your company, for your industry?" It was so based on case for change. We were convincing them. We were opening their eyes. We were trying to show them that this is a possibility for your company.

Now, as you can imagine, that's all changed. I don't think we've done a single case for change cases in the past three months. Now, ironically, we're trying to get employers to slow down and say, "Okay. Hang on. You need to come into this with a lot more intention, a lot more thought, a lot more proactivity." You can't just react and send everybody home and say, "Great. Ta-da, we're a distributed company." It's not that simple, and so really saying, "You need to come into this with this intention." Because of that, it not only is the conversation about going remote being oversimplified in the media, but the conversation about returning to the office is equally oversimplified in the media.

A hybrid team is a very, very delicate ecosystem. So if you plan to have some workers continue to work remotely and some workers that will need to go back to the office, you cannot just say, "Well, take your pick," or, "This half of the room, you're going to go into the office. This half of the room, you're going to stay remote," and call it a day. It needs to be very, very meticulously, strategically planned for a myriad of reasons, and that's what this week's list is about is, what are the risks of having a hybrid team? If you don't go into this with intention and caution, what could happen to your team?

Now, number one, obviously, is workforce discrimination. This has always been a problem in our workforce and discriminates between a lot of different factors: age, race, gender, sexual orientation, even factors like height, parental status are all very complicated in the workplace. Now, what's happening is if everybody is out of the office and everybody is in a virtual environment, then it standardizes and levels the playing field so that everybody is working in equal conditions.

However, if you say, "Okay. Well, everybody take your pick. Those of you that want to go back to the office, go ahead and go back to the office," well, guess who's going to go back to the office? People that don't have outside obligations. All of the people with those traditional discriminatory factors, they're going to be the ones that stay remote because they have childcare obligations, or they are caring for a loved one, or they have back problems and the commute is hard. So honestly, if we just oversimplify the conversation for returning to the office and say, "Take your pick," you are going to enhance discrimination in your workforce.

The next one would be management bias. This is something that we've seen traditionally for a long, long time is that if we give the decision-making power to the managers, each team is going to experience a different level of going back to the office. This is very, very subjective. The manager is going to make or give the permission to go remote based on their personal experience with going remote, based on their opinion of remote work in general, and that can be very positive. It can be very negative. If we are giving decision-making power to something so subjective as an opinion of an individual, then that's going to create a lot of imbalance and unequal accessibility of flexibility to our workforce.

The third is information security. Again, the more that we can standardize our employee experience, regardless of their location, that they're experiencing the same tools, they're using the same processes and strategies, regardless of whether they're in the office or out of the office, the better. But if you're being reactive in your change management process and you're not coming into this with intention, you're not going to have updated your infrastructure adequately. Because of that, you're going to have information security and compliance breaches more than you can imagine.

So that's my list for this week. Please think cautiously about this. Think proactively and intentionally about this change of going remote, whether it is distributing your workforce more than you originally anticipated or less and taking everybody back to the office. Regardless of what the future looks like for you, it needs to be planned carefully.

Paul Estes:

Yeah. Thank you so much, Laurel. One of the things that we were talking about right before the show was the idea of documenting things, of being strategic, of really thinking through the implications because it is complicated. How do you find that balance between giving teams the flexibility they need, right, that sort of freedom and flexibility in work, and overprescribing the exact way they need to work? I think when I used to go to work that you'd had meetings and everything was super structured. Now, we're in a world where people are experiencing flexibility. Where do you draw that line on how much you put structure around what remote work or flexible work means?

Laurel Farrer:

The level of structure itself is very based on the unique needs of the industry and of the culture of the company. So that's very subjective in a very personal case per company. However, expectations need to be very carefully outlined, and that's where you need to see the heavier side of structure: What does performance look like in this virtual collaborative environment? What are the expectations of accessibility, of communication? How are you going to report results? What hours do you need to be available?

A lot of those very small miscommunications can quickly add up and create a sense of chaos or disconnection that really frustrates a lot of leaders that lead them to think, "Nevermind. This isn't working. Everybody comes back to the office." So the more that you can prevent those small miscommunications and be very proactive in setting that policy and outlining performance expectations in a virtual environment, that's where that will really make or break the success of this change management process.

