The Great Resignation & The Future Of Work: Magnus Wood Of The Kindness Corporation On How Employers and Employees Are Reworking Work Together
An Interview with Karen Mangia
We’ll all realize that the Future of Work is now. Let’s be honest here. Most people who work aren’t talking about ‘the future of work’. The future of work is the anxiety we face and the decisions we have to make about returning to the workplace. The future of work is how teams work in hybrid ways.
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 Magnus Wood.
Magnus Wood is a co-founder of The Kindness Corporation™ — a modern advisory daring to reimagine business with Kindness. The Future of Work is here, now and it is Kind — a commitment to leave people and the planet better. Magnus is also a forager, cook, gin-maker, yogi, he lives on a houseboat in England, and is a father of two beautiful daughters.
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.
So I’d like to share a story that’s a little embarrassing…
Girls had, for all of my teenage years, been a mystery. I went to an all-boys school and lived some distance from it. So I spent a lot of time on my own. Well, I say on my own — my parents were there, but they didn’t matter — and I did have a large collection of insects, newts and other animals that I’d basically kidnapped and kept in my bedroom. My other love was that of reading and I became expert in subjects as important as the Loch Ness monster, UFOs, and famous Victorian murders. Frankly, even if I managed to spend any time with them, I had no chance with girls.
And then it happened — my father’s job sent us from South-East London back to Scotland where we were originally from and a secondary school on the outskirts of Glasgow. If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Gregory’s Girl’, then it was exactly like that. I digress, because the most important thing that happened to me was the presence of girls. I knew something was different the minute I walked into school for the very first time because, instead of the smell of sweaty boys, I was hit with the heady aroma of about 37 competing perfumes. I was in heaven. For about a day.
Because it became very clear I had absolutely no idea of what to say or do around these alien creatures. For some bizarre reason they didn’t share my interest in newts or in the most famous Nessie photo, the ‘Surgeon’s Hoax’. Here was everything I had ever wanted (girls) and I didn’t know what to do.
So, why is this a life experience that shaped me the most?
Because I truly learnt how to ‘get out of my ‘comfort zone’ for the first and highly painful time. I forced myself to talk to these strange creatures, only to realize that they weren’t so strange after all. I discovered the power of making people laugh, of asking questions, and of encouraging people to open up and talk about themselves.
And eventually, after a lot of work, I finally got a girlfriend.
Shortly afterwards realizing that relationships need work. Funny that.
I’ve taken that ability to be thrown into the deep end, to face my fears, and to connect with people throughout my life, and it has never served me badly.
And knowing about newts, Nessie, UFOs and murders has more frequently than I ever thought served me well in a pub quiz.
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?
The truth about the future is that it’s happening right now. As the cyberpunk author William Gibson said, “The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed.”
And then there are those unpredictable, this-changes-everything-events like COVID. “Black Swans” as the influential thinker Nassim Nicholas Taleb introduced them to us. Black because all swans are white. Until you see a black one. Black Swan events are always: 1) unpredictable, 2) have massive impact, and 3) after they happen people search for an explanation to say that it wasn’t unpredictable in the first place.
So, the future of work is already here but many leaders aren’t seeing it yet. Unpredictable events are going to continue to happen and turn everyone’s lives — including our work lives — totally upside down.
Let’s look at the future of work through these lenses — a bit like a pair of binoculars where, in one eye, you can see the things you couldn’t before and, in the other, you can spot the unpredictable.
Prediction #1 — People will want the things from work they’ve always wanted
If you ask people what they want from work (and we did — over 2,000 of them in the UK and the US in our State of Kind Business Report they will tell you that they want a sense of purpose at work and to feel that what they are doing is meaningful beyond simply fattening their leaders’ pockets. They’ll say that they want to leave work happy, fulfilled and looking forward to tomorrow. Not exhausted, stressed and anxious, as so many people told us they are. They’ll also tell you that they want to work somewhere that is Kind. 84% of employees globally say this is what they want, yet only 66% say their workplaces are Kind.
People will always want to feel their work has meaning, be energized by it, and want to work somewhere that is Kind. Leaders, listen up — does this describe the employee experience in your organization?
Prediction #2 — People will finally wake up to the fact that they are working in ways that don’t serve them or the planet well
You do your bit: eating less meat, maybe doing some yoga and mindfulness, and you recycle because you’re worried about global warming. So, why is it okay to work back-to-back video meetings, work on ill-conceived projects that are, frankly, pointless and waste valuable time on office politics?
