Chapter Four

Working Human

Chapter Four: Part One

Working Human

Are You Bold Enough?

About six months ago, I received an email invitation to participate in a research project looking for passionate voices, asking what inspired me … asking about my passion. Most of the emails I receive aren’t that memorable—nor do they leave me curious and wanting to learn more.

In this case, I watched the video and responded immediately. I had something to say about this and I wanted to help with the research.

So, I said yes!

Since then, it has been my honor and privilege to be part of this conversation. The research on passion and purpose becomes the book The Science of Story later this year. Authored by Adam Fridman and Hank Ostholthoff, The Science of Story should be the field guide for every leader, HR professional, and individual who makes a conscious choice to contribute and make a difference in organizational life. It is a manifesto for those who believe that who you are is not separate from what you do; for all of us who believe deeply that how you show up every day matters a great deal.

Further, it is the translation of spirit into matter—by that, I mean those human qualities that inevitably show up wherever we do and seek expression in tangible ways in the choices we make at work—how we invest our time, energy, and belief. The Science of Story shows us that to have purpose, to believe something, is to live something in a tangible way. It translates our passion into tangible habits and action that truly has the power to transform relationships, organizations, and the very fabric of work itself. It shows us how to create something significant and enduring through simple practice and commitment.

In this first section of the Working Human chapter, we will deliver a glimpse into The Science of Story and provide an opportunity to think about how to pursue your passion, to look at what inspires you, to discover and live your purpose. I am grateful to Adam and Hank for letting me share their story with you and for their bold venture that challenges all of us to let purpose define and influence our work. We want to share our experiences and passion in ways that can change and truly shape authentic workplace cultures.

The only question that remains is: “Are you bold enough to be inspired, to engage, to disrupt, to live your passion?”

Living and working with purpose
and meaning.

You can only take people as far as you yourself have gone in life. There is no way to lead transformation unless you have sacrificed something, built something, offered something in an effort to transform work, organizations, and the people in them. The same is true of storytelling. The simplicity is blinding. The science is clear. You can’t tell an authentic and powerful story until you are living one. If you look at what people want from work today, it is far beyond the traditional notions of a job and has everything to do with values, belonging, pride in working in a particular place, great cultures, development, connection, collaboration, and meaning. In order to be a place where people want to join and contribute,

you need to have an authentic culture where you are who you say you are—people get that; it resonates with them, and they can tell if what you are telling them isn’t authentic.

“Brand is a reflection of culture” is the summary and accumulation of our learnings (Fridman and Ostholthoff, 2017). To be a brand that has meaning, a brand that transcends profit motive, a brand that has a role in crafting the society of the future and communicates stories that create change, it must have a purpose that inspires; values that guide; and habits that are ways to translate how people work together every day.


Purpose is a really big deal—it matters, and can’t be swept under the rug as “just the soft stuff.” The soft stuff is the hard stuff.

Purpose and meaning are no longer nice-to-haves in this job economy. Talent is scarce. There are fewer available people today for every open job than there have been in the last 50 years. Fewer people are losing their jobs today due to restructuring than in the last half-century. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 66 in every 10,000 workers are impacted by corporate downsizing today (August, 2017). That is the lowest figure we have seen in over five decades.

The shrinking labor pool is a global challenge that is causing more organizations to look at issues like purpose, meaning, engagement, passion, belonging, diversity, development, employee experience, and connection.

How does purpose translate into attracting and retaining talent?

People will take a job today because they feel they can live their purpose and contribute something significant. Conversely, they will leave an organization if there is no opportunity to do that. People are even willing to accept less pay as a starting salary to be in a place with a sense of purpose

and authenticity. People want to aspire to achieve great things through their work. They search for meaning, want to build collaborative relationships, and are attracted to high-energy people and cultures that challenge them to do their best work.

Working Human Is About Meaning

The Science of Story takes us through meaning and why it matters to the enterprise today.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Studs Terkel crisscrossed the United States in the early 1970s, interviewing people for his book Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. For this classic work, with its deceptively simple title, Terkel talked at length with more than 100 whose occupations ranged from gravediggers to studio heads. His conclusion:

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life, rather than a Monday to Friday sort of dying.”

In effect, he was eloquently making a case for the value of a sense of purpose, especially when, as he put it, many people, “have jobs that are too small for our spirit.”

We all need to be inspired, we all need purpose, we all need jobs that are fulfilling. French poet and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry says it better than we can: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Do you have a purpose in life? Does your company have a purpose, other than making a profit? Does it make any difference whether or not you have a purpose? A central theme of The Science of Story is the passionate belief that it does make a difference both to the individual and the organization. A big difference.

A sense of purpose leads to a meaningful existence. It is at the core of our wellbeing. We are here to find purpose, not just exist. We have so much to give, and not just take. And that core purpose permeates into the business world.

So where is the proof? It’s relatively easy to comprehend how a sense of purpose might be critical from the personal standpoint. You can instinctively appreciate why an individual would benefit from understanding and fulfilling his purpose, but what’s the rationale from the company standpoint?

Why should a pragmatic, go-by-the numbers business leader embrace such a radical concept? Let’s start with some facts and figures that should satisfy the skeptics.

The Corporate Advantage

To understand the advantage, we must first look at the rationale in the same way an executive analyzes any business decision. Let’s say you’re the CEO of a large organization who has a responsibility to all his stakeholders to deliver results. Having an inspiring company purpose is all well and good and might seem like a noble endeavor, but what does it do for your bottom line?

