Want to connect with Sharon?


The Human Workplace Manifesto website

The Nordic Secret - Thomas Björkman and Lene Rachel Andersen.

Experience Designers Ep 5

(I use a mix of automated transcript software and editing for readability )

Steve: [00:00:00] So, hi and welcome to another episode of the experienced designers podcast. Today, I have a very special guest, Sharon. Would you like you to introduce yourself to the audience.


Sharon: [00:00:16] Ok. Hello. My name's Sharon. I work for a company my own company called ImagineIf. And I'm also in the process of writing a book called The Human Workplace manifesto. I am rubbish at skiing. Even though I live in Sweden and I think I'm an average tennis player and I am married to a Swede.


Steve: [00:00:43] And how long have you been here now?


Sharon: [00:00:45] Do you have a say in Swedish or English.


Steve: [00:00:47] Both.


Sharon: [00:00:49] I have been here for five years. (In Swedish accent)


Steve: [00:00:57] For all the English listeners out there, she's been here for five years.


Sharon: [00:01:02] My Swedish rocks.


Steve: [00:01:04] Amazing, almost as good as mine. I'm not gonna even share mine.


Steve: [00:01:09] So, let's jump in. When we first met, which was before Christmas at an impromptu co-working spot in a hotel lobby here in Stockholm. You shared with me the manifesto that you'd created. And I haven't read it in detail but the headers and the areas that you covered. I have to say just because I am in that way of thinking as well my my heart sang actually on so many of the points. I just thought you know you're definitely onto something for sure. So just tell us a little bit more about it.


Sharon: [00:01:45] Okay, the Human Workplace manifesto first, let me put a bit of context on this. I worked in advertising for 13 years and then went into learning and development and I was really lucky in that I was able to spend seven years as head of learning or head of management and development at the Guardian and it was during that time and since then, since I moved to Sweden. I really noticed there's a shift in how people work. We don't turn off from work anymore. We're doing a very good job of damaging the planet. I see a lot of fat cats scraping off profits and taking them out of communities and banking offshore and I hear horror stories about huge conglomerates not paying their taxes. And it made me think well what can I do as a really nice warm person what can I do to help shift the thinking and to help us all work together more and to focus on the things that matter and make a difference in the world. The Human Workplace manifesto. It encompasses all of those buzzwords that you hear in HR, like CSR, diversity and inclusion, the people value chain and essentially it's just about being human and giving a damn. It's been probably three years in the making. I've had some experiences, I've coached thousands probably thousands of people and a couple of people, during the last two years really inspired me and really set me thinking that this is the right time to launch the Human Workplace manifesto. It's 8 key principles about how to work harmoniously. How to set people free in the workplace and why a purpose driven workplace is better for everyone. So it's about sharing profits with the communities in which we work. It's about saving and helping to save the planet. It's about the mental wellbeing of your people and letting them work to their strengths, which is hugely important and a time where we're not in the industrial revolution anymore. We don't clock in and clock out. In fact there's no set nine to five. We need to shift. We need to change and we need to set people free to work in their flow. Yeah, I just feel that it's the right time. I mean we can all make a massive difference.


Steve: [00:04:35] Yeah, I see it there's a huge shift on a number of levels within within the workplace. Some of it is driven by technology as we know. The changing needs and wants and demands of different workforces are coming through that's being shaped you know through their upbringing.


Steve: [00:04:55] Just going back to something which you mentioned. The two bits or inspiration or two people I guess. What was the inspiration where did that come from?


Sharon: [00:05:06] Well, I was coaching someone and they were going through quite a difficult time and you know it was quite a senior leader actually and I realised there was a real lack of compassion in that particular organisation and I saw suffering in people. And it's something that I want to avoid. And I think we can all work harder and I think love and compassion should be part of the corporate world, more so than ever because such demonstrations you see on a daily basis of hate and you know not valuing diversity. I wanted to put the heart back into the corporate world really.


