People Strategy

5 HR TED Talks That Inspire Change

February 22, 2021
November 7, 2023
Manasi Patel
Lattice Team

For most of us, the work environment is vastly different from what it was a year ago. Priorities have changed, and there’s been a clear shift in the way we choose to spend our time and engage with one another.

As the future of “work” is being redefined, it's important to tap into the things that remind us of why and how we want to work. Here are five TED talks for any HR professional in search of some serious inspiration:

1. Color Blind or Color Brave?

Finance executive Mellody Hobson isn’t afraid of approaching things head-on. Maybe that’s why she begins her talk with a strong dose of reality about her own personal and professional experiences with discrimination. Hobson argues that the best companies aren’t afraid of engaging with uncomfortable conversations around race, and that having different perspectives ultimately results in a better product, culture, and business as a whole.

By shedding a light on the realities and undeniable values of workplace diversity, Hobson challenges us to reject the idea of being “color blind” and instead embrace a new mindset of being “color brave.”

“The first step to solving any problem is to not hide from it, and the first step to any form of action is awareness.”  - Mellody Hobson

2. Forget the Pecking Order at Work

You might wonder - how could an experiment involving six generations of chickens possibly relate to workplace culture? According to entrepreneur, Margaret Heffernan, organizations often mimic the arbitrary pecking order of chicken flocks by giving a disproportionate amount of resources and power to the “superchickens” of the workforce (also known as “stack ranking”). Rather than fostering growth, this approach often manifests as inefficiency and narrow-minded thinking.

Instead, Heffernan champions the value of learning to trust the people you work with and the organic progress that can be achieved as a result -- a phenomenon that she refers to as “social capital.”

“Companies don't have ideas; only people do. And what motivates people are the bonds and loyalty and trust they develop between each other.”                              - Margaret Heffernan

3. The Way We Think About Work Is Broken

For psychology professor Barry Schwartz, the big question is: “Why do we work?” In pursuit of a definitive answer, Schwartz looks all the way back to the Industrial Revolution. He believes this is when businesses started organizing around a false view of human nature that assumes most people reject work unless incentivized with rewards.

The problem with this approach, Schwartz argues, is that it actually deprives people of the intangible satisfaction they can derive from working — things like being intellectually challenged, feeling like part of a team, or identifying with a larger purpose. To put it simply, your people are so much more than cogs on a wheel. It’s time we start rethinking our approach to work accordingly.

“We design human nature by designing the institutions within which people live and work.” - Barry Schwartz 

4. Solving the Workforce Crisis of 2030

HR expert Rainer Strack presents his audience with the hard facts. In less than ten years, the world will be facing a global workforce crisis driven by what he identifies as a growing labor shortage and skills mismatch. So how can businesses prepare to meet the needs of those coveted workers who will be in high demand but low supply?

The answer lies in fostering meaningful connections in the workplace. After surveying 200,000 people, Strack reveals that the top considerations for people when it comes to work are all related to culture. Most workers are interested in healthy relationships, work-life balance, and peer recognition more than they are interested in tangible criteria such as title or salary. This isn’t something we need to wait until 2030 to see. HR professionals can push their businesses forward by adopting a truly people-centric culture.

“Employees are resources, are assets, not costs, not headcounts, not machines.” - Rainer Strack

5. The Puzzle of Motivation

According to author Dan Pink, one of the biggest findings in social science is the ineffectiveness of the reward-and-punishment model. True motivation can’t be forced. In fact, when organizations follow an “if-then” approach to work, they almost always suffer from reduced engagement, increased turnover, and suppressed creativity.

Pink poses a new operating system for businesses that revolves around three key elements — autonomy, mastery, and purpose — which he believes are the building blocks for a successful work environment. For many organizations, this means restructuring their company values and performance standards to be focused on results rather than surface-level benchmarks like hours or attendance. 

“There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”    - Dan Pink

Looking for even more People strategy inspiration? See what other innovative ideas and projects HR leaders are working on by joining the Resources for Humans Slack Community.