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Inner Work® at work: 4 companies leading the way in unlocking the potential of their employees

February 9, 2022 - 16 min read


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It starts with listening to people

The role of managers has changed

Modeling behaviors transforms culture

Supporting the Whole Person™ is critical

Mental health has to be part of the conversation

There is strength in diversity

Work and life shouldn’t just balance, they should integrate

After months of analysis and speculation, we’re finally starting to understand The Great Resignation — and it’s not all that we thought it was.

While higher compensation, safety concerns, and the desire to work remotely are motivating some migration, it turns out they are not the primary drivers. The latest data reveal that toxic cultures and burnout are more often what is pushing America’s workforce to the breaking point. 

Today’s workforce is not just looking for a bigger paycheck and a more flexible schedule. They’re looking for fulfillment, purpose, and alignment with their values. Employees are seeking greater harmony between their work lives and their personal lives. They want the opportunity to grow and develop, personally and professionally. And they expect their employer to support their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. They don’t want to be cogs in a machine anymore.

For many organizations, this is untrodden ground. But a few leading companies have stepped up to show up in greater ways for their employees. They are investing in their people and supporting both personal and professional growth. At our first annual public Inner Work® Day, we had a chance to chat with HR leaders from four dynamic companies to see what today’s challenges have taught them and how Inner Work® is helping them build a foundation for the future

Chip Conley, New York Times bestselling author, former Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy at Airbnb, and founder of the Modern Elder Academy, moderated the conversation with leaders: Rebecca Josephson, WarnerMedia VP of People Growth & Leadership Development; Angela McKenna, Salesforce SVP of Global Talent Development; Aleshia McMath, Compass Group VP of DEI; and Ajla Elian, Hilton, Senior Director of Talent and Leadership Development.

Here are our 7 favorite insights from their conversation:

#1: It starts with listening to people

Listening is key to developing empathy and becoming a more effective leader. It builds trust, encourages new ideas and feedback from your team, motivates employees, and sets a good example, modeling a behavior needed across the organization. 

"We've started a courageous conversations series here. They’re used to talk about different topics around diversity, inclusion and equity, including race and gender inequalities and mental wellness topics that maybe in the past were uncomfortable or not easy to address in the workplace. Bringing those to light reminds our leaders and team members that vulnerability is strength, and for them to have the courage to open up that dialogue and conversation with their teams."

 Ajla Elian, Senior Director, Talent and Leadership Development at Hilton

“The pandemic greatly impacted the food service industry. The world was shut down. We couldn't socialize in person. There was no opportunity for us to share a meal. There was massive social unrest happening in the world. And so some of the most profound changes our company has made have centered around caring for and empowering our people and clients and the communities we support and serve. One change I'm most proud of is the way we intentionally listened, learned and cared for our people.” 

Aleshia McMath, VP, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Compass Group

#2: The role of managers has changed

Managers used to be responsible for what their employees did. Now they are responsible for how their employees are doing — how they feel. As we continue to deal with the fallout of COVID-19, front-line managers have borne most of the burden. They’ve stepped up to deal with business challenges like fractured supply chains and staff shortages and have also served as coaches and therapists, helping their direct reports work through increased levels of stress, anxiety, and pandemic fatigue.

“There’s been an irreversible shift in managers and the way that we as people are now responsible for what happens in our associate's lives — making sure that they have that opportunity to really focus on themselves, to ensure that they are able to bring their best self, whole self, and authentic self to work.”

Aleshia McMath, VP, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Compass Group

“The role of a manager has changed so significantly over the years. It’s been accelerated by the stress of the pandemic, increasing political and social unrest, and just this general moment in time where employees have had that moment to really reevaluate their priorities and values and what they expect to get from their manager and from their employer.”

Rebecca Josephson, VP, People Growth & Leadership Development at WarnerMedia

#3: Modeling behaviors transforms culture

Leaders who lead by example earn the trust of their employees, boost team morale, shape a trustworthy culture, and improve overall productivity. They set the bar high for themselves as well as their peers and inspire employees to grow and reach for their best performance. The result is longer-lasting and more authentic change.

“It isn't about meditating necessarily or doing yoga. It is about pausing and taking the time to reflect on what's going on for me right now. How am I showing up for myself? How am I showing up for my family? How am I showing up at work? I don't think as an organization we've necessarily encouraged or role modeled in the past. And I think it is going to be a huge part of the future, how we come out of this period and then what work is gonna look like in the future. If you're not seeing it role-modeled, it's very difficult to operate in a system where you feel like you're the only one.”

Angela McKenna - SVP Talent at Salesforce 

“One-on-one coaching is creating that dedicated space and time during the work hours to be able to have focused conversations that are centered around improving one's self and looking inward — to be able to pause to think about what's giving you joy both personally and professionally.

What we're seeing is that managers who take advantage of the coaching program are starting to adopt that coaching mindset. They in turn have conversations with members of their team and role model for their team. It's a different approach that can really shift mindsets, but most importantly, demonstrate that doing inner work is just as important as what you do in your day to day business.”

