Utter flexibility about when and where and how people get work done. While meeting spaces will still be a necessity, we will not be looking at the traditional 9 to 5 that we’ve done in years past.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Tami Simon, CEO and Founder, Sounds True.
At age 22, Tami Simon started Sounds True, now a multimedia publisher, with a dream, a tape recorder, and a guiding mission to disseminate spiritual wisdom. Over its 35-year history, Sounds True has produced over 3,000 titles, been nominated twice for the Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing companies, and is North America’s leading publisher of spoken-word spiritual teachings.
One of the world’s very first organizations to focus on multiple bottom lines as part of its founding mandate, Sounds True has expanded steadily over the years while staying true to its original mission. Partnering with the leading spiritual teachers of our time, Sounds True now has a successful book publishing program (distributed by Macmillan), and has grown to produce events, certification programs, and transformational online learning experiences.
Tami hosts the popular Sounds True podcast, Insights at the Edge, which has now been downloaded more than 15 million times. She is also the founder of the new Sounds True Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing spiritual education to people who would otherwise not have access. She lives in Boulder, Colorado and in British Columbia with her wife, Julie Kramer, and their two spoodles, Raspberry and Bula.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
It’s hard to choose just one, but there are a couple that stick out. The first is, I’m attending my sophomore year at Swarthmore College, studying Religious Studies. There’s a gentleman named Gunapala Dharmasiri — who is there for one year on a Fulbright scholarship teaching both on Buddhism and existentialism. He’s introducing some of the principles of Buddhist philosophy in class and describes three marks of existence:
- The first mark of existence is that everything is impermanent. I looked around and I was like, “That makes sense. That’s true. Everything is changing.”
- The second mark is suffering. We suffer because we can’t accept that everything is impermanent. We don’t want things to change, we don’t want to lose people we love.
- The third mark of existence is that because everything is changing, there’s no such thing as a solid self. You’re always changing, too. There’s nothing solid about you.
This was the first time I ever heard someone talk about understanding one’s self and the world in a way that made sense to me. And so, right then and there, I committed myself to not just studying Buddhist philosophy, but being a meditator. I wanted to see this deeply for myself, and meditation is the lens through which you can gain a personal comprehension of these truths.
The next story is quite remarkable, and it is how I started Sounds True. At the end of my sophomore year, I went to Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal for a year to deepen my study of meditation, and when I returned, I didn’t fit into the conventional world. Here I was — a college dropout, starting to interview spiritual teachers for a local community radio station as a volunteer. I wanted to use this as an opportunity to learn more about the deep experiences I had in Asia and to possibly integrate them into a functioning human life.
One of my guests had these huge crystals in a commercial window that I would walk by on one of the streets in Boulder, Colorado, where I now lived. Over one of the doors, there was also a Yin Yang symbol with a dollar sign through the center of it, and the words “transformational economy” over the symbol. I was curious to speak to the person who occupied these offices, and I ended up doing so.
In one of our conversations, he asked me what I was doing with myself. I didn’t know! I had dropped out of college and was working as a waitress. I was 21, and just a few months earlier my father had died. Upon his death, I received an inheritance of 50,000 dollars, and I didn’t know what to do with this money. The person with the crystals in the window gave me advice to put the money into myself. I then walked out of his office, and something very strange happened. It felt like I was walking three feet above the ground. I remember it feeling very odd, and then I heard a voice. To this day, I do not know the mysterious source of this voice, but I heard these three words: “disseminate spiritual wisdom.” At that point in time, my feet hit the ground and I knew those were my operating instructions. I knew then I was going to take the money I inherited to do exactly that: disseminate spiritual wisdom. It was the universe giving me direction and a sense of purpose.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce, and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
First, we are going to continue to need training to be successful at work. But, the type of training we need and the emphasis is going to change. We are still going to need what are called “hard skills,” but according to Jeremy Hunter, Drucker School Assistant Professor of Practice (and one of the faculty members of Sounds True’s Inner MBA program), “there are hard skills and then there are the hardest skills”. While some people call them soft skills, in reality they are actually the hardest to learn and master. With the hardest skills, we learn how to be self-aware and monitor our reactivity. We learn how to emotionally hold space for each other. We learn to empathize with the difficulties people are experiencing even if they are occurring outside of the workplace — whether that’s in parenting, in finding work-life balance, or with their health or the health of their families. In developing these hardest of skills, we become connectors with all the people we work with. Management and leadership training is going to include and emphasize the mastery of these hardest of skills, which are the skills of compassion, authenticity, and open-heartedness.
