Leadership & Management Employee Experience Current Topics

People Leadership and The Future of Work: An Interview with Belinda Morris, SPHR

"I think the future of work is about people doing what they love, in a way they love to do it, from where they love to do it, and to the extent that they want to."

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The world of Human Resources has been fundamentally altered and irrevocably integrated into mainstream discourse.

Thinkers like Adam Grant and Brene Brown have forced HR personnel all over the world to reevaluate their roles, prioritize people, and think holistically about all that a human needs in the work environment. Companies are updating their Chief Human Resources Officers’ with Chief People Officers and even adding Employee Engagement specialists and wellness programs. Benefits packages with unlimited time off and flexible scheduling are becoming expected by employees, and all these changes have culminated into a larger conversation about what ‘work’ looks like, how it feels, where it’s located, and who should be included.

To unpack these advancements, I spoke with Belinda Morris SPHR, SHRM-SCP. Belinda is a People & Culture officer with over 20 years of experience managing HR departments, consulting with Fortune 500 enterprises, and offering her change leadership to companies of all stages. She founded HR Advisory practice Peoplescape, has a particular talent for matching organizations with people leaders, and she offers an understanding of HR that only someone with her rich passion could.

Our conversation centers around creating a positive company culture, the future of work, authenticity and the importance of Belonging in the DEIB framework, and people leadership.

Can you briefly tell me about some highlights of your career and about your passion for HR - specifically around people leadership, talent acquisition, strategy, and communications?

I always had a passion for law, psychology, and business and I couldn’t quite work out how to combine them until I discovered HR. That’s really how I came to this profession and why I enjoy it so much; I managed to combine my passions so to speak.

About highlights of my career, there have been so many! Starting in HR, my very first role came about rather unexpectedly. I ended up in an HR department in professional services where I was supporting an HR manager who actually didn’t have an HR background. That catapulted me into a leadership role before I was quite ready, but I decided to say yes and work out how to do it afterwards. That’s been a bit of a trend from then on. For those reasons, I would say that the very start was a highlight for me.

I feel like you bring such a unique perspective because companies are microcosms of the places they are in; nowadays, they tend to have people from all over the world who have their own cultural viewpoints about what’s normal and what’s reasonable - your background seems perfectly suited to work within this space. Speaking of which, what do you think differentiates a ‘bad’ company culture from a great one?

That’s a really huge and excellent question. As you were talking, I was thinking about some of the great thinkers we have today like the Brene Browns and the Simon Sineks and what they teach; it flashed through my mind that everything we see and feel and read informs us and shapes us. A lot about what they teach has filtered into the way I do things.

What I see as a good company with a great culture is when there is, Simon Sinek’s term, psychological safety, where people feel they can be themselves and bring their whole and real selves to work. That is something that informs my DEIB work - Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging - very much so. Creating a culture where people can feel safe to make mistakes, to take risks, and one where they won’t be blamed or lose their jobs is definitely a foundational part of great cultures because that’s where you get a culture of innovation.

Safety requires that people feel they can bring their real selves; there is no longer the old fashioned world where there is a work life and there is a private life and who I am at work is different from who I am at home. There is no longer that requirement to hide everything about yourself and only be at work talking about work. What makes a good culture today is organizations that recognize this and acknowledge that every person who comes to work is not just a worker who is achieving results for them, but they are a human. Organizations and cultures who celebrate the multi-faceted humans that we are, who embrace that, and who make people feel like they belong there, like they are expected to be there, are those that are successful.

Whether you are the leader, the manager, or the employee, if psychological safety is in place, I think that is the cornerstone of a good culture.

Research supports that the benefits of diversity don’t rest solely on diversity, but on whether people feel they can express themselves and their culture at work. I always felt like that wasn’t represented well in the standard DEI framework, but the addition of belonging rounds out the whole concept.

Yeah, I once heard the CHRO of Workhuman, Pemberton, speak and he said something really impactful to me. But first, I’ll come back to that, you’ve probably heard the quote by Verna Myers, who’s now at Netflix, who says ‘Diversity is being invited to the dance, Inclusion is being asked to dance, and belonging is dancing like there is no one watching.”

Pemberton said that it’s not just that you’re hired and you’re invited and you’re included in meetings, but it’s that you’re expected to be there. It’s a given. Of course, you’re there! This is when people can feel like they belong - it’s not a charity invitation, it’s just a given. I really like that and it really sums it up.