Having a clearly-defined purpose significantly boosts profits.

There is research and expert opinion to support this concept, from world-class business leaders, accounting and consulting firms to academics, authors, and numerous surveys and studies. In a 10-year study of 50,000 of the world’s fastest-growing brands, a Top 50 list was developed of companies that had both built the deepest relationships with customers and achieved the greatest financial growth.1 If you had invested in these businesses you would have earned 400 percent more than if you had invested your money in the S&P 500.

The study was pioneered by Jim Stengel, former global marketing officer for Procter & Gamble and author of GROW: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies. Said Stengel, who has been recognized multiple times by Advertising Age as the number one power player in marketing: “I have always believed that great brands are built on improving the lives of the people they serve; I wanted to prove that maximum profit and high ideals aren’t incompatible but, in fact, inseparable.”

Having a culture of purpose and generating shareholder value go hand in glove.

Big Four accounting firm Deloitte (nearly US$38 billion in revenues and 244,000 employees) also reached that conclusion. In the 2013 Deloitte Core Beliefs & Culture Survey, 91 percent of respondents who said their company had a strong sense of purpose also said their company had a history of strong financial performance.

Chairman of the board, Punit Renjen, commented: “For successful organizations, creating meaningful impact beyond financial performance is becoming the new normal … a business imperative.” The same survey, however, also uncovered that at least two-thirds of executives and employees believed their businesses were not doing enough to create a sense of purpose and deliver meaningful impact.


The following year, Deloitte’s Core Beliefs Survey found that 82 percent of people who worked full-time for an organization that lived a strong sense of purpose were confident their organization would grow that year compared to 48 percent who worked for an organization without purpose. That’s a shocking contrast.

Another survey, led by social enterprise firm Imperative, in conjunction with New York University, resulted in the 2015 Workforce Purpose Index,2 and concluded: “Building organizations that empower people to embrace purpose orientations drives organizational success, engages communities and boosts the economy.”

According to the Index, purpose-oriented workers comprised only 28 percent of the workforce, but they were 50 percent more likely to be in leadership positions, 47 percent more likely to be promoters of their employers, and have 64 percent higher levels of fulfillment in their work.

The report said: “These purpose-oriented workers, roughly 42 million strong, not only seek out purpose in their work, they create it and, as a result, outperform the rest of the workforce.”

One of the study’s principals, Aaron Hurst, co-founder of Imperative and author of The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact, Personal Growth and Community Is Changing the World, says: “The goal is to have leaders across sectors understand the science of purpose in the workforce and begin to use it to help boost the performance and wellbeing of their teams.”

The University of South Florida also conducted a study over a six-year period, investigating the relationship between culture and sales at 95 auto dealerships. Dealerships rated highly by employees as having a positive corporate culture generally went on to achieve higher profits; dealerships where the culture didn’t improve became less profitable.

The Personal
Business Advantage

If you’re someone with a sense of purpose, you’re likely to become much more financially successful than your peers, according to an analysis of data collected from 6,000 people by researchers Patrick L. Hill of Carleton University and Nicholas A. Turiano of West Virginia University.3

But—perhaps ironically—for the happiest and most fulfilled individuals, compensation is not their first priority. While several studies have shown this, one spearheaded by the think tank The Happiness Research Institute probed the lives of 2,500 people in Denmark, a country whose people top just about every barometer of happiness, including job satisfaction. According to Eurobarometer 2014,4 94 percent of Danish employees are satisfied with their conditions at work—whereas the average in the European Union is 77 percent. The number one factor affecting job satisfaction by far was having a sense of purpose. It has a greater effect than salary, results, and relationships with colleagues combined.

Cecile Eriksen, PhD, from Aarhus University in Denmark, says:

“Historically, the reason to go to work has, to a large extent, been exclusively to feed your family. For many people nowadays, work is much more than that.”

“We work because we feel that it matters—both to society and to who we are.”

The Imperative–New York University study also supports the belief that knowing your purpose makes you 50 percent more likely to have meaningful relationships at work, and 54 percent more likely to feel your work has a positive impact. It also recorded that purpose-oriented individuals have a 64 percent higher level of career fulfillment and remain with a company 20 percent longer.

The Health Advantage

Let’s not stop with just fulfillment.

Hill and Turiano’s work went even further and discovered that people with a sense of purpose live longer. “Our findings point to the fact that finding a direction in life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer … there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity.”5

Purpose—engagement and working toward goals as we age—is an important positive factor for vitality, productivity, and lower rates of cognitive decline, stroke, and heart attack. Other work shows a 42 percent increase in contentment.

As Richard J. Leider, author of The Power of Purpose: Find Meaning, Live Longer, Better, says:

“All people seem to have a natural desire and capacity to contribute somehow to life. Each of us wants to leave footprints. And each of us has a unique purpose. Having a reason to get up in the morning is associated in numerous scientific studies with better mental and physical health and greater longevity. Purpose can add not only years to your life, but life to your years.”

The Search for Meaning

Purpose transcends everything. It is part of one’s personal search for meaning, and one’s goals and values. It also has an external component—the desire to make a difference in the world, to contribute to matters larger than oneself.

We need purpose and meaning in our lives for physical and mental wellbeing; achieving goals; sense of self-efficacy (belief in your ability to get things done) and self-worth (the feeling that you are a worthwhile human being). Having a purpose through work is an important source of having meaning in life as a whole, say Colorado State University psychologists Michael Steger and Bryan Dik, who have extensively researched and written about the subject. Meaningful work may help people deepen their understanding of themselves and the world around them, facilitating their personal growth and removing negativity.