Paul Estes:

Yeah. It reminds me of one of the things that I really learned when I went fully distributed with over-communicate and transparency. Sometimes, it's not the miscommunication that causes the issues. It's actually the lack of communication that causes those issues so...

Laurel Farrer:

Absolutely.

Paul Estes:

Laurel, thank you so much. I really like the advice. Now, I want to bring in today's guest, Kerry Brown, VP of Workforce Adoption at SAP Americas. She's focused on the Future of Work and how jobs will change, where we will work, and how we will work, and who we work with. She has a passion for making employees successful at their job and helps companies achieve organizational excellence with SAP. She’s spent 20 years helping organizations preparing for the future of work, and in many ways, that future is now. Kerry is also a regular contributor to Staffing.com, we talked about her article today, and was a guest on The Talent Economy Podcast back in February. Less than two weeks later, many of us started working from home and everything was completely transformed. Kerry, welcome to the show.

Kerry Brown:

Hi, Paul. Nice to see you again.

Paul Estes:

Well, it was interesting because I actually listened to our podcast, and a lot has changed since that conversation, which feels like years ago, but it was only a couple of months ago. Before we get started, tell me a little bit about your role at SAP and what has changed in your work just over the past couple of months.

Kerry Brown:

Wow. Well, I'd say in the last couple of months, the concept of the Future of Work has leapfrogged probably 18 to 24 months. So my day job, I spend my time talking with our customers about how really people's jobs changed. My litmus test is how do people’s jobs change. Whether there's technology, or process change, or whatever else is figuring out, how does that change, and how do you make them successful? So the future of work has really been the area that in the last three years, four years has become the focus around how to drive adoption success because of the technological changes and the workforce changes. Earlier, Laurel was talking about things that we were trying to do. The case for change around was there. The future of work is now.

Paul Estes:

Give me a story or maybe an example of one of your customers or internally where they've really felt acutely the change over the past couple of months.

Kerry Brown:

Absolutely. So we've been doing a broadcast actually weekly, not dissimilar to this, interviewing customers, what they go through now. Recently, we interviewed the CIO of TreeHouse Foods. So a lot of the private labeling that you would see of products at your grocery stores or big-box stores are provided by them, and they had to Go-Lives. They turned on SAP in two different facilities during COVID. So instead of having the support that you would typically see with hyper-care and lots of people around and super users to help everybody be successful, everyone was remote to the manufacturing facilities who would normally be onsite helping. They managed to do that really successfully and are actually going to go ahead for the rest of the year with continued Go-Lives. What's interesting is the number of other customers who are, say three, or four, or five months behind them planning what's going to happen in summer or fall listened very closely because that is an area in time that... It's called hyper-care for a reason. There's hyper-focus on success at that point, and so navigating through that is a big change for our industry.

Paul Estes:

Now, you've talked a lot about the customers, how they're adopting to implement SAP. How is SAP itself figuring out how to meet those customer needs in a changing environment?

Kerry Brown:

We've done a number of things. So next week... pardon me, the week after next, we are launching our SAPPHIRE Reimagined. So we would typically, in the month of May or June, have met with 30,000 plus people in person in Orlando. We're now really creating what I call a virtual village. So there's a lot more connection points that are virtual by nature, but also, I would say changing the way we'll connect with them ongoing in the future. So rather than having an event-based relationship or an in-person-based relationship with virtual being something we do in and around those opportunities to meet in person, we're really creating a web of how we connect over time.

For us, internally, we still have our offices in North America closed through the end of August. Globally, we're beginning to reopen in Asia and in ANZAED, so Australia, New Zealand, as well as in Germany. So we are also ourselves looking at how to return to work and looking at who comes back, when they come back, what the circumstances are, a lot of the same things Laurel spoke about to consider the specific needs of each employee.

Paul Estes:

It's interesting. We're starting to see tons of large organizations do their events virtually. Well, there is a downside to it. Most of the conversation and the metrics out of those events have been extremely positive. The events themselves are now much more inclusive to people who may not have been able to travel to where the event was being held, and the engagement metric seemed to be pretty positive on most of the events.

