Irresistible By Design: The Winning Strategy For The Future

Such a crazy, disruptive, surprising world. One day it’s a pandemic, then a war, then inflation, and now a mass shooting. As I watched George Carlin’s documentary this week I had to reflect: maybe he was right. Are we really a species that may not survive?

Well, let me make you feel a little better. Coming off our Irresistible Conference last week, I want to tell you that “all is good” and life will get better. While many of us will get Covid and bad things will happen, the world really is a good place. And that’s what we heard about all week.

The Irresistible Conference you missed was what I call “The Davos of HR,” held last week at the USC Campus in Los Angeles. We had around 450 senior human resources leaders attend and it was one of the most positive, energizing, and inspiring meetings I’ve had in years.

I go to lots of conferences and I always learn something. But this one was different, and I want to tell you why.

Every meeting, every discussion, and every social activity focused on exploring and celebrating how we can make our companies more Irresistible than ever. And today, with all the uncertainties in the world, this is the only real business strategy that works.

As I discussed in the keynote, we’re entering one of the most unpredictable business climates in years. Not only are we teetering on the edge of an economic slowdown (China has already slowed to one-third of its prior growth rate), but we suffer from inflation, the lingering pandemic, and this insane war in Europe. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPM Chase, wants us to brace ourselves for the “economic hurricane.”

Consider this. The CHRO of Oracle, Joyce Westerdahl, told us that her biggest priority has been helping the employees, families, and operations of Oracle in Russia and Ukraine. Who would have predicted this as we try to exit this never-ending pandemic?

My big message was simple. Now is not the time to just “add more benefits” or “increase base pay.” Now is the time to think about business as a massive new design problem, and build our companies so they are Irresistible by Design. And this is what we all talked about for three days.

Irresistible By Design: A Big Idea

Why am I so convinced this is necessary? Because you really have no other choice. Employers are faced with a shortage of labor, high levels of turnover, inflationary expectations in wages, and a set of industry transformations that just won’t stop. Our new Global Workforce Intelligence Research shows that industries like Healthcare and Banking, our two first focus areas, are redesigning their entire workforce around labor shortages, clinical transformation, digital payments, and technologies we cannot ignore.

How are you going to manage all this? By redesigning your company around your people.

And I don’t mean forcing people to come into the office or be fired (Elon Musk’s latest manifesto). I mean redesigning your operations around the skills, energy, and resilience of your people. Prudential just redesigned its entire service delivery model around its staff and skills. Bosch Power Tools let its sales and engineering team redesign its entire product and marketing function. Letting employees redesign your company for success really really works.

As I discussed in the keynote (Corporate Members get access to all the videos and content), this is a new and profound idea. Companies can’t simply “hire” or “reskill” their way forward. We now face a design problem, where organizations must essentially design their business around their people.

Starbucks, for example, is now convinced that its customer experience is dependent on its employee experience. And employees are overworked and stressed by all the new products and offerings created during the pandemic. This is a problem of Irresistible by Design.

Beneath this idea is a very important concept. Employees are not labor or “tools” to be used. They are the core, lifeblood, and source of all value in your company. If you treat them as tools, they break, leave, or hold your organization back.

Is Tesla a great company? Sure, they make great cars. But as many insiders report, it’s a tough place to work, and turnover plagues management. I saw the entire L&D team resign one year. When Tesla competition catches up, they’ll learn to deal with this situation.

I watched GE go down this path, and so did IBM (now fully recovered), Microsoft (reinvented itself) and so many more companies. Great companies endure for decades because they design their businesses around their people, and I am here to say that this is what we talked about all week.

The risk of doing this wrong? You may be at odds with a union, products may suffer (talk to Boeing about listening to employees), and innovation may slow. You have to think about “people as your core of strength,” and stop thinking about labor as “one of the contributors to value.” Listen to employees. Design around their skills and ability. Give them the power to create.

This Is Possible: We Celebrated It All Week

We had more than 25 different workshops and executive panels on these topics, but let me give you a few inspirations to consider.

Walmart, a company with more than 2.3 million employees, is one of the most people-centric organizations I ever met. Donna Morris, the CHRO, told us story after story about how the company is helping people build new careers, investing in HR development, and building new leadership skills – all focused on helping Walmart associates thrive, grow, and perform.

Rhonda Morris, the CHRO of Chevron, explained how the company is one of the “most Irresistible” in the world, with a retention rate well over 90%. They operate as a family, giving people support, education, and growth throughout their career. I grew up in the neighborhood of the Chevron Richmond Refinery, and my friends parents absolutely adored working there. Chevron’s performance as an energy company is an investor’s dream come true.

Nickle Lamoureux, the CHRO of IBM, told us all about IBM’s cultural transformation, and how the company is revitalizing itself once again. This company, which I have admired for decades, remains one of the most tenured and still-respected tech giants in the world, and they are growing and innovating again. IBM, by the way, now has a Chief Culture Officer and a huge focus on design thinking, implementing Irresistible by Design all around the world.

Loren Shuster, the CHRO of Lego Group (a multi-billion dollar private company that is one of the most successful “play” businesses on the planet), told us how the company’s entire leadership program was designed and built by employees. Lego is not only a people-focused company, they understand and believe in the ideas of “employee-led design,” letting each employee act as a leader in every strategic area.

Andy Ortiz, the CHRO of Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, explained how the company has become the “most diverse” employer in its geography, measuring every health outcome, every people practice, and every interaction with a focus on inclusion, respect, and care. I just spent a day in the hospital this weekend here in Oakland, and I can tell you this is much more important than you may realize.

Stephane Charbonnier, the CHRO of L’Oreal USA, explained how the company’s entire business strategy is based on creating beauty products and services for a highly diverse world of different genders, nationalities, ages, shapes and sizes. So their strategy to be Irresistible is built around the need to be inclusive and embrace diversity at the grass roots. Diversity and inclusion teams operate at all levels in L’Oreal, making it one of the most compelling companies in the beauty industry.

And the stories went on and on.

Yes, the world is messy and uncertain right now. And yes, there is often bad news to deal with. But now is the time to turn off the news, stop reading Twitter, and design our companies for the people we employ. We, as HR and business leaders, hold the reins as the “most trusted” part of people’s lives. So let’s honor that trust in our work.

My lesson from the week is simply that.

We can always make work better for our people. And it’s not a problem of “giving them more benefits.” This is an opportunity to redesign and rethink work around our people.

Irresistible by Design is here to stay. And I look forward to helping each and every one of you figure this out for your company.

(Stay tuned for much more on this topic, as well as an update on my new book Irresistible which ships this Fall.)

Additional Resources

How Work Design And Job Design Are Holding Companies Back

Unleashing Human Potential: The Real Secret To Business Success