The Relational Workforce in an Age of Transformation and AI

philip horváth
9 min readMay 30, 2024

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image credit goes to chatGPT

We live in the middle of massive transformation, while technology has nearly caught up with our idea of what it meant to be human.

Future has caught up with us, too: from climate change to shifting international relations and crumbling supply chains, to AI and the completely new ways of organizing ourselves that have become available — and are now required — to keep pace with the continuous shifts in markets and consumer behaviors.

Our technology is already catching up with our old definition of what it meant to be human, beating us “at our own game”, not just in bricklaying or intelligence tests, but even in emotional intelligence, and they are now already beginning to become preferred companions over our fellow humans and colleagues as a digital workforce is emerging (also evidenced in the recent resurgence of the movie “her” and the controversy as OpenAI focuses on relational AI with a voice all too similar to Scarlett Johanson’s).

Meanwhile how we relate to each other in a world of social media and soon the metaverse and spatial computing is opening up the possibility of connection to the whole world, and also the possibility of an epidemic of disconnection and dissolution into utter loneliness.

All those transformations are requiring a radical transformation of ourselves as individuals.

For leaders this means radically shifting your people into a next level of evolution: the relational workforce.

Transformation ain’t just change

This is not simply going to be addressed with some new skills and horizontal development or some yoga classes and mental health training, but will require a vertical developmental shift. A true transformation.

Transformation is different from change.

Change occurs all the time. Transformation is a state shift into something completely new and suddenly what was isn’t anymore. In between is the liminal space we find ourselves in, when what was isn’t anymore, and what will be isn’t yet.

It is a space of uncertainty and confusion.

This is causing widespread anxiety and disconnection, all the way to nationalism and war.

Anxiety, depression, suicide and similar disorders have been on the rise since the beginning of the century. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) around 12 billion working days are lost annually to depression and anxiety — resulting in about $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.

We all know things aren’t okay.

Those who aren’t simply struggling with daily survival, are stuck in freeze, flight, fight or fawn mode: They are paralyzed in the face of the emerging chaos, or procrastinate on life. There are those who distract themselves into entertainment, shopping, social media pablum, or epicurean delights. While some people actually are going back to 20th century style wars, others fight by blaming and going onto the barricades against each other or for some outdated belief systems, or simply lose themselves in petty fights on comment threads. Many simply find themselves in constant negotiation as to who to be in order to be okay. From impostor syndrome to full on neurosis, modern life is rife with confusion around who to be, eroding everyone’s confidence and ultimately basic trust in life.

Pessimism is as common as dystopian themes in our entertainment as the old systems are crumbling around us, yet people are still holding on to hope for their own lives.

The cognitive dissonance under the surface is palpable, though.

Resulting Mental Health issues and Disengagement at work

84% of employees experienced at least one mental health challenge over the last year and 71% of working adults reported at least one symptom of stress according to the CDC. Especially the younger generation is affected: 68% of millennials and 81% of Gen Zs left their jobs for mental health-related reasons in the last year — also indicating a decline in resilience and capacity to manage stress. Especially when perceived negatively, stress also hampers engagement.

According to new McKinsey research, employee disengagement and attrition could cost a median-size S&P 500 company between $228 million and $355 million a year in lost productivity.

When combined with actively disengaged employees, low engagement costs the global economy $8.8 trillion dollars, or 9% of global GDP.

In the US, about 47% of employees exhibit presenteeism, where they are physically at work but not productive due to poor mental health. 48% of those surveyed in the McKinsey study above said they were productive less than 75% of the time. Meanwhile high burnout rates persist, with 40% of employees experiencing symptoms of burnout, further contributing to decreased engagement and productivity.

Especially since the pandemic and exacerbated by hybrid work, work already isn’t working anymore.

We need new ways to relate to ourselves, each other, to our customers, to AI and to the world at large.

The need for a Relational Workfoce

To address this shift, we need a new kind of workforce with employees:

  • who have activated their relational intelligence and authenticity,
  • who know how to relate productively even under challenging circumstances,
  • and who unlocked their intrinsic motivation to create value.

Relational Intelligence and Authenticity

Relational intelligence and emotional intelligence often get confused. Our emotional intelligence is about our capacity to intuit and attune to ourselves and others, and to regulate our emotions in a way that does not depress them, but supports us in unlocking unconscious patterns and our boundaries.

Relational intelligence is about the awareness of self in relation to others.

It starts with a painful separation from the default ties to the world around us and relinquishing the romantic delusion that anything outside of us will make us whole. From an acceptance of this utter loneliness, of this scary place were we realize that by being “I” everything else automatically becomes “not-I”, separate from ourselves, and that we are completely alone and truly don’t know what is really going on, we can come to a place of authenticity.

Authenticity comes from the Greek “auto hentes” and means self-doing, self-authoring. Most adults (65%) are still acting on a socialized level or below most of the time according to American Psychologist Robert Kegan, which means they are still looking for an external authority to validate them by trying to follow social norms. Only 35% are on a self-authoring — or authentic — level, where they follow their own value system and are internally guided.