Meaningful work is not just about the meaning of the paid work we perform; it is about the way we live our lives. It is the alignment of purpose, values, and the relationships and activities we pursue in life. It is about living our lives and performing our work with integrity to such an extent that it’s a routine habit. It is about integrated wholeness. Famed psychologist Abraham Maslow, best known for creating Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, knew this very well. He was among the pioneers promoting the notion that individuals have an inherent need for a work life that is meaningful. He was correct in 1943 and he is still correct today.

Research has shown that people who say their work is meaningful and/or serves some greater social or communal good report greater wellbeing, view their work as more central and important, place higher value on it, and report greater job satisfaction. All attributes, of course, that make them highly desirable and valued employees.

What does it look like in an organization where purpose and meaning matter?


Everyone, from leaders to first-line employees, knows the purpose of the organization and can articulate it. Years ago when I worked for The Coca Cola Company, when an employee was asked what they did at the company, the answer was clear and unwavering: “I refresh the world.” When your employees are asked about the purpose of your organization, what do they say?


Purpose and meaning are not just words. Those words are translated into action—every day. So, think about the things that touch every employee—your talent engine and technology. How is your purpose translated into how you hire and onboard people? How is it reflected in performance-management processes and career development? What is the expression of purpose and values in how you grow talent? What is your career value proposition?


Do people want to join and stay with your company? Are you authentic in the hiring process? Or do people join and head for the door six months later? Do you offer a compelling career value proposition—and deliver on it?


In the next section, we will look at the science of story and the five steps to a purpose-driven organization.

Chapter Four: Part Two


Making Purpose Real in Your Organization

Job-market data offers us the business case for purpose. Reports on job-seeker behavior and the talent marketplace are being published with greater frequency than ever because demand is higher than ever. Organizations, eager to give themselves an edge, review the reports in hope of uncovering a competitive advantage for attracting top talent.

A sliver of data could signal a game-changing trend. In 2017, Job Seeker Nation published a study, “Jobvite,” that offered insights into the ever-shifting job market.

The first headline presents immediate challenges to organizations: “Job Satisfaction Is Down and Job Browsing Is Up.” This may not be surprising, given recent reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics stating that as unemployment continues to go down, the level of voluntary turnover continues to rise.

Employees who might have been content to remain in their roles in years past are more frequently considering their options. This is a departure from what job-seeker data has shown following the height of the recession (where employees were hesitant to make a move). Whether we attribute this to a dramatic increase in the number of jobs available or residual signs of pent-up demand, there has been a clear shift in the job market.

Opportunities abound and people are taking advantage. Today, it is truly a candidate-driven marketplace.

Employee satisfaction used to come with a high level of assurance that happy employees stayed with their current organizations until they became unhappy. The new reality is quite different. Just because an employee is happy, it does not mean that they are not passively looking at their options. In 2017, 64 percent of job seekers reported being satisfied at work, but 82 percent of them were open to new job opportunities. (Jobvite, 2017)

People sample the market by browsing opportunities that might be of interest despite having no initial intention to leave their current job. Job Seeker Nation reports that this could be as high as 59 percent for younger workers. Even 30 percent of workers over 55 report sampling the job market in a real way: going on interviews to explore options. It’s the law of averages that even though the job seekers may not have been interested in switching at the beginning of the process, some of those conversations will hit home and people will listen intently to new opportunities—and in some cases, take them.

While this research offers insight into why voluntary turnover is on the rise, there are two additional points on individual perception of work that are important to highlight:

In a recent survey of 12,000
professionals by the Harvard
Business Review, 50 percent
reported that they felt their
job “had no meaning or
significance,” with 50 percent
also reporting that they
were unable to relate to
their company’s mission.

In a global survey
of 230,000 employees
in 142 countries, only
13 percent of workers
reported that they
actually liked their job.

Individually, these statistics indicate that disengagement and job dissatisfaction are common and directly correlated. Paired with the fact that voluntary turnover is increasing, it makes sense to assume that at least some of these disengaged people are passively considering other employment options—if not actively attending interviews.

Can we blame them? A person who feels disconnected from their organization, where they spend the majority of their waking hours, is lacking a basic need, not just as an employee, but as a person: They lack a sense of purpose. If they are truly disengaged from their company’s mission and values, they cannot align their daily contributions with anything beyond a paycheck. That creates a lose–lose situation for everyone. Engagement is key, and having purpose is critical.

The Science of Purpose

With more opportunity than ever, organizations are looking for ways to increase retention and attract people to their compelling value proposition. Enter the science of purpose. In today’s job market, people want a situation where the work and the organization reflect what they are passionate about and what they believe in.

Employees want their work and time to matter—to contribute to something significant. In The Science of Story, Adam Fridman and Hank Ostholthoff share the business results of purpose-led companies:

Purpose-led companies outperformed the S&P 10× between 1996 and 2011—Raj Sisodia, Firms of Endearment.

Employees are 1.7× more satisfied and 1.4× more engaged—The Energy Project, What is Your Quality of Life at Work?

A strong well-communicated purpose can contribute as much as 17 percent improvement in financial performance—Burston-Marsteller and IMD Business School.

When there is alignment between employee beliefs, their sense of purpose and the organization’s purpose and values, the enterprise can truly thrive and deliver great performance.

