The Great Resignation & The Future Of Work: Rhoan Morgan On How Employers and Employees Are Reworking Work Together
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Rhoan Morgan.
Rhoan Morgan is the co-founder and CEO of DemandLab, an agency she launched in 2009 in response to the disruptive impact of technology in marketing. A strong advocate and early adopter of marketing data and technology as a means of generating customer insights, she saw that a lack of analytics and automation was preventing many of her peers in B2B and consumer businesses from capitalizing on the potential. She launched DemandLab as a full-service marketing and sales agency that specializes in delivering technology-assisted strategy and campaign execution to her clients.
One of the first wave of marketing leaders to recognize the potential of marketing automation, Rhoan continues to explore next-generation technologies and analytics that accelerate revenue, prove marketing’s impact, support engaging customer journeys, and deliver valuable customer insights. Rhoan sees marketing as the catalyst for digital transformation that radiates across the organization, connecting sales, IT, customer services, and finance, and generating deeper levels of transparency, accountability, and coordination.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better.
Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
I’m originally from Portland, Oregon, but I’ve lived on three continents and worked in a variety of industries. I actually started off my career in graphic design. Then, transitioning into marketing, I worked with film studios in the ’90s promoting new releases for Disney, MGM, and others. Later in my career, I headed up marketing at a nonprofit theater in upstate New York where I could really contribute to the community (while living in a beautiful and richly creative town). That experience led to an incredible opportunity to lead the marketing and sales teams for an internet service provider in Cameroon that was competing with Orange (out of France) and MTN Group (out of South Africa). I lived and worked in Africa for two years before settling down in Philadelphia and working with a software company before I founded DemandLab in 2009.
What I learned pretty early on is how much you can grow, gain and give when traveling and both living and working in different countries and cultures. I’ve witnessed firsthand how getting outside of our comfort zone can be challenging — it’s not for everyone! But, it can be very rewarding. Though by nature I prefer solid processes along with efficiency and structure, living and working abroad helped me learn to be more flexible and agile, and see the value in how surrendering to the flow of the unknown can provide totally new insights and inspirations to incorporate into your journey — or it can take you down a new path entirely. My love of travel, learning, and pushing myself through discomfort bleeds into my work. It keeps me on my toes and always looking for an unbeaten path that could provide new rewards. It also influences how we think about hiring and working with a diverse, global team here at DemandLab. I’d say that’s part of our secret sauce!
Let’s zoom out.
What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce, and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
That depends so much on the industry, doesn’t it? I’ll speak to the space of Knowledge Work, which I’m most familiar with. In the line of business that DemandLab is in — consulting and other work that is really about providing the brainpower and creativity of experts (knowledge work) — I believe remote working will become the expected norm, a stronger focus on how companies treat their teams will be required, and the makeup of our teams will dramatically shift. But keep in mind, this is an option for only about 40% of the workforce, according to some studies. The majority of employees still have to be onsite, especially those in retail, education, healthcare, services, and everyone whose roles fall into the “essential workers” category. So let me clarify upfront that I’m really looking at this through a limited lens related to the space I work in.
As we all know and have lived through, the pandemic made work-from-home the norm overnight, forcing companies to rethink everything from workflow processes to employee management tactics. Fortunately, DemandLab embraced working remotely from day one and the entire team went fully remote in 2018. We have a global team in five time zones, and we had already ironed out many remote working kinks. So, I believe the days of a full-time, in-person office are behind us, and being able to hire the best and brightest — as we have done for years — is a huge benefit for businesses. More companies should take advantage of this, especially now, as finding great talent has become more challenging. This won’t be easy for businesses to do, as they will have to make some major changes to their approach to talent acquisition, onboarding, employee engagement and culture, career management, support and so much more. It’s a major change that will take some companies years to fully transition into. Those that can do this faster will be the early winners in their space. Case in point, we expanded with a European office during the pandemic because we already had a structure in place to support a remote workforce.
I also believe that companies of the future (and those today, if they want to still be around in the future) will evaluate how they treat their teams, and they will be more “human” than ever. There has been an awakening during the past two years, led by a number of important social movements and culture shifts that have forever changed the relationship between companies and their employees. When I started DemandLab, I wanted to create a company that had a strong culture that I would want to work with, and one that our team members would look forward to working with. I have always focused on how I am serving my team, not the other way around. More companies have to operate from this standpoint. This is a two-way street, and we have to support our team members — really partner with them. We also have to be honest, transparent, and human with our teams so we are supporting each other as we work toward common objectives. I take this VERY seriously because, at DemandLab, we’re a consulting agency influencing major marketing and revenue-generating initiatives for massive global enterprises. If my team isn’t happy and taken care of, they won’t be able to make sure that our clients are happy and taken care of.
