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The Great Resignation & The Future Of Work: Ralph H Kilmann Of Kilmann Diagnostics On How Employers and Employees Are Reworking Work Together

An Interview with Karen Mangia

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 Dr. Ralph H. Kilmann.

Ralph H. Kilmann, Ph.D., is CEO of Kilmann Diagnostics (KD) in Newport Coast, California. In this capacity, he has created all of KD’s online courses and assessment tools on the four timeless topics: conflict management, change management, expanding consciousness, and quantum transformation. Ralph earned both his B.S. in graphic arts management and M.S. in industrial administration from Carnegie Mellon University in 1970, and a Ph.D. degree in the behavioral sciences in management and social systems design from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1972. Since then, he has published more than twenty books, one hundred articles, and ten assessment tools, including the world’s leading assessment tool on conflict management: The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI).

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.

My doctoral studies at UCLA focused on personal growth, self-awareness, and self-understanding. During the first year of the program, the new doctoral students met for three hours a week for nine months in a sensitivity training group, which enabled all of us to become more aware of these Big Questions: “who I am”, “why am I here”, and “what provides me the most meaning and bliss in life.” So Instead of keeping the students on autopilot (unconscious and habitual behavior from prior conditioning), we were required to know ourselves at the deepest level of our being. Bottom line: If you don’t know who you are and what brings you bliss, how can you possible make a good decision about your love life or work life?

When I announced to the faculty that I wanted to study interpersonal values for my Ph.D. thesis, several professors would ask me this pointed question: “What struggles did you go through as a child that might have led you to study this topic?”

After I graduated from UCLA, I accepted a professorship at the Katz School of Business, University of Pittsburgh, Not surprisingly, I continued to participate in various mind/body/spirit modalities, including several rounds of talk therapy, holotropic breathwork, meditation, crystal therapy, yoga, and many more adventures into consciousness. Through these experiences, it became obvious to me that people could contribute their essence to organizations only if they first came to know their most essential ego’s desires and their ultimate soul’s purpose. Or as Mark Twain once said: “The two most important days in your life are when you were born and when you found out why.”

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?

Inherently, people love to work, so long as they are free to express their talents, ideas, wisdom, and passion for something that matters deeply to them… which thus provides true meaning and genuine satisfaction. I don’t think that will ever change. Indeed, Confucious has said: “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” A debilitating, demeaning problem erupts, however, when people are NOT free to express their true nature in what they do at work — either because (1) they haven’t determined their true nature or (2) the organization’s cultures, systems, and leaders do not allow members to bring all of their essence into the workplace.

Regarding what will be different in 10 to 15 years, I believe we are at the beginning of the great consciousness revolution, which follows from the previous information technology revolution, the industrial revolution, the agricultural revolution… all the way back to the beginning of life (biological revolution) sometime after the Big Bang. Once survival is assured, human beings are then able to ask the Big Questions, so long as they are suitably encouraged, inspired, and guided to do so: Who am I? Why was I born? What am I here to do? What is my soul’s purpose? What gives me meaning and joy? How can I serve a mission that is larger than myself?

Occasionally, a major DISRUPTION occurs that STOPS people in their tracks and lovingly invites them to address those Big Questions. The events of 9/11 succeeded in stopping some people long enough to ponder their existence. The recent events surrounding the pandemic have done likewise… and perhaps even to a greater extent than 9/11. When people are on lockdown, away from the office, out of a job, etc., that open time and space of “what do I do today” can easily result in contemplation, inner dialogues, and reflective conversations that directly address those Big Questions. It’s then no surprise that people use the open space and time created by the pandemic events to seriously reconsider their career, job choices, work habits, and what they REALLY love to do that gives them true meaning and genuine bliss.

What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?

