What makes a winning workplace: 11 leadership experts reveal simple strategies for success
Interviews / Opinions

What makes a winning workplace: 11 leadership experts reveal simple strategies for success

, Content Writer

The workplace today is constantly changing. From where people work to what they do, the world (and the tech) around us is reshaping skill sets. It’s reevaluating geographical boundaries. It’s nurturing a more diverse workforce. And it’s redefining workflows.

These shifts can make the workplace a better place. But they can also make it a more challenging place.

So, how can organizations unlock the formula to a standout workplace?

In season 1 of our Keep It Simple podcast, we talked with 11 business and leadership experts. Each offered simple but strong solutions to very specific workplace challenges.

In this blog post, we bring all 11 strategies together in one clear, comprehensive guide.

But first, let’s paint a picture of the modern workplace.

The modern workplace in numbers

So, we’ve got a picture of the most common workplace challenges. But how do those challenges translate for employees, leaders, and other business experts? Let’s dive into the world of work as it stands today, guided by some standout stats.

  • 67% of employees need training on new AI tools: The AI era has arrived, but we’re on catch-up. As new tools emerge, 65% of HR managers believe digital, interpersonal, and cognitive skills will drive success. The problem is employees get less training than anticipated on AI. No surprise then that 85% of HR managers want to invest in training employees on AI.
  • 45% of Gen Z employees prefer a hybrid work model: What workers want is changing. And Gen Z is calling the shots. As they enter the workforce, Gen Zers are setting the standard for all generations. Their priorities? Flexibility as to when and where they work, balanced by opportunities for in-person contact (70%). And targeted training. Specifically in soft skills (48%), leadership/managerial (49%), and mental health (47%).
  • 46% of tech employees are burnt out due to a toxic work environment: Mental health and wellbeing are top priorities in the modern workplace. But a toxic culture is getting in the way. The solution? Fight back with fairness, say 44% of respondents. And back this up with an inclusive atmosphere and respect for all.

How do you win over the modern workplace? Industry experts share their key tactics

That’s the backdrop. Here are the key strategies for success according to our ‘Keep It Simple’ panel of 11 business and leadership experts. These cover everything from workflow and innovation and training and development to technology and tools, values, and mindset.

What makes a winning workplace: 11 leadership experts reveal simple strategies for success

Technology and tools

New tech and tools are non-negotiable when it comes to a future-ready, winning workplace that is set to succeed. Let’s explore what experts claim organizations should keep in mind:

Get ready for the AI future

Beyond ChatGPT, the horizon of AI-led digital transformation is vast and filled with potential. And it’s upending workplaces. In short, preparing for the AI future is crucial for a winning workplace. But how?

Ronald Ashri is a technologist, entrepreneur, and author. He also has a PhD in Artificial Intelligence from Southampton University. Here, he reveals what organizations should consider when adopting new AI tools.

  • Training in AI is essential for everyone. There are many myths and misconceptions about AI and the workplace (particularly regarding humanization). Provide transparency, clarity, and correction by training all employees on AI. Include what it is (a complex tool without consciousness). What it’s capable (and not capable) of. And how to use it responsibly for day-to-day tasks.
  • AI can be used to design and deliver training too. Generative tech has the potential to revolutionize training itself. Use it to automate content creation and provide virtual assistance.
  • Some human skills are irreplaceable. When AI is integrated into jobs, it’s easy to forget what it can’t do. Highlight the importance of human skills, for example, emotional intelligence and creativity. Provide training around these soft skills. And show how this can open up opportunities for more meaningful interactions and new career paths.

“Preparing for the AI-powered Workplace” – listen to the full podcast

Promote tech wellness

The continuous presence of smart devices opens the door to intelligence and productivity. But it also raises the question: Should workplaces play a pivotal role in guiding employees to use tech more intentionally?

Amy Blankson, co-founder and CEO of the Digital Wellness Institute, shares three simple strategies employers can use to make tech habits more deliberate and mindful.