The B Corp movement is continuing to grow, and 10 to 15 years from now, leading companies will be those that have some type of certification, whether that is B Corp certification or a different type that demonstrates that the business is aligned with what consumers want, which is to support businesses that honor JEDI values: justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. The companies that will thrive are those that operate with a high-level of transparency, have fair hiring practices, value the protection of the environment, and have generous policies in place that support employee well-being. These are the businesses that will attract the best talent and engender the most customer loyalty.
Recently, Sounds True interviewed CEO Lorna Davis for the Inner MBA, who established the largest B Corp when Danone Wave and WhiteWave merged. She said that in 15 years, having a company that is only focused on shareholder returns will be as repugnant to people as lighting a cigarette on an airplane. So, while smoking on an airplane was once considered normal, it’s not okay today — and that will be the case with businesses that are solely dedicated to shareholder return. The workforce will not stand for that, and will ultimately demand that businesses honor all stakeholders, including the environment and social good. And the companies that are loved will be the ones that invest their energy into solving real social problems.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
To future-proof any organization, it is important to realize that the companies who genuinely care for their employees — not just to tick a box or to be ranked on some power list but because it is part of the ethos, the very heart of the organization — will be the successful companies of the future.
To future-proof your organization, upper management and leadership teams will need to be as transparent as possible. We see it all on social media, and with all the other ways people communicate; there are truly no secrets in the world. So, companies must dedicate themselves to being transparent about how they operate at work, because everyone is going to know anyway.
In this vein, successful companies of the future will be those that stand for social causes and who demonstrate that through some contribution of profits. For example, at Sounds True, we have started the Sounds True Foundation. It was vital to us that we create access to the transformational programs we create for those suffering financial hardship or who would not otherwise have access to those programs due to cost. That’s one of the ways any company can help create greater meaning in what they’re doing — by devoting a portion of their overall profit to nonprofit work.
The companies that will be thriving will have also addressed employee burnout from a place of genuine care about people’s mental health and overall well-being. This care needs to be expressed in many ways — for example, by providing super flexible schedules and by letting employees work wherever and whenever they want to the highest degree possible. This will ask companies to have a greater sense of trust in people. People want the freedom to manage their own lives, work, and schedule, and the companies that will be successful are those that have teams that are highly self-managed. What this means is that the people who are closest to the work are the ones who are responsible for managing how the work gets done. That is the kind of freedom and self-empowerment at work that people want, and ultimately people — and therefore the company as a whole — do better when employees have greater control over their work.
Lastly, Paul Hawken is a writer and environmentalist who we’ve worked with at Sounds True. As a climate change expert, he says that addressing climate change will be the biggest global social movement we’ve ever seen in the world. He is absolutely right on this front, and so in
10 to 15 years from now, the businesses that are successful will be somehow contributing to solving the climate crisis. They’ll be actively contributing to reducing global warming and making changes to better the planet.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
People want whole, full, rich lives. They want to be parents. They want to be friends. They want to be physically healthy and to have time to reflect. Businesses need to support these wishes, and to understand them from within. Businesses thrive more when employees are energized, when people feel deeply connected to not only themselves, but to their fellow coworkers and to a larger company purpose.
