The New Work Exchange

In "The New Work Exchange," Scott Cawood takes a deep dive into the relationship between employers and employees.

In “The New Work Exchange,” Scott Cawood takes a deep dive into the relationship between employers and employees and explores how we can make the workplace work for everyone. With worker dissatisfaction at an all-time high, Cawood sees this moment as an opportunity to redefine work, focusing on everything from engagement to motivation and compensation. He examines the changing paradigms of work and how they can be more rewarding, engaging, and productive for both individuals and organizations. With practical insights and a call to action, “The New Work Exchange” is a must-read for anyone looking to make lasting changes in the workplace.

Cultivating Growth

Providing growth opportunities is an essential way to invest and reinvest in our team members. People have an innate need to learn, adapt, and grow. A lack of growth opportunities regularly registers as one of the top reasons workers leave organizations. People development is a part of everyone’s job, not just HR’s. Having people complete the annual mandatory safety training or sexual harassment seminar isn’t the same as providing ongoing growth. Part of the reason people are “quietly quitting” is that they are bored with their roles and are using the time to invest in themselves.

Cultivating growth opportunities starts when we hire. A job description may be the initial attractor and an indication of what the person will focus on for a limited time. However, the speed of business and human development means that job descriptions may be relevant only for a short time. The knowledge, skills, and abilities—for today’s job and the future—should be included in hiring profiles within organizations. Employers need to encourage people to apply to roles, even when they don’t believe they are a one-to-one match for the specified job requirements. People should grow into roles, and organizations should encourage that growth routinely.

Contemporary practices can borrow something from the past to help us: apprenticeships. Historically, such programs have been incredibly important for teaching new skills and trades. In the United States, the National Apprenticeship Act was signed into law in 1937, outlining regulations and safety protocols. However, you can borrow the concept of teaching by using mentoring, job-share, or even job-shadowing programs that transfer skills and insights to others. The only feasible way we can grow skills at the pace demanded by this accelerated world is to find ways to train on the job and in every workplace.

Spend time assessing how we can invest in people inside our organizations. Expose people to opportunities in organizations by creating growth tracks and programs, including learning opportunities like webinars or conferences. Allow individuals to shadow people or teams, including leaders. This kind of future-oriented cross-training not only upskill people but also upskill a company.

Then look for ways to foster growth outside the organization. This could include volunteer opportunities for team building or even lending out executives to local nonprofits for small projects or consultations. Hire retired people as interns and teach them new skills or build returnship programs in which people with decades of experience mentor emerging talent.

Growth in human capital is the key to driving financial growth. Too often, when organizations discuss growth, we’re focused on financial capital. Given the intense speed of business, many organizations would benefit from acting more like start-ups. With the hurdles we all face, we’d also benefit from acting like educational training organizations that constantly update their most critical resource—people.

Rethinking Human Capital

A lot of my ideas come across as top-line thinking, so let’s shift to a bottom-line perspective for a moment. There are many ways to grow a business, but all of them require investment in some form of capital. Various types of capital help produce value or gain an advantage in the marketplace. When an organization wants to achieve something, it must rely on capital to make it happen. While there are several different types of capital (social, natural, political), the two most critical are financial and human.

Let’s get financial capital out of the way first. It’s almost always associated with anything with monetary value and can be used to create future value and growth. This is true, whether you’re building a business or budgeting for groceries. Money isn’t the only way to get things done, but it can do a lot, and you probably don’t need (or want) me to lecture you about it. Going back to shareholder theory for a moment: When financial capital is made ultimate, shareholders are placed above everything (and everyone) else.

On the other hand, human capital consists of the collective skills, expertise, capabilities, health, and practical know-how within and among the people who work within an organization. Unlike other types of capital, human capital is virtually unlimited, which confers on it an incredibly important and unique rationale for all forms of investment, including financial capital.

Tapping into human capital is about more than just living up to slogans like “Put People First” or “People Are Our Greatest Asset.” It’s about investing time and resources into the best areas to propel growth in people. As an association specializing in Total Rewards, WorldatWork has informed financial decisions on human capital for more than sixty-five years. Rewards and human capital are inextricably linked. This lens provides a way of rethinking our employment relationships—from full-time employees to gig workers, part-time folks, and consultants. It’s time to think about how to invest in people across the organization.

In other words, it’s not enough to just send people off to a conference once a year or set aside $1,500 for employees to have access to during the year to grow their skills. That’s already an old-school way of thinking. Learning must become part of the work experience, absorbed into every aspect of organizations.

How are you preparing team members for the next stages in their careers or lives? Failing to do so means vital team members are treated like cogs in the machine, not true stakeholders.

One of the strongest models I’ve seen for fostering growth is building an internship program within a company. I’m not talking about bringing in young people to work for free or low pay like a typical internship model—I’m talking about internships to invest in the people already within an organization. Exposing people to new roles and departments increases skills (upskilling), and new skills are learned (reskilling). What if 10 percent of a person’s time was spent getting cross-trained or retrained to double their skills? That’s a very smart human capital investment.

The apprenticeship model sounds old school, but it’s very applicable today. We’re seeing companies create such opportunities, telling their people, “Hey, you don’t need to go get a degree for this. We’ll put you through a six-month course so you can be successful in learning whatever new skills you’re seeking.” We need more innovative thinking like that because, frankly, most companies are behind in their skill sets and not doing enough to invest in the skills needed for the success of their human capital.

Scott Cawood
In this book, Scott Cawood, Ed.D, CCP, GRP, CSCP, CBP, admits that his education and career have been in the pursuit of answering a very big question: how can we make work and workplaces better? A self-described “work nerd,” Cawood’s passion for learning about the workplace and how it functions (or not) inspired him to pursue the topic in academic settings. Degrees in organizational communication, labor & industrial relations, and education, led to a doctorate degree in organization and work-based learning. With an interdisciplinary foundation to understanding work, it’s probably no surprise that he translated theory and understanding into a passion for organizations dedicated to great work. Since 2015, he’s been the CEO of the non-profit member-based association WorldatWork, where his days are consumed with figuring out how to make work and the employee experience better for top organizations across the world. A renowned speaker and presenter, this is his second book.