Technology has now advanced to a socialized level: after all, especially generative AI and LLMs are the epitome of a socialized response (or as a friend of mine calls it “mansplaining as a service”).

This necessitates for humans to shift the curve.

While we will always have all levels of adult development present in parallel due to ever new generations, we will need to ensure our children are quickly educated not just into socialized, but into self-authoring adults.

Meanwhile, we have a whole workforce that requires an update into this next level of relational intelligence.

Relate productively

Especially in order to create value together under challenging circumstances like time pressure and uncertainty, we need teams of individuals who can rely on each other, who can deal with creative conflict in productive ways, and who can garner their collective genius to create meaningful innovations.

This requires new interpersonal capacities. Over the years I have worked with a variety of creative teams, from artists to event and film production crews to entrepreneurs and innovation teams.

What successful teams had in common was that they had the basis for relying on reach other.

They were showing up authentically with each other, ensured that there was psychological safety and clarity, and knew how to make good agreements. They also gave each other forwarding feedback from a place of care, and always kept their focus on a common bigger purpose.

And purpose is what ultimately creates intrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation to Create Value

In many ways, the components of purpose directly align with the components of intrinsic motivation as described in Deci and Ryan’s self-determination theory.

Purpose is about meaning, transformation and impact:

  • About doing something due to a personal why (authentically),
  • bringing about a transformation around us by learning how to step up to a new level ourselves (as transforming something always comes with a transformation of self)
  • and through that transformation creating an impact for someone else, resulting in a sense of belonging.

All three factors relate to the shifts toward intrinsic motivation:

  • Autonomy — Since the pandemic awakening, when many people for the first time had a new taste of autonomy over their work, employees have increasingly demanded a higher level of it. Also from generation to generation there has been an increase in the demand to have meaningful activity that fosters a sense of self efficacy and individualism.
  • Mastery — Learning is the new knowing. There used to be barriers of entry to learning, physical limitations like paper books and universities. Now, knowledge is readily accessible to the 7.1bn people around the world who have a smartphone and the electricity to run it. In a constantly shifting world, there is always more to learn. Lifelong learning is no longer a privilege, but a necessity.
  • Belonging — As boundaries dissolve in a planetary context and heightened mobility, and even family constellations shift, people yearn for a new sense of belonging. The easiest path to it, and the greatest high we can experience, is to create value for someone else. All life is oriented around value creation, not consumption. When we create value for someone else, we create a bond, a meaningful connection and ultimately a sense of belonging.

Work as a contributor to a sense of belonging

When people talk about their team or organization as a family, it is a bit of a cringe. At the same time, the workplace is where we spend the majority of our waking hours. It is also the place where we have the opportunity to unfold our most authentic self through our contributions, learn to relate to others in ever better ways in sometimes intense settings, and create a sense of belonging by serving the purpose of the organization: creating value for a customer.

Since this was not necessarily part of most people’s training in school or university, nor has this been the norm for most employee experiences, we get to fundamentally shift our workforce.

We need a relational workforce who have activated their authenticity and use their relational intelligence, and who are intrinsically motivated to create value.

This is a vertical development shift, but it has been a capacity that has been available to humans for thousands of years. Many wisdom traditions teach how to activate it, and we are now finding tools and research in modern psychology and neuroscience on now to shift humans and activate more of their human operating system and capacity for creative flow and output.

Shifting the Organization through liminal spaces

Having not just researched, but actively worked with thousands of people in over 30 countries, and in our work with LUMAN, we see that people not just want to activate more of their potential, but when they do, they want to spread the experience and support others.

When we work with organizations, we focus on the coalition of the willing. Those, who already want to share and support in activating their colleagues.

Amidst the liminal space of transformation there are those who want to go back to an imagined past, those who are just waiting until someone tells them what to do or who to be next, and the few who are willing to actively create the future.

We work with them to create a new kind of organization with a different cultural operating system, starting with the individual.

After all, all change starts with the individual.

As Aldous Huxley said:

“There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self.”

More about how you can transform your workforce and yourself in the coming installments.

  • Part 2 — The Future of Organizing — Characteristics of new organizations — purpose driven and with a new Cultural Operating System focused on relationships and value creation
  • Part 3 — How to shift your cultural operating system — how you can use your innovators and early adopters to build internal capacity and cross the chasm to “a new normal”
  • Part 4 — Learning cycles of the individual — the leadership development and resilience required for those willing to use the liminal space of transformation in order to actively create the future

Are you curious about the future? Already actively creating it? Want to learn more about transformation or share with me how you are mastering it? Please connect and reach out on LinkedIn, my website or if you are leading transformation at your company and can use some support via LUMAN.

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philip horváth

culture catalyst ★ planetary strategist — creating cultural operating systems at planetary scale — tweeting on #future, #culture, #leadership @philiphorvath