Authority Magazine interviews Founder & Managing Partner Mark Condon of QuantumWork Advisory On The Labor Shortage & The 5 things We Must Do To Attract & Retain Great Talent.

Baltimore-based online news company, Authority Magazine, interviewed Mark Condon for his expert insight on how companies should stay agile during the Great Resignation and the rapidly expanding Gig Economy. Read below for the full interview or view the article here.

Mark Condon of QuantumWork Advisory On The Labor Shortage & The 5 Things We Must Do To Attract & Retain Great Talent

An Interview with Phil La Duke

I’m being repetitive, but it’s so important. Try and design jobs that people will enjoy. I think we lack a true understanding of human motivation and satisfaction. While it may flow against the tide of popular sentiment, I believe people like to work. When it gets down to it, we get a kick out of having a challenge and being able to use a range of our skills to solve it.

The pandemic has allowed people to reevaluate what they want from work. This “Great Reevaluation” has led to the “Great Resignation” which has left the US with a great big labor shortage and a supply chain crisis. What can we do to reverse this trend? What can be done to attract great talent to companies looking to hire? What must companies do to retain their great talent? If not just a paycheck, what else are employees looking for? In this interview series called “The Labor Shortage & The 5 Things We Must Do To Attract & Retain Great Talent” we are talking to successful business leaders who can share stories and ideas from their experience that can address these questions.

As a part of this interview series we had the pleasure to interview Mark Condon.

Mark Condon is the Founder and Managing Partner of QuantumWork Advisory, which is backed by the Allegis Group. Mark is a pioneer in HRTech service design and delivery with over 20 years’ global experience with both startups and large multinationals. His advisory projects bring a disciplined data-driven approach interwoven with user-centric frameworks based on design thinking principles. Dedicated to life-long learning, Mark has completed an MBA, degrees in Psychology and HR, and executive education with MIT, HBS, and IDEO.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?

grew up in a remote, small town of about 3,000 people, three hours north of Melbourne, Australia. For the last 20 plus years, I have lived and worked in Boston, Pittsburgh, Melbourne, Singapore, and now reside near Annapolis, Maryland. I have been consulting the HR industry for most of that time and working with mainly Fortune 500 companies around the world. I’m happily married and have a daughter adopted from Singapore. I work at Allegis Group, a great company based here in Maryland. In 2021, with my colleague Andrew Grant and lots of company support, we founded a new advisory company, QuantumWork Advisory, entirely focused on Worktech and redesigning the new world of work. It’s been great fun building a new business inside a great established company like Allegis Group. That’s it in a nutshell.

Let’s jump right in. Some experts have warned of the “Great Resignation” as early as the 1980s and yet so many companies seem to have been completely unprepared when it finally happened. What do you think caused this disconnect? Why do you think the business world was caught by surprise?

Part of the answer is based on economics and issues around pay inequity, and part of it is around how we design jobs and reward people. But this probably shouldn’t have been such as surprise in hindsight.

Let’s unpack this a little. As you say, some of these issues started in the 1980s. Powerful trends in automation, globalization, outsourcing, and M&A removed a lot of well-paid jobs from the lower and middle-income brackets. This is well documented in David Autor’s recent book, The Work of the Future: Building Better Jobs in an Age of Intelligent Machines. Well worth a read.

At the same time, the 80s saw the rise of the shareholder as the ultimate stakeholder in business. Hostile takeovers were common, companies were restructured, laden with debt, and sold off in pieces to release shareholder value. Obviously, employees suffered. Even Jack Welch, the pin-up for maximizing shareholder wealth for GE, later described shareholder value in 2009 as “the dumbest idea in the world. Shareholder value is a result, not a strategy… your main constituencies are your employees, your customers, and your products.” The result of pleasing shareholders at all costs for the past 30 or 40 years, and I’m not saying all companies focus only on shareholders, has made a widening discrepancy between real wages and productivity.

The Business RoundTable identified this issue bubbling under the surface when in 2019 around 200 CEOs of America’s largest companies adopted a new Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation. They declared that companies should deliver long-term value to all their stakeholders: customers, employees, suppliers, the communities in which they operate, and shareholders.

You could say the pressures for the Great Resignation have been building for some time and resulted in, what some would argue, was an overdue “labor market correction,” in this case in the form of The Great Resignation. It has resulted in a slight shift in the power toward employees, at least for now.

What do you think employers have to do to adapt to this new reality?

People resign for many reasons and will be attracted to jobs for many different reasons. Money is always one of the factors and it’s important to regularly benchmark the marketplace. Apart from using money as a solution, we need to ensure we have jobs people want with great user experiences.

The disconnect is that jobs are designed with only part of the human potential with a commensurate level of engagement and output. We have created a dark matter problem of hidden and untapped abilities and skills. What we certainly want to do is maximize the talent right under our nose: our employees. They may be working in one job very competently, but it only uses 50% of their skills and talent. They feel undervalued, unfulfilled, and leave. An economist may call this mismatch of human potential with the actual work “structural underutilization.”