Discovering Your Purpose

Discovering your purpose or the purpose of an organization begins with asking “Why?” Simon Sinek challenges us with the question “What’s your Why?” When I was first being interviewed by Adam Fridman for The Science of Story, I was boldly asked what was my “Why?” Why do I choose to do what I do? What matters to me. Why am I so passionate about building organizations where people can thrive, grow, contribute, learn, connect, and bring their best selves?

Over the course of my career, both as an employee and a consultant to HR leaders, I have seen a number of organizational cultures; some similar, some with striking contrasts.

On a continuum, they would range from difficult/negative to energetic/engaged and positive. Here’s what I know: the places that skewed negatively tended to be more bureaucratic. There was an atmosphere of fear; people were treated in a punitive way; there was evidence of negative communication that often surfaced as bullying, the truth was rarely told for fear that they would shoot the messenger; and people were basically unhappy. It showed in the results—often mediocre, but not extraordinary.

Often reflecting low-energy cultures and a feeling of being stuck that lacked an excitement for the future, these organizations struggled with attracting and retaining talent. I even heard one person describe their organization culture as “toxic soup.”

On the other side of the continuum, in energetic, engaged, and positive organizations, the commitment and excitement for the work is palpable. People like being there and you know it. They are excited about making a contribution. These organizations invest in people.

There are opportunities to develop and grow. People feel that they are treated fairly, and that is reflected in how they interact with customers and each other. These organizations most often have clear values and live by them. The sense you get in these organizations is that people are passionate about the work, the company, and their colleagues. They have a strong commitment to moving the organization forward to achieve great results.

So here is my “Why.” Based on over 20 years of doing this work, I believe that creating organizations with purpose and values, focus, priorities, and direction not only produces great financial results, but great people results, too. I have committed my career and energies to helping grow people and organizations in healthy ways that are good for both the bottom-line results and the people who produce them.

Organizations that do the right thing for their people thrive as enterprises. I believe that when organizations live their values, they have the capacity to change people’s lives for the better. So when I talk to HR leaders I am always looking for ways to help them create an organization where people want to work and where they want to stay—to build a strong positive culture that not only gives something back to the people who work there, but the shareholders as well. Sometimes the stories of organizations that live their values just jump out at you. I was recently in line to pay for my items at Costco, my local big box store, and had a conversation with the cashier. We were talking about what it was like to work there. Totally unsolicited, she said:

“I love working here! I will never leave. They treat me really well and pay me fairly … a really good living wage … the benefits are fantastic and really help me with my family … this is such a great place to work … they value me.”

What an endorsement about the brand! It has long been known that a value of this company is paying people a living wage—and they do it. Costco delivers on the value and the promise. The cashier explicitly told me how they did that in her case by sharing with me her hourly rate and compensation (I’ve omitted the amount here for the sake of confidentiality, but it’s significantly higher than minimum wage). The results and growth of this company over the years reflect their values and commitments to their employees. From a customer perspective, it shows: people who are treated well create great customer experiences.

Building a Great Culture

It takes purposeful work to build a great culture—and usually it is not the big stuff that shifts culture in a positive direction, though that can be helpful.

It is what people do every day and what they commit to that is important. In The Science of Story, Adam and Hank share their five stages of creating and living your purpose:6





Change can only come from within. You need to start asking questions; what is your purpose?


Once you’ve found your answer, start to communicate your purpose to the people who matter most: your employees and leaders.

Ignite and Energize

Create energy around your purpose, and deliver exceptional experiences that lower customer churn and increase employee retention.




How do you want your company to be perceived around the world? If you know what your employees and customers think, you’ll be able to see your organization through their eyes.


Measure how successful you’ve been. Then, start the cycle again—after all, your purpose is your story, and new stories are what change our world.

Create a winning culture in today’s competitive talent marketplace.

To attract and retain top talent, you need to offer more than a lucrative salary and enticing employee benefits. You need to create a culture where your workforce can thrive.


Do you have the tools and technologies to connect your employees with your company?

People are looking to make a difference in the world of work. Where they work matters, and they want the chance to make a great contribution—to learn and grow, to be in a place that aligns with their values.


Are people aware of how their work makes a difference, and do you recognize and reward them?

Working Human is a conversation that is ongoing. It is influenced by the people and values that exist in every organization.

Purpose in the
Context of Values

It would be difficult to talk about purpose and culture without introducing the connection to values. If you think of values as the “what,” then living them is the “how.” In 2014, the Great Places to Work organization reported the 97 percent of the best workplaces have value statements, and they put them at the heart of everything that they do.

Companies and leaders that live their values are authentic. Authenticity is simply the correlation between what you say you will do and what you do.

If you tell your people one thing and do another, it will be perceived by your employees as being disingenuous, deceptive, or even dishonest. You will immediately lose credibility. Over time, a lack of authenticity breeds disengagement.

In Best Places to Work companies, it is reported that the actions of management match the words they communicate, and that management/the organization delivers on its promises. This includes everything from delivering career and development opportunities to compensation. Do you do what you say you are going to do? In fact, when looking at authenticity, Top 50 Best Places to Work companies often outperform all other companies by 25 percentage points or more, particularly when looking at whether management delivers on its promises and whether or not their actions match their words.

In 2016, Oracle and the Talent Strategy Institute did a study to look at the practices of talent-magnet companies. What we learned was that, above all, talentmagnet companies lived their values. In fact, trust, character, engagement, focus/priorities, energy, respect, innovation, and kindness were consulted daily or weekly. The values became a filter for actions, discussion, and decisions. Values guided talent practices from prehire to the experience of being a fully contributing member of the team. Their values and practices created great employee experiences.

