The Great Resignation & The Future Of Work: John Topping Of Better Manager On How Employers and Employees Are Reworking Work Together
An Interview with Karen Mangia
Individuality — Employee experiences are personal and unique, which means there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, the solution requires individualized coaching based on the specific goals, strengths, and shortcomings of each person. At BetterManager, our 360 survey results identify instructive insights to build a personalized program for leadership success that serves as the foundation for 1:1 coaching and continuously reinforced e-learning.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview John Topping, President and COO at BetterManager, a virtual leadership development platform providing 1:1 executive coaching and personalized training to people managers at every level. BetterManager supports people development for leading companies including Chegg, Dropbox, NASA, Eventbrite, DraftKings, Yelp, and more. John’s career spans three decades, starting as a publishing executive for leading technology companies and including 6+ years as an early executive at Google, where he served as the Director of Google’s Technology Vertical segment. At Google, John led a team who grew revenue to $500 million and was awarded a luminary award, given to the top 5% of leaders at the organization. Since 2009, John has been focusing his efforts on leadership development platforms with a goal of creating great leaders and managers, first as a co-founder and President of PointForward Partners, and most recently at BetterManager. In his role, John is in daily contact with C-suite and people leaders at top enterprises around the world who are looking to improve retention and employee engagement.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
Growing up a middle child in a family of five probably shaped me the most as I learned to adapt to very different personality types early on. The second most seminal moment in my life was traveling cross country for two months with a college friend with a tent, a mountain bike, fishing rods and very little money and then making my own way in the Bay Area during the acceleration of the tech boom and the first phase of the Internet economy.
Entering the company, I felt like a bit of an underdog, so I was determined to prove my worth. It was a life-changing experience and quite thrilling to be part of their skyrocketing journey. I learned so much about how to lead teams and what differentiates highly effective managers from mediocre ones.
Both experiences have undoubtedly helped shape the person and the professional that I am today.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
I predict that globalization will continue to increase access to people the world over and that remote/hybrid working arrangements will become the new norm. COVID has taught us that fully remote teams are capable of functioning as well (and sometimes better) than on-site teams. Tech-enabled coaching and training is democratizing access to leadership development resources once exclusively given to high level executives. This is creating a more skilled, more confident, and more connected workforce that understands how to lead from every level of the organization. In 10–15 years’ time, I think we’ll see fewer top-down, hierarchical organizations and more flat structures that allow everyone the opportunity to lead.
Technology is only getting smarter and faster, which should increase the productivity and efficacy of organizations in 10–15 years. However, organizations must be careful not to forget that AI can never supplant the power of human connectedness. Relationships are a fundamental element of the human experience, and the soft skills that enable them are powerful tools that organizations must continue to harness for the good of their teams and their customers/consumers.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Future-proofing your organization will require both an authentic investment in your people and the digital transformation of both your customer service and internal practices. It’s been said a million times over, but the Great Resignation has taught us that people need and want more from their work than just a paycheck. People are looking for purpose in their work–whether that’s the opportunity to grow as a person/professional or a connection to something meaningful and larger than themselves. If you don’t invest in what matters to your employees, they’ll go somewhere else that does. Organizations who embrace this paradigm shift will thrive; those who don’t will end up falling by the wayside.
This new paradigm also necessitates a new type of manager–one who is consciously focused on the growth and success of their team members instead of just the bottom line. That’s why BetterManager’s offerings teach Servant Leadership best practices. The concept of Servant Leadership has been around since 1970, and it’s definitely been influential in some circles, but people who might have been resistant to it before cannot deny that the social expectations for managers and leaders have shifted. As I mentioned, the top-down hierarchical approach is no longer effective. Future-proofing your organization means embracing this new style of leadership, and fast.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
Employers who cling to hierarchical, command and control style “leadership” amidst large paradigm shifts will experience the largest expectation gap between them and their employees. Things like computer monitoring software that demonstrate mistrust will continue to create conflict and inevitably turnover. To reconcile this gap, companies need to build trust with their employees. They’ll need to take a stand on what matters to their team members by investing in people’s growth and happiness.
Employers need to move beyond the thinking that all people want is more money. It’s true that adequate compensation matters, but it’s not everything, and employers who think they can just fix the situation with raises or bonuses will be proven wrong.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
While the pandemic ushered in this shared experience, it’s a trend that has been building steam for some time, particularly in upstart and early stage companies. Remote work is here to stay and employers need to accept it. Recently, we hosted Karin Reed, Speaker Dynamics CEO, on a recent BetterManager podcast, where she outlined tons of best practices for how to lead teams remotely. She said it far better than I ever could, so I’ll simply encourage you to check out the podcast for more details.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
We have been navigating uncharted waters since the onset of the pandemic making it increasingly important to find new ways to work and interact, while at the same time taking care of our mental health and well-being.
This shift has impacted everyone in very different and unique ways. I believe it will be important to continue to seek out and develop new and intentional ways and spaces where people can socialize and connect authentically.
