General Catalyst’s Quentin Clark on Workforce Health and How Employers Can Support Their People

Quentin Clark knows more than a thing or two about the enterprise space and what it takes to build impactful SaaS products. His time as CTO of Dropbox, CTO and Chief Business Officer of SAP, and Corporate Vice President of Microsoft put him on the front lines of scaling and driving innovation at some of the world’s most influential companies. 

Quentin now shares his experience with tech founders and leaders as managing director at General Catalyst. As an investor, his focus is on next-generation enterprise products that can help solve today’s most pressing workplace challenges. Quentin is interested in the platforms and applications that can unlock creativity and collaboration among teams and fuel healthier, more inclusive cultures. 

In the last year, when we’ve thought about the Future of Work, talent has been at the top of the list—retaining the best teams, finding and hiring the right people. We’ve seen conversations peak around the Great Resignation and the Great Reshuffling, and now market volatility leading to hiring slowdowns and even layoffs or rescinded offers. But in focusing so narrowly on talent, what have companies lost sight of? 

I sat down with Quentin recently to get his perspective on this question. He shared his thoughts on the changing nature of the workplace and how employers can refocus on the needs of their people to gain a competitive advantage. What follows is an edited version of our discussion:

What have businesses left behind or not prepared for in their hyper-focus on talent? 

The focus has largely been on performance, productivity and filling the talent funnel—everyone’s been working on overdrive to address these issues. But if we take a step back and view things more broadly, the nature of work is changing dramatically. We’ve built workplaces and processes around the locality of work, going all the way back to farms and factories where people physically needed to be there. That has now fundamentally changed.

Distributed work and the talent market mean employees have more agency and a stronger voice than ever before. This shift was already taking place, but the pandemic accelerated it like a meteor hitting the Grand Canyon instead of water slowly eroding the status quo for years. Meanwhile, we’ve seen a generational shift with Gen Z entering the workplace and an increased global awareness driven by social media. All of this has led to a change in how employees think about their employers. 

There needs to be a corresponding mindset shift among employers. Those employers that navigate this transition well and prioritize their people will see benefits to the business as well as a positive societal impact. The incentives are aligned here. To achieve this, the focus now should be on people and their career pathways, or what I think of as workforce health. 

<split-lines>"Distributed work and the talent market mean employees have more agency and a stronger voice than ever before."<split-lines>

Can you talk more about workforce health and what that looks like?

Employees want to be understood, valued and supported, and workforce health solves for that. The concept encompasses employee health—physical, mental and financial—and also the trust between individuals in a workplace, the trust in leadership, inclusivity and work-life balance. It means that employers give people agency over their pathways and provide environments for healthy work. 

Market and technological advantages are fleeting or underminable—it’s all about the people, and it’s always been that way. That means there will always be a talent war. Focusing on workforce health is a win-win for employers. They will attract and retain the best people and those people will be more effective. 

<split-lines>"Market and technological advantages are fleeting or underminable—it’s all about the people, and it’s always been that way."<split-lines>

How can employers evolve policies and processes to better support workforce health?

One area is building a next-generation benefits mindset. Traditional benefits and perks were centered around a physical location and workplace experience. The shift now must be toward supporting a person throughout their life and tailoring their benefits experience. Personalization is already a major topic in the consumer space, and now it must be applied to employee experience. 

It’s not just medical benefits. Personalized benefits should include mental health, financial well-being, cultural well-being, recognition and more. We’re working with a company called Awardco that's democratizing participation in recognition and rewards. New tools like this will change the types of benefits on offer and how they’re provided.

Another area to look at is employee engagement and well-being. It’s possible that a person is physically and emotionally healthy but will still leave the company due to misalignment with the mission or lack of growth opportunities. Employers need to spend time measuring engagement holistically and show interest in whether people are happy with what they’re doing and whether they perceive that their career goals can (or cannot) be met there. 

Are you seeing any new tools and technology built to help address these challenges?

If the focus now is on people and pathways, employers must ask themselves how they enable those pathways. Education platforms have emerged to help solve for this. Guild partners with top universities to help companies upskill their people through education benefits. Other companies like Multiverse are building alternatives to college education and corporate training with professional apprenticeships. 

These tools can help companies empower their people to identify career goals and evolve their skill sets. That’s the first step and, from there, it's about providing structured opportunities for employees to further develop these pathways. 

These career pathways can also help with inclusion and more empathy-based management, which are so important to workforce health. Talent management platforms like Eightfold.ai enable employers to mechanize all this, whether it’s upskilling or reskilling their workforce, reaching diversity goals or retaining top performers.

<split-lines>"I’ve been in rooms where the need for a senior role comes up and someone asks, 'Well, who do we know?' That’s absurd."<split-lines>

Are there technology gaps that still need to be filled?

There’s a deep need for technology that helps companies find and assess talent. One of the biggest workplace priorities is hiring the very best people, not only someone who can get the work done but who can also do the job in a way that’s consistent with corporate values and who will evolve alongside the company. 

I’ve been in rooms where the need for a senior role comes up and someone asks, “Well, who do we know?” That’s absurd. There’s a huge opportunity for systems that can help surface the right talent.

Recruiting shouldn’t require a human to look through dozens of LinkedIn profiles one at a time. Technology can sort it for us and surface the right talent for recruiters. The companies that can widen their recruiting nets and build a more diverse workforce will have a major advantage.

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