Human Agility – A Commencement Address to the Workforce of 2020

04/28/2020 5 min read
John Healy
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.
Human Agility – A Commencement Address to the Workforce of 2020

Commencement is about a time of transition, a time to both celebrate what we have accomplished and to formally transition to whatever is next in our journey. That journey has some unexpected obstacles in the road, but it also has some unexpected opportunities to discover.

High school seniors and college grads entering the 2020 workforce aren’t the only ones at a moment of pause right now. We’re all experiencing a time of new beginnings. Maybe it’s the optimist in me, but the opportunity for commencement—for innovation, for committing to a purpose, for thinking and acting differently, for solving big problems, and for taking care of one another—has never been greater than it is right now.

Among the many challenges for the graduating class and workforce of 2020, the most noteworthy will be the decisions they’ll make around how they chose to spend their time during the COVID-19 era, and who they’ll choose to associate with afterward. In fact, the number one question asked will be: “What did you do during the global pandemic of COVID-19?”… and it will be asked from both sides of the desk.

So, I ask you, how do you want to be remembered post COVID-19? What do you want to say you’ve accomplished during this time?

Here, I examine four major shifts confronting the workforce of 2020—four key trends that encourage us all to embrace new beginnings.

“Multiple Me’s” Meshing Together

When it comes to economic and social impacts, COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate. It affects the billionaire, the homeless, and the average Zoom user. As a result, we all have had to reprioritize, and squish together, all of the roles that we serve our communities through (see Trend #2: Multiple Me’s in my earlier article, 8 Consumer Trends Driving the Future of Work).

For example, a head chef I know at a Michelin 3-star restaurant is delivering meals to those in need, minimum-wage cashiers at Price Chopper are now deemed “essential workers,” and my colleague, a business executive, is now teaching fifth-grade geometry to her daughter in between virtual meetings.

We’re all being asked to re-evaluate what’s most important.

Working Toward Human Agility

To understand this better, let’s look at Kelly’s three-tiered Human Agility model: Sustainability, Momentum, and Human Agility. Kelly’s model is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs—basic needs, psychological needs, and self-fulfillment needs—only we adapt it to align specifically to how we support the people we engage with, and help find work for, every day.

Similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy (which, by the way, should be edited to include high-quality wifi as a foundational safety need), at the ground level is Sustainability. We have basic needs associated with Sustainability—food, shelter, the ability to communicate, and our health. Not to mention employment, so we can earn enough to meet these needs for ourselves and those who we are responsible for.

Once our basic needs have been met, our personal consumption of knowledge, connection, and feelings of purpose and self-fulfillment allow us to bring Momentum to who we are and what we believe we can achieve. Throughout our personal and collective journeys, Momentum will shift. At times, this will accelerate us toward achieving true Human Agility—the flexibility to do what we want, where we want, in the ways that we want.

At other times, like so many during this pandemic, the floor drops out and we are back to prioritizing our most basic needs. Organizations and individuals alike navigate through these stages of achieving Human Agility. (For more on Kelly’s Human Agility model, please contact me directly on LinkedIn.)

Reclaiming Sustainability with Optimism

From all the conversations I’ve had about the impact that COVID-19 is having on the future of work, it’s clear we’re in a battle between pessimism and optimism. I say optimism will win. Why? Because the innate human quality that causes us to seek Momentum and progress has already given us a taste of the Passion Economy—an empowered movement toward fresh paths of professional fulfillment.

Many have reverted back to Sustainability so that basic needs can be met. For example, laid off or furloughed workers are accepting job opportunities outside their normal job search criteria in order to bulk up their savings and put food on the table for their families. Conversely, those able to work remotely are more likely to have their basic needs—work and income—met. We might find, then, that this pandemic calls those workers to pursue a greater purpose, like deciding to divert time, resources, and passion to support frontline heroes.

Only after our base needs have been met can we begin to create Momentum for what’s to come: a pathway to achieve Human Agility. This pathway will be a revolution enabled by technical advances, filled with purpose-driven people, and bolstered by unprecedented access to learning and skill development and the unbreakable human spirit. Human Agility includes the freedom and capacity to learn a new skill, to pitch in and support a cause that you believe in passionately, to start a business, to lean in and make a difference, and to know the feeling of having done so—for someone other than yourself.

Character and Passion Are Revealed During Times of Adversity

When I was asked if we should wait and let Google, Apple, and Amazon figure all of this out, I was quick to note their common bond—they all began small. They recognized that there was an opportunity to fill a void and bring new value to the market, so they ran on Momentum and became giants. Now, individuals and organizations across the globe are challenging the status quo, solving bigger problems, and creating new rules for the “new world” we’re living in. (A collective of innovators, disrupters, and learners shared many of these examples in a recent conversation recorded here.)

As we look back through the recovery process post COVID-19, you will have to ask yourself—what did you start? What sacrifices did you make? Who did you help? Were you a passive observer or a catalyst for change? These are the questions you will be asked to reconcile with your employer, with your workforce, with your community, with your friends and family, and with yourself.

How will you reclaim your autonomy? How will you be remembered post COVID-19?

These are the choices in front of you now; these are the choices that will initiate your momentum.

John Healy
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.