It may not be practical to meet in person often, but the importance of human connection will continue to be essential, particularly as more and more people work remotely, often in isolation.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
My greatest source of optimism is people! It’s the power that all of us possess to learn and grow as individuals. It’s actually hard not to be optimistic hearing all the impact stories that come from our coaches and training facilitators, not to mention the feedback from people whose lives are changed by the leadership journeys they undertake with BetterManager. Equity of access to coaching and training gives everyone the opportunity to thrive at work. It creates promotional pathways for people from traditionally marginalized groups, who are still grossly underrepresented on boards and in C-suites across the country.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
Employee wellbeing was of the utmost importance long before COVID-19, but it’s now at the front and center of every organization’s plans. The best thing an employer can do to improve and optimize their employees’ mental health is to focus on creating a healthy organizational culture where employees feel valued and appreciated–not just for their work, but for who they are as individuals.
The flipside of thriving is burnout. The longer an organization ignores its underlying cultural issues, the greater chance they have of experiencing burnout and high turnover, which costs organizations way more than actually addressing their issues head-on. If you don’t know whether your organizational culture is healthy, it’s a good idea to gather some data, so that you can begin the process of healing or fixing whatever is ailing your people.
Everyone has their opinion on what’s working and what isn’t, but concrete data allows you to identify recurring trends and themes at an organizational level. Invest in good data to ensure your employees’ mental health and wellbeing is where you think it is. Often, leadership’s perception of reality is different from what’s actually happening on the ground.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
Company cultures need to evolve to become more fair and focused on what’s good for the people who work there (not just the shareholders). Really putting people first means taking stock of who or what is not working well and doing something about it–whether it’s your organization’s leadership style, the fairness of your promotion processes, or the way your company responds to the social and political issues of the day.
The Great Resignation has shown that meaningful work matters more to people than a paycheck. Companies who take seriously the concerns and desires of their workforce will see a huge ROI. Those who continue to be pennywise and pound foolish will see their employees leave for better opportunities (not to mention the possibility of a hit to their organization’s reputation).
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- Conscious (Servant) Leadership — At Google, we had a commitment to not hiring assholes. I’m serious, this was something we discussed internally as a litmus test for new hires. It’s a crude way of hammering home the point that hierarchical, command and control style leadership doesn’t work. The most successful organizations know that. As our CEO, Stephane Panier, wrote about for The Next Web, “it’s time to reject fearmonger managers.” There will be a cultural shift from acting like “the boss” to living as a public servant whose responsibility is to help team members grow and develop into the best individuals and professionals they can be.
- Being Purpose-Driven — A 2021 study done by Porter Novelli found that 78% of survey respondents were more likely to remember a brand that had a strong purpose. Not only that, purpose-driven companies are more likely to inspire trust and more likely to attract job seekers. According to Deloitte, purpose-driven companies also achieve higher employee satisfaction rates. That being said, the commitment to purpose must be authentic in order to drive positive outcomes. Talking about purpose without following through is a sure fire way to lose high quality employees and customers.
- Increased Talent Retention Efforts — Though talent retention has been a popular topic of conversation as of late, maintaining high levels of employee satisfaction has always been the key to sustainable business growth and success. The Great Reshuffle/Resignation has merely opened employers’ eyes to the importance of this long standing imperative. To recruit top talent and prevent turnover in the future, employers will need to reprioritize employee satisfaction and stay attuned to employee flight risk. While anecdotal evidence is good, it’s no substitute for enterprise level data.
- Inclusivity — Thankfully, more and more companies are realizing the power of a diverse and inclusive culture. Walking the walk around inclusivity is going to be an important trend for the future of work. As more people become wary and critical of diversity theater, the pressure on companies to make good on public promises will continue to mount. On a recent BetterManager podcast, Duane Hughes, Managing Director and Chair, Americas Advisory Council at UBS provides proactive suggestions for increasing inclusivity at work.
- Individuality — Employee experiences are personal and unique, which means there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, the solution requires individualized coaching based on the specific goals, strengths, and shortcomings of each person. At BetterManager, our 360 survey results identify instructive insights to build a personalized program for leadership success that serves as the foundation for 1:1 coaching and continuously reinforced e-learning.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
I’ve always liked a quote from Albert Einstein “Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value”. In my own life journey, when I’ve kept my focus more on the value I can bring to others, rather than what’s in it for me, the reward has always been sweeter and more meaningful.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
Two people come to mind in current culture I’d love to have breakfast or lunch with. 1. I am currently reading Speed and Scale by John Doerr and am fascinated by his take on solving the overwhelming problems associated with climate change. 2. I have such respect for Steve Kerr, coach of the Warriors. I really respect his leadership and the culture he builds for his team. I find him quite inspirational as a leader.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
The easiest way to connect with me and follow my work online is to visit BetterManager.co. I also recommend giving a listen and subscribing to the Building Better Managers podcast, run by our terrific co-founder Wendy Hanson. Personally, I am most accessible via LinkedIn.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.