Self-awareness is the key to working well and Kind- — leaving everyone and everything better. And we’re seeing increasing numbers of people across the globe who are bringing the greater consciousness they are feeling in their personal lives right into their work lives.
Too many of us are stuck in ways of working that suit command and control, hierarchies, the idea of work as a machine that can be measured, optimized and tinkered with. Easy when you see your employees as: headcount, resources, FTEs, staff, IQCs or any other dehumanizing way of describing real, living people. These old ways simply don’t cut it with a workforce who are now more aware, more conscious, and want more meaning out of their work.
Let’s be clear folks, there’s no “going back” pre-COVID or “leveling up” from where we were. Work is fundamentally changing. We need to become more fully aware of the impact of the way we work. We need to become aware of how it is impacting ourselves, the people we work with, the communities in which we live, work and serve, and the only planet we get to call home. Leaders take note — more and more people are becoming aware of their impact and the impact (or not) of the organizations they work for. And, just because you can’t see it happening, doesn’t mean it isn’t.
Prediction #3 — People are voting with their feet and it’s not going to get any better — unless leaders do something about it
Dominoes is now offering $3 off a future order if you come in and pick up your pizza. All because there’s a shortage of staff. They can’t hire enough people. The Super Bowl is looming and basically, their delivery arm is shattered. The Home Depot is now promising to turn around your job application in a day for exactly the same reason.
We’ve talked to lots of leaders across the world over the last couple of years who have moaned to us about the ‘War on Talent’, as well as ‘The Great Resignation’. We keep hearing complaints that staff are getting burnt out, that performance is going down, and they can’t hire anyone. No shit, Sherlock.
Let’s go right back to where I started here — only 66% of people say where they work is Kind, yet 84% of people want to work for Kind companies. Apparently sociopaths make up 5% of the general population so maybe the remaining 11% are basically just not very nice people.
The majority of people want to work in companies that are Kind — companies that have committed from their very core to leave everyone and everything better.
So, I’ll make one last prediction.
The future of work is Kind. The future of work is now.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Get curious. Be willing to look in the mirror to understand why you’re failing. Find out how Kind your organization is currently. Invest time and energy in becoming Kinder. You can talk to me about doing that.
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?
The biggest gap is TRUST.
People don’t want to go back to work the way work was. They want the flexibility to work in ways that suit them and they want to be trusted to do that.
So why is it that over 83% of CEOs want people back in the office? Yet only 10% of employees want to be back full time? Maybe it’s because CEOs are grouchy about the big, expensive and empty office spaces on their balance sheet. Perhaps it’s because CEOs want things to go back to the familiar “how we do things round here”. Or is it because they don’t trust that their people are working unless they can see them doing it?
High-trust organizations outperform low-trust ones by a country mile.
Yet leaders and managers who haven’t woken up to the fact that, when you create the environments for people to do their best work they do just that and they are happy. Leaders don’t seem to get this simple truth about trust.
Trust is a bit like being funny. You can’t just say “I’m funny” and have people believe you. But tell them the joke about how many managers it takes to change a light bulb — none, because they like to keep their employees in the dark, and they might just believe you.
Kindness powerfully creates trust. Show Kindness to someone and you both spark off oxytocin in your bloodstreams which encourages you to trust one another. And, what’s more, Kindness at work encourages more Kindness.
So, whether you are a leader or not, be Kind. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much more trust you’ll both earn and encourage.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
At the start of the pandemic I was asked what piece of advice I could give people to help deal with the ‘new normal’ of working from home. “Buy a better webcam” I said. “That wasn’t the answer I was expecting” was the reply. Moving closer to my high-definition webcam so the enquirer could see how serious I was, I replied “The way we work has changed forever. We will learn to blend home with our work lives in ways that work for us and our employers. It may just take a bit of time to get there. So, get used to working from home and that includes letting people see you and where you are working as clearly as possible.”
The experience of working from home has changed. The initial delight of sitting in your trackies, being able to run errands and be there when they kids get home, for far too many people, has been replaced by over-work, overwhelm and work days that last from the minute we roll out of bed to when we finally collapse back in it again.
Our individual and collective experiences of working from home are teaching us that Kindness is essential. The second piece of advice I give to people about working from home is ‘Be Kind’ to yourself. For example, make sure that you are taking breaks, nourishing your body, breathing in fresh air and not overworking. And be Kind to your colleagues. For example, check in with them when you haven’t seen them for a while to let them know you care.
