The Slovenia Times

The future is bright.



Mrs Fajmut, let's begin by going back in time. How did people work and live 30 years ago, before the fourth Industrial Revolution?

In the early 1990s we thought we had everything figured out. People worked from 8am to 4pm and then turned off their computers and went home to relax. The only news we heard was on TV and the radio, and Information flow was relatively under control. The purpose of going to work was to earn money and feed the family. It was great if you had good colleagues at work, but the boss was stereotypically someone who gave you orders and you silently hated him/her. If you were lucky, you worked in a job you liked, if not no-one really cared. Your personal development? That was science fiction and seemingly had nothing to do with business.

But that's still the reality in many companies...

Unfortunately yes. The difference between now and then is that today we live in a hyper-connected world, thanks to the internet. This means that if you are unhappy at work, you can immediately post it on social media. This impacts the company's public image and business results. Thanks to Facebook and Instagram, we are constantly surrounded with images of happiness at home and at work. No-one wants to work for a company where there is bad climate. One negative event, published on social media, can have a huge impact on company's effort to attract and retain the best people. So, now, it's finally the time when companies are starting to turn inwards and really (not just on paper) deal with employee well-being, quality of people management and building a positive company culture.

We hear a lot about organisational culture and its impact on employee satisfaction and business results. What is it and how can companies change it?

Organisational culture is different from company to company. It is defined by the typical way people behave in an organisation. It can also be described by "how things are done around here". Are people nice and friendly in your company or do you hear yelling and constant criticism? Does everything take time or do things get done quickly? Are people whispering behind your back or you can freely speak your mind, even to the top management? That's culture! It can be your biggest asset or your biggest problem. Nevertheless, it is created top-down by the way management behaves and treats people. So when you want to change organisational culture, you know where to start.

Besides culture, what are the biggest challenges that leaders now face? 

The business environment has become incredibly challenging. Due to living in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) world, business strategies need to constantly adapt to the market situation, and they need to adapt fast. In reality, this means that people need to change. But we know that changing a person is one of most difficult things in the world. People like stability and don't like to change their habits. We don't even like to take a different route to work, so how can we adapt to a different mindset overnight and do our work differently than yesterday?

True. If companies and their employees don't adapt to the market situation they are soon out of the show. How can HR professionals help to create a work environment where people give their best and companies win the marketplace? 

We need to realise that workplaces are becoming an ecosystem. People want to work for a purpose, not just for money, and they want to have fun. This goes especially for Millenials and Gen Z which will soon represent 50% of our workforce. These generations want flexibility, recognition, personal growth and an answer to the question "why". And they want everything fast. Old-school bosses who give orders, do not care about people's motivation and expect loyal workers in return, have huge problems managing the youngsters.

The only way that organisations can build market-oriented ecosystems is by liberating employees to give their best (which is directly connected to quality of leadership). This is the reinvention of the majority of traditional HR practices, but those who will not adapt will simply lag behind and lose the battle for talent.

What exactly do you mean by "liberating employees"?

Keep it simple, bring it back to the people. For knowledge workers, this means flexible work time, working from home, but most importantly exploiting and developing what they do best. This is the only way to reach the maximum level of productivity. However, you need highly competent and servant leaders to manage such a workforce.

On the other hand, blue-collar jobs are less flexible in terms of work time and location. But while manual work is being rapidly replaced by robots (making simple tasks and jobs disappear), new and complex jobs are being created daily. So, I would say that the fear of losing thousands or even millions of jobs is unnecessary. Only boring jobs will disappear. In my opinion, the future is bright!

What competencies will we need in the future?

The main challenge today is to develop our competencies in order to handle complex jobs. We need to invest into our critical thinking, social and emotional intelligence, as well as people management skills, since everything else will be replaced by AI. The Slovenian school and social systems are unfortunately lagging well behind in support this much-needed skills development. A good example is the Finnish school system where children are taught by topic, not by subject allowing them to analyse events from different perspectives and develop complex, critical thinking skills from early childhood.

Research shows that technology is increasing with unprecedented speed, but human productivity is only slowly growing. Interestingly, we have so many productivity tools, apps etc., but the amount of work done is basically the same as 30 years ago. How do you interpret this paradox?

Easy. How many times per day do you look at your mobile phone? Research shows that we check our phones over 50 times per day or every eight minutes. How much deep work can you do in eight minutes? Not much. We are constantly bombarded with mails, messages, social media notifications, news. Yes, the speed of communication has increased dramatically, but on the other hand our ability to do deep, focused and value-added work is decreasing. It is easier to be in "reply-mode", which is cognitively non-demanding and does not require high concentration. To gain a competitive advantage we need to find what makes our employees disconnect from devices and keep them in the "flow" (i.e. in a feeling of energised focus, full involvement and enjoyment at work). That's how we will boost our people's productivity, not by forcing some archaical performance management procedures.

Last but not least, how is your work and life style changing?

Personally, I do not work from 8 to 16h. Sometimes I work less, sometimes more. I work whenever I am most productive; it can be at 4am or 10pm. I allocate my time and energy very carefully. My usual work day is very busy with meetings and so I decided to keep one day per week meeting-free. It is when I do deep, meaningful work. This is crucial to keep myself out of daily, urgent tasks and to do important, strategic work.

As a counterbalance to my busy worklife I spend my free time with my family and friends, reading books, enjoying music and doing sport. I especially like rock-climbing in the mountains. This is where I recharge my batteries, sharpen my focus to the maximum and get the best ideas. But most importantly, there is no signal (she laughs).


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