I recommend employers use empathy-based design thinking methodologies and new technologies (especially AI!) to design jobs that people are more likely to enjoy. There is also the opportunity to conduct market benchmarking to assess how attractive a job will be using supply and demand modeling.

We should also ensure that we better match out the human potential of our company, and this includes traditional and extended workforce categories like contingent workers and freelancers, to our business strategy. Some see this as one of the key ingredients to improving business agility: the ability for a company to adapt to changing market conditions. We need to do a better job of understanding the human potential in our organization. For example, we need to get better at identifying employees who are passionate about using other skills and move them to projects that need those skills, or completely new roles to where they feel more fulfilled. If we can do that better, we can avoid a lot of resignations.

Another key adaption for employers is to use technologies and processes to match skills to the talent marketplace. Thankfully there are many new exciting Worktech platforms to match skills to external talent, contractors, and internal employees. There are also new AI technologies and platforms that make it easier to dynamically match people’s power with effective business strategy.

Changing a company’s people strategy may seem like an insurmountable task, but designing jobs that people want, and having clear visibility of our human potential, is a great place to start.

Based on your opinion and experience, what do you think were the main pain points that caused the great resignation? Why is so much of the workforce unhappy?

That’s a tough one, but obviously, COVID-19 had a profound impact. It is complicated as there are so many reasons, but maybe the answer is that it is based on a Great Awakening. People certainly had time to reflect on their job satisfaction and may have found money was not enough to make the difference to stay. Others may have found that working from home altered their sense of community with their company and leaders, so they found it easier to leave.

Another answer is because of the labor shortage, some companies may have become better at branding and sourcing new employees, than they are at delivering on the core tenants of the employer brand promise. Employee development, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), variety of work, learning opportunities, and importantly, giving back to the community, are now more important than ever. If these are not meeting an employee’s ideals, it may result in people looking for greener pastures.

Many employers extoll the advantages of the entrepreneurial spirit and the possibilities of an expanded “gig economy”. But this does come with the cost of a lack of loyalty of gig workers. Is there a way to balance this? Can an employer look for single use sources of services and expect long-term loyalty? Is there a way to hire a freelancer and expect dependability and loyalty? Can you please explain what you mean?

That’s another tough one! We may need to think about loyalty differently. In a traditional company, we may have loyalty to colleagues, our manager, the CEO, the brand, and the systems of the company. This varies significantly between full-time equivalent (FTE), contractors, gig workers, and freelancers.

If we start with gig workers, they may not be able to create loyalty to individuals and teams, but they can create loyalty or stickiness, by making it easier and more fun to do the work. We sometimes forget about the intrinsic satisfaction of doing the job. Gig workers can alternate between competing platform companies, so factors such as brand power to attract customers, training and onboarding systems, superior user experience, seamless technology, a cool user interface, safety, speed of payment, can all make a difference to loyalty. It may be a different kind of loyalty, but it still creates competitive differentiation and a barrier to moving from one platform company to another.

If we talk about freelancers, they can build loyalty with the team or manager even though they may not be full-time employees. The way the freelancer is treated, and the company culture, will ultimately impact their loyalty.

While the best way to create loyalty is the traditional manager-employee relationship because of the deeper co-dependence, there are other ways to create loyalty and we may need to think about it a bit differently.

It has been said that “people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses”. How do you think this has been true during the Great Resignation? Can you explain what you mean?

For many years the number one reason for quitting jobs is their boss, but obviously, there has been a major shift and I’m not sure it’s logical to blame bosses for all of it. We didn’t all become worse leaders overnight!

The data shows that many employees were not happy with how they were treated during the pandemic. Covid-19 placed a lot of stress on the system with workers off sick, childcare responsibilities, and the stress of living and working with COVID-19. Others pursued greener pastures and large pay rises. Some weren’t happy with a lack of flexibility from their employer to work from home.

An immediate boss only has so much they can impact here. You can get on as many Zoom meetings as you want, it doesn’t fix the pressures of virtual schooling as an example. The saying “people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses” may hold most of the time, bosses are probably not as much to blame, at least this time around.

I am fond of saying, “If it’s fun they charge admission. But you get a paycheck for working here.” Obviously I am being facetious, but not entirely. Every job has its frustrations and there will be times when every job will aggravate employees. How important is it that employees enjoy their jobs?

As you would have gathered already, I believe that enjoying work is everything. It is the most important factor. The data constantly says that people leave because they are unfulfilled and as a result, they search for something they can’t quite find.

But imagine if people are passionate and engaged; they’ll often do great things! Yes, we all get frustrated, tired, and annoyed, but if we enjoy the work at intrinsic level day-to-day, and not just rely on building camaraderie, drinks after work with the team, or money, then we will have employees who are more engaged and productive.