Purpose is translated through values—in fact, values make purpose real. When you are focused on Working Human, purpose and values are the guardrails of organizational life.

In the next section, we will look at trends that are driving shifts in the world of work, particularly in the areas of talent shortage and talent acquisition.

Chapter Four: Part Three

HCM Innovation

While working with customers, thought leaders, and authors, I have seen new ideas, novel approaches, and applications that are helping organizations move forward in creating great cultures, finding great people, and living their values. I would like to share three stories with you that demonstrate the significant changes being made by organizations today.

Jeffery Moss, of Parker Dewey, has contributed to the section on trying out new career hires; offering short-term professional projects to graduates so that companies and potential employees get the measure of the work before committing to a more permanent work arrangement.

Michael Bungay Stanier, Founder of Box of Crayons, informs the section on developing coachlike habits in managers to improve connection, feedback, collaboration, and relationships at work.

And Michael Shuster and Adam Fridman of Mabbly explain what ProHabits are and how they make engagement real, encouraging employees to live their core values and become more engaged and inspired.

Why is there a need for this approach?

Over the past several years, there has been significant discussion on what the future of work will be. Out of this dialog, the biggest questions that arise are:

“Will automation replace most jobs?” and
“For those jobs that remain, will freelancers replace employees?”

It is not surprising that there are many strong opinions on this topic, given that entry-level hiring is challenging and there are concerns about the job readiness of graduates and the preparation they receive from traditional colleges and universities. Adding fuel to the fire is an increasing acceptance of “gig” or freelance models in the workplace.

Entry-level hiring is challenging.

Few professionals would disagree that the hiring process for recent college graduates has room for improvement.

As shared in a recent study conducted by SHRM and Mercer7, with funding from The Joyce Foundation,

“Only one-fifth of HR professionals are fully confident in their Employers’ overall ability to effectively assess the skills of entry-level applicants.”

The report goes on to say that, “Employers are relying on longstanding methods of screening entry-level job candidates even though they have little confidence in the accuracy of some techniques.”

To be fair, many of these companies
do not leverage emerging tools, such
as assessments, eportfolios, video interviews, algorithms, and so on,
because they’re often viewed as creating additional work for HR professionals and hiring managers alike. Many organizations innovating their talent-acquisition processes rely on resume-screening tools as the increase in applicants per open job (on average 250 for every corporate job opening) has made it nearly impossible to manually screen resumes. “As a result, employers may be missing qualified and talented job candidates who in turn are losing out on opportunities for jobs for which they might be well-qualified.”

The current talent market has over 6.1 million open jobs8 without qualified candidates to fill them (Bureau of Labor Statistics, February, 2018). Employee resignations are up almost 50 percent since 2010, with the cost of millennial attrition topping US$30 billion9 annually. Beyond the direct costs of this turnover, companies have more open jobs than at any point since 2001, and the time required to fill these positions is approaching record levels. This is a complex job economy. In some areas there are great shortages of qualified workers, yet in the early career market we see many recent graduates are underutilized. According to the Economic Policy Institute,10 over 18 percent of young college graduates are underemployed or unemployed.

Are recent graduates ready for the jobs ahead?

According to McGraw-Hill, just 40 percent of graduates think college got them ready for a career.11 Moreover, the increasing cost of tuition has given a rise to alternatives, such as bootcamps, microcredentials/badges and other nontraditional educational resources.

However, when one digs into the data, the needs of employers are primarily noncognitive competencies, including critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, innovation, teamwork, and communications.12 Unlike the hard skills (such as coding, accounting, and sales, among others) that are the focus of many of nontraditional alternatives, these soft skills are equally essential and often mean the difference between success and failure in a job.

Enter the gig economy.

As a result of perceived skill gaps and difficulty hiring, companies have increasingly adopted gig and freelance models to address their immediate needs. Initially, these efforts were focused on providing low-cost technical talent by negotiating across geographies, making work no longer a function of place. Through technology platforms and thoughtful structure, organizations can get tactical support without the constraints, commitments, or administrative burdens of new hires, temps, or interns.

As companies have adopted these models, fundamental flaws have emerged because of the transactional nature of the work. Specifically, contractors on these sites seldom have any interest in forming a permanent relationship, either because of geographic limitations or a desire to be a perpetual freelancer. As a result, these contract employees are not motivated to exceed expectations of clients, often doing just enough so they can get to the next project (and paycheck). In those cases where a company does want to hire a freelancer for a full-time role or other permanent relationship, many factors, including location, make it cost-prohibitive.

A New Solution

While many have questioned if the gig economy will ultimately replace full-time jobs, the reality is that this trend will ultimately have a dramatic and positive impact on new hiring.


Specifically, many companies are starting to recognize that beyond the immediate value of the gig, there is also an invaluable opportunity to identify and evaluate entry-level talent more effectively than with current methodologies. By allowing college students and recent graduates to execute short-term assignments in line with the responsibilities of a new hire, companies both gain immediate support and improve hiring effectiveness. For example, a plastics company utilized contract work as a way to fill an immediate accounting need. After completing several successful projects with their freelancer, the company was so impressed they created a role and hired her full-time.

Test-driving new talent.

Any hiring manager will confirm that the only way to know if he or she made the right hire is to see the individual do the work. Through short-term professional projects, companies are afforded the opportunity to evaluate performance prior to committing to a full-time role or internship.