Rebecca Josephson, VP, People Growth & Leadership Development at WarnerMedia


#4: Supporting the Whole Person™ is critical

Our job performance is intrinsically woven with other parts of our lives. When we bring our whole selves to work, research shows we’re more creative and productive. Understanding the relationship between our work and personal lives can help leaders empower their teams to show up as complete, authentic individuals. This leads to higher levels of belonging, resilience, and productivity. 

“We're leaning in with our frontline Team Members — helping them from a socioeconomic advancement standpoint and helping them to grow within their personal lives and their careers.”

Ajla Elian, Senior Director, Talent and Leadership Development at Hilton

“The pandemic taught us that we need to listen more. We needed to ensure that our managers were really making sure they understood where their employees were really taking time out of their day. Not to only ask questions, but really ensure that that associate knew that we cared about them — that they were a part of the Compass Group family.”

Aleshia McMath, VP, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Compass Group

“As leaders, we need to be in tune with the whole employee and anticipate and react to needs and encourage employees to look inward and focus on personal and professional development to deliver those optimal results. If folks can come to work and bring their whole selves to work, they're going to be able to do their best work. This is something that we will continue to prioritize and support our talent.”

Rebecca Josephson, VP, People Growth & Leadership Development at WarnerMedia

#5: Mental health has to be part of the conversation

Nearly one in five adults in the US has a mental illness or mental health condition. But even though these issues are widespread, people still feel uncomfortable talking about their mental health with others, even their own families.

Breaking down the stigma around mental health is critical to promoting preventative treatments and mental fitness. By opening up discussions around mental health, organizations and individuals can take proactive measures to support it, in and outside of the workplace.

“We want to be super conscious of the potential for burnout of our employees. For us, that meant taking an approach where we're fostering balance and well-being and encouraging them to take space for innovation and creativity. It's core to our brand.

In addition to standard wellness and employee assistance programs, we looked at our underlying processes and how we operated to introduce wellness into performance conversations. This equips leaders and employees to be able to have conversations effectively about their balance and their emotional well-being in a way that feels psychologically safe to do so.”

Rebecca Josephson - VP, People Growth & Leadership Development at WarnerMedia 

“The COVID health crisis evolved to really more of a mental wellbeing and caregiving crisis. We saw a need to empower our leaders and team members to talk about mental health and wellbeing. So we launched a campaign around the world about mental wellness along with a hub full of resources to support our team members and leaders to talk about different mental wellness topics…  What we found in surveying our team members is that 80% say they’re more comfortable talking about mental wellness with theirmanagers, which was 10% higher than just a few months before.”

Ajla Elian, Senior Director, Talent and Leadership Development at Hilton


#6: There is strength in diversity

The data is clear: groups that are diverse in gender, race, and age perform better, make better decisions, and earn more revenue. Having a multitude of perspectives within an organization actually makes us more creative. It’s no wonder that diverse organizations see massive team innovation, performance, and growth.

“Last year we shared our representation goals and our commitment to reach global gender parity and 25% ethnic diversity at all corporate and leadership levels by 2027... Diversity and inclusion is very much part of our DNA — building an inclusive workplace for all… We focus on it as a company in three ways: our culture, our talent and our marketplace. Our culture is how we lead behavior change and really ensure diversity across all aspects of our business. Our talent by looking at inclusive practices at every part of the talent life cycle, from recruitment and hiring to development and the retention of our talent. And our marketplace creates a more inclusive society and communities through external partnerships… even looking at supplier diversity and who we partner with to support our hotels.”

Ajla Elian, Senior Director, Talent and Leadership Development at Hilton

#7: Work and life should integrate

The pandemic changed, perhaps permanently, the way we work. Overnight, dens and bedrooms became offices and kitchens became conference rooms. And it doesn’t look to be changing any time soon. With the line between work and personal life blurrier than ever, “balance” may no longer be the way to think about our time and energy. As Chip Conley pointed out, “integrating” has at its root, the word “integrity” — when we are integrating our values, passions, and work, we feel like our truest selves. 

“Our work lives and personal lives are together now. I remember  hearing a quote that the work of the past was physical work. The work of the present is the head, we value intellect. We value what school you went to, how clever you are. But the work of the future is the work of the heart… valuing as much emotional capacity, emotional literacy, as we do task oriented work. Integrating those together is really where I believe the future of inner work lies.”

Angela McKenna,  SVP Talent at Salesforce 

“What the pandemic has taught us more than anything is the need to focus on the best love and care of all, which is self-love. Self care is literally the most critical thing you can do for yourself as employers and employees. We're all trying to figure out what this future looks like, the way for us to be in this world together. That intersection of work/life balance no longer exists. It just is.” 

Aleshia McMath, VP, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Compass Group

While it’s true that the future is more complex and uncertain than ever before, organizations can set themselves and their employees up for success by investing in and adopting practices that support growth and mental fitness. Companies that make Inner Work® a part of their culture see reduced burnout, lower attrition rates, increased productivity, and improved decision making.

Like most things, leaders set the tone. Unless this inward reflection is a priority and practiced by those at the top, companies aren’t able to reap the full benefits of it. We applaud organizations like Hilton, Compass Group, WarnerMedia, and Salesforce that are leading by example and building a better future for their people.

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Published February 9, 2022

Danny Codella

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.

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