What will the gaps be? A lack of care for the whole person. An unwillingness to offer truly livable wages. A focus on the primacy of shareholder return instead of the health of the entire ecosystem of the business, which includes putting people first, both customers and employees. The way to solve for these gaps is to create a truly human-centered and heart-centered workplace.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
Human beings need a place to gather. We do not need to gather there for 40 hours a week, but we do need places where we can come together to create, connect with each other, develop deeper relationships… even celebrate. So, that is not going to go away, as there is still a need for workplace gathering spaces of some kind. But what will be different is there is going to be a tremendous amount of flexibility in how we work, where we work, and when we work.
Furthermore, this whole notion of being one person in the workplace with a certain persona and then being a more whole and genuine person in your personal life is going away. And thank goodness. We’re starting to see that we are real people. The pandemic has created this phenomenon where not only do I see you in your bedroom or your kitchen, but I see your cat, I see your kids — and I’m suddenly in your house with you. It has established co-workers as real people. You’re a real person who is getting a delivery, you’re a real person who is running late because your kid needs something. Additionally, as human beings, we don’t want to be pretenders. It takes energy to pretend, and in an age of burnout, we need to use our energy in useful ways, to be as authentic and loving as we can be. Being “fake” at work is a bifurcation of our humanhood that is breaking down, and the workplaces that will be successful are those that have managers who know how to be authentic and how to welcome people’s authenticity.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
To support a future of work that works for everyone, people will need to be at the heart of everything companies do. That means the people who work for you, your customers, your stakeholders… the well-being of people needs to be right at the front and center. We need to see that focusing on people feeling healthy, balanced, energized, and well-rested is not a cost that keeps us away from our profit goals. Instead, when employees feel well-cared for, the company performs better and actually makes more money. An employee’s wellbeing is not in conflict with success metrics, but rather a convergent force.
During the pandemic, people experienced stress levels like never before — especially parents trying to take care of their kids and keep up with their work. At Sounds True, we saw this, and then created something called “Quarterly Pandemic Self-Care Days,” where people could take the day and devote themselves to their own self-care in any way they wanted. The reaction from our employees was outstanding; it felt like we were delivering water to people in a desert. But we were just giving them one day off a quarter to focus on what they needed in their personal lives. There are small things like this that companies can do that make a huge difference.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
I believe that as human beings, there is a force inside each one of us that is a forward moving, optimizing function. I can feel it in me, and I see it in others. We all want to improve, making things better. We want to make sure our environment, our world is better. We want to improve our relationships, our home life, our work life. It’s ingrained in us and who we are as human beings — to bring more love into the world, to care for each other. This is who we are as human beings so that’s my greatest source of optimism.
I also feel extremely optimistic because in my role at Sounds True, I talk to a lot of visionaries and leaders. There is an intense pressure right now on our societal system. I believe many of us are feeling this — whether it be the pressure of climate change, political instability — the sense that we are living at a critical time for human beings and what we do in this decade really matters. With that intensified pressure, people start changing, evolving, and taking new risks. Entrepreneurs are some of the most creative and visionary people that I know. They like to wake up and solve problems in ways that are innovative and life-giving. It’s this creative entrepreneurial spirit that gives me optimism about the future of work.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
One of the most powerful things for us to combat the mental health problem in the workplace is to share with one another what we are all going through. It’s imperative to talk about our struggles in a straight-forward and vulnerable way — what is and is not working in our lives — and to make the space to listen to each other with compassion. This takes away the shame when something is first brought forward. Compassionate listening is a healing force.
There is a lot of talk now about people suffering with their mental health — people are not sleeping well, there is a rise in anxiety and depression, etc. It’s something that companies need to start dealing with, and this is where practices such as mindfulness and conscious embodiment come in. Many people are not in their bodies these days but instead are stuck in discursive thinking, anxiety, worry, and various other trauma responses to the Pandemic. We need to train people on how to first come back into their bodies, become aware of their thinking minds (instead of identified with their thoughts and concerns) and ultimately how to rest in the healing presence of space.
This type of embodiment and mindfulness training is readily available. And it enables people to feel grounded and well-resourced instead of spun out. And we can make this type of training available in simple ways — through offering yoga sessions and meditation training and fitness breaks.