Getting to the point where people don’t have to think about their existence in a workplace seems to be the ideal.

I just read this great book called The Fix by Michelle King. She writes about how when people come into the workforce they may think there's no more discrimination against people based on gender or race, but in fact that’s how organizations are set up. These issues are institutionalized and it really beats people down. And while everyone wants that beautiful spirit of innocence coming in, it's helpful to understand that these problems exist, but that it's not about individuals.

Organizations have constantly been putting in place programs for women and minorities to learn how to be better and stronger within organizations, whereas it's not them that need to be fixed.

We are all doing a lot of work these days to try to get to the foundation of problems and not just focus on temporary solutions for things that are really symptoms of larger, deeper issues. Considering how much HR has changed over the last decade, in what ways have things gotten better for employees?

I think there are a lot of good things that have happened that benefit employees and people. For one, I think just the openness in the world, where everything's more open and available and accessible is a benefit. You can't make a negative statement and not have someone else hear about it. You can't claim that you're something that you're actually not because eventually it will be seen. I think that openness brings out a lot of truth.

Also, authenticity and truth are much more applauded now than they were before. In the example I mentioned before, where we had the work persona and the private persona, that's no longer the case. They are melting into one. So authenticity and being who you really are and having it be OK to be who you really are is definitely coming to be a new reality, and I think that's very helpful for employees.

I also think acknowledgement that people are multifaceted and that they should be comfortable to be who they are has allowed people to bring more of their whole selves to work. And there's more awareness about DEIB and how beneficial it is to organizations. McKinsey did a study where they demonstrated that organizations that were more racially and gender diverse were over 20% more innovative and more profitable than organizations who weren't in those categories. So it's not just a nice thing to be diverse and to include people; it actually makes you more profitable.

Also, work-life balance is coming into the forefront. I think that companies acknowledge that people are no longer machines to just knock out work. They have to be able to be healthy and to balance their lives and to have a life.

There's also the other side of that coin. People are showing that they can do so much, especially during COVID. Because everyone's at home, it's easier to step back to the desk. We're finding a lot of people are burning out because they are working so much, so work-life balance is challenging that way.

The concept of work-life balance being important, authenticity being important, truth being more important than before are all positives being brought to employees in the workplace.

You put that well. It is interesting because the blurring of the work and private personas is a good thing, but it seems to also come at a time when the blurring of work and life is something workers have to be careful about.

There are definitely pros and cons to all of that. As we grow in the one area, it impacts us. And I think that, yes, loving what you do allows you to never work a day in your life, and loving how you do it is being reinforced with being able to work remotely, being allowed more flexibility, and being allowed to be who you are. That brings expectations and more and different stresses.

It's about learning how to balance new balances that we didn't have to balance before.

What role do you think leadership plays in all of this? What does it mean to be a good people leader in 2021?

Being a good people leader is meeting people where they are and being a good listener. A good people leader knows who their people are as individuals, as humans. They don't come in with a prescribed idea of what a role entails or what a person needs to do in the role -  a good leader comes in with an idea of their vision, how it will be achieved, and exactly which aspect will be done by their crew.

Team roles, how things should get done and by whom, should be defined based on knowing who your people are, what they're passionate about, and what they excel at.

How do people leaders go about learning this about their employees?

By having huge listening ears and being authentic themselves. By sharing that they don't know everything, by sharing what they do know, by sharing their own successes and failures, and by being open themselves as a role model - this allows their people to be open with them. When leaders can have really authentic conversations with the people that they work with, they can understand exactly what makes each person tick. And that's what makes them successful as a leader.

You mentioned the term future of work earlier, so how do you interpret the future of work and what do you think the future of work is?

I think the future of work is about people doing what they love, in a way they love to do it, from where they love to do it, and to the extent that they want to.

Key Takeaways

Belinda’s poignant comments need no synopsis, but here are some key takeaways:

Firstly, great companies prioritize psychological safety, authenticity, and belonging as it relates to DEI.

Secondly, great people leaders listen and learn from their employees in order to best serve their needs, align their roles with their passions, and help them feel comfortable to be themselves at work.

Finally, the future of work is a future where work is catered to employees.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

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