People Management

Podcast Recap: The Next Inflection Point For People Management

By Shane Metcalf, CCO of 15Five

Employee development is one of the most strategic decision-making areas for any company. Developing and nurturing your people’s experience and skills requires thoughtful, deliberate action. Today’s guest has built his career around helping businesses do just that. 

TrueCar’s John Foster is a business designer who helps people and organizations reach their highest potential. He’s worked for and consulted many of the world’s most innovative companies, which have given him broad experience designing, building, and managing internal operations for talent-driven employers.


Note: This podcast interview was recorded earlier in 2020 and will not reflect awareness by participants of just how much things have transformed. As people management continues on distributed teams, the lessons and advice discussed here are still relevant and applicable to current challenges.


In this episode, John describes the most crucial components of helping your people perform at their best. Initially, it’s important to place them in roles that best utilize their strengths. Once there, management must provide the proper support so that employees can focus their energy on something important they care about, not on something they can’t handle:

Click here to listen to more episodes of the Best-Self Management Podcast!

As Chief People Officer, John strives to make sure that his organization is providing the necessary environment for people to perform well together. This is something that was seldom done decades ago, but has since become a key initiative in the modern workplace. John explains why he thinks organizational culture has shifted, often for the better, and where he thinks it will go from here.

In this episode, we also discuss:

• Striking a balance between supporting people in becoming their best selves and expecting individuals to bring their best

• The process for determining if your people and organization are operating at their highest levels

• How attitudes toward fostering intrinsic motivation at work have shifted over time

• Expert predictions about future shifts in workplace environments and expectations

• Using challenges and novelty to strengthen a team’s cohesion and an individual’s growth

An Inflection Point for People Management

The following is a transcribed and lightly edited portion of the Best-Self Management Podcast, Episode 19, “An Inflection Point for People Management w/ John Foster“:

Shane: We’ve also done a series of two podcasts where we’ve gone deep into intrinsic motivation. It’s an essential piece of understanding what actually motivates human beings. 

John: Forty years ago, I don’t think there was a whole lot of concern or understanding of intrinsic motivation as an important component of work. I think it was accepted that you did the job you were told to do and perform your part, and that’s what I talk about when I mention manufacturing as a model. You are part of a process that was defined by someone else. There were a select few people in the company that got to decide what would happen. Most everybody else just did what they were told, and that was okay. 

I think what changed big time in my lifetime is the idea of exponential change described in the book Future Shock, which was an early book I read in the 80s about what was coming in our lifetime. It’s the idea that we hit an inflection point 10,000 years into humanity. Everything we learned from our parents and their previous generations is at question. We’re now living year to year sometimes, and massive amounts of change make it more important for us to figure things out along the way, to be more agile. 

That’s why agile software works better. It moves faster and It’s customer-centered through things like asking questions and being focused on what’s evolving. Another phrase for this is “VUCA,” or volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment. That happened in the last 10 years for sure. Now, we’re living where CEOs and executives don’t really know the answer to the problem that’s going to help their company grow. So, they have to ask the people on their team or in their company to help them figure it out. That inherently requires choice in discretionary effort and creativity. It’s not top-down, I’ll tell you what to do. It’s hey, help us figure this out.

Shane: It totally demolishes the traditional org chart of saying the executives know best, the CEO is the smartest one in the room, they have the vision, they have all the answers to actually being, in a way, a more chaotic organization where information and solutions can come from any direction, from any angle. 

John: Absolutely. 

Shane: So what do you think is the inflection point that we’re currently at when it comes to people management? 

John: What I see unfolding right now and what I’m most excited about is the idea of agile careers. The idea of a skills profile and a portfolio of evidence that you carry instead of a resume of places where you worked. You use those to describe your competencies and evaluate opportunities and say, okay, I’ve been able to do project management and software coding and here are my three examples. I think I could do this next piece of work, which is going to require someone who can lead a team through a difficult problem and satisfy a customer. 

That work is much more granular and it’s much more formulaic around a project. They call it “project-based learning” as well. Things are shorter in duration, more concrete and specific about what’s required. It’s much more molecular or fluid instead of a job that’s going to be three years, and then I’m going to move up a level and I’m still in the same profession, in the same career, at the same company. Those are larger containers. 

So, the inflection point is how can we get more granular and fluid. I call it “skills fluency.” You’re more fluent in your own skills and you can assess what’s needed and discuss it: what’s important, how should we do it, what do you think? If you’re asking a lot of questions and you’re using a more granular framework, then people can reassemble themselves every six months, maybe every three months. As long as it’s a valuable output, you can get paid for that and string it together into a career profession. 

John Foster is a business designer who helps people and organizations perform at their best. He has broad experience designing, building, and managing internal operations for talent-driven companies, including all aspects of HR, learning and development, and innovation. In 2013, John founded Gamut HCD (Human Centered Design) as a platform to advise start-ups and build tools that help people learn and grow. He has served as CHRO at IDEO and Hulu, and interim CHRO at TrueCar, Minted, Thrive Market and West, LLC. He is very active in the start-up community as a mentor and coach and has deep expertise in psychology, organization behavior, leadership, and communications. Follow John on Twitter @jfconnex.

Shane Metcalf is a keynote speaker on building a world-class workplace and one of the world’s leading pioneers in the space of cultural engineering and positive psychology. His insights have been featured in Inc., Fast Company, The Washington Post, and Tech Crunch. As the Co-founder of 15Five, Shane and his team support HR Executives with data-driven people management. 15Five has won numerous awards for its company culture, including the prestigious Inc. Best Workplaces award, and is ranked #3 in the U.S. on Glassdoor. Follow Shane on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Additional Resources:

The Wisdom of Teams

Primed to Perform

Silver Bullets

Project Adventure

“The Smart-Talk Trap”

Predictably Irrational

What Color is Your Parachute

Best-Self Review & Competency Assessment

Image Credit: Isaac Smith on Unsplash


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