By Aadi Shiv Malhotra (’21)
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Steve Cadigan, who is a talent strategist and company culture expert who has worked with some of the leading organizations in the world. Steve has worked with individuals as well as large organizations such as BBC, Deloitte, Google, Twitter, and most notably LinkedIn, which he joined in 2009 as its Chief Human Resources Officer. In his years at LinkedIn, he helped the company to grow into the world-class organization which it is today. He left LinkedIn in 2012 and has since created his organization, Cadigan Talent Ventures, through which he works with individuals and organizations to attract talent and create unique work culture. He works with leaders on identifying ways in which their organizations can change and how exactly those changes can be implemented. Over an hour, we discussed Steve’s experiences, the future of work, how applicants can be more competitive in this modern era, and his forthcoming book.
In this article, you will find some of the key takeaway points from our conversation:
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Steve graduated with a degree in history from Wesleyan University, but he did not want to pursue that field when he graduated like many college graduates today. He moved from Connecticut to California after graduation, not because of a job opportunity but rather because his girlfriend lived in California. He got a job as a collector at the fashion company Esprit. While he enjoyed the job, he just could not see doing it for the rest of his life. Then one day the company asked him whether he would like to work in recruiting. Immediately Steve was enthralled by the opportunity as it reminded him of being a coach, as coaches and recruiters both have to assess candidates and find the best person for a team. Steve loved sports and recruiting turned out to be love at first sight for him. From there, Steve worked in many different companies such as Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), Cisco Systems, and Electronic Arts. Over his years at these various companies, he was able to find his interests in the wide field of Human Resources and was able to work and live all over the world. His years of experience in different organizations allowed him to not only find his interests, but he was also able to dive deeply into his main interests.
Do you think companies are adapting to modern generations?
The psychology of the workforce is shifting. I write about this in my upcoming book, Workquake (https://stevecadigan.com/workquake/). A reason I wanted to write that book is that I am frustrated that companies are not appreciating that the psychology of workers has shifted. They are still trying to sell this promise of long-term employment which not just the younger generation but the workforce as a whole does not want or believe. Increasingly the entire workforce is saying “I don’t want a guarantee of a job because I know that you cannot promise that to me and that in this world of disruptions, you cannot promise me that and if you do, I would not believe you. But what I do want you to promise me is that you will make me better while I am here”. The way I frame this is that I believe your generation and the few generations before you are saying that they want to be loyal to their knowledge and their education than some company that they did not help build. This isn’t bad but is rather a new approach. Companies’ benefits improve based on how long you stay there. But when I look at companies such as Google Facebook, and Snapchat, none of these companies have employees staying longer than two years. Here is what I draw from that. These successful companies are being successful in an environment where people are leaving and joining rapidly. So you can create value in a highly fluid work environment. To put urself in the shoes of a business owner, you do not want people to go as you have invested in them and you want them to stay so they can help you more. But no matter what people will go. This is the curse of social media and websites like LinkedIn. What LinkedIn does is that it creates a virtual candy store as you can look out at thousands of potential jobs. To be clear this conversation does not pertain to the entire workforce but rather the white-collar, college-educated professional track workforce. They have more choices and opportunities than ever before. But that workforce is more miserable and unsatisfied with work than ever before. This is a conflict that I am trying to solve in my book that as a candidate you have more information to help make a better decision on where to work than any time in history and companies too have the same option. So we should theoretically have the best matches of candidates but people are still leaving. There are many reasons but one of the main ones – I believe – is that we know more of what we do not have today. We can go on the internet today and see what different places offer – whether a company has Lady Gaga coming over to perform or another one that is flying its employees out for vacation. SO we have envy and we see more of what we do not have and we have not gotten comfortable with that. So companies are still slow to appreciate the psychology of modern workers.
So to give an example, I was in Spain before the pandemic and I had about 20 of the CEOs from the biggest companies in Spain in front of me and I asked them what is their biggest problem. They said that they cannot keep employees as they are leaving and that it is that millennial generation which is always shopping for a promotion. I responded, “you mean your children that you raised are the problem?” and they were not expecting that. I continued, “let me ask you questions, CEOs who are frustrated with the workforce, if it was 40 years ago and you were in your 20s, and you could see infinitive opportunities, are you telling me you would be in the same company today, 40 years in the future. That is what the workforce sees today – you could not see this as you did not have the internet. So why are you blaming some generations for attributing erosion of values because they leaving? No! They have more choices and they want to take advantage of that choice. And by the way, you are firing staff and letting go of more people and their parents were let go by you too. So you have to shift your thinking.” So I think we are in that phase, companies are starting to realize. Even those tech companies are still not as understanding as they could be.
So what do you do if you are a company? I say you do what Spotify did. Spotify says you cannot be in a specific job in this company for more than two years and will be moved to a different team. We know that when you move you get energy, you learn more new things, and we get the benefit of you knowing more of how to run our business. And we know that the longer that people stay in a place they get more stale and bored and we are in a short attention span world. That’s the world we live in and it is not comfortable for businesses and I get it. It is a hard shift to make and it will take time.