Cigna CLO Karen Kocher on the Future of the Workplace

When Karen Kocher, the Chief Learning Officer at Cigna, joined Colorado Technical University as a CTU  Presents speaker, she shared lessons from her years of experience in the healthcare world that can apply to many industries. 

CTU Presents: Karen Kocher - Decision Points - Diverging Railroad TracksUsing global statistics and her own years of experience as CLO at Cigna, Karen Kocher can predict the future. Drawing from data trends via Gartner to the World Economic Forum Kocher says that by 2020, there will be more so-called millennials in the workplace than any other group. With the increase in numbers comes bigger influence over the way things are done.

The Changing Landscape

First, we must consider the facts about where the workforce, and thus the workplace, is headed. According to Kocher, countries like the United States, Canada, Germany and Japan will face a significant talent-shortage trend in just five or six years. In countries where there’s plenty of raw talent, like Mexico and India, there are also major challenges to employability; specifically, a lack of education and skills.

Which brings us back to the prevailing influence of millennials, who are comfortable with social media and have easy access to information. These are the people, Kocher predicts, who are going to effectively call the shots about how they want to work. After all, if leaders need a talented team, they have to attract the right people. And that means changing with the times.

Give Them What They Want

So in what direction are the millennials headed? The changes, according to Kocher, focus more on collaboration and less on control. Here’s what’s on the millennials’ wish list:

  • Mentorship: “Most people don’t really appreciate that what millennials want from leaders is to get coaching and to get feedback,” Kocher explains. “They don’t want direction. They don’t want management.”
  • Creative Learning Opportunities: Peer-to-peer learning (where people acquire skills and knowledge from each other) is both compelling to millennials and beneficial to employers who don’t have to wait as long for employees to get up to speed. It also creates the kind of dynamic workforce that leads to company-wide success. The tricky part is cultivating that environment. “It does require some type of leadership and facilitation,” Kocher notes. “It is not something that you need to manage, per se. But you do need to create a foundational type of environment where this type of thing would foster and would thrive.”
  • Independence: More than half of today’s workforce doesn’t subscribe to the notion that productivity is synonymous with sitting in an office. Telecommuting is not only happening with increasing frequency, it’s creating the sort of work habits that position companies for creative ideas, strategies and positive change.

Learning to Let Go

This is where traditional leaders usually run into problems. Repressing one’s inner control freak is hard to do, especially if indulging those micromanaging tendencies is how one has always done business. Because it turns out that what’s necessary for attracting the right talent in the days ahead is essentially counterintuitive for anyone born before 1980.

“It means virtual leadership. It means doing all of the things I’ve mentioned – having a great reputation, having a brand, being socially engaged, crowdsourcing, facilitating and all of that kind of stuff – but doing it with people you can’t see. And you’re trying to do all of this as a really, good, savvy, effective leader.”

Kocher is keen to point out the challenges, but she’s equally eager to point out the hope. Half the battle is understanding what the other side wants. When today’s leaders accept that, they can engage in one of the dialogues millennials love about working together to achieve a workplace environment where everyone thrives.

Image Credit: picjumbo/Viktor Hanacek

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