Given the limited number of opportunities that college students have for authentic professional experiences, project-based work allows them to explore a variety of career options. The result is not only the ability to select the right company, but the context to confirm the fit and know that the grass isn’t always greener13 once accepting a role.

Furthermore, these test-drives also allow candidates to evaluate
if a company and role
are the right fit for them.

Creating New Talent Pools

Given the low risk and commitment levels of these test-drives, freelance models allow companies to effectively identify new talent pools.

With increasing costs of hiring and competition for the same individuals
at the same colleges, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to hire the right talent. By using contract work, companies can evaluate career-development programs at universities and schools for people with different majors and backgrounds. Not only does this improve conversion; providing this type of opportunity to someone who does not have the right academic pedigree drives increasing loyalty and retention.

For example, a healthcare technology company was looking to fill an open entry-level marketing position. While it was screening candidates, a recent college graduate was crafting

social-media content as a stop-gap until the position was filled. Having seen his work quality, the company invited him to apply for the full-time role even though his major and GPA were not in line with the posted job specifications. In addition to the work he completed for the company, the hiring manager learned about his project-based experiences with other companies, and how these experiences allowed the candidate to be confident in the fit. His understanding of this context coupled with his performance on the project, allowed the hiring manager to find and hire an incredible employee we would have otherwise missed.

Diversity and inclusion.

In addition to accessing diverse candidates outside of traditional talent pools, project-based work helps companies train employees who don’t need a certain profile to be successful. For example, a large financial institution was frustrated with its diversity efforts because its bankers were unwilling to even interview someone who “doesn’t have a 3.9 from an Ivy.” However, when presenting a banker with an opportunity to “have a highly motivated college student help out on a project,” the banker was unconcerned with these metrics. Upon the project’s completion, the banker asked HR to hire the individual full-time. Not only did this provide an incredible opportunity for the recent graduate; it also helped change the employee’s biases against certain academic backgrounds.

With new work emerging across organizations HR innovation is key.

Finally, with the number of new roles emerging, companies are using gigs as a way to better define the responsibilities and competencies of these positions. In some cases, they are even being used to evaluate the ROI of a role itself. We recently heard from an HR professional at a Fortune 100 company who told us that she was approached by a member of the marketing team about hiring a new entry-level social-media manager for one of its offerings. Although this position was not in the budget, HR was able to suggest using a freelancer as an alternative. Following the completion of the project, HR and the marketing professional together approached the team leader with the ROI data from the project and received approval for the new role. As opposed to pushing back, HR was able to provide immediate support, help the hiring manager make the case, and hire the right full-time employee.

How do you leverage this idea?


Consider project work for early career/college hires—identify work that can be done by recent graduates on a project basis and offer it as an opportunity to try out the individual, while at the same time giving the person the opportunity to evaluate fit as well.


Work with managers on identifying these opportunities in their organizations so they can get a view of the talent available in the market today, and factor that into their hiring decisions.

This is a great way to build relationships with early career hires and recent graduates and add them to your social network. It also gives you an opportunity to connect with who they know and their broader networks when you are looking for candidates for open jobs.

Perhaps my favorite movie line ever comes from the movie Jaws. When they get an idea of the size of the shark they are dealing with and ultimately are trying to kill, it is clear that they are underresourced for the endeavor. There is a moment of realization when the character says: “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”

If you want to succeed in talent acquisition today, you need a portfolio of tools and approaches to finding the right people for your organization. It isn’t about just posting jobs anymore—it is about using creative tactics to find and understand the talent in the marketplace. You can turn projects into hiring opportunities and hire great people who know your organization and already see themselves as a fit.

In today’s competitive talent market, you really are going to need a bigger boat.

Remember when you were captivated
by a box of crayons?

I met Michael Bungay Stanier several months ago when I was attending the CLO Symposium at Dove Mountain in Arizona. He is the founder of Box of Crayons and the author of The Coaching Habit.

Now, what first attracted me to Michael at this meeting was the fact that he actually looked like a box of crayons from his colorful shirt to his matching socks. I introduced myself and we started a conversation that turned into an opportunity for me to learn about how you make coaching a habit in organizations. Because I believe that in changing behavior, living values, and building great cultures requires a translation of habits into everyday actions, I thought his approach was clear, practical, and pragmatic. It can be used by everyone and helps build better relationships while positively impacting business performance.

I have been a practitioner in the talent development space for over 20 years.

In that time, I have seen coaching go through several iterations. We have gone from coaching being widely used with every executive, to it having a negative connotation. Today, I think we have finally found a middle ground where most organizations see coaching as another useful tool to increase engagement and impact.

There are three ways organizations use coaching:




The first is to hire executive coaches, who support a high-potential or senior leader to step up their game and get to the next level.

The second is to train a cadre of internal coaches. Often HR business partners or the equivalent, they do some version of executive coach training, and then become an internal resource.

And third they create a coaching culture by expecting all managers to add coaching to their leadership repertoire.

This final option is increasingly the one organizations turn to. Executive coaching has its place, but it is a targeted intervention, focused on an individual—and not scalable. The coaching cadre is useful, but they can’t be everywhere for everyone. Having all managers be more coach-like … that’s where real change can happen.

Here is the shift in perspective. It is not that every manager has to become a certified coach, but every manager can learn coach-like habits and behaviors. At a time where people want more connection, feedback, collaboration, and relationships at work, developing coach-like habits is both helpful and practical.