“Having a strong culture creates a positive feedback loop, and that requires TLC every day.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about our intergenerational workforce lately. It’s a great gift to have people with rich and diverse backgrounds collaborating. In 10–15 years though, we can’t ignore that Gen Z will be a major faction of the workforce and their experiences will shape how we hire, manage, and grow. This is the first generation raised without any idea of what a VHS tape or even a CD is. They were born into the age of smartphones, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMO and RPGs), unboxing videos, social media as a primary source of connection, zero paid TV commercials, and so on. Their life experiences will shape the world of work that I think we’re just getting a glimpse of but need to continue to prepare for. I am sure every older generation talks about the younger up-and-comers, but as the mom of a 12-year-old GenZer, I feel there’s something really unique about this generation entering the workforce.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
Outside of innovation, structure, and working IN the business, I’d continue the focus on the importance of culture and the remote work environment, these two things would be my number one focus for future-proofing. I say this because so many other business functions are standardized by regulatory bodies, math, or policy, but managing culture and remote teams requires a specific kind of leader. Building a strong, meaningful culture across a distributed workforce — especially one that spans multiple countries — requires a new kind of leadership presence.
Also, it’s your culture that will create space for and enable innovation, collaboration, and creativity, and these are going to be more critical than ever to remain competitive. I meet with each team member 1–1 at DemandLab just to learn about their experience with our culture and then we incorporate any new learnings or recommendations that come from the team, especially when we see themes coming through, into our principles and operations.
“As the leader, especially of a remote workforce, you have to be completely committed to your company’s values and authentic in the ways you lead, manage, and practice those values. There’s no time to sleep on this front!”
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
I think I’d go back to the “two-way street” idea I mentioned earlier. Without our team members, there is no business, but also, without the business, there is no employment. Starting your own business comes with just as many if not more challenges. In decades past, employees had less influence over the business and how they were treated. That was changed by some great business leaders who set the stage for today’s employers — they were the first movers in considering employee well-being as a part of the balance sheet. They care deeply about creating a business that rewards their team, not just the board and stockholders.
“Employers and business leaders have to carry that mantle and create an environment that delivers on what’s being promised on everyone’s newly minted culture and DEI webpages.”
We have never lost sight of this at DemandLab and it’s paid off, as we have a number of people that have recently celebrated five- and seven-year work anniversaries this year. Last year, we spent time gathering feedback from our team to evaluate, uplevel, and formalize our own corporate culture and DEI policies. We also made sure that the non-financial perks and benefits we offer were meaningful and relevant to the team, such as:
- Work-Life balance (making sure our high-performing team was taking time to rejuvenate, and taking all their vacation time, ensuring they are taking care of the mental and physical health).
- Producing monthly team events that are purely about being together, enjoying the team, and laughing.
- Ensuring there are career advancement opportunities available.
- Providing more regular bonuses for individual and company performance.
- Ensuring everyone takes advantage of the available paid personal development, professional development, and certifications funds.
We care very deeply about the well-being and satisfaction of our employees and we make sure to demonstrate that through our corporate policies and actions.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce.
What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone? What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
The pandemic accelerated the trend of more flexible working situations and forced some companies to be more empathetic than they had been in the past — and it helped them appreciate that this was the right way to run a business, and can actually be good for business. I’ve spoken to too many people that were denied even one day of working from home by their bosses due to a fear that they would not be productive. They have now had the forced opportunity to prove their bosses wrong! Here are a few things I’d recommend that business owners consider as they look to shape the way we work to support a future of work that works for everyone.
- Improve work-life balance, ensuring that it is valued by everyone at the organization, and keeping in mind that the entire team is looking to you, the CEO, to prove the company really prioritizes this.
- Offer increased flexibility on work schedules.
- Offer more career advancement opportunities and professional development.
- Be as transparent as you can be with your team on business plans and vision.
- Make sure your business is measuring against your culture, DEI, and other employee engagement programs.
- Lead with empathy.
My greatest source of optimism is the team we have here at DemandLab and the many very talented people that I’ve been able to speak with during some recent hiring interviews. The market for high-performing talent is very hot right now, but as I speak with my team and potential new team members, I’m really inspired by their vision and commitment to being part of something they can believe in and feel connected to.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work.
What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
This is a huge part of our work on our value system here at DemandLab, and I’ve brought the team together to work directly on — and own — our culture principles and our diversity equity and inclusion values, which are tightly coupled to how we operate every day. Generally speaking, I go back to something one of our managers said to me recently, that it all boils down to “being a good human,” and that’s what we should be striving for every day. I had a boss tell me once that, when calculated, we spend more time with our coworkers than with our families and in some ways that is still very true, so we had better make it enjoyable for everyone.
