Bestselling Author and Futurist Jacob Morgan on Real-Time Recognition, Evolving Motivators and Personalized Incentives

I recently had the pleasure of talking with Jacob Morgan, three-time bestselling author, keynote speaker, and futurist. His insights on the future of work, the employee experience, collaboration platforms, social learning systems, and hybrid workforces are truly visionary.  He has successfully presented his ideas to organizations such as Cisco, T-Mobile, Best Buy, Schneider Electric, SAP, Nestlé, and many others, and contributes to and has been quoted in several major business publications.

In your recent book, The Employee Experience Advantage, you cite three environments that, when created well, factor into people actually wanting to show up for work: culture, technology, and physical space. How do you advise organizations to take the first step – to approach the workspace they design for their employees with these three pillars in mind?  Is there an order of importance?

I think that’s inherently the problem for most organizations. They want to prioritize or pick one over the other. Because for a long time that’s what we’ve done – we’ve prioritized either culture, or technology, or physical space. But what we’re starting to see is that all three impact and play off of each other. Leading organizations do an amazing job at all three. I can tell you from the data I collected that culture contributed to around 40% of the overall employee experience, and technology and physical space were each 30%. So, it’s hard to say that culture is necessarily more important because technology impacts culture, physical space impacts culture, physical space impacts technology. All three affect each other. Picking one or two, or even doing a mediocre job at all three, used to be something companies could get away with. But I think in today’s world and in the world we’re moving towards, where companies are not just competing against their competition but against everybody to really create a place where people want to show up to work, you have to execute well at all of them. You have to give people the right tools to get jobs done. You have to give them physical spaces that engage and inspire them and cater to the different ways they want to work. And you have to create a corporate culture that employees want to be part of. Nobody wants just one of those things. If you just have a great corporate culture, where you love the people, but meanwhile you’re working in a dreary office with 8-foot-tall cubicles and using outdated technology, how likely is it that you’ll stay at that organization when something better comes along?

As it applies to “technology,” in your book – The Future of Work – you mention collaboration platforms, social learning systems, and real-time recognition and feedback. How important is it to look at data like this in real time?

I like to think of technology as the central nervous system of the organization. Most of the things you talk about, whether you look at real-time recognition, or collaboration, or any of these concepts, they’re brought to life through technology. You cannot have real-time feedback and recognition, you can’t have collaboration at scale, unless you have the technologies and tools in place to help you carry them out. Technology is the enabler. Without it, you really cannot enable a lot of the concepts in The Future of Work. Technology is absolutely a pivotal component.

Do you see it as more important to any one function than another?  Let’s zoom in on sales. Is real-time recognition more important there?

Every department, every function, every team uses technology in different ways. Technology is a tool. It’s sort of like saying, “does a construction worker need a hammer and nails?”  Well, of course.  But does a programmer need a hammer and nails? Absolutely not. Every function is going to need its own set of tools to get the job done. Salespeople are obviously going to need things like CRM and forecasting technologies. People in HR are going to need billing, invoicing, accounting, talent management and performance management systems. The organization’s responsibility is to provide those tools, not just as per the requirements of IT, but based on truly understanding the needs of people – how they work, why they work. So, it’s hard to say that technology is more important to sales than it is to HR. I definitely can’t make that argument. Technology is something every function needs.

Do you see the methods we use to motivate and incentivize employees changing in the future workplace?

It’s really hard to say how we should incentivize all of our people because everyone cares about and values different things. You might have people in your organization who do a great job, they’re very respectful, they treat everyone well, but honestly, they work there because they get paid well.  And that’s ok. If they’re contributing, meeting the requirements, they’re great people. If you know they’re motivated by money, then that’s the reward system you should use.  On the other hand, you might have other people who say, ‘You know what, I don’t really care as much about the money, I’m more focused on impact. On social good. On philanthropy. On just helping the community.’ If that’s the case, then that’s the incentive structure you need to offer them.

This is where I think we’re going to see much more value from AI and data and analytics. They’re going to allow us to understand individual motivations and incentives much better than we do. For now, I think we’re going to need much more flexibility and agility when it comes to those incentive programs. A manager of a team of 10 shouldn’t have to give the same incentive to everybody. He or she should understand the different motivations that people on the team have and be able to determine accordingly.

As it applies to the gig economy and the workforce of the future, do you envision a future workplace that combines many different types of work entities – full time employees, freelancers, contractors, AI, cognitive automation – all working in concert?

I suppose it depends how far in the future we want to look. By all accounts, today all the data, the academic and rigorous data, show that the gig economy and freelance economy are actually rather small. Yes, we’ve all seen the numbers – something like 40% of Americans are going to be freelancers by 2020. And already 53% of the workforce are freelancers. There’s some outrageous numbers like that. Those are based on people doing this kind of work once. Like, let’s say you just happen to test out driving for Uber for one day, and then never do it again. You’re now grouped into this bucket of freelancers.

Those numbers are very inflated – and these are not people making a full-time living. It’s possible that the creators of the surveys have a vested interest in yielding higher-than-actual numbers. I think the latest academic study I saw said around 0.5% of the workforce, a miniscule part, is comprised of gig and freelance workers, and the majority of those are Uber drivers. When you look at the people doing gigs or freelancing full time, it’s even smaller than that. But even though the number is tiny, it’s growing. People are becoming more interested in gigs and freelance, and we’re definitely seeing more growth there. So, when I look to the future, I don’t see full-time employment going away. I think it will remain how the majority of us work.

But I also believe we’re going to see a more hybrid and dynamic workforce. Interestingly, contingent labor has seen a massive rise. These are 1099 workers or full-time contractors who work through staffing agencies for organizations; they’re consultants. Contingent workers aren’t the same as freelancers or gig workers, who most likely use an online platform like TaskRabbit, Upwork, or Uber to get a job. When you take the people freelancing or doing gigs or contingent labor and add them together, you see it’s the sum of those numbers – the big umbrella of contingent labor – that’s growing. In the future, we’re going to need to keep track of different types of employees. The relationship between employees and employers will be much more fluid than what we’re all used to.

How do you create an environment and culture that will be desirable for a full-time employee, freelancer, or contingent?

Whether someone’s working 40 hours per week or 15 hours per week, you still want to make sure that person wants to show up to work because you’re still talking about talent. You still want to attract and retain the best people, regardless of how many hours they’re going to spend on the job. The experience is as important for freelancers as it is for full-timers.

You are a leader and influencer in your industry. We’re curious to find out who influences you and why?

My family – my wife and baby. I also like to play lots of chess, so I also get influenced by the chess grand masters – Magnus Carlsen, who’s the world’s number one chess player, and then Hikaru Nakamura, one of the world’s other top players. So, the top chess players and the game in general.

Access to check out Jacob’s podcast, weekly YouTube series, research, and more. Or e-mail him at Jacob [at] TheFutureOrganization [dot] com.

And be sure to check out our other expert interviews!

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Michael Giordano

Director, Advocacy and Communications

Michael has over 15 years of experience building teams and transforming processes to produce highly-effective sales, marketing and technical functions. He excels in leveraging industry-best process and technology practices while implementing strategies to deliver continued growth and success. Follow him on Twitter @Optymike and @Optymyze.

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