Kerry Brown:

We are certainly hoping that's the case. So the 30,000 who would normally be there absolutely can now be at 100,000. So that's really been our challenge to our teams; it is to look at how we can find, reach... I was speaking yesterday with the CIO, who is a personal friend, who isn't a customer, who wouldn't normally go to that event because it wouldn't be meaningful to him at this point in time. He can attend. In fact, SAPPHIRE is open to everybody. It's free and it's open to everybody. So by all means, if you're interested in checking it out. I wasn't planning on doing a plug, but yeah, SAPPHIRE Reimagined. It's available to everybody worldwide.

Paul Estes:

I think it's one of the things I found is, there are a lot of conferences that would normally not be on my radar. Now, they're free, and I plug into certain sessions, and I don't attend the whole thing.

Kerry Brown:

Yeah.

Paul Estes:

So I think it's a really interesting model if you might not need to attend everything, but three, or four, or five sessions from a company could really be transformative. I want to talk about the article. First, I want to thank you for continuing to contribute to the work that we're doing at Staffing.com and the articles you're writing. They resonate with a lot of people, and I get a lot of mails in my inbox asking questions about the stuff you write, but I want to talk about the article Where We've Never Gone Before: Easing the Transition to Remote Work. The thing that really struck me about the article was how it was targeted to managers. We've talked a little bit before the show about how managers are on the frontline of navigating these decisions at the ground level for their teams.

Kerry Brown:

Affirmative.

Paul Estes:

Help me understand the advice you're giving to managers at SAP or your customer sites as they try to figure out what management looks like in this new world.

Kerry Brown:

So a couple of things. You might be familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, been around for a long, long time. If you think about it as a base, it has the foundation of safety, and security, and food, and shelter. Then, you work your way up to self-actualization is the term. So what's interesting is recent, what's come to light and more visibly is something called the ruler's hierarchy of corporate needs. So in the same way of starting the base and moving on up, it goes through crisis response, survival, recovery, growth, and vision. We've simplified that and said for our customers, thinking about where they're at right now in terms of response, recovery, and reinvention. If you think by industry and all the things you're buying or not buying, all the things you're doing or not doing are impacting all of our customers.

With 76% of the world's GDP running through SAP, pretty much all the industries that you can think of are being touched. So we have customers in retail who are really busy if they're in grocery. We have customers in retail who are really quiet, and the malls are closed. If you look at oil and gas or you look at airlines, there's certainly a shift and a change, and that reinvention is really where we're seeing people get to. For us, initially, it was just genuinely reaching out to people that we knew and asking how they were doing. We also have been remote for a very, very long time. So being able to relate as a person to person, manager to manager to talk through what we've been doing and how we get measured, how we get communications and connections with our leaders, and our peers, and the people who work on our teams and then shifting really to how do you recover.

So for our customers, it's become the new normal… is the new normal. It's where we're at right now, and there are variations on that for everybody geographically and so forth. For us, because we're global, certainly, we're seeing changes in Asia before going through to North America, and Europe, and so forth. All of the things you read in the news. But now, really seeing reinvention, so curiosity around how do you bring in some AI and machine learning to know how to leverage and connect to safety considerations? How do you use things? For example, features around temperature capabilities. So some of the things you're seeing, Ford or Amazon in the press talking about more and more companies are looking at how do they go back to a safe return to work.

We had done a survey on remote and on-site work pulse to see how employees were faring during COVID and continuing with that. But recently, we added in a return-to-work pulse. So corporations can ask their employees what they're comfortable with, what they're not comfortable with, what they're able to do, and allowing for some deliberate, and mindful, and intentional thinking as Laurel was talking about as they think about the next steps.

Paul Estes:

It's interesting that you've brought up that point because it was just last night, I was having a... I would say a healthy, energetic debate with a neighbor of mine who was actually going through one of those pulse surveys. So the company that he works for had given a survey, and the vice president was sitting and having a town hall with his leaders, talking about the results of that survey. It was 70/30 on people's opinions on what going back meant or to be honest, like if people even wanted to go back.

Kerry Brown:

Yep.