Small, value-aligned changes in app usage lead to more mindful tech interactions in a winning workplace.

  • The main frustration with tech is how much it’s used. Not the devices themselves. Spending too much time on tech has negative consequences. But digital wellness is driven by personal responsibility. Support employees to adopt healthier digital habits. And set boundaries to counteract the constant pull of tech and advertising.
  • The way leaders use tech at work has consequences for employee wellbeing. Practices like late-night emails encourage overwork and burnout. Show managers how to use tech to promote the importance of downtime. And set a positive example of work-life balance to their teams.
  • Digital wellness improves when employers show a formal commitment. Official training strategies and formal policies around the healthy use of tech in the workplace elevate its importance. Create communication charters to align teams on how best to use different technologies. And provide targeted training around key areas.

“Reclaiming Control of Our Digital Lives” – listen to the full podcast

Training and development

Which are the employee training and development best practices you need to consider for a winning workplace? Here’s what experts say:

Develop power skills to future-proof teams

The modern workplace is continually evolving. And the skills it demands from individuals and teams are changing, too. But how can you prepare for roles that haven’t been created yet?

Dr. Michelle R. Weise served on Harvard University’s Task Force on Skills and Employability. She was also named by Thinkers50 as one of 30 management and leadership thinkers in the world to watch. Here are her three strategies central to successful upskilling:

  • Human-oriented skills plus specialized knowledge equal success. To excel in an (as yet) unknown future workspace, professionals must cultivate three essential and universal power skills. These are self-awareness, empathy, and communication. But these aren’t enough on their own. Take steps to ensure employees combine broad soft skills with deep technical expertise.
  • Work environments are learning spaces, too. Continuous learning underpins success in the modern workplace. It upskills employees. And it shows commitment to professional development. Make learning part of your culture. Allow paid learning time. And integrate skill development into the day-to-day.
  • Hidden skills represent “talent gold”. Existing employees are a rich resource of knowledge, competencies, and experiences. Encourage leaders to seek out individuals with essential, untapped skills. Particularly those obtained through informal experiences that people may need help articulating.

“The Power Skills to Future-proof Your Teams” – listen to the full podcast

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Support “squiggly line” careers

The modern workplace is dynamic, development-focused, and rich in diversity. And it’s prompting a shift away from traditional, structured career paths.

Rusty Rueff is a well-known technology executive, startup advisor, and thought leader. He also boasts experience under Obama at Pepsi-Co and as Glassdoor Board Director. He sheds light on what companies gain from letting employees grow in a non-linear direction.

  • Sometimes, the least qualified candidate is actually the most qualified candidate. Using formal credentials and/or job titles to shortlist isn’t the best way to narrow your talent pool. It won’t always get you the right person for the job. And it won’t grow diversity. To achieve both, match skills and experience to relevant roles instead.
  • Great managers act as work architects. Give managers the time and training they need to focus on internal mobility. And encourage them to use strategy and insights to match existing employees’ skills to new roles, projects, and campaigns.
  • AI can streamline tasks but can’t grasp the context. When it comes to recruitment, understanding the potential of new hires beyond their resume is key. Deploy AI to tackle the early admin. But don’t use it to replicate nuanced areas of hiring, for example human judgment and interaction.

“Navigating Non-linear Career Paths” – listen to the full podcast

Target the talent of tomorrow, today

Gen Z is shaping the winning workplace of the future. And its wishlist sets the benchmark for the universal employee’s wants and needs.

Mark Perna is a Forbes contributor and generational expert. To prepare for the talent of tomorrow, follow these tactics:

  • Work and lifestyle are two sides of the same coin. Work-life balance is an equal partner to career progression for Gen Z. To attract and retain future talent align the two. Integrate this perspective into organizational systems, processes, and during onboarding. The result? Reduced turnover and increased employee engagement.
  • Mission and vision can’t be just words on the wall. Gen Z values contributions that align with a greater good beyond mere profit. Emphasize roles that contribute to broader societal goals. Demonstrate authenticity of intent. And display an active commitment to meaningful causes.
  • Human connection, flexibility, and respect upfront are workplace must-haves. Setting the tone for workplace dynamics, Gen Z has a clear set of immovable demands. Winning workplaces of the future will need to echo these to keep their employees happy plus attract new ones.

