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How to build a healthy organization with Josh Bersin and Rajiv Chandran
As we move forward in our “post” pandemic world, we're seeing just how much the past two years have wreaked havoc on our well-being.
People are wrestling with lingering feelings of uncertainty, fatigue, and frustration. And companies are beginning to notice how the mental and emotional health of their employees directly affects organizational performance. For innovative talent leaders, employee well-being is no longer just about perks and benefits — it’s become a critical part of overall strategy.
We had a chance to sit down with Josh Bersin, global talent industry analyst and BetterUp Science Board Member, and Accenture’s Chief Learning Officer Rajiv Chandran, to discuss how organizations can both support their employees’ well-being now and prepare them for an uncertain future.
We learned that top-performing companies go beyond learning & development and well-being programs. They take a holistic approach focused on both individual and organizational thriving. These “healthy organizations” not only achieve operational excellence, but are able to leapfrog their competition across multiple dimensions including innovation, productivity, marketshare, and talent retention.
Breaking down the anatomy of the Healthy Organization
Josh and his team conducted a year-long research effort to identify the practices and cultures of top performing organizations, giving special focus to those that were able to thrive through the pandemic. The data they collected enabled them to construct a 4 level maturity model of what they call the “Healthy Organization.” It breaks down as follows:
Level 1: Safety.
At the most basic level, employees need to be able to work in a safe environment. Vehicles must be well maintained, protective clothing and equipment must be provided, hazardous chemicals must be properly stored, etc. If a workplace cannot guarantee a minimum level of safety, it cannot function properly and employees can’t perform their responsibilities satisfactorily.
Level 2: Employee well-being.
Once safety can be assured, organizations can start to focus on the well-being and comfort of their employees. Investments here can include setting mandatory breaks, providing comfortable clothing and equipment, establishing recreational activities and employee break areas
Level 3: Healthy work.
At this stage of operation, organizations have the processes and procedures in place to ensure they can operate safely and without interruption. This is where a measure of flexibility can be introduced to ensure the employees can manage their tasks in the most optimal way and that the work is safe, comfortable, and satisfying. Some areas of focus during this stage could include setting more comfortable expectations so employees don’t feel stressed and overwhelmed with their workload and allowing for flexible schedules.
Level 4: Healthy organization.
At this level, organizations are functioning optimally and have implemented programs and practices that support both individual and organizational growth. Immediate survival is no longer the only pressing concern. The organization has the bandwidth to develop individual growth plans for their employees and empowers them to help shape its future, leading to a sense of shared purpose, ownership, and accountability. A high level of psychological safety is a hallmark of organizations at this stage. Employees understand how they can advance in the organization, feel connected to the mission, and step in to help others even if it means taking on responsibilities that are outside of their job description.
Josh summarized the importance of this evolution this way:
“If you want people to be creative and innovative and really solve difficult problems, you've got to get them out of this feeling of survival every day. And that's why being healthy as an organization is really a very strategic initiative for the CEO — not just for the Head of HR.”
Level 4 organizations on the Healthy Organization scale prioritize and invest in the individual physical, mental, and emotional well-being of their workforce. The return on this investment is reflected in the business outcomes they are able to achieve.
Healthy organizations are:
- 2.2x more likely to exceed financial targets
- 2.7x more likely to delight customers
- 1.9x more likely to innovate more effectively
- 2.8x more likely to adapt to change
- 3.2x more likely to engage and retain workers
- 5.4x more likely to be able to recruit new talent
Elaborating on how this focus on individual well-being is manifested, Josh had this to say:
“There’s trust, transparency, a sense of belonging, a sense of growth, people feeling that they're appreciated and I don't mean with money, I mean human appreciation — saying 'Thank you' to people. It’s giving people forgiveness when they make mistakes and giving them opportunities to do new things.”