Building a coaching culture really can make a difference to the effectiveness of the business. But things need to change. For your managers, you need to rethink how coaching is framed, so that they can embrace it as a useful, everyday tool. For those in charge of your organization, you need to rethink about how you talk about building a coaching culture.

Rethinking Coaching for Managers …
Here’s How It Works


Coach like you aren’t a coach.

Most managers don’t want to be a coach. They’re just trying to do a good job, hit their targets, keep their team functional and engaged, get home to see the family more often rather than less. And they’ve met enough coaches to know that, actually, a coach is something they actively don’t want to be.

Changing the expectation from “be a coach” to “be more coach-like” changes the game. Now, you’re not asking them to shift identity, but to adjust a way of working. Now, you lift the burden of expectations that often comes with the word coach. You frame it as a new tool that can help them, rather than an additional role they have to take on.


Transformative, not additive

Even knowing they can be more coach-like, there is another barrier: time. Who has time for coaching? To-do lists are too long, strategic priorities are multiple, and the calendar lurches from obligation to obligation. Trying to get through all that is hard enough without squeezing in coaching.

Two things help here. First, frame coaching as an experience that can typically take 10 minutes or less to complete. Many managers assume that their coaching should fit some imagined executive coaching model with regular sessions of an hour or more. When they see the difference a five-minute coach-like conversation can make, it feels like it’s possible.

Second, frame coaching as a way of transforming what they’re currently doing, rather than creating an additional obligation. Take what you are already doing, and know that you have an option for doing it differently that may well make it more effective.


As simple as possible.

There are many different types of coaching (executive, performance, development, life, skills, career, team, and so on.) and there are many definitions of coaching. While it is lovely that everyone has an opinion, it leaves managers asking, “What exactly is coaching?”

Simplifying what coaching is makes it easier for managers to embrace it. Rather than sharing yet another coaching model, we simply say that it’s about a change of behavior: Stay curious a little longer; rush to action and advice-giving just a little more slowly. You don’t need a PhD in psychology to do that. In fact, a few good questions are often all you need; that, and the discipline to turn asking questions in to an everyday habit.

In fact, keep being more coach-like so simple as to reduce it down to three principles:
Be lazy, be curious, be often.

The most provocative of these is, of course, be lazy. When people understand that it means slowing down the rush to jump in and fix things and take on others’ challenges, then it looks like it might be worth exploring after all. To be curious is to recognize the “advice monster” that lurks within us all, and that seizes any opportunity to jump out and control the conversation. To be often is to see that every interaction—not just in person, but on the phone or even via email or IM—can be fueled with a little more curiosity, and a little less advice and drive to action.

Reinventing Coaching
Culture for Organizations

But even if you reframe your efforts to engage your managers so they embrace the call to be more coach-like, you’ll need to get smarter about how you manage the culture.

Winston Churchill said,
“We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.”

If you want to change the way your leaders behave, you have to support them not just at the individual level, but at the systemic, cultural level as well.


Coaching needs to transition from something that is programmatic to everyday behaviors.

Don’t make “a coaching culture” a destination. Make it a journey that solves the business problem your senior leaders are worrying about. Broadly, there are only two. The first is productivity: How can building coaching skills contribute directly to increasing people’s focus and impact? The second is engagement: How can building coaching skills contribute to keeping the best people happy and present, so that they can then focus on being productive?


What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)

For coaching to become part of the culture, it has to be something that managers and leaders want to do, something that actually benefits them and makes their lives easier and more effective.

We focus on helping managers see how being more coach-like is a way of improving dysfunctional ways of working. “Be lazy” in particular rings true when they realize that their old patterns of jumping in and fixing things and solving things and taking ownership of things leads them exhausted, overwhelmed, and frustrated, and their team disempowered and equally frustrated.

When managers see that being more coach-like can help them work less hard but have more impact, then they get interested in doing the work to change their behavior.


Habits matter.

When you ask people, “What exactly is ‘culture’?” one of the more common answers is, “It’s the way we do things around here.” As tough as it can be to argue that definition, it can be even tougher to imagine changing it. If culture is the water we’re swimming in, changing the water feels impossible.

So, how does change happen? Things change when you realize that what a culture is a collection of habits.

Habits are the building blocks of culture, and they’re the building blocks of culture change.

If you want people to do things differently, it’s not enough to make proclamations, or put out new value

statements, or even change the competencies in the performance-management system. You have to combine the elements to create a culture that inspires people. Teach them how to form new habits that improve performance.

Box of Crayons talks about the New Habit Formula, a simple three-step process that stands on the shoulders of giants. You need to identify the trigger, context, or situation where you want to change your behavior (“When this happens…”); you need to shine the light on the old habit you want to stop (“Instead of…”); and you need to identify a new behavior you can accomplish in 60 seconds or less (“I will…”).

Now, instead of just hoping you’ll be more coach-like, you can identify a few specific new coaching habits you can try, practice, and embed.

Having your managers and leaders be more coach-like isn’t a silver bullet to fix all wrongs. But it is incredibly helpful. The science tells us that when it’s done right and your managers succeed in being more curious and engaging in coach-like habits, it has a positive impact on productivity and engagement.

ProHabits Make Engagement Actionable

Finally in this section, I want to share results from a tool we talked about earlier in the Chemistry of High Performance—the engagement revolution driven by ProHabits.

ProHabits translate values and habits into organization success. Values are translated into individual habits and actions that happen every day—the goal is to help people be their best selves at work while delivering great business performance.

While most approaches to engagement involve surveying, reporting results, and determining post-survey actions, ProHabits are different.

