Brandon Carson – Global Learning Executive, Delta Airlines

Johann

My name is Johann Berlin, host of the Discerning What Matters podcast and CEO of TLEX Institute. throughout this series, I’ll be interviewing experts and leaders who are driving what the future of work will look like within their companies and across their industries. During the podcast, we’ll be exploiting a central question. As technology speeds us into an uncertain future. How can we design a future of work that meets our human needs and values? How can we create environments that will help us flourish and thrive in the way we live and work? We’d love to hear from you what matters most to you in the future of work. Please share your thoughts with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook at TLEX Institute. And you can check out our work and symposiums on tlexinstitute.com. It’s really a pleasure to have Brandon Carson Joe. Joining us for this next interview on the future of humans at work. Brandon is an award winning learning and development executive with extensive experience working within digital transformations and rescaling of frontline employees. He currently heads a growth global frontline learning for Delta Airlines and was previously with Home Depot. And he’s the best- selling author of the book, learning in an age of intimacy five factors for how we connect, communicate and get work done. I think you’ll agree the insights and frameworks and questions that Brandon raises are very insightful and really get at the heart of what the potential threats and possibilities are in the future of work. We’d love to hear your comments in the social media channels on TLEX Institute and we hope that you enjoy the interview. Well Brandon welcome to the series on the future of humans at work. I’m really excited to have this conversation as we were discussing before I feel so much of what’s happening in the future of work is being driven by technology automation AI. And there’s really room for conversation with thought leaders like yourself to explore well, what is it? What is the type of work where we can both be productive and flourish? And so really appreciate you taking the time today.

Brandon

Oh, thank you it’s really great to be here I appreciate it.

Johann

And from your role in your industry what do you think if you were going to discern a few things or one thing that matters most in the future of humans at work? What would those be?

Brandon

Well, I think there are three key forces of change happening right now that affect not only humanity, but definitely business in the workplace. And those three are globalization, demographics and technology. When you think about globalization that’s been occurring for several years now. Global access to markets and talent is completely altering fundamentals of business operation, supply chains have had to become more efficient, increasing volume and turnaround. If you look at the efficiency in supply chains over just the last decade. It’s quite amazing consumer expectations to have dramatically shifted, which has affected how we design products and the services we offer and even manufacturing. And then technology has driven market expansion capabilities, which has increased competition exponentially. And wealth is now spreading quicker than at any time in human history, which is driving more consumption. They look at demographics multiple generations up to five by next year. We’ll be working side by side and companies which creates a unique talent development challenge for these organizations. In 2016, a third of the US workforce turned age 50 or older and this represents about 115 million workers. So as they start to move out of the workforce, a labor shortage will come about more than likely, probably a significant labor shortage. But along with that comes a skills shortage. So as people urbanize now, they are starting to share more knowledge together. And which is one of the key reasons you see this big change in our demographics as older workers are leaving. And as humans are urbanizing, the whole construct of you know, work demographics is changing. And then the third one technology, so a more integrated global economy affects almost every business system. And if you talk to almost anyone in any organization, they’re reconfiguring their work processes. They’re evaluating their technology systems from back to front seeking efficiency and enhancements and optimization. So these three forces of change which are going on right now, like I said earlier also happening while we’re migrating. We’re undergoing the largest migration of people in human history right now. And we’re rapidly urbanizing. Like I’d said so most of us, in 1952 thirds of us were in non-urban settings. And so by 2050, we’re going to flip that and two thirds of us will be in urban settings. So this shift is quite dramatic. It’s really the underlying driver of the digital transformation that we’re in right now. But during this transition we’re going to have to face this impending skill shortage. We’re going to have to address the deficiencies in our public education system we’re going to need to question the role of the individual the state, the industry and education. Businesses need to reassess how it designs work and work environments we’ll need to develop new capabilities, some that don’t even exist yet. We’ll need to organize work and help workers manage their careers in new ways. For example the retail industry which is the largest employer segment in the US the impact of the frontline worker will probably be quite significant. There likely be millions of displaced workers in need of jobs and they they’ll have insufficient skills. But if we’re smart, we’ll get ahead of this now. And corporate l&d I think will play a key role in ensuring the workforces of the future have the skills necessary to answer this rapid change. I believe the l&d function will probably become the center of attention in every aspect of business performance. It’ll be leaned upon as a primary resource in the success of the business. We have a lot of blind spots right now we’re trying to figure out in our industry, really the role we play and how we can provide evidence of the value we add. But as an industry, we are beginning to ask the right questions. We’re focusing on increasing our own skills, especially in the areas of data science, automation, like you mentioned the technology. But this change is easily the most significant in the last 50 years for l&d. We’re going to have to think about how we’re structured, where we reside in the corporate organization and abilities and then we need to accept our lack of real control over learning in the workplace. And we need to recognize that and accept that learning unfolds in all sorts of ways… ways we don’t control… ways we’re not a part of and really focus on, “how we can recommit ourselves right to the changes we need to make, to make sure that we are a part of the conversation as the future work unfolds?”

