This is not my last article this year as this is not our last Monday together and next week if you’re around, there will be a list of some of the articles you may have missed this year if you’re a new subscriber among other things. Equally, be warned that this one is looooong and contains generalisations and traces of extreme optimism so read it while wearing your best Xmas jumper or at least with eggnog in hand. – Happy Family, Fun, and Food Time y’all!
Next year will be epic from an employee perspective.
It may not become the kind of epic that meets the eye or makes the headlines as it’s impossible to quantify and measure at a macro level in anything else but satisfaction perchance, and if we’re honest, hardly anyone earnestly measures that, but 2020 will see vast improvements in the lives of many employees.
Here are some of the trends I see that make me hopeful:
At the end of a few tumultuous years discussing inclusion, diversity and gender equality we are finally coming to places of decency with more “STEM for girls” initiative started in 2019 than the 4 years prior; more and more countries passing equal pay regulation; and with landmark rulings such as the one in the UK last week that establishes the rights of the trans community, signs are that next year will be the beginning of the good road. Obviously, loads left to be done, and undoubtedly those passionate about the topic will find the brevity of this paragraph and even the inclusion as a good news market an affront but please don’t take it as anything other than an incremental celebration of the milestones achieved before going back to work.
“Command and control” are finally well and truly on their way out. It won’t be overnight and I am -sadly- not suggesting come January 5th, we can all enter our workplace only to find the former toxic, micro-managing, uninspiring, half-competent, obsessed-with-process and malefic boss we left there in December, had been magically replaced by Santa by a servant leader who ignites our passion and removes blockers from our way letting us be our best at work. Far from it, he’ll likely still be there, but there’s a big scale subconscious shift in what is deemed acceptable as “leadership” these days and the consensus tends towards the latter so everyone, even the staunchest of middle managers with little to no EQ, will start veering towards that better version of themselves, not because they’ve been formally reeducated or drank a magic potion, but because it will prove more efficient and it is the solidly decent thing to do. These middle managers are not demons, they are just humans who don’t know any better and grabbed the wrong end of the stick as to what is expected of them when “leading” – when they see the right end, we should have faith they’ll grab it instead. Jury stays out on this topic of course, but even if the change wouldn’t be as organic as I dream, next year will see a declaration towards it on the part of many enterprises so leadership 2.0 is truly on its way.
There’s less of the “new” when “ways of work” are being described across the board. Leaving aside the irony of mindsets such as Agile or Lean being called “new” when they have been around tens of years, they are finally becoming the norm and not the exception. This is intensely important of an indicator that the lives of workers everywhere will improve because they are simply the type of work based intensely on collaboration and having strong, functional and authentic human relationships. With waterfall styes of managing projects, fragments are possible – silos and a lack of communication between teams and often times inside the team, are very common – whereas when we work with an agile mindset, that’s not a possibility. The ideas of team, dialogue, feedback and being open are part of the DNA of any of these ways of work and as a result, having them, while it may have been painful of an introduction to some, will only result in major shifts in culture that will be beneficial to the employees. 2020 will likely see the last stubborn “but agile isn’t for us”’ bastions fall and as a result, more of us will work in vibrant, cross-functional, strong, new teams.
More honest exploration is happening around the wellbeing of the employee than ever before. This is from a physical and now mental perspective. Not nearly enough and the discussion on mental health is still in its infancy having spent forever in the dark, hidden behind the scenes, mirroring society in how it was seen as shameful, but it is getting there. Alongside it, there’s talk about personal brand, self-care, work-life balance, remote work, having healthy personal practices from the gym and nutrition to gratitude and yoga, all the substantially important conversations as to what it is that will make us whole, healthy and happy humans before we can be whole, healthy and productive workers. All we can do is keep all these lines of dialogue open and take it all very seriously.
2019 has seen a flurry of voices finally raising to formally deplore the false demarcation between “work and personal” and the implicit juxtaposition of “acting professional” and “just being human” which led to the dramatic implication that emotions are not welcome in the workplace and humans are expected to perform in their absence. The “Humans as work” movement in all its incarnations from the organised groups and gatherings, to the books and talks, is a beautiful thing to witness and any time you hear more chatter of how it’s valuable to become emotionally intelligent and be courageous enough to use that in the workplace, know you’re witnessing a stunning example of how we adapt as humans because in the absence of this new rhetorics we would have genuinely been in trouble once our humanity was called upon as the sole remaining USP against machines, and we had little to show for it.
Lastly, the one that warms our heart the most, 2020 will be the year of Psychological Safety for teams. In this article on “Getting Psychological Safety” that I wrote a while back I was saying:
“Any time I start explaining what our solution does and why we’ve built it, I have to start at the definition of Psychological Safety and with the many times, I’ve said it I’ve tested many a formulation.
“(…) Being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career” (Kahn 1990)
“Psychological Safety is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking” Prof. Dr. Amy Edmondson
“A Psychologically Safe team is one that feels like family and moves mountains together. Think back of the last time you made some magic with the team, how you were open and debated and were vulnerable and learning, creating and getting stuff done. That well-oiled machine that felt fun to be a part of. That was Psychologically Safe.” PeopleNotTech 2019 (;)
I’ve learned that if you find the right words that mean the most, then you’re the closest to having the split second of intense recognition when things click in the eyes of your dialogue partner and they “get it”.
And I’m really pleased to report those glimmers of recognition multiplied in the last few months and became more and more intense but outside of our empirical data sustained by our present clients, (and even if we disregard the fact that between the handful of big ones poised to launch our solution next year there will be a good tens of thousands -if not hundreds of thousands- of employees whose team lives will start to obviously improve), ask anyone who has kept an eye on the topic over the last year, and they’ll tell you they have witnessed Dr. Edmondson’s baby finally come to term – the flurry of articles, basic in tone as they may be, the inclusion in companies OKRs, the consultancies attaching it to their decks, -hopefully- the copies of The Fearless Organisation and Teaming flying off the shelves and of course, my favourite proof points, – the DevOps Report and The Project Unicorn including it as a major factor to any success – all those are the clear sign that it is now a mainstream, unignorable term.
Obviously, great news for us, but even more obviously, it is amazing news for anyone at all. If we believe Psychological Safety intensely matters we’ll want to get more of it not simply point at its existence or inexistence and to do so we would have to do all of the above implicitly while focusing on keeping our teams flexible, engaged, courageous and learning and our leaders EQed.
If anyone asked me for some practical pieces of advice to speed up the possible good trends above I would say:
- Make 2020 the year of courage and apply it first to absolutely not tolerating a-holes. Relentlessly call them out when you see them around you. More importantly still, – be 110% honest with yourself and catch your own a-hole moments and acknowledge them. Make it a priority to work on your compassion and understanding and graduating from that on true empathy and help others get it too and then tell others it’s ok to have the courage to make this “no a-holes” rule – cardinal;
- Obsess about the team. Make a conscious effort to analyse what the term means to you and your own group and what it means to your organisation. Strip it of its meaningless shell from the 90s and bring it back in light of EQ, empathy and the humanness we need to survive against this age of machines to come. Make it mean something profound and then focus on it as a bubble to see all its members flourish.
All in all, there are some good reasons to be optimistic about 2020. None of this is to deny the work that remains to be done. Any of us working towards these goals on a daily basis are, as a rule of thumb, frustrated beyond belief with how maddeningly slow the world is to react to common sense matters, but it is changing and we must see it and raise a glass of bubbly to celebrate it.
Here’s to you 2020, prove me right and do us proud!