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?
It all starts with awareness — of self, of others, and the impacts we are having on people and the planet.
Let’s put those binoculars on again and see that collectively we are waking up. We are waking up to our self-absorbed, self and collectively destructive ways. We are becoming more, well…human. We’re connecting deeply with purpose, with each other, with nature, in whatever beliefs we have of a power that is in us, that is us, that connects everything. We are turning away from buying more and more stuff, from individualism and winner-takes-all.
Look closely through those binoculars and you’ll see the steady exponential rise in: plant-based eating, yoga, mindfulness, wellbeing, eating local, natural therapies, emotional and spiritual development…
See these societal changes for what they are — a greater awareness, a desire for a Kinder, more connected, human world, and to work in ways that honour people and the planet.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
We are ingenious. We are creative. We nurture relationships with one another. We are, inherently, Kind.
With these truths clear in our minds let’s reflect on some of the characteristics of work that don’t serve us humans well.
We’ve created work as if it were a machine and we objectify its moving parts as: assets, resources, property… All of which we measure, control, re-shape and optimize. Tell me something — how did you feel when you were told that you were being repurposed?
Work is making us sick. Mental and physical health issues caused by work are at unacceptable levels. Let’s check in on your initial reaction to this — if I said work should be one of your greatest sources of joy in life, how do you feel? Why do you think that is?
We stifle who we are in order to fit in at work because we worry what people are thinking about us when, in reality, they probably aren’t thinking about us at all. Ask yourself this — did you learn more about the people you work with after you had a window into their homes on video calls? Thought so. So, why are people blurring their backgrounds? It looks weird and it simply encourages the question “I wonder where they’re working from?” “Be yourself; everyone else is taken,” said the author Oscar Wilde. Post-Covid ‘going back to work’ we have an opportunity to stop stifling ourselves. Are you prepared to take it?
My greatest source of optimism because we are waking up to the realities that working like this simply isn’t working for people or the planet. And we’re using our ingenuity, creativity and relationships to create a new future of work.
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?
The smartest leaders and organizations I know put people first.
Like Bob Chapman, CEO of the $1.7 billion manufacturing company Barry-Wehmiller, who is on a mission to change the way businesses treat their employees. He says:
“At Barry-Wehmiller, our primary purpose is crystal clear to us: We’re in business so that all our team members can have meaningful and fulfilling lives.”
None of this nonsense about being market-leading, staying ahead, delighting customers…
Delight the people who have chosen and continue to choose to give their time, energy and creativity to your company.
This is the only strategy you need.
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?
“In the past the man has been first; in the future the system must be first.” — Frederick Winslow Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management, 1909
Don’t be fooled by the fact that Taylor wrote this well over a century ago — this view of organizations as machines has dominated management thinking ever since. Machines perform best when they are optimized and it is the job of managers to optimize and run an efficient and productive machine. So we need hierarchies, business units, silos, metrics, blah, blah, blah.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
We need to stop thinking of companies as machines.
And start thinking of them as living systems, networks of relationships, ecosystems of collaboration.
Trees share minerals and nutrients through a network of Mycelium (fungi) which has been called the ‘Woodwide Web’. Not only do trees share resources, trees that are being attacked by bugs will send signals through this network, enabling well-established ‘mother trees’ to send them the nutrients they need. Trees live for hundreds and thousands of years. The average lifespan of a company is now just 15 years.
Our company cultures need to focus on thriveability. When we do this as company leaders we stop worrying about the latest gloomy headlines. We shift our thinking away from traditional commercial and qualitative metrics to a human and planet centered approach that considers complexity, corporate responsibility and untapped potential.
We need to be more tree.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
Trend #1 — Self-Awareness will become mainstream as a core competency for modern leaders.
Back in 2014 three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Scilla Elworthy shared that when the 75 members of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was nearly unanimous: Self Awareness.
A study of over 5,000 people led researcher Tasha Eurich to the conclusion that we can think of self-awareness in two ways: internal and external. Internal self-awareness is about knowing yourself, being present, and not making stuff up about what’s going on or might happen. External self-awareness is all about empathy — about truly understanding how others see us.
Leading a truly human-centric organization starts with self-awareness; being present with what is. There are plenty of ways to get started — message me if you’d like to know more.
Trend #2 — Systemic-Awareness will also become mainstream.