Johann

Wow, so that’s just going to unpack a bit of there was certainly a lot there and it really well articulated. Thank you, Brandon. A few things that really, really stood out to me one is that in the discussion about the future of work and skills and automation and job displacement, so much of it is missing the fact of the aging work demographic. So much the conversation, which means that if we can have lower order tasks automated, that may be necessary especially whenever you look at places like Europe or Japan to some extent the US I mean, the statistic you gave on people retiring, was quite a large one. And so I think that I think that’s one aspect, which I think is often overlooked in this side of the conversation. And the other, which I’ve just started to hear more about what you’ve touched on, is that the need for rescaling and in getting ahead of that curve. Because I think so much of whenever companies have thought about being left behind, it’s been in the fact of technology transformation. And so that has been where the majority of the resources are going and kind of strategic initiatives. But, but this but this human element is also really important. And in the challenge with learning, I think as a culture and as an information age that we live in, so many of the things that we can just you know, hearing something is not learning it, seeing a presentation is not learning it. And I love this point that you make about. There are different styles of learning. There are different pedagogical approaches. There’s peer to peer learning, there’s learning, experiential learning, there’s learning by doing. There’s iterative learning and micro habituation. And I think too often if you look, if we look at the education space, for example, it’s a very dated model if you will, it hasn’t it hasn’t evolved much. But having said all of that and taking this to maybe a more optimistic view, because I feel the general perception is a bit more pessimistic. What is it the gives, where would you find optimism? Where would your silver lining be? I mean obviously, there will be those displace jobs. Where do you see the biggest possibilities for the future of humans and work?

Brandon

Those good comments there and I think you’re I think you’re spot on several of those. There’s really two main camps. When it comes to the impact of let’s just call workplace automation you know, this whole aggregation of things that are happening to change the workforce driven by this digital transformation. There’s really two camps. There’s those that are predicting massive displacement, which will result in some people say revolution and probably revolution, unlike we’ve seen in quite some time. And then there are those that believe that displacement will not necessarily lead to revolution or you know violence, but that will spark more innovation in newer jobs and new forms of work. And really right now, it’s hard to say who will be right. I mean, it’s hard to predict these things, but you can’t ignore the anxiety that you see now across the globe. The rise of populism the younger generation, focusing more on unions and work environment, is that a one in demand? Answer Increasing expectation that business play a more active role in society in general that they have. But I’m very optimistic about how we will shape the future of work for most human history. If you look back on it, work has been m ostly unplanned. Let’s you know, let’s be honest and it’s consumed the majority of our lives. And I believe once we emerge from what I’m calling these reconstruction years as automation begins to take more tasks away from humans. We will have the ability to completely redefine our relationship to work and focus more on finding meaning and purpose in the work that we do take on for us as humans. So it’s definitely more my style to be optimistic. But I think we’re getting to you know, that inflection point where some decisions are going to have to be made by us as humans on what our future of work is going to be like. And we do have a massive what I like to call frontline worker, but a frontline worker community that is not skilled appropriately and are doing jobs now that will be taken away from them or they’re at least doing lots of tasks that will be taken away from them. I don’t know about wholesale jobs, those will probably be predicated on you know, a combination of augmentation and human interaction. But it’s really hard to tell right now which way we’re going to go. And we still have that ability, if you will, to make those decisions and keep that human element in the conversation.

Johann

That’s so interesting and I love this point that you make about the Industrial Revolution probably was not a pleasant one for workers. And I think we have sort of heuristics as human beings to perceive fear of the unknown. And when there’s really also a lot of emergent opportunity, especially if you look at the last 200 years of work by comparison. And this point that you make about higher order, meaning and purpose at work. And I think is a really good one because a lot of the ails that we see in society are you know, people are disengaged from work currently you know, emotionally disconnected and often mentally disconnected. You see, social isolation is at a high from 20 years ago, even though we’re more connected than ever so finding ways. And I think this is the really interesting intersection, that you’re touching on finding ways where we can create great customer experiences and also fulfill those human needs. For example, connection, right like if great customer care, at least authentic connection that is great for those companies in those brands. But it also has an immune boost and a pro social boost for the people who witness I would love to hear. I mean I know you’re doing a lot of interesting things there Delta Airlines, what are some of the ways that that? And actually I’ll preface this by saying it’s really easy to talk about these things in sort of theory, if you will. But you’re in one of the hard jobs, trying to figure out how to do this right. And that’s a that’s probably an emergent thing and iterative thing but I would love to hear what are what are some of your thoughts. And I guess you can share with us about how you’re thinking about this and trying to shape it in the work that you’re doing?

