What Employees Want: The Changing Expectations of Leaders – Peter Cheese – CEO at CIPD

9 Jan 2023

The people behind the voices:

Gillian French

Employee Experience Officer

Peter Cheese

CEO at The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

The Employee Experience Podcast Season 2 Ep. 4

What Employees Want: The Changing Expectations of Leaders – Peter Cheese – CEO at The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

This week’s guest on The Employee Experience Podcast is Peter Cheese, CEO at The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

In his book The New World of Work, Peter Cheese explores the evidence behind the shifting landscape in workplaces across the globe. Leadership is one pivotal part that’s seeing plenty of transformation, and a key driver is that what employees expect of them is changing.

In the past, traditional models of leadership were more about command and control, Peter says, and centered on “the all-seeing, all-knowing leader”. But now that we’re in times of great uncertainty, he explains, there’s simply no one person who can know or experience everything that’s taking place.

“This means that leaders are going to need to deal with uncertainty, but they’ve also got to be able to listen and learn from others,” he says, adding that it’s going to require taking a “collective view” underpinned by diversity of thought and reshuffling stakeholder priorities.

“There are also much greater expectations of leaders in terms of their visibility and their behaviors. What’s interesting is that many of these trends were emerging before the pandemic, but crises accelerate those things.”

For example, people are more eager to see the human side of leaders. Peter says they “now expect to see leaders visible through lots of different communication channels”, and also to work with a leader who’s consistently empathetic and understanding, and who shows integrity. 

“I think the dial is unquestionably moving. If people see that you’re still trying to behave in some sort of autocratic and command-of-control form of management, where you’re not listening and you’re not showing that you care for your people, then I don’t think you’re ultimately going to succeed.”

Listen back now to learn more about the growing importance of visible leaders, greater social expectations in the workplace, shifting short-term strategy to long-term investment, and why diversity of thought will only become more critical to organizational success.

About The Employee Experience Podcast

The Employee Experience Podcast, hosted by Gillian French, is a podcast series for leaders pursuing innovative ideas to engage and connect with their employees. Listen to trailblazers across internal comms, employee engagement, and HR share the best ways to connect with employees, build healthy cultures, and deliver an employee experience where everyone can reach their potential.

Guests so far on Season 2 of The Employee Experience Podcast include:

  • Jane Datta, Chief Human Capital Officer at NASA, on employee experience, connection & leadership
  • Debra Corey, Chief ‘Pay it Forward’ Officer at DebCo HR, ‘Recognition is more important than ever for our wellbeing’
  • Hollie Delaney, (Former) Zappos CPO, on why empowered employees are engaged employees
Full Transcript

Gillian French (00:02):
Hi, I’m Gillian French from Workvivo. You’re very welcome to the Employee Experience Podcast. We speak to leaders in HR professionals on how to best connect with employees, build healthy cultures, and deliver an employee experience where everyone can reach their full potential.

This week on the Employee Experience Podcast, I speak with Peter Cheese, the Chief Executive of the CIPD. Peter is a fellow of the CIPD, a fellow of AHRI, which is the Australian HR Institute and the Academy of Social Sciences. He’s also a companion of the Institute of Leadership and Management, the Chartered Management Institute, and the British Academy of Management. He’s a visiting professor at the University of Lancaster and sits on the advisory board for the University of Bath Management School. He holds an honorary doctorate from Bath University, Kingston University, and Birmingham City University. Peter also writes and speaks widely on the development of HR, the future of work, and the key issues of leadership such as culture, organizational development, people and skills.

Thank you so much for joining us, Peter, on our Employee Experience Podcast. We’re delighted to have you here and congratulations on your new book, The New World of Work: Shaping a Future that Helps People, Organizations and Our Societies to Thrive. I’ve actually had the pleasure of reading it over the past week and I have to say it’s really comprehensive and it’s a very easy read and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. One of my favorite chapters in the book was on leadership and it’s definitely an emergence I’m seeing now. There seems to be a lot of tension between, it was leadership and organizations going back into the workplace. And I nearly think the capabilities of our future leaders are changing. And I’d love to get your perspective on that and what your view is.

Peter Cheese (01:53):
Yeah, I think there are a lot of different drivers for business and of course for leadership, which is, as you say, shaping perhaps different needs or expectations for leaders than we’ve had in tradition in the past. And if I characterize traditional models of leadership in the past as being a bit more about sort of commander control and the all seeing old knowing leader we’re clearly, first of all in terms of great uncertainty and change. Which means that no one person, a leader, or anybody else can possibly know or experienced all the things that are happening. And so that of itself means that leaders have got to be able to deal with uncertainty, but they’ve also got to be prepared to listen and learn from others, so that we can help to navigate what is a lot of uncertainty with the best collective views from the team and the people that we work with.