Designing a workplace that promotes continuous learning
For an organization to reach Level 4 maturity, learning must be an intrinsic part of its culture. Accenture has always prioritized learning, investing nearly $1 billion each year on continuous learning and professional development. Rajiv described how the pandemic underscored the need to expand how the organization approaches learning and how this is reflected in their learning strategy, “Work to Learn. Learn to Work.”
"The world is complex and changing. The shelf life of skills is shortening. So in that world, how do you continue to scale people and grow leaders?
At Accenture, our strategy is that essentially you work to learn and you learn to work. One of the core purposes of working at Accenture is to be able to learn from that work itself, which by definition is more aligned with individual aspirations and more connected with a sense of purpose.
And then on the flip side, which is learning to work, in some ways, we are all learning or relearning how to work as work gets reshaped.”
Creating an environment of continuous learning in the workplace is key to expanding capabilities, fostering innovation, and delivering exceptional experiences for customers. The connection between individual learning and the quality with which an organization operates was summarized by Josh this way:
"If you can create a learning experience at work, not only are people going to feel better about their jobs, they're going to do better work for clients and they're going to feel better about themselves.”
“Designing” the workplace to not only enable employees to accomplish a series of tasks, but one that stimulates their imaginations, promotes learning, and fosters innovation may be a new concept for some people. It requires honest reflection from company leaders, huge amounts of empathy, and a willingness to take risks.
“It’s asking the fundamental questions of 'Who do you want to be as an organization? What should be the felt experience for people who spend time in this organization? What do you want them to feel at the end of their days? What do you want them to talk about with their families and their kids when they talk about working at a particular place?' I think these are different questions than we have asked of organizations and leaders before…”
When organizations are willing to invest in their people and support continuous learning, individual transformation is the result, and this is the secret sauce that can fast track the evolution to becoming a Healthy Organization.
“Those kinds of psychological transformations are what helps companies evolve. When you tell people 'Hey we're going to get into this new business, you either learn how to do it or you're out of here' – it’s not a good strategy. That used to work fine, but it doesn't now.
So I think the biggest theme of the companies that are outperforming are that they are really supporting people as they go through individual transformations to learn new skills.”
How coaching promotes learning, individual transformation, and the Healthy Organization
With between 30,000 - 40,000 BetterUp coaching sessions conducted across Accenture, they’ve seen firsthand how professional coaching has helped them become a Healthy Organization.
“We know people grow best when they are learning things that truly matter to them. And what better channel than coaching… it's integral to our leadership development strategy at all levels, and we continue to experiment with different approaches.”
One of the reasons why coaching is such an effective tool for organizations focused on becoming Healthy Organizations is that it is both highly tailored to individuals yet scalable across your entire workforce.
“What coaching does is it turns learning into behavioral improvement. A good coach will meet you where you are and help you learn but can also help you with the behaviors that will help you in your job that may or may not be the things that you were deliberately beginning to learn…. I couldn't be more of a supporter of BetterUp and coaching in general.
In this day and age, where everybody's issues are a little bit different because of the stresses you might have in your life, a coaching strategy is really essential to learning and well-being.”
As we enter a period of economic uncertainty and volatility, organizations are taking a number of actions to strengthen their financial health. But it’s critical that they prioritize the mental, emotional, and physical health of their employees as well. Under-investing in this area can seriously impact organizational performance and competitive capability.
By designing workplaces in a way that promotes continuous learning and supporting employees with programs like professional coaching, companies put themselves in the best position to not only survive today’s challenges but attain higher levels of individual and organizational performance.
Danny is a writer, marketer, and keynote speaker with a deep interest in data and human nature. His writing on organizational psychology and cognitive biases is included in the curriculum of several of the world's most prestigious educational institutions including Stanford University and Mount Royal University in Canada. Danny is also a regular contributor to Content Magazine, one of Silicon Valley’s top creative magazines. When he's not sharing insights about data and psychology, Danny enjoys traveling, reading, and expanding his vinyl record collection.