ProHabits human-centric technology aligns personal development with organizational growth by delivering opportunities for living core values on a daily basis.

The idea of ProHabits is rooted in the renowned work of Abraham Maslow. As individuals grow toward becoming their best self, they become more engaged and inspired at work. Each daily activity is designed to integrate opportunities for personal growth with opportunities to live organizational values.

The ultimate goal of ProHabits is to make living your values a habit.

To achieve this goal, our platform measures and promotes personal growth via positive contributions to organizational culture. Ultimately, our research will determine how people’s daily micro interactions can have a macro impact for organizations.

How ProHabits Work

ProHabits make engaging and tracking personal growth easy.

With ProHabits, your team is greeted with an email each morning that introduces today’s task, a quick piece of inspiration in the form of a daily quote, followed by a simple question: “Do you commit?”

At the end of the day, those who committed in the morning are sent a second daily email. This time, the simple question is “Did you do it?”

Users simply click a button in their email: “I did it!” and their progress is logged for others to see.

The Story So Far

The ultimate goal of ProHabits is to make living core values a habit that affects the bottom line.

ProHabits is benchmarking progressive company cultures across the world to understand the desire for personal and professional growth at work.

Will they enroll in their personal development?

50–86 percent Enrollment rates

72 percent Average
enrollment rate

7 out of 10
using ProHabits

Top participating organizations have seen ProHabits enrollment rates that range from 50 to 86 percent with an average enrollment rate of 72 percent. This indicates that within top-performing organizational cultures, 7 out of every 10 employees can be expected to enroll in their personal development through ProHabits.

What Type of Personal Growth Are They Interested In?

Users choose a ProTrack to train a specific set of habits that align to their organization’s values.

Seven ProTracks are being evaluated in this research: DemoProFocus, ProTeamwork, ProDuctivity, ProMindfulness, ProInnovation, ProEmpowerment, and ProFeedback.

Of the eight available ProTracks, ProFocus remains the most popular, with 702 total users.

Will they engage? How likely are individuals in top cultures to fulfill their commitment to personal growth?

To track engagement with personal growth, we assess the extent to which users completed activities that they committed to in the morning. Across all participating organizations, users completed 79.8 percent of activities that they committed to. Since the start of ProHabits, users have made over 25,000 commitments and have completed over 20,000 personal growth micro-activities.

79.87 percent Completion Rate

25,733 Total Commitments

20,554 Total Completions

How engagement differed across the ProTracks

In Their Own Words

In the five months since ProHabits launched, across 25 companies and 2,800 users, we have inspired 20,554 personal growth activities aligned with organizational values.

ProHabits is a good reminder to move more mindfully during our day and during our interactions with clients and team members.
I find that it’s brought about a lot of discussion amongst myself and my coworkers. Each morning we share what our activity for the day is, and it’s helpful to simply acknowledge that we may be stressed, or we are having a hard time focusing or being positive. Before ProHabits, we may not have been so open about how we were feeling stressed, but now with our daily activities, it’s brought attention to habits we may have not considered before.
It has been good [having] reminders to keep me from procrastinating, and provides ways to think about things differently. In general it has been very helpful. It is all about repetition and there’s never a dull day, so having something that is short and easy and [focuses on] things I should be doing anyways has been nice for me.
I really love this new initiative! And I love to share with you my personal experience on this :) The messages that I receive each morning are like a hand on my shoulder: ‘I’m taking care of you, listen to me and take a moment to think.’ And this is very important, even if it’s virtual, it [seems] to me ... very personal.
The program is great and I like the format. It really promotes self-improvement. It is really more in-depth than I expected but very practical.
I have actually enjoyed using this tool more than I thought I would. At first glance [at] the invitation, I thought it was going to … [be] ... just another tool to make companies feel like they care more about their employees. I have been happily surprised to say that it doesn’t feel this way at all. I think your success here is that the activities (at least for ProTeamwork) are crafted in the way they are. One activity a day never feels overbearing, the activities themselves are clear and simple, one can see the tangible benefits from working on these things easily, and the quotes provided alongside the activities are always fun and appealing!
I’ve been very happy with the experience. The feedback that I’ve heard from my team is that they really enjoy the activities. This program is aligned with our leader development and other continuing education stuff we have going on.
I think that what makes ProHabits successful are the techniques and strategies that may not be obvious. Things like dedicating periods of time every day to relaxing in order to do better work the rest of the day, or something like having a designated time for responding to emails or calls in order to really focus on what’s going on.
I’m very happy with the tips … there is something nice about regularly being encouraged to add them to your routine and make them part of your habits. It has been helpful to have the tips in the back of my mind during daily interactions and meetings. I’ve definitely felt more successful in providing helpful feedback as a by-product of deploying techniques that make the messaging more positive and direct, and I credit that to daily reminders and tips encouraging me to do so.
I have truly enjoyed this experience. I have found this extremely helpful professionally and personally. I’ve learned how to control my stress levels better. It has also helped my breathing techniques with running as well.
I enjoy the daily emails from ProHabits. The tasks are straightforward and easy to complete, so I make sure that I am clicking on the emails to read each topic daily. The topics are beneficial and if they change my mindset for the better then that is a positive outcome!
I feel that the ProHabits have helped me to get to know my co-workers more. I am fairly new to the company and this give me a good way to get to know co-workers and also make it easier to start up a conversation with them.
I love the concept. Simple. Direct. Effective.
I’m in the season of self-growth and discovery and this has been a really great tool to help me do that.

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