I think they’re also much greater expectations of leaders in terms of things like their visibility and their behaviors. And what’s so interesting is I think many of these trends are already emerging before the pandemic and the various crises were now going through, but crisis accelerate those things. So if I take as an example, the expectation of visibility of leaders, the pandemic really did require leaders to be very visible to their organizations. People wanted to know what the leader was thinking, how we were going to respond to all of this. And even if the leader was there to say, “Look, I don’t know, I’ve not experienced all this before, but these are the steps that we’re taking.” I remember Jeff Bezos of Amazon saying early on in the pandemic that he had never been so visible and communicated with his organization as much as he had over the recent months of the pandemic.

And it’s also the expectation I think just to amplify the point about crisis and the trends before them of a social expectation of work. Younger people have come into work and they expect to know more about their leaders as people. So the other aspect of visibility, which I found interesting is I think a lot of people now expect to see leaders visible through lots of different communication channels. It might be on social media and when leaders interact with people, they want to see the human side of leadership. And I’m sure we’ll talk a bit more about some of those ideas. But I think those sorts of things where, as I said, greater visibility of leaders, the ability to deal with uncertainty and to listen and to engage with others and come to more collective views of how to respond. I think a really interesting attributes of leaders, which we see are needed so much more now.

Gillian French (04:27):
And I totally agree, but I tend to see, and all you need to look at is the Netflix documentaries, but I think we still tend to hire the charismatic confident results orientated short term. I just don’t see, I truly believe in what you said, but I just don’t see that translating and I even see a lot of things that are published and articles saying empathy first for leadership, number one skillset. But then I just don’t see that actually manifest itself in reality. Or maybe I’m just, there’s a disconnect.

Peter Cheese (05:01):
I think things are changing there. I don’t disagree. It’s not like you can change generations of thinking about what leadership is or needs to be and flip a switch. But I think it’s genuinely shifting and you call that another important aspect, empathy. A lot of the surveys which have shown actually for a number of years about what people look for in their leaders, have emphasized much more strongly ideas of things like integrity and empathy, even more so in many senses than competence. People expect leaders are supposed to be competent in various ways, but they are definitely looking for them to be empathetic, to listen, to show that they care and to show integrity, actions speak louder than words, all those sorts of ideas. So I think the dial is unquestionably moving because at the end of the day, leaders, yes, they may be at the top level, they may be appointed by boards and so forth, but you’re not going to achieve the results for your organization if you can’t bring the people with you.

And if the people see that you are still trying to behave in some sort of autocratic commandment control form of management, when you’re not listening and you’re not showing that you care for your people, that I don’t think you’re ultimately going to succeed. And you also raise another very important point, which is we have to break this cycle of short-termism. And you’re right, it may be that in some circumstances you need a leader to come in and wield the knife or whatever it might be in order to get a business into shape so that it can move forward. But even there, you may go through a sharp transition, but you then got to again, I think rebuild a culture which is shown to be a supportive and inclusive and fair and all those other principles which is so important. And we do need leaders to think longer term.

And that comes back to another very important point, which again, I’m sure talk a bit more about, which is what are we measuring leaders to do? What do we expect organizations to do in the modern world? It’s not just about how much profit I make in the next quarter, it’s how do I create a long-term sustainable and responsible business, which is responsible to all its stakeholders. Not just the financial stakeholder for profit, but also our longer term stakeholders, our customers, our suppliers, our employees, the scientists and communities of which we are part and of course the environment as well.

Gillian French (07:27):
You say that, and I say resilient businesses because I think one of the things we’ve learned through this crisis and looking up ahead is that there is going to be constant crises and change. And all we can do is really build good businesses where our employees are connected to us and look after us, we look after our suppliers, we have great relationships with our partners and that we have a sustainable business that can weather whatever it presents itself. And I really like that term responsible business. The other component you talk about as well is diversity. And we talk about diversity within leadership and one of the things I’ve noticed through my time in organizations and speaking is the diversity of thought is something that doesn’t come up too much.

And I think that’s a real, again, it’s kind of interlinked with what we talked about there. Sometimes again, even I suppose females make it to senior leadership roles and skillsets like nurturing, empathy, can sometimes be associated with the feminine, which masculine can of course incorporate as well. But again, we don’t seem to discuss that in diversity or the diversity of thoughts. Sometimes you have a very diverse board or even diverse leadership team, but actually they’re not diverse in their thinking or being, and that doesn’t come up too much I think.