“Unlocking Gen Z’s Full Potential in the Workplace” – listen to the full podcast

Use interactivity to elevate learning

The modern workplace (whether in the office or offsite) is full of distractions. Which means training often has to compete for attention. Immersive, action-based programs keep learners engaged.

Karl Kapp is a professor at Bloomsburg University, a gamification and instructional design expert, and a TEDx speaker. His takeaways for creating effective, meaningful, and interactive content include:

  • Adult learners absorb more when they’re aware they don’t know something. Demand attention from the get-go by creating a meaningful and relevant “learning moment” before training starts.
  • Hands-on activities boost attention and knowledge retention. Use an action-based approach to turn passive recipients of information into active participants. And incorporate stories, rather than lists, to reinforce learning (particularly for soft skills).
  • Making mistakes is part of the training process. Create a safe space where learners can try and fail without real-world consequences. If that includes gamification, focus on meaningful engagement over simple rewards.

“Power Up Training with Interactive Content Design” – listen to the full podcast

Values and mindset

What’s a winning workplace without the right values and mindset strategies? Let’s explore what the experts suggest:

Actively challenge day-to-day biases

The most progressive, productive, and powerful workplaces celebrate and support diversity. And ensure equal opportunities for all.

But what does it mean for an organization to be truly inclusive? And how can you confront biases and become an active ally without causing conflict? Dr Poornima Luthra is an Associate Professor at CBS and a renowned author and expert in the field of DE&I. Here are her three guiding principles.

  • Awareness alone won’t tackle bias in the workplace. Without actionable solutions or practical tools, employees can’t tackle unconscious bias. Equip people with effective strategies to block and address bias in real-world situations.
  • A “cookie cutter” approach to recruitment damages diversity. Under pressure, employers often hire for familiarity and comfort. Prioritizing “culture fit” over “culture add”. To banish hiring bias, actively take time to consider the skills, experiences, and perspectives missing in a team. And use this to guide your talent acquisition strategy.
  • Anyone with a sphere of influence can positively impact inclusivity. Communication is a simple yet powerful way for everyone in an organization to combat bias. Share the message that all employees, not just leaders, can make a difference through inclusive communication and actions.

“Empathy and Inclusivity in the Workplace” – listen to the full podcast

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Create a meaningful culture

Company culture goes beyond surface-level perks, like pizza Fridays. It’s deeply rooted in lived values and everyday interactions. But how do you nurture a culture that’s powered by authenticity and intention in a winning workplace?

Dr. André Martin is an organizational psychologist and talent exec with experience at Disney, Nike, and Google. He advocates a few simple guidelines to achieve this.

  • Culture is bigger than brand and benefits. Employees must align with the way their company operates to really feel part of the same culture. That means being emotionally invested in it at grassroots level. For example, through teamwork and collaboration.
  • Leaders must be honest and authentic about culture when hiring. There’s often a disconnect between how leaders view the work culture and how employees experience it. And this starts early on, during the recruitment process. To avoid this, hiring managers need to clearly communicate the real experience of working in their company.
  • Growth can challenge a company’s culture. For example, through the creation of more dispersed teams. Or the introduction of hybrid working. Preserve your cultural uniqueness by actively reinforcing values and behaviors. And by fostering personal connections, unrelated to work.

“Defining and Decoding Company Culture” – listen to the full podcast

Defy distance

The future of workplace culture is moving beyond physical offices. And organizations that embrace and empower this shift will lead the way. But how do you bridge the distance in remote/hybrid work environments?

