Josh Bersin on 5 Key Trends Driving Culture Change Today

Josh Bersin, principal and founder, Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, fascinated the crowd with the interesting perspectives on culture he shared at the 2nd Annual Ultimate Culture Conference. He started by sharing some interesting data and insights about why culture is important. He followed that explanation with a summary of five key trends driving culture today.

Jobs of the future are essentially human jobs

Josh said he believes we are talking about culture all the time because “organizations are all going through disruptions.” He continued, “Organizations have technology challenges in their products and services, we should reinvent them for the digital world.” He referenced CEO research coordinated with MIT where “90% of respondents said that their business model is being disrupted by some form of digital disruptor; 70% of them also said I don’t have the right people in the company, I don’t have the right leaders, and I don’t have the right skills.”1

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The future of work and the revolution of artificial intelligence

Josh shared a series of surprising statistics about a “revolution” in artificial intelligence that’s “doing away with some very important jobs.” This latest wave in technology is doing away with many “sales jobs and managerial roles, and pushing towards more and more service people, human-oriented roles in organizations.” He believes culture is important because “more and more of the jobs of the future are essentially human jobs.”

“Starbucks could easily put robots in the stores to take your order, listen to your voice, manufacture the coffee, and you could walk right out with it probably in one minute, but you would lose the experience of talking to the barista, smelling the coffee, getting that coffee cup with your little name on it that was just made for you that makes it a personalized experience. That’s what’s going on in the world of work and that’s one of the reasons that I think culture is becoming a very, very strategic part of business.”

Corporate hierarchy and top-down leadership are going away

Josh explained, “the idea of the corporate hierarchy and the idea of the org chart, and the top-down leadership, it’s gone, it’s going away.”  Work may look “like the picture on the left (above), and you have leaders who are acting like it’s the picture on the left, and you have reward systems designed for the picture on the left. The company is running like the picture on the right. That’s the way people actually work.”

Josh believes, “when you work in a big company with tens of thousands of people you don’t really know all of those people. You only know a small group, so you tend to gravitate towards a small group. Companies like W.L. Gore, for example, split their business units into 100-people groups because they know that about 100 people is the optimal size.” Josh continued, “the idea of a small team really works.”


Teams need to communicate, but many don’t

Josh shared research done by MIT where researchers “found that if you look at the pattern of communications inside your company, you will spend two orders of magnitude more time with people that are within 50 meters of your desk than people that are far away.” He believes this is the reason many companies like Google and Facebook have created big campuses to bring people together so teams can communicate well.

“The one problem with this organization that we’re becoming…is that if these teams don’t talk to each other, if they don’t share values, if they don’t understand what each other are working on, they will actually compete with each other.” He gave the example of Sony missing out on the digital music explosion. They had “dozens of different digital music players but they were all in small groups run by different R&D teams; none of whom were talking to each other.” He continued, “I think one of the biggest reasons that culture is so important … is that if you don’t have a common shared culture that’s well communicated, these teams will not work together. They will not know what they could or couldn’t do with each other, and we have research to prove that.”

We need to deal with the “overwhelmed employee”

“We have been given the equivalent of addictive drugs by our technology providers,” Josh explained. “We are all a little bit overwhelmed at work.” He shared research they completed in support of a Deloitte University Press article titled the Overwhelmed Employee.2 “40% of people think they can’t have a reasonable family life and a reasonable career, and that’s an indication of how bad this has become. Also, to make it worse, we have not improved productivity. So, all of these great tools that we’ve gotten, all this technology has not necessarily made us more productive.”

We are all a little bit overwhelmed at work.
-Josh Bersin

Josh continued, “your employees to some degree are struggling to figure out how to get their jobs done in a meaningful way with a flood of emails, messages, Skype, whatever it is, the technology is that you are using.”

Engagement is not improving

“Engagement, as best I can tell, has not gone up for the last 20 or 30 years. Look at the Gallup data.” Josh reviewed data compiled from Glassdoor; “This is employees’ personal opinions of their companies. It’s almost a perfect bell curve, and for the five years that I’ve looked at it, it stayed the same.”


He analyzed the data and found “no patterns whatsoever. There isn’t, I’ve looked at it statistically (audience is laughing). The only thing that is different about these companies is their leadership; the way they treat their people, the way they think about their people, the investment they made in their people.”

Five Trends Driving Culture Today

Trend #1 – Learning
Josh explained, “We are becoming a service economy around the world thanks to technology, robots and everything else.” He also mentioned that John Hagel, co-chairman of Deloitte LLP Center for the Edge, noted that, “companies are moving from scalable efficiency to scalable learning.” Josh continued, “It’s great if you can produce your product and service fast and cheap, and get it in front of customers, but you’ve got to be learning at the same speed because somebody else is copying what you’re doing and taking your margin away.”