Peter Cheese (08:42):
No, it’s really crucial because as I said, in a very uncertain world, you’ve got to bring different experiences together. We’ve all experienced different aspects of what we are perhaps witnessing at this point in time, but we need those different views, different perspectives. We also know that of course, innovation comes from difference. Innovation comes from people’s different ways of thinking, their different experiences. So there’s two really, really critical reasons to understand the importance of diversity. Now, when we talk about diversity and inclusion, of course it’s about visible and invisible difference as well. Obviously the way in which I think is not always entirely visible, but it is also important that we are representing organizations with visible diversity as well. Because when I made the point about responsible business and responsible businesses in terms of, for example, within their own communities. Then if we are living and working and operating in a very diverse community, perhaps ethnically diverse and so on, then it’s the right thing That organization should represent that community.

Then of course, organizations need to represent their customers as well. How can we credibly as an organization, particularly if we’re operating more on the B2C world, say that we represent and understand our customers if we’re not as diverse as the customers themselves. So for me, the inclusion diversity debate is a very central business debate. It’s driven by a number of things, it’s driven by a lot of expectation now and is incorporated in ideas of responsible business. But I always start it from the perspective of why would this be important to a CEO? And it’s important to a CEO because I’ve got to first of all, as we said, have that difference of experience of thinking. Secondly, it allows me to open up my recruitment channel. So if I’m thinking much more diversely and not just recruiting from traditional sources, then I give myself far better chance of recruiting the kind of people that I need.

And of course then in terms of the organization itself, people expect to see diversity in their organizations now, and they expect people to be treated fairly in that context and they also expect to have a voice. And all of those attributes I think are very positive attributes of a good culture and weren’t always true in the past. They weren’t always things that were either valued or to some extent even wanted the idea of speak up cultures. The idea of safe cultures where we can be who we are without fear or too much fear of judgment and things of that nature. So in the end, the diversity inclusion thing has many aspects. It’s very important, as I said, in representing organizations as part of society, but it has some fundamental business drivers as well, which we also need to make sure we are emphasizing.

Gillian French (11:25):
And tell me, are you seeing in the educational system, are we prepared for these future leaders? Are we prepared and are our curriculums really designed to develop these visionary cognitively fluid leaders for our future? Or are we still a long way to go? Or are you seeing anything that looks very, very positive and how we’re…

Peter Cheese (11:48):
Well, I think the first thing I’d say is leaders in the modern world need to be able to think pretty broadly. They’ve got to be able to deal with uncertainty in paradox and not get freaked out by it, but understand it in the different dynamics. And they’ve got to be able to bring people together and support collaborative thinking and working. Now the question is… And sorry, I would also add to better to think critically, we’ve got a bit of challenge and know the right questions to ask and know what is truth and what is not truth. Now the question is education providing all of those things. Now our tradition of education, particularly in the western world, has been very much about specialism. We tend to specialize young people very early on and say, “Look, you’ve got to make decisions about your school examinations if you want to be an X, Y or a Z.”

What we’ve been seeing of course from businesses interestingly, is that they are starting to recruit much more on the basis of these wider, let’s just call them soft skills for convenience, although they’re a bit of a misnomer. But anyway, that’s often what they’re referred to-

Gillian French (12:53):
Critical skillset.

Peter Cheese (12:54):
… And critical thinking, empathy, communication skills and so forth. And saying, “I will have to build the job skills in my organization because those job skills are changing so quickly.” So when you come back to leaders, you say, “Well, okay, if I want leaders who say I can do a paradox and uncertainty, they can think critically, they can communicate effectively and they demonstrate things like empathy and understanding. Then if it’s not coming through the educational system, which as I said, I think it’s a long history of specializing these things, then I need to be developing them in the workplace and I need to be looking at future leaders by giving them more opportunity to learn these skills, to demonstrate these skills. To put them in situations of discomfort and uncertainty and see how they respond and not imagine that the world can be reduced to great certainty and lots of process and lots of rules.

And as long as I define all of that, then I can control things.” And that, as I said, was too much of the thinking in the past and in the future, we need something a little different. So as I talk, and I do talk a lot to schools and universities about education, I do genuinely believe we’ve got to open up education to give people more experience of different ideas and different thinking and to teach what are often called these essential skills. When I say soft skills, they are ultimately the essential and transferrable skills we need throughout our lives. They’re life skills as well. And they’re fundamental to, I believe anybody’s succeeding in work.

So the question is through education, are we building those enough? And certainly alongside that, are we recognizing those skills enough through the educational system and as we promote and develop leaders, because let’s not also forget in workplaces, we’ve done a very good job of promoting people on their technical and job competence. We haven’t done enough in many circumstances to understand and promote and recognize these other skills, these softer skills, these team management and people management skills. Which I think are the very heart of an awful lot of what we need to do in terms of cultural change and shift. And we need to focus on this and have better frameworks to understand them as well.

Gillian French (14:58):
I just noticed my own son, he’s started secondary school now, and it’s really interesting to watch how they’re thinking about the subjects that they choose and what they go into and asking where’s the best salary, everyone’s doing tech and must do something with… And the art classes are half empty, music is empty, there’s no philosophy on the curriculum to open up the… It’s really interesting and that’s in Ireland, but I think it’s probably a little bit similar around…

Peter Cheese (15:30):
Well, it’s very similar in the UK and many other countries. And I think that’s sad.