It’s important to provide open forums in the organization in order to hold small group discussions about the Big Questions and what the answers to those questions mean for how to redesign work and leadership practices throughout the organization. One thing is clear: It’s impossible to have an emotionally committed workforce, an empowered workforce, a happy workforce, an enthusiastic and passionate workforce… if the organization does not continually evolve/transform its policies, procedures, and leadership practices in order to actively support the evolution/transformation of the human race toward greater consciousness and compassionate engagement with fellow human beings, other sentient beings, and the planet as a whole.

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 gaps in any transformational change in an organization has to do with CULTURE-GAPS… the difference between how members are behaving now (actual norms of behavior) versus how members must behave toward one another in order to achieve long-term success and personal meaning (desired norms of behavior).

Typically, if culture-gaps are not explicitly discussed and deciphered, the actual norms of behavior tend to be NEGATIVE and DEFENSIVE in order to protect people from possible harm (real or imagined), so no one gets further hurt: An actual norm might be: “Don’t share anything personal about yourself; it will be used against you.” Meanwhile the desired norm (in terms of evolution and transformation) would be: “Get to know yourself, share your beliefs, wishes, hopes and fears; show up at work as a full human being; respect the different beliefs and experiences of your fellow members; we are here to grow, learn, contribute, and thrive TOGETHER.

The most troublesome (largest) culture-gaps can be identified and closed through regular small group discussions, giving “negative” sanctions whenever members act out the old (discarded) actual norms, providing “positive” sanctions when the new desired behaviors are observed at work, and using designated process observers (group members take turns closely observing the quality of their group discussion and then giving feedback on how members can improve the quality of the discussion during the next group meeting). So long as senior management initiates, supports, and ensures the continuity of these regular group discussions, the culture-gaps will close so members will become freer to be who they really are, without any fear of reprisals.

We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?

I believe many people and companies learned that some work could be very effectively done (perhaps even MORE effectively done) through remote, virtual interaction, which can also save a lot time and money on traveling to the office or to some other physical location. But there is always some work that is best suited for traditional face-to-face dialogue. “After the pandemic,” there will be some shift back to more face-to-face dialogue, BUT it will never return to the extent that it was prior the pandemic. Virtual meetings from home are here to stay; only the balance of virtual versus physical meetings will change over time, depending on which medium is most efficient and effective for the purpose at hand.

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?

As people take the reflective and introspective time to consider the Big Questions and how their answers can then shift their job and career choices, more people will be enjoying their work, finding special meaning in what they do, even looking forward to getting up in the morning so they can continue doing what they love to do. Indeed, when people are encouraged (and have the time and space) to reflect on who they are and what gives them bliss, they develop a deeper love FOR THEMSELVES (since they now know better who they are, they can then develop an authentic love for their inner essence), which can more easily transform into a love for others and all that they do. You really have to love yourself first (by responding to those introspective questions) before you can love your work or anything or anyone else. So yes, let’s talk about what we love about ourselves, which then allows us to love what we do… at work and at home. It might seem strange to say, but the simplest way to express the desired future of work is to bring more love into the workplace… not mere platitudes, but real love for being human and enabling all members to be fully human at work.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?

As Wayne Dyer has said: “Everything is perfect in the universe — even your desire to improve it.” Essentially, since I firmly believe in a very optimistic future for humanity, that future will indeed materialize. The ups and downs (including the pandemic) are perfect for enabling people to STOP what their doing, take a good look at themselves, thereby become more self-aware of who they are and what they are here to do, and then make better choices about how to express and live their essence 24/7.

Eventually, the future of work will have arrived when organizational members are encouraged to discuss and then resolve these four INNER conflicts, which affect how they approach all their interpersonal and systems conflicts: (1) Am I a physical body OR an energy body? (2) Is my behavior governed by my ego OR my soul? (3) Are my surrounding systems completely outside of me, OR are such systems an integral aspect of who I am? (4) Have I resolved my primal, past relationships (with parents, guardians, and any perpetrators) OR am I still living with unresolved wounds from those earlier traumas that interfere with my relationships and work life in the present? When each of these foundational EITHER-THIS-OR-THAT questions are creatively broadened to become BOTH-THIS-AND-THAT resolutions (and thus fully integrate all aspects of each inner conflict), members dramatically expand their consciousness, clarify their cherished beliefs about themselves and what they love to do, take responsbiity for transforming their surrounding organizational systems, heal their childhood wounds, and thus become whole human beings ready to serve others. They are then able to bring more value to their organization, their family, and the entire planet.

