The 2020 Workplace: A book review by Bob Morris

The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies, Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today
Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd
Harper Business/An imprint of HaroerCollins (2010)

How and why the HR function has become so much more important than many (most?) C-level executives now realize

The reference to “HR function” refers to anyone and anything involved in the process of developing people as a valuable asset. Apparently many (if not most) C-level executives in many (if not most) organizations still don’t “get it” because, as recent and vast research by firms such as Gallup and TowersWatson clearly indicates, fewer than 30% (on average) of employees in a U.S. workplace are positively and productively engaged. As for the other more than 70%, they are either mailing it in or doing whatever they can to undermine their organization’s best interests. Is it any wonder, then, that many (if not most) of these companies also have serious problems attracting and then retaining the people they need.

Fortunately, several excellent books have been recently published that can offer specific information, insights, and advice that can help C-level executives to respond effectively to these and other HR disfunctions. Jeanne Meister and Karie Willyerd co-authored The 2020 Workplace and it is one of the best. More about that book in a moment.  First, however, I want to discuss, briefly a key insight that Fred Reichheld offers in his last two books. The “ultimate question” to which their title refers is “On a zero-to-ten scale, how likely is it that you would recommend us (or this product/service/brand) to a family member, friend or colleague?” As Reichheld explains, the phrasing of that question is “a shorthand wording of a more basic question, which is, Have we treated you right, in a manner that is worthy of your loyalty? ”

Rephrase that ultimate question and you have another of great importance: “On a zero-to-ten scale, how likely is it that you would recommend working for our company to a family member, friend or colleague?” The shorthand wording of a more basic question would be, “Have we treated you right, in a manner that is worthy of your loyalty?” Although Meister and Willyerd focus on ten forces shaping the future workplace during the next ten years, presumably they agree with me if business leaders do not “attract, develop, and keep tomorrow’s employees today,” their company won’t have a workforce to manage in 2020.

Amidst the wealth of information, insights, and counsel that Meister and Willyerd provide in abundance, I was especially appreciative of these:

o   A “Summary” section at the conclusion of Chapters 1-7
o  “Ten Forces Shaping the Future Workplace Now”
o  Brief but insightful introductions to five generations (i.e. Traditionalists, Boomers, X, Millennials, and 2020)
o  “Principles of 2020 Engagement”
o  “The [Five] Stages of Über-Connection”
o  “The Social Learning Ecosystem”
o  “The 2020 Leader”
o  “Twenty Predictions for the 2020 Workplace”

I commend Meister and Willyerd on their provision and discussion of dozens of exemplar organizations (e.g. Cisco Systems, GE, Zappos, Burson-Marsteller, Pricewaterhouse Coopers re accelerated leadership development); hundreds of real-world situations that create a context and frame of reference for the explanation of core concepts, principles, and values; and the aforementioned “Summary” sections that conclude the first seven chapters.

The ten forces they discuss are now driving the changes already underway that will redefine the workplace less than a decade from now, a workplace that will itself require redefined leadership, followership, and relationships between and among everyone involved.


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