Be more tree.
When we stop seeing companies as machines that can be pulled apart bit-by-bit and start to see them as living systems we reframe how we see and care for the people who work there.
A mechanistic view of work is all about orders, systems and processes. Often from ‘on-top’ and policed through hierarchies. This way of working is our left, logical, brains trying to create an ordered reality where it simply doesn’t exist.
Business, like life, is messy. And out of this mess moments of magic can happen.
I was once brought in to work as a Digital Transformation consultant in a global telecommunications firm. Progress was slow. Culture truly does “eat strategy for breakfast”. Week after week turf-guarding middle-manager after middle-manager did their level best to bring down my programme and ‘keep things the way they are’. Until, one day, enough was enough. I had grown sick of the relentless negativity and whinging. So, I booked a meeting room with a view (the most creative one I could find), ordered a bunch of sandwiches, and got all the key players in a room.
“We’re going to answer three questions today and we’re not leaving the room until we do. 1: What are the greatest possibilities we can imagine for this business? 2: What one thing, if we did it right now, would make at least 80% of our activities a waste of time? 3: What can we get to market by the end of the month?”
After much grumbling we got there in the end. We inspired one other and we rebooted the programme.
The magic happened in the room that day because people got away from their turf wars and considered the company as a whole — as a living system.
Living systems are all about growth. Want some growth in your company? Then you know what to do.
Trend #3 — Employee Activism will continue to grow and companies will learn to embrace it.
“You’re lucky to have a steady-paying job” I was once told by my mother when I was complaining to her about the toxic culture in the advertising agency I worked at in my twenties. Now, people in their twenties expect and demand that their voices are heard at work. According to research, Millennials are the generation most likely to speak up about an employers’ actions or a controversial issue affecting society. 48% of Millennials say they are employee activists, compared with 33% of Gen Xers and 27% of Baby Boomers.
Outside of work we expect our voices to be heard. We expect that if we join in activist movements that we are making a meaningful contribution towards encouraging change. So, why should work be any different? But it does appear to be — in this same study 79% of workers agreed that speaking up against an employer can jeopardize their job.
My mother’s generation put up with a lot of things at work they definitely shouldn’t have done. They felt they couldn’t speak up if they didn’t like what was happening at work, or the impact of the choices and behaviors of the companies they work for. Nearly 80% of employees still worry about speaking up. But that will change.
The smartest leaders I know embrace new ideas. They welcome diversity in all its forms. Because they know that, not only is this the smartest way to run a business, it’s the only way to run a truly modern, human company that has a positive impact on people and the planet at its core.
Trend #4 — Organizational Kindness will become an essential metric for modern leaders who are being called to care more, give more, be more.
When it comes to Kindness, at The Kindness Corporation we’re obsessed, consumed — all in. It guides us and helps us recognize magnificent possibilities. We live it in thought, word and action with the hope of leading many others to possibilities and inspiring a movement that helps us redefine work, together, for the next 100 years.
Because we know that the presence of Kindness in an organization is the greatest predictor of thriveability, success and positive impact.
Every piece of data we collect, every organization we partner with, every modern leader we work with confirms on a daily basis that Kindness at work makes people happier and helps them work together more creatively and productively. Kindness is the gateway for trust that benefits both the individual and the organization. People want to buy from and be associated with Kind companies and brands. Kindness has the power to reverse the damage we are doing to ourselves and to the planet.
So leaders, choose Kind.
Trend #5 — We’ll all realize that the Future of Work is now.
Let’s be honest here. Most people who work aren’t talking about ‘the future of work’.
The future of work is the anxiety we face and the decisions we have to make about returning to the workplace.
The future of work is how teams work in hybrid ways.
The future of work is now.
The future of work is Kind.
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?
My quote comes from the genius and inspirational sporting hero that is Ted Lasso:
“If you care about something and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.”
Love isn’t something we generally talk about in business — mind you, Kindness used to be like that.
With a shared purpose and love for the people we work with together, who knows what we can achieve?
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.
Brené Brown, you once said “Compassionate people have boundaries of steel.” And so do Kind people. I’m free for breakfast or lunch whenever and wherever you like Brené.
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?
I’m blessed with a name that only the one other Magnus Wood finds annoying, so you can find me in any search. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org. And visit www.thekindnesscorporation.com to read all about how we can support you as a modern leader committed to the thriveability of your company and, most importantly, the people who work there and the planet that we share.
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.