At DemandLab we have infused the principle of well-being to the point that you’ll see peer-to-peer support, managers telling a team member to take the day off, no questions asked, to take care of themselves or a loved one; at every executive meeting, we talk about how the team is doing and if anyone needs extra support that week. Our world view at DemandLab is “Be Giving, Care Deeply” and we live that every day. I think more companies need to be open to this approach to employee relationships. And finally, I’d just add that you have to demonstrate trust in your team. A truly trusting environment creates a very healthy operation.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’.
What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
I think employers must consider new ways of making work meaningful, innovative, and exciting, but also allow for personal downtime and nonwork experiences. Also, many in today’s workforce are motivated by innovation as well as personal and professional growth and are looking for ways to progress quickly. So, you have to make sure that you have a career path in mind for your team. From my conversations, many are looking for diverse work experiences, to be self-empowered, and to keep learning. Modern workplaces need to prioritize this.
“Employers must consider new ways of making work meaningful, innovative, and exciting, but also allow for personal downtime and nonwork experiences.”
Let’s get more specific.
What are your “Top Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
1. Treating Employees Like Customers
In my field, the person who figures out the best way to keenly observe and react to a customer’s needs wins the day. So, if we at DemandLab are so good at making our clients better at customer experience and converting sales, why don’t we apply the same principles to keeping our own workforce engaged and happy? We should. If the marketplace is having such a tough time nurturing and/or attracting much-needed talent, it needs to more closely listen and adapt to what employees need to feel satisfied at work.
2. Becoming a Sensemaker
We’re a society that is asked to constantly digest too large a helping of information. I’ve had the privilege of speaking with Brent Adamson at Gartner personally about this phenomenon and the importance of “sensemaking,” which is essentially offering the right amount and type of information so that a customer can make a well-informed, low-regret decision about a purchase. He recently wrote about this in Harvard Business Review. (Note: I think this piece should be required reading for anyone in marketing, demand generation, sales, or sales enablement.) Employees experiencing record burnout rates need bosses to be sense makers for them. Choosing to work at your company should feel like a low-regret decision.
3. Always Considering Each Employee’s Lifecycle
Good customer experience keeps a customer’s entire lifecycle in mind versus simply what they need right now. The same should be true for employees: their entire career path and professional development must be in focus, not just the job they are doing now but also how they can take their next steps of growth with you and in their future roles.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired.
What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
I actually have two that I find deeply personal and also immensely relevant to our world today. First, As the CEO of DemandLab, our team is my top priority and so I read daily about how to create a company that I’m proud to invite people into (as team members and as clients). I read a great article in Forbes, by the Committee of 200, called “The Optimism Divide: The Future Of Work Depends On Much More Than Technology.” I loved the quote at the end of the article:
“The best CEOs are resilient, driven by optimism (that is also realistic), a moral compass, a set of beliefs, emotional flexibility, and social connectedness. And the very best CEOs instill these traits in their employees. Resilient CEOs and employees build resilient companies — companies that deliver sustained performance for all stakeholders, including shareholders. CEOs who embrace a strategy of building resilient workplaces of the future are the future. And that strategy gives me hope.”
Second, as a person operating in a world that can be unpredictable, something I read in an article by Arianna Huffington on the Thrive Global APAC site really hit home for me.
“Resilience is often spoken about — including in the Oxford dictionary definition — in terms of navigating or simply getting through challenges. But the key part of resilience isn’t about bouncing back, it’s about bouncing forward. It’s about using adversity as a catalyst to get better and become stronger.”
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
I’m a huge fan of Ried Hoffman and I listen to his Masters of Scale podcast almost daily. His style, leadership, and creative thinking are inspiring. It would be incredible to meet with him!
I’d also be thrilled to meet with Ann Lewnes, CMO at Adobe. She has been a leader in digital transformation at Adobe, providing the guide for thousands of companies around the world. On top of marketing, I love that she’s leading some of the most important decisions at Adobe by leading mergers and acquisitions, which is especially interesting as an Adobe partner that started as a Marketo partner in 2009.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees.
How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
LinkedIn is my preferred social media platform, so following me there would be great: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rhoanmorgan/. In terms of what I’m discovering now — it’s a wide range, to be honest — I like to learn from unexpected places and channels because I think you can find even more inspiration and get more original ideas from the less-traveled learning sources. I’m a huge podcast listener, reader of any materials on workplace enrichment and marketing and digital transformation, and a member of multiple associations that help me learn to be a better leader, marketer, and person in general. Sometimes I feel like I’m swimming in new information, but what’s exciting about that is how you can connect the dots from something seemingly unrelated that makes for an even stronger outcome at the end of the day.