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Q&AWhat Do Today’s Workforce Trends Mean for Business, Leadership?

Sodexo CEO Sylvia Metayer spoke with Chief Learning Officer about the company’s latest global workforce trends report.

In Sodexo’s 2017 “Global Workplace Trends” report, the company’s Quality of Life Services division explored 10 topics that are shaping how companies work. The need for business agility, the use of design thinking principles, the rise of millennial workers, the growing use of robotics and automation in the workplace and the impact of migration on companies are among the trends discussed.

“We have a huge onus on ourselves as an organization to understand what it is that makes people thrive in the workplace because we have so many employees, but also because our responsibility to our clients is to create this thriving workplace,” said Sylvia Metayer, CEO of Sodexo Corporate Services Worldwide, a global food services and facilities management company.

Researchers at the organization used global news sources to identify some of the prevailing trends in human resources and interviewed subject matter experts for the report. Metayer spoke with Chief Learning Officer about its implications for the company. She also discussed what the trends will require of leadership.

Your company — as are many — is observing and experiencing first hand many of the trends the report highlights, but was there anything that was particularly surprising?

It’s really amazing because wherever you are in the world these top 10 trends — they’re not just like the ones that overlap or are the most intersecting — they really are the top 10 that we see in every country, be it China, be it Brazil, be it the U.S. We’re really hoping the report is a tool that we can use to share with our clients, drive our thinking forward.

What really resonated with you as far as Sodexo is concerned?

One of the hardest things in doing this report is to actually separate out the trends because they tend to overlap and cross over. If we take intergenerational learning, intergenerational crosses over into the robotics trend, we know the future of the youngest generation in our workplace is going to be affected by robotics. But it also transfers into migration because we know that a lot of the intergenerational dynamics are also driven by different experiences of cross-border migration. When we look at managing the workforce and taking account of these trends, the ones that are probably top of mind at this point will be around robotics and automation because we have a lot of people in our workforce. But certainly the trends on migration and intergenerational are also very important for us.

As you consider these trends and how to address them in a way that will drive Sodexo forward, what does that mean for you as a leader?

I’ve been CEO for 18 months so I’m learning. I’m learning that to be a CEO is to be a servant. My main job is to support our employees, and be a support to our clients and to our consumers. In supporting our employees, I think the most important thing — and it really comes as a consolidation of many trends — is how do you make people’s work easier? It’s why we focus a lot on the impact of automation robotics technology and the work that our people do. It’s also very much about making them ready. The world is changing very fast, so we have to create career paths, and we have to support the training of our people so that they’re ready for change. It’s actually quite an endeavor because it means shifting our organization from a very traditional model, which is very top-down, to one where we learn how to be collaborative.

What’s the connection between servant leadership and being a company that performs in this increasingly dimensional, fast-paced and diverse environment?

The traditional model of hierarchy, which is that you do an activity that your boss tells you to do, and basically your boss’ boss tells your boss what to do, it’s just not scalable or flexible in a world that’s moving very fast. Sodexo has always been based on a model of what we call intrapreneurship, which is you’re the owner of your business. But we found that over time, a very hierarchical organization did not empower people at the lowest level.

So, we had a large reorganization two years ago to allow us to be much more collaborative in the way that we work, so that we push more responsibility all the way down to the sites. As you go up the organization, which is in itself probably an old way of looking at things, you shouldn’t be redoing the work the people under you are doing. They need to do it right, and they need to be empowered to do it right.

Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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