We often talk about the future of work like it is some distant idea, but the future of work is now. In advance of her presentation at the i4cp 2022 Next Practices Now Conference (March 14 – 17, 2022), Jacqui Canney, Chief People Officer at ServiceNow, shared her perspective on a variety of topics, including retaining talent, listening to employees, dealing with burnout and reframing your thinking because what was once considered far off in the future isn’t any longer.
In September, you shifted roles from CPO at WPP to CPO at ServiceNow. What insights have you gained from this career change during a time of such disruption?
First, my career has changed significantly because the importance of the HR function has shifted in ways we have never seen before. All these shifts put chief people officers in the spotlight as we address big challenges: keeping our people safe and healthy as the pandemic evolves, empowering our people in hybrid work models, constant adjustments to return-to-workplace plans, reckoning with racial and social injustice, the ongoing competition for top talent, to name just a few. The trends around many of these challenges began before the pandemic, but they have accelerated dramatically.
I joined ServiceNow because we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redefine work. We want to lead that charge because our purpose is to make the world work better for everyone. I’m thrilled to be at a company that’s growing so fast and has a bold vision to be the defining enterprise software company for the 21st century. I have a unique role as CPO here: I’m focused on simplifying work for our people, and we also deliver technology and workflows to help customers simplify work for their people. I know this firsthand because before I started at ServiceNow, I was a customer. Our technology has helped me turn complex HR processes into simple solutions for large, global workforces, freeing up time for people to do what they do best: innovate, create, connect.
The past two years have underscored that none of us know exactly what the next several years will bring. Everybody is rewriting the playbook. It’s also clear that investing in our people is here to stay. We all need to be open to those shifts, build our acumen, stay curious, keep learning, and continue to grow. I’m one of those many people who made a big career or life shift during the pandemic. We’ve added more than 5,000 employees globally since mid-March 2020, most remotely, and I think my experience helps me understand how to keep our incredible people happy at ServiceNow, while also supporting and welcoming new people into our company.
Talent attrition is at an all-time high, especially among women, people of color, and traditionally underrepresented groups? How is ServiceNow working to offset such trends?
In this Great Reshuffling, millions of people are reevaluating their career and life priorities, quitting their jobs, exploring new career paths. Many are tired, grieving, searching for a renewed sense of purpose in work. Women, people of color, and traditionally underrepresented groups are carrying especially heavy burdens along with longstanding injustices. So many people have new responsibilities, from juggling childcare at home to learning new ways of working on the fly. Given these dynamics, we see tremendous competition for talent across industries.
At ServiceNow, we know employees are in the driver’s seat, and we want to meet them where they are with flexibility, choice, empathy, and compassion. We’re at a pivotal point for a high-growth company, and we all know that attracting, retaining, and developing the best people will be key to our success. Our ambitious business goal is to be a $15 billion-plus revenue company by 2026. To do that, we need to roughly double our global workforce. With these big goals, we’re putting people at the center of everything we do, focused on three strategic pillars: 1) scale and innovation, 2) inclusive employee experience, and 3) growth and development.
There’s nothing more important to me than fostering an inclusive culture for all our people. As my friend, Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei, always says, people should not only feel safe and welcome, but celebrated and cherished. We’re focused on creating new opportunities, from our $100 million Racial Equity Fund to build sustainable wealth in Black communities, to building new bridges for careers in the tech industry, like our new Tech Scholars Program and NextGen Academy at HBCU Benedict College. And in January, I was thrilled to welcome our new Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, Karen Pavlin, who will help lead our global efforts to strengthen our inclusive culture, ensure equity, and create a deeper sense of belonging.
Finally, people want to know their work makes a significant difference in the world. As our CEO Bill McDermott says, we want to give engineers, for example, the chance to do the best work of their lives: innovating the future rather than integrating the past. That’s why we’ve made a pact with our people: everything we do should help them live their best lives, do their best work, and fulfill our purpose, together. When we deliver on those commitments, it helps keep amazing employees at our company and continue to grow our workforce.
There are more technological options than ever to “listen to your employees.” But what does it take to truly listen to your employees and act on what you’re hearing? And what are key, realistic levers that organizations can pull to personalize the employee experience?
Everything starts with a leadership culture of listening, but the way we respond is just as important. We must take action in ways that our employees feel every day.
I’ve focused on listening and learning since I started in September, from our global surveys to meetings and events with our people and our customers. ServiceNow has excellent digital tools to do just that for both our own workforce and for our customers. For instance, Listening Posts allow us to gain insight and improve the employee experience in real time, and our EVS Surveys help ensure our culture is built upon a foundation of open and honest feedback. We are the first customers of our own products, which also helps us innovate and strengthen our solutions for customers.
We’ve designed our people strategy based on listening, and within that framework we can do concrete things to support our people. For example, we know from our surveys that our people have a deep desire for learning opportunities that will help them grow themselves, their teams, and ultimately, the business. That’s why we’re investing in growth and development, and we’re launching a new learning experience platform later this year, which will help us develop leaders at every level. We’re also launching a new leadership accelerator program with The Leadership Consortium, led by faculty from Harvard Business School, with a specific focus on building a diverse talent pipeline, and kicking off our early-in-career development program, Launchpad. And we’re building learning experiences to meet people where they are with the right learning at the right time, in the flow of work.
Those are just a few examples, but it comes back to listening and learning new ways we can simplify and improve our people’s lives.
You describe the “future of work” as happening now. Do leaders need to reframe their thinking, from being practical to urgency and action?
We need to reframe our thinking because work has changed permanently. For many years, we talked about the “future of work” as a distant, abstract idea, but it’s already here, from companies succeeding in hybrid work models, to technologies that connect us around the world in new ways every day. Early in the pandemic, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, “We have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” and that transformation continues at full speed. Successful leaders have acted with a sense of urgency.
At ServiceNow, our north star is simple: to make the world work better for everybody. We’re well positioned because we help our clients navigate this ever-changing landscape so they can win – both now and in the future. In 2021, for example, we created digital workflows for the NBA and WNBA to show that a safe, careful return to play was possible with the right tools and protocols in place. We’ve now built on that partnership to create and streamline workflows across the leagues. Rather than responding to what the future throws at us, we’re helping customers shape it.
Finally, when I think about the future of work, I think about inclusion. I think we need to reframe our thinking to see these two important conversations around the future of work and DEI at the intersection where they meet in the world today. That’s why, for example, we’ve designed our hybrid model to treat our people fairly and equitably, wherever they get their work done.
Employees are burned out. How do you feel organizations can help their employees “reset” their well-being?
The pandemic brought mental health to the forefront of the employee experience. Burnout is at an all-time high across industries. As leaders, we need the grace and imagination to open the conversation about mental health, recommit ourselves to the wellbeing of all our people, and provide world-class, inclusive support and resources. In 2018 when I was on the World Economic Forum Future of Work Task Force, we talked about skills of the future: digital literacy, flexibility, growth mindset, data-driven decision making. But we also talked about empathy and compassion as key skills, and the pandemic has only made them more important for the future.
Reversing the stigma around talking about mental health at work is a key first step to ensuring that all employees feel safe at work. It’s our responsibility in the C-suite to lead the charge – starting and supporting frank, sometimes difficult, conversations about mental health in the workplace. That’s one reason I joined the board of Project Healthy Minds, an organization dedicated to ending the stigma around mental health. And at ServiceNow, part of our commitment to help our people live their best lives is prioritizing their mental health. That’s why we’re launching a new wellbeing platform this year to better meet the needs of our global workforce. We want to continue to learn and evolve as we go.