It’s vital to ensure jobs are designed with a people-centric lens so people truly enjoy them and reach their full potential. Here are some thought-provoking questions to challenge the design of a role:

  • How can they express creativity or innovation?
  • Can they work on short-term projects across the organization, potentially even using new AI marketplace platforms?
  • Do they have access to constant learning and mentors who have shared experiences?
  • What other skills do they have and have we asked and cataloged them so we can leverage them across the organization with great, new AI technology?
  • Do we have the policies that enable us to take advantage of untapped skills, which could be an engine for company growth?

How do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

In any job, there is a level of discretionary effort and thinking, which is activated because we believe, and are passionate, about what we do. If you aren’t happy and passionate, companies don’t create and capture the value of that extra effort, ideas, and innovations. That extra effort and thinking translate to millions of hours, ideas, and innovations, that won’t ever see the light of day. That has a direct impact on the bottom line.

CEOs are trying to solve the quandary of the biggest asset not being reflected on their balance sheet: people. Yet good CEOs know people are the most important factor in powering growth and profit. As Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Without a positive culture and a happy workforce, strategy is worthless.

As to wellbeing and employee health, there is no doubt a link between how we feel about ourselves as people and our satisfaction at work. They are intrinsically linked and one impacts the other.

What are a few things that employers, managers and executives can do to ensure that workers enjoy their jobs?

My thesis is — if you enjoy the work itself, then it is more effortless, enjoyable, and we’re all more productive and happier. It’s a hidden fuel source that can super-power companies to digital transformation.

So why don’t we start objectively measuring the enjoyment of each job and ensure we design jobs with that scale in mind? There are studies like the Intrinsic Enjoyment scale (IE) of work, which attempt to measure the enjoyment of work. Maybe we look at that becoming the norm for each job description we design.

Apart from money, a key measure for companies is how we make their people successful. If the focus is on making employees superstars, then it’s unlikely they will leave. If they do leave, then there is a good chance they will be future boomerang hires.

Can you share a few things that employers, managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture?

I am biased, but thankfully I get to see a great culture in action every day at Allegis. I also get to see the culture of many companies through my consulting work.

I mentioned a few things already about making our people successful, but one of the things we can all do is provide unexpected praise and rewards for our people. Rewards lose their impact when they become expected. It doesn’t need to be a lot, just something the person values. Everyone loves praise for the job well done and even better is praise in front of peers. We value leadership praise, but it means more when it is public. Just make it real, unforced, and not too often that it becomes mundane.

And finally, don’t be above the little things. Even if you are very senior, occasionally model to your team that you are not above them. Take on some tasks you might normally delegate. And how you treat your entry-level employees, suppliers, and partners also shows a lot about a team’s culture. Treat them all well.

Okay, wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things employers should do to attract and retain top talent during the labor shortage?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

There is probably 20, but I’ll give you 5:

  • Most importantly ensure you have a top-class talent acquisition program. Review the current talent cycle and identify friction points through the entire talent journey across people, processes, and technology. This includes empathy-based research of your processes and workforce technology stack. Then build a future state blueprint of the optimal interactions of people process and technology and if need be, reconfigure current technology or replace it.
  • Understand the demand and supply of talent for your company to stay agile. While you have asked about employees, the extended workforce is now close to 40% of the average company’s workforce, so we need to include them here. Ensure you regularly benchmark salaries for permanent employees and pay rates for contractors. Then ensure the data reaches C levels and if need be, adjust banding and salaries proactively.
  • Not all jobs were created equal. Identify key job categories and people that are of most risk to execute the business strategy. Then put a plan in place to retain them. Don’t forget to build a recruitment pipelining strategy to replace using talent marketing automation and pipelining technology.
  • Identify toxic leaders and get rid of them. If the leadership tolerates leaders who may be top performers, but cannot build great teams, then you risk high attrition in their direct team and surrounding teams. It’s often a tough measure to take, but it will be a powerful signal to your organization that performance without culture is not enough.
  • Lastly, I’m being repetitive, but it’s so important. Try and design jobs that people will enjoy. I think we lack a true understanding of human motivation and satisfaction. While it may flow against the tide of popular sentiment, I believe people like to work. When it gets down to it, we get a kick out of having a challenge and being able to use a range of our skills to solve it.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’m not one to put rich, successful people on a pedestal, but I do think Marc Benioff is one person I’d love to spend time with. He has created a very successful company but also focused on people and culture and talks a lot about balance.

Our readers often like to follow our interview subjects’ careers. How can they further follow your work online?

You can follow QuantumWork Advisory on LinkedIn and Twitter. You can also connect with me directly on LinkedIn.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.

About QuantumWork Advisory: 

QuantumWork Advisory is a specialized, workforce design and advisory firm, run by industry practitioners with deep operational experiences to navigate and capitalize on the opportunities in the new world of work through AI and automation technology. QuantumWork Advisory’s services include Digital Strategy, Workforce Strategy, Services Design, and Vendor Management Systems (VMS) and Talent Technologies systems integration and implementation. Learn more here.

Media Contact:

Jesse Carrie, Marketing Manager
QuantumWork Advisory
jcarrie@quantumwork.com

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