Gillian French (15:31):
Yeah, me too.

Peter Cheese (15:34):
As I said, if you have an appreciation of other disciplines, it gives you a wider appreciation of different perspectives, different thought processes, and certainly this ability to think critically. And after all these things that you just listed out there, are a hugely important part of life and culture and our wellbeing as well. And if education is there to do one thing, I think it should be to spark curiosity and to encourage lifelong learning. And yet I think good education is of course we’ll talk about those things. But it’s another aspect of education which is really important, which is we never stop learning. And one of the great values that has always driven me is that first of all is curiosity. But very linked to that it’s just the idea of you never stop learning.

And a lot of people I think meet, they say, “Well, I’ve finished my degree or I’ve finished my school, thank goodness I’ve done with education.” And I said, “You’ve barely even started.” But you have to understand learning in its wider sense. And then of course in organizations, we have the responsibility to give people the opportunity to learn, to master what they are doing. It’s a fundamental part of engagement, is a fundamental part of driving business success. And yet in so many organizations, and particularly unfortunately in the UK, we have not invested enough in the skill skills of our workforces.

We have not invested enough in training managers to be good people managers, to develop these empathetic muscles and these ability to communicate and listen and share. And that is something that has to change for the future because if the world of work is changing at the pace that it is, and people talk about job skills, having a half life of five years or less, then we have got to do a far better job of upskilling and reskilling. But also embedding much more deeply these fundamental skills which ultimately help us to become better leaders as well.

Gillian French (17:33):
Yeah, I was always, the first thing I hired when I was CPO was the director of learning and development and does get working. Because any sort of high growth business, your team need to be learning. If they’re not and the business is growing like a hundred percent every year, it’s very hard for them to keep up with that. So you need a program in place to make sure that they’re constantly learning and create that culture. So I couldn’t agree more. Now onto our unicorns. They HR leaders of this world. I’ve had great sympathy for them, they have played a blinder over the past three years. And yes, I use the word unicorn because I think sometimes they’re expected to be unicorns. I’d love your opinion most of all on what you think the future holds for HR leadership. Where are we at the moment? What are your observations?

Peter Cheese (18:20):
Yeah, I’ve had the privilege of working both in business, but also in many different countries around the world as a consultant for many years. But I’ve worked with the profession over the last 20 years or so. And to me, we’ve used language in the past about people like resources and assets. But at the end of the day, particularly now, the future work is human. And anything that we do in organizations, it’s got to be very driven by understanding people. By understanding their skills and capabilities which we’ve already touched on. About how we develop them, how we engage them, how we create inclusive environments, how we look after their wellbeing. Because all of those things drive productivity and they drive output. Now, we as leaders are going to be clear in that alignment, obviously so that people are focused on the right things.

But at the end of the day, what function is it that has that greatest responsibility to understand these different dynamics, to understand culture, to understand where the gaps that we need to be filling in terms of leadership. To understand things like skills and how we develop them and how we develop safe and healthy workplaces, which are good for people’s wellbeing and managing their stress effectively and not detrimental to all of that. These are the agendas which are the very heart of business and they are what the people profession is about. But as you said, I think if we look back historically, I think HR has been a very intriguing space to operate in. I think for many years it sort of lost its confidence in some ways. A lot of people argued it just become an instrument and management and it wasn’t championing the people or understanding the people well enough. That we haven’t got enough data or insights or an analytical capability and we couldn’t speak the language of business.

And those two things got very connected. I think things have moved forward. Definitely the pandemic as you pointed out, and a lot of the crisis we’re going through now, like cost of living and so forth, are very, very big challenges for the profession. What I noticed right from the very beginning of the pandemic was HR leaders saying to me, “Goodness, I have never spent more time in the CEO’s office or the chair’s office than I have in the last few weeks.” And to be honest, I made the point earlier that I think there were many trends in the world work that were already there but have been greatly amplified or accelerated by the crisis. And the trends around expectations of our people, for example, coming into work, expect to be treated fairly. The ideas of inclusion, of wellbeing, they were all there, but the pandemic and other crises have accelerated that.

And that in turn has put a much sharper spotlight on our profession. And I think in many, many ways we’ve absolutely stepped up to the challenge. But we’ve got more to do and we need to now I think, maintain this momentum which is in businesses everywhere about seeing people that’s front and central to the business agenda. But across all those different dimensions I talked about and make sure that we are therefore thinking strategically working with the business to say, “All right, in order to deliver the outcomes and the strategy of the business, we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got the right culture and we’ve got the right people and skills and the right places aligned to what they need to do. That we understand the operating mold of our business and what are the options for that, what we can insource, outsource, partner with.” There’s a saying now that about skills for the future to buy, build, borrow or bot.