Steve: [00:05:56] So what was stopping it happened? I mean you've obviously you've highlighted a noted there are some there is this lack of compassion, where is it coming from? Is it systemic historical kind of leadership that's coming through. Then we've got a new wave coming through, then we've got this clash that's happening at the moment or  how do you see it?


Sharon: [00:06:16] Yeah, I think it's a mixture of the two. You're removing human beings with digital technology and digital is an amazing thing you know it brings people together. I've got family in Canada and I can communicate with them on an ongoing basis much more than I could have done like ten years ago. But also it removes the human from the process as well. So, whereas you probably wouldn't say the things in person to somebody that you would e-mail. Or email is really misinterpreted. You can't kind of solve things. You don't understand the tonality and we all see things as we are. Not as they are. So the context is really important. But I feel that the human connection needs to be driven through the workforce, not the exclusion of digital. I think that can be enhanced but we all need to be more aware of the impact that that flip email might have on someone that's doing their best and probably receiving that message in a way that's totally demoralising for them.


Steve: [00:07:28] So what do you think perhaps over the next decade. What do you think are going to be some of the ramifications if companies aren't adopting or adapting to human centred if you want to call it.


Sharon: [00:07:41] Yeah, I think that employees these days have a real say in how the company works and how it operates. There's been some real cases over the last two years particularly in huge companies not paying taxes and local taxes in the UK. I can think of a couple of examples at the moment and their employees are driving the change that they're saying you know we're not going to put up with this. We want to create a positive impact on the world. And we expect the same from you. It's not good enough anymore to just cream the profits, fulfill the shareholders and damage the planet. Yeah, you know we've we've all got a part to play.


Steve: [00:08:32] Yes. So, how would you go about implementing the manifesto. So if you were to work with an organisation and bring the manifesto in, what kind of steps do you visage there being.


Sharon: [00:08:45] Well there are 8 key principles. And these key principles can be measured against criteria. So if you take for example, purpose, well does everyone know clearly what the purpose of the organisation is? And is that motivating to them? You know people need a bigger cause they need to be part of something bigger, rather than in a corner just doing their own thing on their own autonomously. We do need autonomy. We need autonomy, mastery and purpose. The millennials today, in today's workforce. But we also want to be part of something bigger.


Steve: [00:09:25] Yeah. I saw a stat, I think I released it on my social channels last week, which was 40 percent of the workforce have a clear understanding of what the goals objectives of the organisation are.


Sharon: [00:09:40] Wow.


Steve: [00:09:41] Well, let just flip that one second. 60 percent don't, they go into their jobs every day. Not really understanding what this is actually for or what's it about. It beggars belief really.


Sharon: [00:09:56] I think putting the responsibility on these huge companies. If you think in 20 years time we're probably going to have three companies ruling the world. And it's time for us to drive that change and not accept the fact that they use plastic. We can all do such small things. But if we all do them together they'll make a massive difference. So yeah, that's what it's all about.


Steve: [00:10:22] Yeah. Very good. Let's bring it to the trends now over 2019. What are you seeing this year do you think is going to have a big impact in the workplace.


Sharon: [00:10:36] Well, technology of course. Humanity, I really see it.


Steve: [00:10:40] Yeah?


Sharon: [00:10:41] I was never very political. I'm not going to get political here either but I have been inspired by probably the wrong things that are happening in the world and the Human Workplace manifesto is a stand against inhumanity. And somebody asked me the other day why don't you call it the humane manifesto. I said actually because I don't think that inhumanity is that obvious, because when you think of inhumane you think of locking a dog in a car with the window closed in 30 degrees.


Steve: [00:11:29] Yeah.


Sharon: [00:11:30] And so I still think human is better than humane. But I'm open to suggestions on that. What do you think?


Steve: [00:11:39] I think human. I think there's a lot of stuff around at the moment. It's human centred design is a big focus right now. I think there's a whole thing around, I can't remember the exact quote but it was on I agree with this. We are in some of our most exciting times to actually create services and products for humans, with humans firmly at the centre of it and not to be led by the technology or the product or service etc.