Paul Estes:

So as companies figure out their policy and how they're trying to navigate it, there's a big debate raging amongst the talent or people that work with these companies on how they want to engage going back. I think some of it is safety. Some of it is wanting to enjoy some of the benefits of the flexibility they've experienced. Others, maybe just like Laurel was saying, have family, or kids, or other things that they were neglecting that now they've gotten to a place where they're managing. How do you think in the data that you're seeing with people going back, the talent part of it, how do you balance that?

Kerry Brown:

It is definitely varying by company, but I don't... I'd say a few things. One, flexibility is now a gift we've all had the experience of. There are certainly some challenges that people have had depending on the circumstances they're at home with in terms of logistics or having kids there, what have you. But the flexibility is something that everyone has now had the experience and gift of. Now, I've worked remotely for a long time. I know that I can do laundry in between conference calls all the time. That's a part of my life and how I get by. The rest of the world has learned that now too, and so that flexibility consideration is one that... Why can't I do my job remotely if I'm managing to do it now?

So what's interesting is when you look across industries, the opportunity is there for hiring across the nation for different jobs where previously, it might have been considered a geographical consideration to have that location bias that you refer to have people close by. So for us, what we're seeing is some urgency by some companies to get back based on the business that they're in, essential or otherwise, to get to a new normal. But for others, it's really to re-navigate into different places, and they've got some alternatives for hiring.

Aside from the fact that we're now seeing obviously 40 million people without a job. So there's a ton of talent out in the workforce. There are also certain areas where talent is in demand, and so the ability to have people who might not have been willing to move, might not have the ability to move, being able to be successful at a job is giving some other choices for how to be employed or to be employed part-time. Those choices are all there and under consideration for a lot of organizations.

Paul Estes:

One of the things that was really interesting... A couple of weeks ago, I had a podcast interview with a surgeon who is an oncologist, and we talked about change in medicine not only today but back when they were going through medical records. He said, "Hey, there were a lot of doctors that when the medical records came and they were at the end of their careers, they just opted out. They retired. How do you view this transition and the trends as it relates to the generations in the workforce because we're also in a very unique period where there are five generations still in companies, and that hasn't been the case for long periods of time?

Kerry Brown:

I think it's been a shock to the system for many. I had an employee who probably five or six years ago now, he was in that category. He said, "There's all that new cool stuff coming, but I'm not interested in learning it. If I was 10 years younger, I would be, but I'm not." He retired and off he went. He's doing great. But I think for a lot of people where things that they thought would be in their future or beyond their career have happened. So as I shared where remote work, for example, is an example of how we have leaped ahead by 18 to 24 months. We have also withdrawn usage, for example, with other areas of technology that we weren't inviting into our workforce, but we're needing to have right now. So how do I think the generations will deal with it?

I think the flexibility and the use of technology are super familiar to the younger generations. So it's about time, frankly. It's probably the reaction that they're having. For some of the more established generations, things that they thought they wouldn't need to deal with, they're dealing with. What I also think in terms of flexibility is we will start to see a shift from going from 100% to 0% either at a retirement, or as a gig worker, or as a contract worker, or as a new employee. I think we'll start to see job sharing, or job reinvention, or part-time work that might allow for some of that flexibility in different ways for different kinds of jobs. So my expectation is candid that we'll all want more flexibility, and we'll expect that because it's been proven that it's possible. As an employer, we might also be then looking at, "Okay. How can I get the most value or the best talent for my organization from different places because I've got the flexibility to draw upon a different resource pool as well?"

Paul Estes:

It's one of the things I was talking to someone the other day, and they were one of those people prior to the pandemic that said on-location work is the only way, and had seen the light, and had seen the flexibility, and started thinking differently. They looked at it and they said, "You know, I've got an idea. I think I can reach out and hire people from anywhere." We had a laugh at that because they knew the kind of work I did, and I think it's one of the aspects of the move to flexibility that people are starting to embrace as they think about reinvention. Kerry, thank you so much for being on the show and continuing to support all the work that we do.

Kerry Brown:

My pleasure, Paul. Thank you very much.

Paul Estes:

Thank you for taking time to watch Talent Economy Live. On next week's show, I'm really excited, we have Dr. Tim Clark, an Oxford-trained social scientist, to talk about the four stages of psychological safety. Thank you so much. Stay safe, and see you next week.