10 Takeaways from Workhuman 2019

By Lauren Brown

In the words of our customer Andrew Saidy, talent digitization VP at Schneider Electric, “WorkHuman 2019 was nothing short of extraordinary.” (And if we’re being honest, so were Derek Irvine’s bowties.)

Nashville welcomed us with open arms, amazing music, and some killer hot chicken. This Workhuman was special for more than a few reasons: we celebrated the fifth anniversary of the conference, our CEO Eric Mosley announced a new product called Workhuman® Cloud for Teams so more businesses can feel the power of gratitude, and we had the most humans we’ve ever had in attendance!

At Workhuman Central, the air was pulsing with positive energy – humans got new head shots, carved inspirational words into keychains, and had their brainwaves made into art. Those who arrived Monday participated in meaningful charity events for the local Nashville community and a live study with Wharton School of Business. This year’s attendees also appreciated one another with more than 5,000 recognition moments redeemed at our Gratitude Bar™, which allowed us to donate to three local organizations: Southern WordPlay Like a Girl, and Park Center.

The main themes of this year? Human connection is key, the impact of gratitude on people and business is transformative, daring leadership is a necessity, and shared experiences and representation matter at work and in life. And there are facts and research to back all of this.

Didn’t get to come? There’s always next year in San Antonio, but for now, here are the 10 best takeaways from our lineup of keynote speakers, panels, and more.

  1. Breakthrough performances happen when engagement and accountability meet.Best-selling author and global thought leader Cy Wakeman joined us on Monday for a packed Q&A. Cy thinks personal accountability is the driver of both employee engagement and organizational results and gave tips on what leaders can do to develop that accountability in both themselves and their teams: learn to tame egos, work with the willing first, and be resilient. Cy ended with this piece of advice, “Challenge your people – quit rescuing them. Foster self-reflection. Hold space for people who come to you. But this doesn’t work if you’re preaching and teaching. It only works if you’re saying, ‘I care about you.’”
  2. The gratitude movement is taking over. When Workhuman CEO Eric Mosley talked about the gratitude movement in his keynote, he emphasized looking at it through a different lens. “The act of giving is even more profound than the act of receiving. Giving recognition is a moment of gratitude – it affects how we think for the rest of that day. Gratitude changes the giver and has a more profound impact.” A piece of positive reinforcement can change a life – the data proves it. The data also proves that the more gratitude moments exchanged, the stronger your business. And, as Eric announced with the launch of our Workhuman® Cloud for Teams product, now companies of all sizes can leverage the power of gratitude.
  3. “Life is too short to work on inconsequential problems.” Iconoclastic business thinker and best-selling author Gary Hamel took the stage on Tuesday to share five steps to ridding businesses of bureaucracy – in the most animated way possible. After an emphatic “What the hell is the point of all this?” asked after mention of the minutiae of tedious daily tasks, he dove into the facts. Not only is bureaucracy terrible for human flourishing, it’s also costing businesses. If we cut bureaucracy in half Gary claims we could add three trillion dollars to the economy. “Every human being has the right to develop their gifts,” he said.
  4. Challenge power and protect the powerless. The legendary George Clooney joined us this week and promptly introduced himself as Amal Clooney’s husband. True to his humble roots, he talked about the need to protect others and create a kinder world: “I carried with me my parents’ lesson of looking out for people: challenge power and protect the powerless.” Work toward sharing the luck, protecting the powerless, and creating more inclusive workplaces will have a cascading effect. “How quickly things go wrong is how quickly they can go well.” It can be hard as an individual, but as a collective, sparking change becomes much easier.
  5. Happy companies perform. The International Day of Happiness happened to fall right smack in the middle of Workhuman – how apropos. This day, started by Bhutan, a small, landlocked country in South Asia, is all about the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world. And there’s something to this happiness thing – according to research, happiness increases performance by 12%, and reaches as high as 20%. The 2019 Global Happiness and Well-Being Policy report includes new data on how LinkedIn’s social recognition program drives employee retention and performance.
  6. Lead with self-reflection and humanity. Kat Cole is a true rock star of the business world, and as the president and COO of FOCUS Brands North America, continues to propel her teams to success with connection, community, and creativity. The five lessons she shared – some failures, some successes – that led her to this pinnacle in her career are all deeply personal and show that self-reflection is the hallmark of a true leader. “My job isn’t to make everyone happy, my job is to make sure we do our best work together.”
  7. Have courage at work. When we say there was no room even outside the ballroom where Brené Brown was delivering her keynote, we mean it. As Brené shared lessons from her latest book, “Dare to Lead,” she didn’t disappoint. From being vulnerable to living values and focusing on trust, she gave the audience the teachable skills required for courageous leadership in the future of work. Courageous leaders cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the norm – and they understand that “heart matters” at work.
  8. Sharing stories to bridges differences. It’s true that more makes us similar than makes us different, but as a society we often forget that. And differences can spark fear of the unknown, leading to divides. But during the Diversity & Inclusion panel at Workhuman, “Workplace as a Healing Ground,” panelists form Twitter, Target, and Walgreens Boots Alliance discussed how stories and dialogue are a critical component of modern D&I initiatives. Stories hit a common chord – or even better, a heart-string – to crumble barriers and the inclination to hate those we don’t understand is diminished.
  9. We can all be agents of change. The affable Geena Davis sat down with Fortune Magazine’s Senior Editor Ellen McGirt to share her extensive research on gender in media. Geena and Ellen had a candid discussion about what’s necessary for women to receive parity in all sectors, what’s next for the #MeToo and TIME’S UP movements, and what HR leaders can do to respond to and prevent unacceptable behavior in the workplace to truly make the future of work one where everyone feels safe and included. “A story I’d like to be able to tell my daughter is, ‘Once upon a time, women and girls were not seen as important as boys,’ and she’ll say, ‘Mom, you’re making that up,’” she told us.
  10. Heroes are everyday people. Workhuman 2019 closed with award-winning actor Viola Davis, who shared her story of growing up in abject poverty. What she craved most during childhood was a sense of belonging. “All the things you want, we want the same things. What happens is you become a product of your circumstances. My whole life, I waited for people to see me.” Now she’s helping give emerging artists a chance with JuVee Productions, the production company she launched with her husband, and by being a model of strength, compassion, and conviction for the world to see.

We’ll end with what we do best: a little gratitude. Thanks so much for your readership, and we hope you’ll join us for the next Workhuman® Live  in San Antonio, Texas!


Lauren Brown is the senior copywriter at Workhuman, writing everything from emails and landing pages to all the signage at Workhuman Live.
In her free time, she writes novels, shops vintage, and throws epic dinner parties.

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