Steve: [00:12:08] And I do agree with that. I think right now we are becoming far more focused around the human first approach, although there still organisations that are making decisions daily without even considering their customers. You know, this will be a really good product or service without really clearly taking the time to truly understand. So, then we talk about empathy as part of that as well. So I think there's all of that kind of happening.


Sharon: [00:12:34] I spoke to a doctor from KTH about the Human Workplace manifesto and he kind of reflected it back to me as being the humans take on the robots. And he said the more the technology infiltrates every part of our lives the more collective we become in in being human.


Sharon: [00:13:00] And the only USP we've got is being human.


Steve: [00:13:04] Correct.


Sharon: [00:13:04] So, I thought that was quite a cool way of looking at it.


Steve: [00:13:09] Well, I think one of the challenges we're going to face and it's coming. It's already happening. I mean it's not even about trend in the next couple of years. But I certainly think there's going to be an element of existing workforce. So we talk about you know automation of some of those services or products or processes that will make some of those jobs redundant. So there's an element that I think challenge is A: How do we how do we assist those individuals to re-skill, up skill, develop because ultimately in my mind I think lots of organisations are just going to go, thanks very much and remove. And then there's a proportion of workforce which is around how you then coexist around the technology, so that the role changes. And then you have the next generation coming through about how they got the right skills for what's required for what's coming, even though the jobs don't even exist yet. So how do you get education to that. So there's some bonkers things going on I think in managing all of those kind of three areas I see.


Sharon: [00:14:05] Yeah, I think as well you know the people part of it is setting people free to fail. You know we don't work in a transactional role anymore it's about having a creative license and fresh thinking and you know encouraging reverse mentoring in organisations and setting people free to fail. And then you give them the freedom to learn.


Steve: [00:14:27] Yes!


Sharon: [00:14:28] And tomorrow will look different to today. So, if you're not comfortable outside of your comfort zone, it's time to change


Steve: [00:14:37] Definitely. And I think actually, that's because I have only experienced it in the last couple of years, but certainly things like design thinking for example when you follow some of that methodology. It does get you outside your comfort zone you feel it. I've been there, you properly feel it. But actually that's exactly where you need to be.


Steve: [00:14:55] Because that's where you can then start to get far more creative in my view. But also as well it's interesting, as it's been mentioned on virtually majority my interviews and on this podcast series so far. Is actually around failing and having an environment, a safe environment for people to fail and failure is seen as part of learning and developing. Yeah, it's interesting.


Sharon: [00:15:18] During my tenure at the Guardian we were restructuring. So we had to lay off, I think it was around 100 people and during that time, when change happens, we're like a tortoise. We tracked into our shell. Right. Because we want to go into the comfort zone and we want to do the things that we know we can do well. And actually the best time to try new things and to encourage people to come out of their comfort zone is during a period of change. So we set people free to fail during that period. It was two years and we were in a whole separate period. That means that the other company were buying us out but we had to go through all the terms and conditions. So, I had all of our middle managers qualify as business coaches so that they could coach all of their teams out of their comfort zone. And during that two year period we went from number three in market to number one and that was because we set people free to fail and there's 1 percent of companies in the world that achieve any sort of growth in that kind of, hold separate it's called. So you know it just shows you the power of it.


Steve: [00:16:49] Yeah it does work. I think that just comes around to creating a safe environment. And just change in the perception of that word failure and test, learn, reiterate it.


Sharon: [00:17:00] Yeah. Test, learn and review. That's what it was all about.


Steve: [00:17:04] So, you've got your seven.....


Sharon: [00:17:05] Eight.


Steve: [00:17:07] Eight! I was listening.


Sharon: [00:17:09] The planet's the last one. Yeah. Not a biggie!


Steve: [00:17:13] We'll leave that one over there!


Steve: [00:17:16] When you were writing and creating it.


Sharon: [00:17:19] Yeah.


Steve: [00:17:21] Which one or two. Actually give me your top two. Give me the ones that really for you, really came from the heart.


Steve: [00:17:33] Come on.


Sharon: [00:17:34] Well, I gave it to someone to read and the first one is, people or purpose. Both of them. Um, I can't pick. It's like asking me to choose my favourite record really.