And we’ve got to be close to all of those things. We’ve got to be close to the use of technology and organizations that make sure that we’re getting the best out of technology, but my goodness that we’re getting the best out of our people as well and designing good jobs. These are all hugely strategic agendas and we need to step up and make sure that we can engage business leadership and all those things. And to some extent help educate leaders on these ideas. Because certainly as I’ve observed and done many surveys, I’ve seen many surveys. When you ask business leaders, “Do they think HR is being more strategic?” A lot of leaders are saying, “Not so sure.” If you ask HR leaders, they say, “Yes, absolutely we are.” And that to me says one or two things and they’re probably both true. One is, that we’re not being as strategic as we think we are in the profession. But the other is that I think still there’s an education job to be done with many business leaders as what is strategic HR.

Gillian French (22:32):
And I’m laughing, I’m laughing here because I have the page open because I was laughing when I was reading and I said I have to highlight it. It’s page 253 and you have, “Too often in the past I’ve heard business leaders complaining of HR not being strategic enough. But at the same time I’ve also questioned business leaders understanding of what strategic HR really is.” And that’s just as a CBO, who has been a CBO for many years, that’s so resonated with me when I read it. It’s a major frustration, I know it from my network and I had to highlight it. It’s on page 253. And it is, it’s so frustrating when, A, one thing, you’re doing the strategic aspects of the role, but you’re being constantly pulled back to the operational. Which seems to be valued and you’re like, “Well that has to be done because if those things aren’t done that’s fine, but this is the real value add stuff. This is the stuff.” But I think it’s out of a lot of people’s comfort zones.

Peter Cheese (23:29):
I think it is. And that brings it to another point, which is that I’ve said for many years that I think the profession has been too much of the cobbler’s children. We worry about everybody else’s skills and capabilities and things like leadership, but we haven’t done enough for ourselves. And there’s no doubt in my mind, in a fast changing world with the expectations on the profession that exist, we have got to invest more in our skills’ development. We’ve got to keep more current in understanding the big drivers of business and the context in which we’re operating. We’ve got to get better at data and analytics and insight, that is absolutely fundamental. And when we talk about speaking the language of business, as you know, so much of that language of business is a language of numbers. And we’ve also got to get a lot more confidence and comfortable with technology.

We have a very, very fundamental role as a profession to play with technology. Not just the use of technology within our profession, but very critically the use of technology and automation and AI and robotics and all these other things into our businesses. And that we need to be understanding the people dimension of all of this. So that as I touched on briefly a moment ago, when we are implementing and making decisions about we want to automate this or use AI on that, are we creating, and I use that word very strongly, creating and designing the job such that it is good for people. That the job is fulfilling these attributes, what we’ve talked about for many years, but need to be written as key principles for us, of what makes a good quality job. And of course it is things like, is this job using my skills effectively?

Have I got opportunity to… Do I have degrees of control or am I just locked in a box, virtually, or better, or in reality, or physically where I’m in an automated process where I have very little that I can do, I’m just part of a machine or a system, old scientific management stuff? But equally am I locked in a box from the point of view of, here’s 101 rules of what you’re supposed to do, and yet we know to get the best out of people. This idea of greater autonomy and voice in what I do is a powerful engagement, but it’s also about using people’s skills. So you got those ideas, and of course many other attributes are sort of seven or eight that we’ve called out is the absolute core principles of good job or good work that we need to be embedding into organizations as well. But as I said in all of that, I think the profession making progress, but we’ve got to continue to invest in our skills and challenge ourselves in this regard.

Then finally, I would say to make sure that we are really partnering, I think often in the past that the profession function’s been seen as a bit isolated, a bit siloed, and even within the professions and silo. And yet we’ve really got to work in a very collaborative way. We’ve got to work very closely with finance, for example, in understanding the value of people to our business and what we’re investing and the outcomes and those investors. We must be working with finance. I think we should also be working closely with marketing for example. Because when you want to look at good analytics and insight, talk to marketers, as I’ve said, turn the telescope round from not just looking outside your customers but look inside your organization. And of course we’ve got to work closely with the technologists as well. So this is about moving the profession forwards in a way that it is integral to the business, it’s strategic, it is working cross functionally, and it’s building out those critical and core skills which we know are needed to sustain us for the future.

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Gillian French (27:21):
I was actually speaking to the former CPO of Zappos, Hollie, she’s lovely. She was on the podcast and she’s very wise and she said to me one of her frustrations is that constantly HR being told, “Learn about the business, you need to know about the business to be an equal contributor.” But said, “Well where is someone saying to the kind of CFO or the CCO, you need to understand people and pushing them.” So I just thought it was a really interesting spin on things. And I also think, yes, there is a big challenge. I think we’re at a crossroads with AI technology because I’m seeing a lot of frustration from employees that because of technology they can’t do certain things.