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 enlightened leaders and enlightened organizations encourage all members to actively participate in mind/body/spirit modalities (both at work and at home), so people can discover their essence, free themselves of trauma, love themselves deeply, and thereby interact with diverse others (at home and at work) with love, joy, peace, and compassion. Meanwhile, antiquated leaders and Newtonian organizations will continue to squelch members from living their soul’s passion with love and understanding. As such, members working in such dysfunctional organizations are more prone to dissatisfaction, discomfort, and disease. Maybe it costs organizations much less in the short run by not having to invest in the expanded consciousness of their members, but in the long run, those short-sighted organizations (and their members) will make themselves and their customers miserable, depressed, and discouraged in life. Ultimately, unhappy employees tend to foster unhappy customers.

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?

“The Great Resignation” signals: (1) a highly disruptive event that STOPS the current habitual, unconscious behavior from all that past conditioning, (2) taking that disruptive opportunity to become more aware and conscious of one’s life and one’s choices, (3) deciding to pursue a different path that will likely lead to more love, joy, compassion, meaning, and purpose in life, and (4) inviting other people to take the time to re-examine their choices in life and, if necessary, switch to a different approach to living life at home and at work. As noted above, as culture-gaps are identified and closed, members will be more inclined to awaken and discover who they truly are, and act accordingly — once they have jointly agreed to be kind and supportive of whatever is expressed and shared in a work group.

Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. A big push to expand the mind/body/spirit consciousness of members, so they can provide all their wisdom, talent, and essence during every decision and action in the workplace. Providing members with workshops on self-awareness, mindfulness, self-love, and forgiveness (for self and others).
  2. Holding regular discussions on identifying and closing culture-gaps, so the typically unwritten rules of behavior that keep people down and dissatisfied are refocused on behavior that lifts people’s spirit, which encourages them to bring their essence to work (and not just their “hands for hire”). Weekly culture-gap discussions are easy to arrange since most people enjoy learning more about themselves, so long as the setting is safe and secure from imagined or actual harm.
  3. Modifying the formal reward system to assess and reward people for learning more about themselves and behaving in the workplace with more joy, compassion, kindness, and respect. Companies that invest in inspiring kindness and compassion will find those qualities directed toward customers and clients, and not just fellow members in the organization.
  4. The performance appraisal of senior management will include how well they foster a culture of self-examination, taking responsibility for their own behavior, encouraging members to learn more about themselves… by setting the best example for everyone else. In one company, executives regularly shared what they were learning about themselves through workshops and other modalities that help people become all they were destined to be… to create the very best version of themselves and to bring that best version to work.
  5. More members will have the courage (and the opportunity) to speak out when anyone’s behavior is preventing others from living their true self, let alone disrespecting other members’ beliefs, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual identity.

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?

Andrew Carnegie: “My heart is in the work.” This is the key motto of Carnegie Mellon University, where I went to college in the 1960s. At that university, I learned to do what I love, and to love what I do. That lesson on how to live life has stayed with me since those formative years, Indeed, my life’s work has been dedicated to help people and their organizations love what they do and thereby enable more people to love themselves and all others.

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.

I am happy when ANY PERSON is positively influenced by my words and lessons learned… to search out their own meaning and joy in life… whether they are the biggest names in the field or if they are totally unknown to the masses. EVERYONE is valued equally on the path to human evolution. I can’t tell in advance who will grasp the essentials and then invite others to participate in the adventure we call LIFE. I invite everyone to discover the work life that they love.

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?

ralph@kilmanndiagnostics.com

www.kilmanndiagnostics.com/contact/

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.

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