Sharon: [00:17:46] Okay. I'm gonna choose people and people because it's all about accepting the 360 person. When I started the Guardian I was brought up Catholic and I never really felt at home. I left a bit of myself at home because I'm a gay person. And when I went to the Guardian, I felt really able to be 100 percent myself. And this in turn helped other people bring their full selves to work. And honestly, Steve I don't think I've ever enjoyed a job so much, because I wasn't hiding anything. I was just my true self. So I think that is kind of key. And it takes away, I was bullied badly at school and it kind of eradicates that bullying behaviour as well, so that people for me and yeah maybe, uh, I'd say profit as well because we only need a certain amount to live. And we only need a certain amount. This sounds really idealistic and maybe I live in Sweden too long, but we only need a certain amount to live, right? And yet there's thousands and thousands and billions of people starving and you hear horror stories of companies making billions of pounds because they've laid off people. Recently I heard somebody that made a huge amount of money had done all the banking offshore and never paid taxes into the communities in which they serve and you know this is in the UK. Those communities need the money more than ever for new schools, for healthcare. The NHS is being starved of oxygen.


Steve: [00:19:43] Do you know area they were in the UK?


Sharon: [00:19:46] I do, yeah


Steve: [00:19:48] Was it north, south, midlands?


Sharon: [00:19:51]  Both, really.


Steve: [00:19:52] All over the UK. So these communities are paying for a service and the money that they're investing is hopefully generating more money for them. But, I think there needs to be a little bit more investment and a little bit more stringent control over the fact that if you're going to operate a business in this community give back to it please.


Sharon: [00:20:16] Yes. And not have it just part of a CSR program. Don't just take a box please.


Steve: [00:20:24] Make it meaningful.


Sharon: [00:20:25] Yeah. I'm gonna share something with you because something you just mentioned now.  This could lead in quite well and i want to get your opinion on it. I just got my notepad out, because it was something which I actually came across the other week.


Steve: [00:20:37] So, I saw a presentation on YouTube the other week. And it was by a chap called Thomas Bjorkman. I don't know if you've heard of him at all.


Sharon: [00:20:47] Hello Tomas!


Steve: [00:20:49] So he's written a book. I think he did. Called the Nordic secret. I'm gonna read it because I have to say this story is amazing. And basically he talked about that we've got this kind of upgrading of our society happening right now. And we've kind of got a situation where we have a lot of instability or uncertainty with all of this technology, development within cultural and society. We've got this real issue, I think it's called the VUCA reality where you have this uncertainty that's really within the communities and how do we encourage people to become empowered to obviously then co-create the future society.


Steve: [00:21:44] I thought this was quite interesting. And he talks about these five areas, which was around openness, so do I have a curious mind? Meaning making, can I see the larger patterns? Perspective seeking, so can I understand others perspective? Self leadership, do I have the courage to be authentic, be myself? And finally, compassion, do I care enough to act?


Steve: [00:22:09] And it was all about these are the transformative internal skills that we will need or need now to help us take us as society or human beings, to actually take society forward. And he cited an example here in the Nordics. I think it was about a hundred years ago or more, the Nordics were some of the poorest regions in the world. But now it's kind of seen as the number one happiness and know some of the metrics are out there. The government or those that were kind of leading the countries at the time, they created some little hubs around or getaways, where people could go to, to allow them to find the inner compass and to find themselves effectively before they then went out and created their own movements. I think it was 10 percent of the Nordic population went through these retreats.


Steve: [00:23:14] And then that created the movements that was needed. It was a really interesting one. And this I think is a lot that can be taken there from a from a leadership perspective, if we get enough leaders going through some kind of whether it's through increasing empathy, whether it's compassion, whether it's the manifesto. To then use that as a catalyst and create the movement, because it happened a hundred hundred and fifty years ago here in the Nordics.