So if you think of customer service, I can’t help you with that. You have to do it yourself because that’s the way the process is set up, which disempowers them a lot and I think causes a lot of frustration. And particularly I think just observation even in the banking, so many things are taken away now that the customer must do themselves and therefore you’re in banking, but you’re there just to say, “I can’t really help you with that.” So I think it’s an interesting time on job design and how we can really empower people and give them that autonomy within their roles. So it’s a great point.

Peter Cheese (28:41):
It really is, it is about humanizing work, isn’t it?The reality is we spend a lot of time at work. It’s also something which often defines us. And yet you look at many people today and say, “What do they feel about their job? How engaged do they feel? How listened do they feel? Do they think it’s good for their wellbeing?” And the answers for quite a long time have really not been very encouraging at all. And so we’ve got to take these things a lot more seriously. In order to make sure we’re driving responsible business, the first place of course is responsibility to our people, our duty to care to our people. So that we know that we are creating an environment in which they can succeed, where they’re treated fairly, where they’re listened to, where they can develop their skills and capabilities and supported to do those things. And are in a supportive colleague environment and that their managers empathize and listen.

All of those things don’t sound terribly complicated, but they are the absolute essence of what it means for humans at work because we are people, we’re not just cops in the machine. And despite that debate having been around for decades from the scientific management era onwards, there’s still far too much of that thinking and work, and that actually what we need to do is control people, to write lots of rules. And then we start to talk about things like empowerment and you realize what’s going on with the organizational culture is that we’re not empowering, because we’re not trusting. And trust is one of the most important elements, particularly as we talk about now a lot of uncertainty. Do I trust the leaders? Do they appear to know what they’re doing? Are they engaging with others to understand the world in which we are in?

Are they listening to any of us? But the trust thing has got to go in the other direction. Plenty leaders are asking that question of their organizations aren’t they, “Am I trusted.” The trust goes in the other way. And trust is about do I trust my people to do what I’m asking them to do? And so many work environments we’ve created send a very strong message to our people that we don’t trust them, we bury them in rules and policies. And we constrain them and managers thinking that their job is to just tell people what to do, not to listen, but just to tell them what to do. And that to me is again, a very fundamental shift about how we create real trust in organizations. So that we can properly empower people, so that they do have more autonomy in what they do and can deliver off their best.

And if we can do that, I think as I said, ultimately you drive for better business outcomes, but you’re also supporting people’s wellbeing and you go into this wider domain space and therefore also supporting wider society to be more healthy and how it works and things. And I really, really believe in these times of great change with a lot of uncertainty, with a lot, to go back to the trust point, a lot of distrust in the circle establishment. And unfortunately in our political leadership, there’s never been a more important time for business to stand up and show that it is part of the solutions that it can act responsibly and in the longer term interests of society and the environment. But beginning at home, by looking after their own people and making sure they are driving these principles of fairness and inclusion and wellbeing and so on, at the very heart of their business thinking. And as we both said, that also means we’ve got to educate managers and leaders at all levels and the importance of those things.

Gillian French (32:06):
As a leader, you need to stand back and look at what the data is showing us. And particularly if we are data led, I know the global trust index is down, I know that health and wellbeing is at an all-time low, health, mental health. Our women, and we just did a massive survey there and released that women, particularly women of the age, so I think it’s 40 to 54 are under the most pressure at the moment. And then our 18 to 25-year-olds, females as well, and males are all suffering with mental health and it’s at unprecedented levels. So there’s something not working, we can’t shy away from that.

And the great comfort I get is that I know big change happens when it gets so uncomfortable for everybody and it kind of gets to rock bottom. And I think, not that we’re rock bottom, but I think we’re so uncomfortable that it will, it really will drive change. And I think we are going to work in a better way because it brings me to the end of your book, and I won’t spoil it for anyone on the call, but I loved the graph that you had at the end. And I know you share it sometimes with people about at the end of their career, how they feel about work. And I think hopefully we can change that for people and that people work on longer and don’t see it as work.

Personally I changed my career to ensure that I could be with my family and look after them. So I work three days a week, but I do work that I know I could do into my nineties or because I absolutely love it. And I get up every day, but I can be a great parent and be present for my children. And I don’t know if my kids would say I’m a great parent, but I do my best and then I get to be intellectually stimulated doing great work and feel that I’m making a difference. And why would I want to retire if that is your contribution, it’s a win-win for hopefully…

Gillian French (33:56):
But I won’t ruin the book for everybody.