Darren Murph is a recognized visionary in organizational design. He’s partnered with global brands, including Dolby, Vistaprint, Dropbox, Mozilla, and Samsung. And has been featured on CNBC, CNN, The Washington Post, TechCrunch, Business Insider, and more.

Known as the “Oracle of remote work,” here’s his advice for anyone managing distributed teams:

  • Intentionality drives remote teams to succeed. Plan offsites and create touchpoints that bring people together with purpose. Formalize these with a defined dedicated in-person strategy. And allocate a budget. The ROI? Better innovation, synergy, and a thriving culture.
  • Management style influences the effectiveness of distributed work. Train leaders to empower teams, not micromanage them. And give them the skills to promote remote collaboration. And the mindset to encourage creativity.
  • Feeling safe and being understood matter more than co-location. Prioritize psychological safety in human-centric work models. And help employees master the art of low-context communication. Do that, and higher levels of job satisfaction, mental health, creativity, and productivity will follow.

”Defying Distance with Distributed Teams” – listen to the full podcast

Workflow and innovation

To achieve a seamless workflow and innovative solutions in the workplace, here’s what you should consider, say the experts:

Scale up by staying agile

Autonomous squads and agile principles can transform teams and help businesses grow. They create a lively workplace where creativity and efficiency flourish. Meaning businesses can scale up and adapt in the fast-evolving market.

Henrik Kniberg is a coder-turned-consultant who’s coached teams at Minecraft, Lego, and Spotify. He helps companies succeed with both the technical and human sides of product development using agile and lean principles.

Here are his tips for unleashing the potential of teams and supporting businesses to grow:

  • Small, cross-functional teams deliver success. Communication, roles, and processes are more complex and clunky with bigger teams. Create a framework of small, versatile teams. Empower them to make decisions. And emphasize the importance of collaboration in navigating challenges and achieving success. The result? Speed, flexibility, and innovation.
  • Squads and scrums put customers first. But design your own approach. Agile methods focus on adapting quickly and improving constantly. By applying them, you can make teams more responsive to changes and opportunities. And ensure you’re always prioritizing the end user. Remember, though, that every organizational model is different. So embrace agility, but set your own playbook.
  • Leaders should set the vision. Not simply handing out tasks. Teams thrive when they feel capable and trusted. Give leaders the courage to take a (considered) leap of faith in their people. And the confidence to let them reach success on their own.

“Squads, Scrums and Spotify” – listen to the full podcast

Use design thinking (when it makes sense)

Design thinking is crucial for sparking innovative ideas in a winning workplace. And for producing creative, end user-focused solutions. But it’s not the right approach for all workplace challenges.

Karen Hold is the founder and CEO of innovation strategy consulting firm Experience Lab. Her tips for how, when, and when not to use design thinking center around the following:

  • The right questions determine the right solutions. Start your design thinking process by asking the following: What is the current status quo? What could we create if anything were possible? What wows? What works?
  • Mindset determines what is possible. Design thinking encourages individuals to focus on opportunities rather than challenges. It also requires an empathetic approach. Use this to grow a culture of possibility and understanding across your organization. And take time to understand (and leverage) different innovation personas within teams.
  • Design thinking isn’t always the solution. If there’s a known problem with a known solution, design thinking won’t work. Apply it, instead, when there are complex situations without clear solutions. And don’t be scared to take a risk. Use experimentation and prototyping to mitigate large-scale failures.

“Design Thinking in the Workplace” – listen to the full podcast

More winning ways to come in season 2 of ‘Keep it Simple’

The modern workplace can be a complex and potentially ferocious beast. In season 1 of our ‘Keep It Simple’ podcast, we uncovered simple but meaningful ways to tame it. And then go on to make it thrive and succeed.

In the next season of our podcast, we’ll dig deeper into the challenges of creating a winning workplace. We’ll speak with more experts. And share more fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. Watch this space!

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Elena Koumparaki - Content Writer

Elena blends real-world data and storytelling for impactful L&D and HR content. Always on trend, her engaging work addresses today's needs. More by Elena!

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