Sharon: [00:23:42] The great thing for me is, I remember I had a phone call and it was a lady on the other end of the line that I was working with, I was coaching and she said to me "Hello. I need some help. I want to be a leader". And I said, "oh, how super". And I'd like to be an opera singer. And the funniest thing is. And the great thing is and this is where the opportunity lies really is you can apply for a job, right?


Sharon: [00:24:11] You can get a manager's job anywhere, because you're allocated or given that job you're never given the job as a leader, your peers delegate that responsibility to you. So it isn't a job title, it's an attitude. It's something that you demonstrate that people want to follow. And for me I don't think leaders should be the higher echelons of a business. I think they should be everybody that wants to create change and the Human Workplace manifesto relies on everybody getting involved and being a leader that wants to make a difference.


Steve: [00:24:54] Yes. This is something which I've definitely noticed from my work from a HR perspective, is just remove title, remove salary banding, remove all of that nonsense. You are a human being and you have the capabilities to create a movement or change yourself. If you really want to do that. And you know what, if you're working in an organisation that isn't allowing you to do that, then my advice would always be move on and find somewhere that would allow or help you to actually achieve or be part of it.


Sharon: [00:25:26] I'm working with a company here in Sweden called 'tough leadership' and they are promoting self managing organisations to do just that. And I know they've had heaps of success. I've been on that training courses recently and it is all about setting people free again. It comes back to that. And I think we need to do it. Quickly. And I think we need to measure the results for it.


Steve: [00:25:55] There are some really great examples out there. I actually want to get a couple of them on this podcast in the future. Certainly that's a name for this year. I think there's kind of ABN Ambro and ING that I've become aware of who are really changing organisational structures in its entirety to allow this to happen so that people then become much more self organised and self managed and then it becomes a liquid workforce, where you go onto a project because you want to be on that project and you have a passion for it, rather than you're available, you're a resource. Come onto this projects and you're not really into it. You have to do it because you have to.


Sharon: [00:26:43] And it take so much pressure. Why should one person be banging a drum in a meeting on a Monday. You know, delegate it over. Yeah you know let's share the load.


Steve: [00:26:55] Yeah, definitely. So, parting gifts or advice we can give out to anybody. Tell me about, books. Any good books you'd like to share out?


Sharon: [00:27:09] Uh! Good question. I'm one of those blink readers, you know, I like highlights to understand the context and then some of my takeaways from it. So, let me think. Best books, personally the one I read is "feel the fear and do it anyway" by Susan Jefferson and I kind of think it was the reason I say yes to most things. She says that we've only got two real fears. The fear of dying and the loud noises. The rest we make up. So we're great liars. It's true! And so, jump in, say yes and let's all make a difference together.


Steve: [00:27:55] Yes. And what's next for you? What's your plans for 2019?


Sharon: [00:28:01] I'm doing the book. The Human Workplace manifesto, the book


Sharon: [00:28:07] At the moment, collecting case studies under each principle. So, I'm speaking to a technology company actually in Stockholm in Sweden. About the purpose driven workplace. And I'm also talking to technology companies about their approach to diversity and inclusion. Working with some very inspiring people. Carrying on training and working and to change cultures for the better. And just getting up to mischief generally.


Steve: [00:28:41] The companies you are speaking to are they mainly Swedish or further afield?


Sharon: [00:28:46] Oh gosh no. I work with companies in Sweden and I also work with companies in the UK and across Europe including France and Vienna.


Steve: [00:28:58] I might have a company for you in Helsinki. I will share it after this podcast.


Sharon: [00:29:02] Thank you!


Steve: [00:29:04] Who I met last year. Fantastic company.


Steve: [00:29:08] So, Sharon. Thank you so much for joining me on the podcast.


Sharon: [00:29:13] Thank you very much Steve.


Steve: [00:29:16] I will put everything in the links, if anybody wants to contact you. And also, can we give a link to the manifesto?


Sharon: [00:29:24] Absolutely! I'll give you the access to it.


Steve: [00:29:28] And we can go from there.


Steve: [00:29:28] Go from there.


Steve: [00:29:29] I love it.


Sharon: [00:29:30] Thank you so much.


Steve: [00:29:31] Thank you. Cheers.