What It Takes To Be An Irresistible Company In 2023


Over the course of his 25 years as an HR and workplace sector observer, Josh Bersin, the founder of the Josh Bersin Academy, has noticed an intriguing change. The so-called “old model” constrained workers to their job descriptions. Additionally, that paradigm was a vertical career ladder, with promotion as the ultimate objective because it brought with it more power and money.

In contrast, the companies he studied for his book, “Irresistible: The Seven Secrets of the World’s Most Enduring, Employee-Focused Organizations,” took a different approach, one I like to call a “skills-based ethos.” As Josh explains, “Companies are becoming more like consulting firms every day.” “Nobody has a job; everyone is fungible and can work on anything at any time.”

The companies Josh studied were pioneers in their approach to employee engagement, but the practice is now spilling into mainstream HR practices. That is evident in the popularity of talent marketplaces and skills clouds.

These enhanced approaches give companies the benefit of being more agile, responsive, and productive. Employees also benefit from a breadth of experience and skills that make them extremely valuable to their current and future employers. It can also help them find their passions and forge their unique career path. There is a beautiful proverb from the Lancelot-Grail, often known as the Vulgate Cycle, that can be applied to professional paths: “If there is a way or path, it’s someone else’s way.”

Microsoft is a prime example of a business that upholds this philosophy. For instance, they have told their employees that instead of asking for a promotion, they should ask for lateral assignments. In addition, they encourage their employees to understand different parts of the company so they become more valuable. This makes sure that Microsoft promotes people who can see the big picture and have a wide range of skills.

Josh credits his career to “sampling” many jobs during his early days. “I had a lot of jobs that I was not that great at early in my career, but I learned some things and figured out what I was good at. That is the idea of growth; we’re not always worrying about moving up because you may end up getting to someplace you don’t want to be.”

Twenty-five years ago, when Josh first started working as an analyst, things were considerably different. He recalls being informed that the idea of employee engagement had already been resolved. There was therefore no justification for conducting any research. He only needed to study any published Gallup studies and suggestions. However, in his opinion, nothing could be falser.

The seven pillars he discusses in his book, Irresistible, should be considered as out-of-the-box thinking that would have been laughed at by many back in his early days. Josh believes that we’ve carried over unhealthy views on productivity from the Industrial Age. Many companies think productivity means tightening the screws to do more and faster.

Josh says that the employee experience in those companies is less of an engagement problem and more of a design problem. “There are several examples of companies that actually created more ‘slack time’ by overstaffing and found that profitability went up,” he says.

This increased profit resulted because people had more time to talk to customers and innovate on new ideas or opportunities. But unfortunately, these same issues fall to the bottom of the priority list when a company is hyper-focused on output to the detriment of everything else. “Output is always something you want to measure, but just pushing for it doesn’t necessarily get you in the right place.”

There are some big companies, like Starbucks, that are struggling with it at the moment. Their focus is on quickly pushing out new products, and as a result, they face employee burnout.

It’s something that Josh predicts will create a shift in 2023. There are a lot of factors that are currently causing increased inflation and a troublesome labor market.

“We’re going to have to live in a world where we don’t have unlimited amounts of money, and every product isn’t going to be a home run. So we’re going to have to run our companies more like regular old economy companies where we make trade-offs, look at productivity, and organize around high-performing products, getting out of areas that are not growing.”

He believes there will be a lot of pressure on HR’s people and culture executives to “do more with less” and find ways to make the business run more smoothly. “Organizational design, skills, leadership, retention, hiring, and internal mobility, all the things that we know to do in HR are the keys to staying healthy during the slower economic cycle.”

Josh added, “The company is the people; it’s not just management. People aren’t replaceable parts; you need to make sure you’re really investing in your people.”

Watch the entire interview below with Josh Bersin and Dan Pontefract on the latest episode of Leadership NOW.


Check out my award-winning 4th book, “Lead. Care. Win. How to Become a Leader Who Matters” Thinkers50’s #1 rated thinker, Amy C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School, calls it “an invaluable roadmap.” Publishing in October 2023, a new book, Work-Life Bloom, (You won’t want to miss digging in.)

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