Brandon

Yeah, I’m fortunate in that I am in an organization. So at Delta I’m in the organization that supports all of the folks that work in the airports across the world. And so these are the folks that directly interact with customers. And also make sure that the experience that the customer is going to have is one that is exceptional. And so along with the the focus on safety and the focus on you know, efficiency. There’s also this you know, this fanatical focus we have on the customer experience. And so I think what is great about the job I have is that I can really help directly help impact our customers and the experience they have when they’re consuming our products and services. And so that’s really a great opportunity that I have in working with the folks who are providing those services to customers has been really eye opening and even before this job at Delta. When I was in retail I also got to see that direct connection to the customer and you know. Consumer expectations like you said earlier, consumer expectations are shifting and as we are moving towards more personalization and more individualization have the customer experience. They are expecting more and so that’s definitely you know what I enjoy doing the most. And helping folks helping enable our folks who work in the airports with these customers has been great. But from the l&d industry perspective, we’re definitely at an inflection point. So you know, business has been investing a significant number of dollars into the corporate l&d function over the last 50 years. And there’s really been little understanding or little evidence of l&d has on the business. And I think more and more we’re being asked to provide evidence of our impact, which is driving really a wholesale reconsideration of where we really do add value and what we should be focused on. Our senior leaders are definitely asking the question to us. And so I’ve actually begun to move away from that idea of a monetary ROI you know and learning to to show up evidence of our value and more towards what I call a return on learning effectiveness or ROI. And I discussed this in my book I wrote but I think l&d and this is what we’re doing needs to determine how best it can gather the right data to show where it best adds value, which will then enable it to alternate strategy. Reduce its investment in areas where it really isn’t adding value and be okay with that. And have that self-awareness as an organization that you really can’t solve all the world’s problems through training, right. But this really means moving from being a support function to a business and move away from being a cost center, taking orders to more of a line of business with a dedicated budget. A strong perspective on what drives true bottom line business value and really be out there with your employees, helping them do what adds value to the business.

Johann

There’s a lot of lot of rich stuff in there. But I would love to hear what do you feel some of the adaptive challenges are going to be in doing that over the next 5-10 years. I mean but yeah, I would love to just hear your perspective on that.

Brandon

I think this probably spans multiple industries at lots of organizations. But I would think that if I put one word to that as an answer to that question I would say leadership. So almost half of all leadership roles are expected to be significantly different within the next five to 10 years. We’re in as we’ve been talking about today, we’re in a world of constant change, more uncertainty, more complexity, more ambiguity, rapid and continuous business change. Like I’ve been talking about customer expectations continually evolving. I call this era of really the pre digital Dark Ages in some respects, because we are constructing the infrastructure that will fundamentally alter every aspect of business and work. We’re putting all these things together. Like I talked about earlier, there’s three huge changes forces of change, if you will, around Globalization and around demographics around technology. It’s an uncomfortable time, really. But it’s a necessary place that that we’re in and we have to go through it. But I think we have a great opportunity to take on the challenges now that will provide us the velocity to navigate the new complexity of business. And this really, quite frankly, during this time works not going to get less complex in there will easily be a decade of uncertainty, political instability, workforce frustration, risky technological implementations. Through all this, we will need persistent courageous business leaders. And I believe this is probably the biggest deficit in a lot of companies right now is leaders who can help the workforce navigate these uncertain times. And so back to that, I think we need to invest in leader development. I think it needs to be meaningful needs to have a bias to action. It needs to reinforce key behaviors. Necessary to lead us through this time you know ability to empathize. Ability to formulate workable strategies in this consistent change going on this constant change, understand how those strategies need to be executed and be able to apply critical thinking to some of these really hard challenges. I think that’s the if I was to put it to one thing, I think leadership, that’s the key adaptive challenge that businesses are going to be faced with the next decade.

Johann

No, I love that and you’ve touched on so many things. Which I think are so the series of this is the future of humans at work, but the you’ll notice the name of the of the actual of the interviews is discerning what matters. And this ability that you’re talking about for leadership to be able to discern what really matters, because of the points that you made around complexity is really at the heart of I think that that kind of leadership mindset and a couple of things come to mind. One is you’ve talked a lot about customer expectations evolving. And one of the big things there is around consistency. People expect consistency. And it becomes that becomes a sort of expectation. And then they expect surprise and delight on top of that. And I think to your point, in many aspects, we are coming out of a period of incredible stability and consistency into potentially more of a volatile range. And so often if we think about the the the leaders that have been hired, it’s the person who’s 100 times smarter than everyone else, right. And that’s also reflected in the salary. But as we move into an era of unpredictability and new aspects and changing aspects to the point that you’ve been making. This point that you bring up a leadership agility, the ability to adapt, respond to lead is so important and I think I think that’s really spot on. I will be curious in your industry, where are the areas where you see sort of the human touch to human essence human presence and connection? Empathy can play a big role. And where are you seeing? Maybe that technology could take away lower order tests or the specific areas that you’re seeing in your industry that where that kind of segment into these two categories?