Peter Cheese (34:03):
No, but just to sort of echo some of those thoughts. You touched on ideas of flexible working and of course we know that’s a really big thing today and it’s a very important part of the inclusion agenda and hybrid working and so on. But yes, more broadly, this idea that we should be able to sustain and support people as they get older and still providing the opportunity for meaningful work. But that means that things like flexible work can become more important as we get older, as we all know, certainly besides the island, which has a slightly different demographic. Pretty much every other country in Europe, Western Europe has an aging workforce and an aging population. We actually do need people to work for longer.

And the reality also is economically they’re going to have to work longer anyway. So this becomes another very important aspect of so much of what we talked about, which is again, how do I support… And it’s another part of diversity of course, is age diversity. How do I support an older workforce that has slightly different needs, but that would perhaps need or want to work for longer. And that brings you to flexible working. It brings me to the ideas of what I’ve often described as retirement becoming a glide slope rather than a cliff. And again, lots of evidence of research over the years that shows that people have been working really hard every day of the week and all the rest of it and then retire maybe in their sixties or whatever. Actually it’s not good for their health.

Gillian French (35:35):
No, yeah.

Peter Cheese (35:37):
And then we know, yes of course there are other things in our lives that give us purpose a course there are. But very interestingly, a lot of the research about giving people meaningful and purposeful work, even if it’s only one day a week literally, can make a real difference to their sort of sense of wellbeing, their own belief and confidence in themselves and things like that. And so I think there are lots of reasons why we need to look at work as we move through the different stages of our life and how we support those different stages of life. And not least as we get towards the end of our working lives. And then as you said, and this is where I spend a lot of time trying to think about how to finish the book, this is where you then get to the point of saying, “So as I look back on my life and having spent all that time at work, what would I miss? What was worthwhile about it all?”

And it really saddens me that too many people still look at work and something which is to be endured, just make ends meet. And I do understand that there’s an interesting paradigm. Somebody talked about a long time ago that there’s a spectrum of do you live to work or work to live? And of course many, many people would say, “Well, I kind of work to live. I particularly enjoy it, but I have to do it in order to make money.” I would contend that in end, and I’ve worked in a lot of very manual type jobs as well in early stages of my career, that in every job you can create purpose and meaning. And those are very fundamental drivers. And that you can support people in terms of how they interact and what they learn and so forth.

You can help them progress. And if you’re doing those things, then hopefully, even if you may start in what is, you may regard as a work to live type of environment, hopefully you can begin to move a little bit more, not exactly to the full end of the spectrum of live to work, but you’re somewhere in that middle space. And therefore you look back on your life and say, “What I did at work was worthwhile and what I did at work helped me develop. And what I did at work helped others. And what I did at work therefore had some sense of purpose and meaning.” And that after all is one of the really interesting things to me about the human condition. We spent a lot of our time and lives looking for that sense of purpose and meaning and we should be able to find it in the world of work as well.

Gillian French (37:54):
I couldn’t agree more. I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed by. I do have some, just two quick questions. The first one for our listeners, I’d love to know if you’ve any book recommendations that you think are really, really good, book that you like?

Peter Cheese (38:09):
Yeah, I’m an avid reader. I’m going to go back to what I said earlier that one of the things always driven me is a sort of sense of curiosity and learning. I love reading history, I love reading about big science, I love reading about economics, I love reading about the universe and all that kind of stuff. One of my favorite books, well, there are a couple that I recommend. One is called Prisoners of Geography. And I’m trying to remember the name of the person who wrote it. But it’s a fascinating book which helps us understand a lot more about the very challenging geopolitics of our times and how geography shapes the thinking of political regimes and systems. And just very quickly, if you look at Russia, what’s going on with Russia, when you read Prisoners of Geography, you understand that one of the things that’s always made Russia feel so vulnerable is because it is very, very hard to protect geographically versus a country like China.

Once they’ve sort of taken over Mongolia and Japan, it is very protected with rings and mountains all around it. Anyways, so that’s a really interesting book from the sort of point of geopolitics and has certainly relevant today where geopolitics is challenging and changing so much. Another one is, and I think it’s by guy called Matthew Walker, but is called Why We Sleep, now I’m also a very strong advocate of wellbeing. I’ve spent a lot of time in that space and we all know that sleep is important to us, don’t we. But I grew up in an era where sleep was sort of one of these things as leaders. He said, “Well, I don’t need to sleep. I pull the all nighter, I’ll do the red eye and flying back from wherever and jumped straight into work and aren’t the great leader and power on through.” It’s not healthy to do that, not on any prolonged basis.

