The radical transformation of a modern workplace
Steve Cadigan, First CHRO of LinkedIn and Future of Work Expert, illustrates how the workplace has irrevocably changed and how to navigate this new world successfully.
By ATB Financial 7 July 2023 5 min read
What do a car crash, Netflix, fried chicken and the airline industry have in common? They illustrate how the modern workplace has radically and irrevocably changed, according to Steve Cadigan, First CHRO of LinkedIn and Future of Work Expert.
We’re in a black swan moment that’s rendered the world of work “impossibly complex,” Cadigan observed. “We all know it’s all about change, but when it all hits at one time, it’s really hard.” There’s no benchmark anymore. Everybody is carving a new path.
However, rather than thinking of it as a scary challenge, Cadigan encouraged guests at ATB’s 2023 Business Summit to consider it an opportunity to build something more inspiring, and to recognize that “maybe the way it was wasn’t all great.”
In 2013, Cadigan’s six-year-old twins were injured in a car crash. His son Spencer was pinned against a concrete wall for 15 minutes. They weren’t sure if he would survive. After hours of surgery, the surgeon emerged to tell the family it looked like a grenade had gone off inside the boy. Because Spencer had been pinned for so long, his organs had forgotten how to go back into position.
It’s the same with today’s workplace.
Since the pandemic, the “biology of work” has dramatically changed. People are quitting, employers are struggling to find and retain employees, students are approaching education differently and graduating with an entirely different worldview than five years ago. How can we expect to go back to how things were?
There’s the problem. “The world of work is using old maps to try to navigate new territory,” Cadigan said. Look at employee tenure. In 2014, the average was 4.7 years. In 2023, it’s 4.2 years. Generationally, the disparity is more pronounced: 50- to 65-year-olds stay an average of 10 years, but 25- to 35-year-olds just 2.8 years. Cadigan believes that trend isn’t likely to change, yet the current architecture for work was built for a slower pace.
We need a new model. “We’ve all inherited a world of business built for stability. But the world’s not stable and probably won’t be to the degree we’re used to anytime soon,” he said. “So we need to build for instability, and that feels uncomfortable.”
It’s Friday night and you want to watch a movie on Netflix with your partner. But what? You could spend the whole night watching previews and never choose a movie. That’s what it’s like with people and careers today. They have more choices than ever. They don’t like the leadership? the culture? the reward system? They’re out.
So the strategies traditionally used to hire, engage and retain people won’t work anymore. “You, your employees, all of us are thinking differently about our relationship to work.” As the decrease in tenure indicates, we’re moving from the belief that staying in one place is career security to a reality where the younger generation feels that the longer they stay, the more vulnerable they are, because they’re not growing.
“Listen to what the younger talent is telling us,” encouraged Cadigan. Movement expands their network and presents more chances to learn and experience other cultures and leadership styles. People are no longer loyal to a company. Their loyalty is to something bigger: their own learning.
The airline industry was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic. Travel stopped, pilots took early retirement or were let go, with airlines going “Tony Soprano” on them, essentially severing ties.
When travel resumed, airlines couldn’t fill key pilot positions. So the industry re-engineered what it takes to become a pilot. It applied to the government to raise the minimum retirement age from 65 to 67, lowered the number of hours required to get a pilot’s license from 1,500 to 750 and eliminated the bachelor requirement.
While the situation prompted the industry to address the scarcity in creative ways, it exposes a gap in the system: companies need to nurture their people, both before and after they work for them.
At the front end, most industries are lacking in building a talent pipeline. The Manchester United football team starts recruiting players at age 6 through its academies, while the medical system sits and waits for people to graduate. “How come these guys are doing it and not you?” Cadigan has challenged hospitals. “You’re saving lives!”
At the other end, he said that of the six big companies he’s worked for, only one keeps in touch with him, inviting him to test products or connect with other alumni. “I think we need to stop focusing on retaining employees and focus on something better: retaining relationships.”
Showcasing people who no longer work at your company may sound like an odd approach for your careers page, but that’s what Chick-fil-A did, featuring alumni who have gone on to careers in teaching and nursing. What’s that about?
Chick-fil-A knows that fast food isn’t a destination job for many—but it can help employees realize their dream jobs. It believes that if it can be the best part of an employee’s journey, they’re going to be a better recruiter when they move on to their dream job.
This is the sort of thinking Cadigan believes businesses need to adopt. Engage in your employees, commit to their careers—and not just when they’re working for you. He also advised, “You better be really clear about why someone would want to work for you.” It can’t be the usual “We’re nice, the CEO is really cool.” Everybody says that. What does your company offer that’s truly special?
In Cadigan’s early days at LinkedIn, 60% of their job offers were declined as people took higher-paying jobs at the tech giants. LinkedIn couldn’t compete on that front, so they asked themselves, Why would someone want to work here? The answer: “Because we’re solving a problem that really matters to the world.” They also offered a great learning environment and the opportunity for employees to build the kind of culture they wanted.
LinkedIn’s approach worked. In three-and-a-half years, under Cadigan’s leadership, the company scaled from 400 to 4,000 employees.
Be the benchmark
Back to that car crash.
Not only did Spencer recover, he’s excelled. He’s a better student, a martial arts champ, a driven young person. Cadigan believes it’s because of that crash. “So, take advantage of this moment,” he concluded. “Let’s create something better. Be the best. Don’t wait for the benchmark—be the benchmark.”
For 30 years, Steve Cadigan has been at the forefront of global talent strategy and company culture. He is best known for scaling LinkedIn from a team of 400 to 4000 in just 3.5 years. Having worked in five different industries in three different countries and led dozens of acquisition integrations across the globe Cadigan’s unparalleled expertise helps leaders build winning talent solutions to compete in an increasingly complex digital economy.