Furthermore, companies need to make counseling services readily available to employees. When employees know how to work through difficult emotions as they arise, they come out stronger. By implementing useful tools and tactics, employees develop the capacity to not only be vulnerable, but will see their mental and emotional state change, letting them hold space for not only themselves but for others as well.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
Companies need to put people first, value them with fair pay, and create a workplace culture that embodies care and JEDI if they want to keep people engaged and inspired. Maybe we should call this time at work “The Great Evolution” or “The Great Transformation”….there is a lot of wisdom in people setting boundaries and demanding that their work be meaningful and fulfilling. Why should people work for a company that provides low pay and doesn’t care for their employees? This is putting pressure on the system for companies to pay people livable, healthy wages and to employ practices that embody principles of economic justice.
Also, companies need to genuinely care about people to keep top talent. This care is a true quality of the human heart — it’s not something you enact because you have certain policies or want a competitive advantage. Instead, it’s because your heart is turned on and not covered over. Our heart operates through subtle interconnected webs, and people can feel us when they interact with us. When you start operating from a type of genuine openness and full-heartedness, people will be rushing to work with you instead of rushing to leave you.
Leaders need to be authentic and create a workplace culture that welcomes people’s authenticity. It’s imperative to speak the truth, to be genuine about mistakes — and when leaders do that, it sets a tone across the company. When managers do this, others will follow and before you know it, people will begin to feel at home and connected with those they work with. This feeling encourages people to stay with a company, because instead of The Great Resignation that we’re seeing today, people feel that they are a part of a strong community with valuable relationships tying it together. These relationships are built through vulnerable sharing, truth-telling and acceptance. So, to help combat this movement, we will need to see a tremendous rise in authenticity starting from the top, and the valuing of vulnerability, truth-telling and genuine connection throughout the entire workplace.
What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?” I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired.
- The B Corp movement and being transparent about social good metrics is a trend that will not be going away. In the Inner MBA, the single most popular accelerator was how to become a B Corp. People will continue to want to work for and do business with organizations that have this certification.
- Companies that have a human-centered culture. We are going to see companies change gears from being corporate-centric to community, human-centric. Companies will be heart-centered and truly care about their people. It’s almost painful to call it a trend!
- Utter flexibility about when and where and how people get work done. While meeting spaces will still be a necessity, we will not be looking at the traditional 9 to 5 that we’ve done in years past.
- Businesses will start standing for causes that are important to their employees. Ultimately, people want to work for organizations that are purposeful. They want their lives to have meaning, and therefore their work to be meaningful as well. For this reason, successful companies will start taking a stand on issues important to their employees and their customers. They are not going to be quiet or voiceless — a company that just simply creates a product or offers a service. Successful companies will say what they think and use their voice to stand for what they believe in and the direction society needs to go in.
- Emotionally Trained Leaders. We’ll start to see leaders that are more mature in terms of their own inner development, so that they embody wisdom and compassion. The successful business leaders are not just going to be people who are strategic and financially savvy. Rather, they are going to be humans who can demonstrate care and prioritize emotional well-being and human flourishing. Philosopher sages — the people who care about the earth, other people, justice — they will be running the large companies. We as a society are maturing, and so people will want to work for those kinds of leaders.
What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
“Let’s see the karma in 10 years.”
The reason why I love this quote is that we’re always planting seeds, but you don’t know what fruit is going to grow. So, keep doing the right thing, keep working hard and keep staying true. This has been the story of Sounds True for all these years, so let’s just keep at it and see what happens.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
I’d love to go to lunch with Rose Marcario, the former CEO of outdoor apparel company Patagonia. She is one of the CEOs I interviewed for the Inner MBA program. I don’t get to see her very often, but I’d love to talk with her about her successful, long-term vision as a prominent CEO and leader. In our interview, Rose said to me, “You should be looking 30 years out for your company and ask yourself, “where are we going to be in 30 years?” I’d like to have that conversation with her, about the work we’re doing at Sounds True and understand more about building a long-term, sustainable plan from someone who has accomplished such a feat.
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Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.