And the book Why We Sleep is a fascinating and very readable account of the science behind sleep and why it’s so important to us and our wellbeing. And I can tell you for one thing, it made me go to bed an hour earlier every night. So those are two very different types of things, types of books. And finally the one that I often quoted is a book by a guy called Daniel Pink who’s a behavioral psychologist called, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. And actually the title and I’ve met Dan a couple of times, the subtitle of the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

I said to Dan, I said, “Is that meant to be ironic? Because actually it isn’t a surprising truth we’ve known all these things. We just haven’t put them into practice and we haven’t used the evidence of research in Baylor Science and other things to drive our thinking in the workplace.” And that’s another very important foundation in what we need to build the future of the professional.

Gillian French (40:54):
Yeah, I enjoyed that one.

Peter Cheese (40:55):
And he laughed and said, “Peter, I’m an American, we don’t do irony.” But actually it’s ironic, but it’s a good book and it really produces down to three very fundamental things, purpose, autonomy, and mastery, the ideas of what engage us at work.

Gillian French (41:08):
Yeah, I read it many years ago, but it was a very, very good book. That’s amazing, and thank you for that recommendations. I look up the author of your other book, so I can put that on one of the links onto our podcast. And my final question to you, I’d love to get your perspective. If you had all the global leaders in the room, what would you say to them? What are they missing, or what piece of advice would you give them?

Peter Cheese (41:29):
Gosh, that’s a big question, isn’t it? I’d say first of all that as leaders, we have to demonstrate humility and our ability to listen. Not only because that’s what’s expected of leaders and so much more, as I said at the very beginning. And people get immensely frustrated when they see that leaders aren’t listening and they’re hearing what’s going on. And hence this sort of idea of a greater sense of humility. And that does play out into the sort of bigger geopolitical agendas. Where things I think are going badly wrong, geopolitically is because of a complete lack of humility and a lack of care of anybody else except their own agendas.

And that’s terrifying. And it’s taking us back 50 years in terms of how we’re thinking as a world. And if we think a little bit more humble and with a bit more humility in listening, then we should all understand our responsibility, whether we’re global political leaders or leaders of businesses or even leaders of teams within organizations, that we have a responsibility to shape the future. And I sort of finished on a couple of quotes. One is Peter Drucker’s quote, I think it’s Peter, Drucker. He said, “The best way to predict the future is to help to shape it. But the other idea, of course, is that we are stewards for the future generations. Whatever we do with the environment, with our businesses, anything, with our children, that we should be there to steward the future.

And you really want to believe that the end of any generation’s passing, that somehow the world has been left in a better place than when that generation started out. And of course throughout history, I think there should be lots of examples and that has certainly not been true. But I think we have, if we are really open and honest with ourselves, an opportunity now in times of great uncertainty and great change to step back from some of these things and say, “Okay, what are we going to do to create a better collective future, by listening to each other more, by being more humble, showing greater humility, and not just forever driving our own agendas.” And I suppose I’d try and impart messages like that, Gillian, if I had that kind of opportunity to talk to a whole group of world leaders.

Gillian French (43:45):
Amazing and I couldn’t agree more. I think if every government came up with people being the top and the only agenda and the next generation, I think we would address some of the major issues we have globally at the moment. And our elderly, I think we really, really need to look after our elderly as well. But listen, I could talk to you all day. I have to say I really thoroughly enjoyed the book, so the very best of luck with it. And so thank you, thank you, so much for your time. I know how busy you are, but I really, really enjoyed the conversation. I know our listeners will too.

Peter Cheese (44:15):
Thank you, Gillian. I enjoyed it very much too. So thank you.

Gillian French (44:21):
Thank you for listening to this week’s episode of the Employee Experience Podcast. Subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcast and check out workvivo.com to find out more.

The people behind the voices

Gillian French

Employee Experience Officer

Employee Experience Officer

Gillian French is a veteran people leader and organizational behaviorist with over 10 years of experience as Chief People Strategist.

She is passionate about coaching, strategy, building resilient and sustainable organisational culture, and improving global employee experience. She has also contributed to Forbes and is a regular panelist on the future of work.

Gillian is also the founder and CEO of SISU consulting, a business that specializes in organisation development and design.

Peter Cheese

CEO at The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

Having previously served as Global Managing Director of Accenture’s Talent and Organisation Performance consulting practice, Peter Cheese is now the Chief Executive of The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). He is recognized as a consultant, speaker and writer in the field of human capital and organization, and has worked with many organizations, practitioners and thought leaders in this field. 

He is also Chair of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing and of the Engage for Success movement, and sits on a number of Advisory Boards and Forums. He co-chairs with BEIS the Flexible Working Taskforce focused on promoting and understanding flexible working in organizations and workplaces. 

In 2021 his book, The New World of Work, was published by Kogan Page, and he was the lead author for The Talent-Powered Organization. He was voted as the UK’s most influential thinker in HR for 2013 by HR Magazine, and in 2008 he was named by Consulting Magazine as one of the top 25 consultants worldwide. He holds three honorary doctorates and is a Fellow or Companion of seven professional bodies.