From Space To Workplace: CEO Creates A Culture That Values The Whole Person
Her career move from the heavens to human-centric workplace cultures makes perfect sense when you talk to Deborah Westphal, CEO of Toffler Associates.
Before joining Toffler in 1999 and moving up to CEO in 2007, Westphal worked for the U.S. Air Force from 1987 to 1999 as a technical electrical engineer in the advanced concept group working on space systems.
“We were trying to get a handle on the commercialization of space,” Westphal says. That work involved commercial satellites and the integration of space, technology, engineering and the future.
The firm founded in 1996 by Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler, whose work included the groundbreaking books, Future Shock, The Third Wave and Powershift, defines itself as “a future-focused strategic advisory firm that empowers organizations to discover new opportunities and create value in a complex world where change is accelerating.”
According to Westphal, “The company was created to help move from the industrial age to the knowledge age. They knew this revolution was not about tech, but social disruption.”
Working to help organizations create human centric cultures where each employee is valued for his or her contributions and full self, Westphal says, “A power shift is happening. Technology is the fuel that has created the empowerment of humanity.”
She adds, “It is not just gender.”
In a new study on human-centric workforces, researchers At Toggler found that across industries and organizations, more than 60 percent of executives surveyed agree that individuals are gaining power. When asked if the organization was prepared to weather change, 42 percent of the executives in industry said they were challenged, while 52 percent said they were prepared.
The study also reports that 87 percent of organization leaders say it is important to have an alignment with the organization’s values. In government, 41 percent of the leaders reports their personal values are neutral or unimportant to the organization.
Work cultures need to value the “human capital” of employees, Westphal says. This is a departure from the old school way of doing business.
“You can’t just come up with a job description and find that person. You have to find someone to fill a job but that person has more value than that job description. The person has to offer innovation and problem-solving,” Westphal says.
For instance, having a 30 minute one-on-one interview with scripted questions and no follow ups is not ideal. Not having the candidate meet other employees for an open conversation is also not “human centric,” she says.
The problem is many organizations are not asking people to bring all of themselves to the workplace, and are not rewarding that.
“When you only value a certain piece of the person, it is not good for the company, Westphal says.
In order to accomplish that, she suggests an easy place is to start with human resources. A shift must happen in how employees are onboarded and managed.
For instance, if the only connections with an employee are in short interviews and performance reviews centering on goals and rewards, then that is not a good way to measure an employee’s value.
The study also shows that 59 percent of leaders say having a values-based culture attracts employees, while 70 percent says it retains employees.
In order to create a values-based culture, Westphal suggests the following tips for leaders.
Be transparent in your organization about the core values. Model the values and make them evident and visible. If you say you are open to learning, then demonstrate that. For instance, Westphal says the core values at Toffler are to speak truth to power, be lifelong learners and engage in diversity.
Speak up. Force the dialogue about bias and other issues. Be a part of the transformation of your culture. Ask people what they want to be doing, and do not define them by their roles.
Be authentic. “Do not just say every person is valued, give them a salary, benefits and an ice cream social once a month,” Westphal says. Make sure the culture is truly valuing each individual. Be self-reflective as a leader and invite discussions and listen.
For the future, Westphal says, “We don’t see doom and gloom for people because of more technology. We see the possibility of a renaissance that will unleash the passion and creativity of people.
About the Author
Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldonwww.micheleweldon.com