At Forrester, we have a team dedicated to preparing you for what most in the industry call the “future of work.” We gather in hours-long sessions to identify what really matters and plan research to help you get ready for all that’s coming. But if you were a fly on our walls, you would often hear us repeat this simple fact: “The future of work is now.”
Google is certainly feeling it. Last night, Google VP of People Operations Eileen Naughton announced that after four years as chief of HR, she would be stepping down later this year, taking another role in the organization.
Often when executives step down, it’s because they haven’t performed or because they are offered up as a sacrificial lamb for something that isn’t going well at the company (see Joe Hinrichs at Ford, for example). Our take on the end of Naughton’s tenure in the role is that neither is the case. We see four things that this abrupt resignation tells us about Google and about the future of your company. Buckle up, because you, too, will face these challenging facts:
- Old sins linger. The most obvious issue at play here is the lingering anger from the past claims of sexual misconduct, many of which were handled poorly at the time and which triggered a 2018 walkout of 20,000 employees in protest. By most accounts, Naughton worked tirelessly to address the concerns, creating mechanisms to make it easier to report and feel safe in reporting misconduct. But even as individual complainants were being accommodated, Naughton also restricted open venues, such as all-hands meetings where asking questions and expressing frustration were previously permitted. Forgiveness is harder to secure when the structures whereon trust is built seem to be evaporating.
- The head of HR is no longer just a liability manager. Remember when HR executives had the primary role of making sure that nobody could sue the company for poor hiring, management, or misconduct practices? Of course you do, because that’s how HR is handled in most of your organizations today. Google tried to get beyond this under Naughton’s tenure, but because you can’t completely take your eye off the employment lawsuit ball, you will always have this tension in HR generally and in the HR execs specifically. Managing this tension requires the most mental and emotional flexibility from the people in charge. That’s hard to sustain for any individual, no matter how well compensated.
- Every executive has to care about employee experience (EX). The upshot of HR having to care as much about the experience the employee has at work as about managing the details of payroll while also protecting the company from liability means that the burden of employee experience is now officially on the shoulders of every executive. Naughton’s resignation makes this figurative fact literal for Google, at least until a new executive can get on board and up to speed. Your company is next in line to feel this shock.
- Your employees want a life experience, not just an employee experience. The longer-term upshot of this? Build the best possible employee experience you can, and many of your employees still won’t be happy about it. Many of Google employees’ recent protest actions focus not on their conditions, treatment, or management but on the say they want to have about how Google’s business practices affect the way they feel when they are not at work. They want the company to provide tribal affiliation, many of them because they don’t have tribes anymore, others because they are in other tribes that criticize any number of Google’s practices and want to bring their tribal affiliations into alignment. This is as important as it is impossible. We didn’t say the future would be easy.
Get ready for this future with the help of our future-of-work team. Want to work on your EX? Talk to David Johnson about the enablers of engagement. Want to prepare your people to adaptively embrace the right automation in the right way? Talk to J. P. Gownder about the Robotics Quotient (RQ). Want to learn how to approach human capital management (HCM) from more than merely a functional, but a more strategic, approach? Mark Brandau is your contact. In the next three months, we’ll put out the reports that introduce you to the shocks that are coming your way, some of them in the distant future but many of them today, as Google’s example attests. Stay tuned.