Brandon

That’s a good question I don’t think there’s any industry that will be untouched by the digital transformation. I mean, maybe hairstylist, maybe you know, their systems will definitely be automated. But this is one reason that I think we need to stop segmenting specific workers as knowledge workers per se. All workers at every level are now knowledge workers, because every job forevermore will require some level of technology acumen or they will be interacting with technology in some manner to get their job done. But an interesting aspect of this was our CEO this year when he laid out his plan for us for the year. One of the first things he talked about was ensuring that we keep the human element. The humanity in the experience that our customers have with us. And so I think what his call to action was, at least how I interpreted it was, yes. A lot of our products and services moving forward, probably all of them are going to be touched by technology in some way. And as we strive to learn more about our customers’ expectations and what they want from us. We’re going to leverage technology in some respects to help make those products and services the best they can be for the customer experience. However, we can’t also remove the humanity from that rice. We have to keep that as the primary element in what we do because at the end of the day. Like the great thing I was talking about earlier is are our employees talking and interacting with our customers and hearing them and leaning into them. And understanding what their concerns or their challenges are or what their expectations are. That’s really not ever going to be done by a machine, or a chat bot or that kind of thing. Those types of technologies will augment the services and products we offer. But we really want to keep that human element. So I think a lot of companies, a lot of industries are starting to figure that out. And they’re really going to have to, you know, figure out and determine for themselves, how to keep that balance. If you will, between the technology really driving the experience versus a good blend of the human element and technology driving that experience. So I think we have a lot of this conversation going on now because we’re all trying to figure this out. You know, we hear all of these stories about privacy. Data in personal data and all of that being shared. And so where is that balance that we want to strike so that we get the you know, the consumer experience we want, but we also get to control a certain level of data that we give up, right? And what are we willing to do for that to get that kind of service back? So I think that’s where we can never really let that human element get to obfuscated by all of the technology that can that can happen to make the customer experience what it needs to be.

Johann

Yeah wow, so rich in what you’re sharing and I just have to say, I have a great appreciation for the airline industry and the workers in it. I think it’s, I fly a lot hundred thousand miles a year. So I’m frequently with personnel from these different groups and there’s so many things that are out of the control and it’s also stressful for travelers.

Brandon

Yeah yeah, people’s emotions are a little heightened. They’re either trying to get somewhere for business or vacation or you know, whatever reasons. And so that’s why really in this industry a probably in retail as well, but even more so in this industry will never remove that human element from the motion, you know that curb to curb motion at some point you’re going to not always be interacting with, with technology. But there’s also that empowerment capability that technology can bring to that experience to empower you as the customer to make some of your own decisions using our app or you know, whatever we put forward from the technology standpoint of having you craft your experience. We’re doing things in the app, like letting you make your seat changes instantly in the app or look and see you know what you want to do from your meal selection, those kinds of things. So as we as we start to really hear more from our customers and they and their expectations and what they want from us then then the great thing about technology is it doesn’t it’s not difficult to significantly change those kinds of things for individual customers. And so that’s the great thing of it. But there will always be someone on the other side, human that will talk to you.

Johann

Yeah, no and I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful not to sit on calls for you know, 45 minutes waiting. So these things are those tradeoffs and I feel like Brandon, I really appreciate you taking the time today. I feel like it’s been a great blend of framing the overall discussion and topic as well as getting into some nuance and appreciate your perspectives and what you’re bringing to your work. I look forward to following your work there and having you continue to be part of the conversation. So thank you so much.

Brandon

It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Johann Berlin

Johann Berlin is a serial entrepreneur, international keynote speaker and leadership consultant specialized in human and organizational development, mental health and well-being, and sustainable business and investing. Johann is CEO of TLEX Institute, providing over 1 million digital users with evidence-based leadership, breathwork and emotional intelligence training. His clients include top business schools like Harvard Business Schools and Fortune 500 companies like Amazon and Microsoft. A leadership writer at Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Real Leaders and Huffington Post, Johann is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer for Cooper Investors, a $13 billion private equity fund where he is integrating values-based investing principles into the firm’s culture fund. He is also Consulting Chief Learning Officer at Total Brain where he develops mental health and well-being content for clinicians, large consumer groups, and organizations. Johann is a leading voice on human-centered leadership, founding the Future of Humans at Work conference and podcast. Previously, he served as CEO and co-founder of Sustainable CitySolutions and was SVP of Sustainability and Strategy for JDI. As a board member, executive advisor and community volunteer, Johann is passionate about social ventures dedicated to resilient schools, local economy, prisoner rehabilitation, and youth leadership. Johann's TEDx talk has been viewed over 100,000 times.

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