“If you look at millennials, learning and development is their number one driver of why they want to work for your company. You have to provide a learning experience. You have to provide a learning culture. You have to create an environment of learning for your people; both for them as individuals and, of course, also for you as a business.”  Josh shared a statistic from their recent research on millennials.3 Only 28% feel their organization is making full use of their skills. He believes “unconscious bias on age” is one of the reasons since many of us grew up in a world where you have to “pay your dues.” He shared the need for rapid developmental assignments to support “quick learning for young people.”

Trend #2 – Purpose
Josh explained, “we came out of the 2008 recession. A lot of millennials can’t afford to buy a house anymore. They don’t want to drive a BMW; they are happy to take Uber. They don’t necessarily have the same values, economic and financial values … and there is an ethos of purpose in the world.”

He shared research from the book Firms of Endearment on “companies that define their value through purpose, and those companies were 8X higher performing financially than the S&P 500 and 4X higher performing than the companies highlighted by Jim Collins in Good to Great.”4

Trend #3 – Inclusion
Josh explained research where they “correlated about 80 different practices against financial outcomes. What we found is that the highest performing companies were not necessarily good at recruiting or development, or leadership development, or coaching. The number one most highly correlated practice amongst those companies was what we called having an inclusive talent system. Being inclusive and dealing with issues like bias and diversity in who we hire, who we promote, who we pay, how we deal with leadership succession, all of those issues.”

He talked about the importance of inclusion and creating an environment where people can speak up. He suggested reviewing the unconscious bias training programs that Google, Facebook, and others are openly sharing on-line.

Inclusive teams have very specific business outcomes that other teams don’t have.
-Josh Bersin

Trend #4 – Feedback
Many companies were originally set-up with the company sharing feedback on you once a year and you giving feedback on the company once a year. He continued, “in some ways, it’s completely absurd that we designed our practices like this, but this is the way HR was designed until the last probably 3-4 years. Today, of course, that’s all being unleashed where we’re basically going to become like Yelp at work where you’re going to be able to Yelp everything [for immediate feedback]. I actually do believe that’s where it’s going to go, but it’ll be a very positive thing.”

Josh explained, “you have to think about feedback as a whole architecture. You’re getting feedback in many areas … and all of that information is part of your leadership, understanding where they have cultural gaps, where they have cultural needs, and where they can improve the performance of the organization.”

Trend #5 – Leadership
Josh shared his views on leadership, “I believe what’s basically happening is a changed ethos of leadership.” He continued, “the leaders that we respect, the leaders that are considered to be role models, are servant leaders. They are collaborative leaders. They are purposeful leaders. I think that is really happening. We still have lots of stories of traditional leadership out there but, more and more, that’s falling away.”

He shared some interesting data (below). Josh explained, “companies really don’t invest much in leadership and, when we study the maturity of leadership development in organizations, there’s a fair number of organizations that are doing very traditional things.”

A final leadership challenge

Josh ended the session with a challenge. “I would challenge you in your five areas of culture [drivers from this post], take leadership seriously. Focus on millennials, focus on young people, drive leadership and educational experiences, and coaching down lower in the organization. Give people opportunities to take leadership roles much, much earlier in their careers. You will be surprised what they can do.”

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As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte USA LLP, Deloitte LLP and their respective subsidiaries. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.


1 Bersin, Josh. “Digital Leadership Is Not an Optional Part of Being a CEO.” Harvard Business Review, 10 Dec. 16. Web.

2 Schwartz, Jeff, Ardie Van Berkel, Tom Hodson, and Ian Winstrom Otten. “The Overwhelmed Employee.” Deloitte. Deloitte University Press, 7 Mar. 2014. Web.

3 Buckley, Patricia, Dr., Peter Viechnick, Dr., and Akrur Baruahttp. “The 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey.” Deloitte. Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, 2016. Web.

4 Sisodia, Rajendra, Jagdish N. Sheth, and David B. Wolfe. Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2014. Print.

About the Author

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Tim Kuppler

Faculty Tim Kuppler is the founder of Culture University and former Director of Culture and Organization Development for Human Synergistics, a 40+ year pioneer in the workplace culture field where he led collaboration and partnering efforts with culture experts, consulting firms, industry organizations and other groups interested in making a meaningful difference in their organization, those they support, and, ultimately, society. Currently with the Compass culture division of the staffing powerhouse, Insight Global, Tim authored Build the Culture Advantage, Deliver Sustainable Performance with Clarity and Speed, which was endorsed as the "go-to" resource for building a performance culture. He previously led major culture transformations as a senior executive with case studies featured as part of the 2012 best-selling book – Leading Culture Change in Global Organizations. He was also President of Denison Consulting, a culture assessment and consulting firm and is an accomplished speaker and recognized as a Top 100 leadership conferences speaker on Tim's 20 years of culture and performance improvement experience includes the rare mix of executive leadership, coaching, and consulting knowledge necessary to help leaders quickly improve team effectiveness and results as they focus on their top performance priorities, challenges, and/or goals. He networks extensively in the workplace culture field in order to learn and apply the latest insights from many experts.