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Mike Rebelo on avoiding the Expectation Apocalypse

After two years of dramatically changed habits, shifted priorities, and heightened pressure to adapt – many businesses, boards and employees have begun to develop differing, and often competing views of what the future of work should look like.

As the demands and desires of all involved careen toward each other – the result is an ‘Expectation Apocalypse,’ in which the equalised forces within a business collide, changing its shape forever.

But it doesn’t have to go that way.

The word ‘apocalypse’ translates to ‘revelation’. That which is uncovered. It comes from the Greek word, which literally means to pull the lid off something.

In a talent-driven market, which has seen increased autonomy, salary inflation, and accelerated promotions – organisations have undergone almost two years of re-evaluation. Many of them have used this time to reflect, reset, and ‘pull the lid off’ the way things were.

They have done this by building their capabilities, investing in business transformation, and testing new products, services, and models to prepare for what lies ahead. And while we know that in 2020 businesses undertook the equivalent of 6 years of transformation in a matter of 12 months– in the last 18, we have begun to see the fruits of that labour come to life.

This year at Publicis, we launched Salterbaxter in Australia – a creative consultancy at the service of sustainability. The brand’s ethos of challenging businesses to ‘deliver progress, not promises’ deeply resonated with me.

As we near the end of 2022, and with the development of economic headwinds – things are ramping up on every level, in my many ways. I believe this macro-shift will again begin to reshape the expectations of boards, clients, employers, and employees alike.

This means that businesses will need to deliver on their transformational promises to their boards, albeit in a harsher economic climate. By the same token, the time will come for employers to establish their way forward, while navigating evolving employee expectations. For employees, the market has seen many people take on new roles, change industries, shake up routine, and challenge what it means to ‘work’.

Some first movers have already begun to address this, by putting a stake in the ground around what they want from their people. In the case of Tesla, the company mandated a full-time return to office. While at the other end of the spectrum, software startup Canva announced its radically flexible return, requiring staff in the office for only eight days a year.

As opposing expectations collide, we are headed toward a climactic moment in time – and I believe that now more than ever, how we view what matters most in our lives will be the guiding force for all of us, as we move forward to 2023.

Last year signified a shift in cultural and employee dynamics. Increasingly, people began to evaluate how work fits into their lives, rather than the other way around.

Our approach at Publicis has been to increasingly shift our focus from creating a great employee experience, to encouraging and supporting a truly enriching life experience.

Avoiding a cataclysmic clash of competing expectations will involve a continued focus on purpose, connection, and creativity.

We know there is equity in purpose and planning. This is based on the simple premise that the more an employee believes in not just in what an organisation is working toward, but the role that they play in getting it there – the more it is going to take to pull them away from it. Connecting our people to a greater sense of purpose and belonging will be key to our progress in 2023.

From both an employee and business perspective, the top performing brands are often the ones that are the most connected, in every sense of the word. They are connected through the culture they bring, the effort they make to come together, and even through the synergy found in the work they produce.

In amongst all these factors at play, creativity will remain the driving force for growth. It is what will connect the collective hundreds of millions spent on integrating marketing and tech stacks for the consumer. It will be the force that entertains, inspires, and sells to our customers. It is the force that will stimulate the future for agencies, employees, and clients.

In 2023, I’m looking forward to seeing all the fresh and interesting ways organisations and employees alike continue to challenge expectations and find new paths to growth. It will be revelatory.


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