We live in a fast changing world. Old assumptions are questioned on a daily basis.
For a century or more the employment relationship was informed fundamentally by Taylorist ideas of scientific management. The central challenge for employers was to extract as much value as possible from those they employed. In the modern world the process has been re-branded as “motivation” or “engagement.” But the underlying process remained the same: to make individuals more valuable to organizations.
This paradigm has flipped. In the competition for scarce talent the game has changed. Now it is about making organizations more valuable to individuals – who are already valuable. It is about creating great workplaces that attract and hold talented people - and encourage creativity and innovation.
This is not a new game for Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, the elite teaching hospitals, Harvard or Oxford universities. They have been adding value to talented people for decades. But increasingly we all need to play the game. Industrial manufacturing companies must re-invent themselves as places where the best people want to strut their stuff.
In our new book Why Should Anyone Work Here? (Harvard Business Review Press, November 2015), we explore people’s positive visions for great organizations - and how they are attempting to make these a reality. Individual views vary widely, of course, but broadly there are six characteristics that, together, describe the DREAMS organization:
- Difference – “I want to work in a place where I can be myself, where I can express the ways in which I’m different and how I see things differently.”
- Radical honesty – “I want to know what’s really going on.”
- Extra value – “I want to work in an organization which magnifies my strengths and adds extra value for me and my personal development.”
- Authenticity – “I want to work in an organization I’m proud of, one that truly stands for something.”
- Meaning – “I want my day-to-day work to be meaningful.”
- Simple rules – “I do not want to be hindered by stupid rules or rules that apply to some people but not others.”
On the surface, the DREAMS qualities or imperatives may seem obvious. After all, who would want to work in the opposite kind of place—an organization where conformity is enforced, where employees are the last to know the truth, where people feel exploited rather than enriched, where values change with the seasons, where work is alienating and stressful, and where a miasma of bureaucratic rules limits human creativity and effectiveness?
And yet – still - this is what many industrial manufacturing workplaces feel like!
So what can be done? We don’t think there are quick fixes. The challenges are huge – and there are always reasons not to act; to push the pursuit of dreams down the list of priorities. But this is not a matter of either/or. Building great workplaces is not an alternative to, but rather a means for, responding to competitive challenges, for building productivity, unleashing creativity and winning.
Build communities at work. Whether you are in the factory workshop or on the executive committee, you have the opportunity – indeed the obligation—to build a sense of belonging and cooperation.
—Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones
So what can you do? We believe that small shifts in behavior can have a big impact. Our new book describes some of the shifts in daily behavior that can help your company become a better place to work and a beacon for talent.
- Hire for difference—in people’s thought processes and life experiences, among other qualities. Don’t rely only on search firms – they often tend to produce lists of the usual suspects. Don’t forget the familiar advice, “hire for attitude and train for aptitude.”
- Don’t allow HR to dominate recruitment selection and induction. Be sure that HR involves line executives in hiring processes and that HR is making every effort to seek out difference in new hires and protect those differences.
- Be more tolerant of differences and how they are expressed. In high-performance organizations a little clash of emotions is actually no bad thing. Emotions are a major source of energy at work; build time into your meetings for the expressions of individual feelings.
- Nurture the difference found in “characters.” Reward those who go beyond the job description.
- Design performance measures which allow for creative surprises and that acknowledge differences in trajectories of development. Seek a consensus around values, but allow for individual creative expression.
- Communicate honestly and quickly. You have less time than you think. Modern technologies have dramatically speeded the dissemination of information. Radical honesty is proactive.
- Use many communications channels. There may be marked generational variations. Younger people will use social media, older generations may rely on face-to-face and networks.
- Encourage radically honest conversations about people’s hopes and fears throughout the organization. Power relationships tend to sanitize the information that reaches the top. Allow people to bring you bad news – make it feel safe for them. Radical honesty works both ways.
- Keep communication as simple as possible. Some organizations confuse sharing data with effective communication. This is a mistake. Who reads the myriad conditions that apply to their credit cards?
- Build in feedback loops. Remember that trust builds slowly but can be destroyed in an instant.
- Offer opportunities for adding extra value in people’s personal development as well as professional development. This is about much more than the simple development of technical skills and the deployment of training budgets.
- Recognize that adding value to employees and generating value as an organization are not competing activities. They are clearly symbiotic. Add value to make value. Great pharma companies recruit talented scientists who are obsessed with their scientific expertise but to this they add critical leadership abilities which drive successful drug development.
- Help your star employees to shine and your weaker players to grow. Don’t restrict development to your best. Understand that there are considerable benefits from adding value to “the average” employee.
- Think in terms of adding extra value in your relationships with clients, customers and wider stakeholders. Build them into your consultation and decision processes to create and strengthen a continuous, virtuous cycle of value adding.
- Use opportunities outside your organization to add value to individuals. The creative use of temporary assignments and sabbaticals can have a tremendous effect in creating extra value for people.
- Demonstrate your own authenticity - you can’t expect it of others unless you demonstrate it yourself. Remember, the skilful communication of authenticity rests upon an expert read of your situation.
- Understand your personal authentic roots. Organizations have roots and so do you. It is inauthentic to attempt to write these off, but in a mobile world some people try.
- Communicate what you stand for and what you take pride in – clearly and simply. Use opportunities to connect this to organizational purpose and values.
- Get authenticity feedback from others. If you are near the top of your organization, remember that much of the feedback that you receive has already been carefully filtered. Be prepared to find out what’s really going on.
- Don’t assume your motives (and your sense of what’s meaningful) are shared by others. We often know a lot about others’ ability and experience – but how much do you know about others’ motives and goals? Our experience is that for many people this is a gap.
- Take in different experiences/get out of your comfort zone to find the meaningful. It’s hard to know how the pieces of your organization fit together and connect unless you know something about the other pieces. The more connected you are, the more meaningful your work may become – as you see the link between individual effort and collective outcome.
- Take every opportunity to connect your organization’s efforts and outputs to the wider community. Bring in messages from the outside. Beware organizational introspection. It’s meaningful to know the impact you have on the wider society.
- Restate in clear, simple and memorable ways the reason your organization exists. What is it really for? Meaning is enhanced by a cause – and communicating it.
- Build communities at work. Whether you are in the factory workshop or on the executive committee, you have the opportunity – indeed the obligation—to build a sense of belonging and cooperation. You can do this in simple ways: by helping others willingly and by clarifying shared objectives.
- When things go wrong, resist the temptation to invent another rule. Where you can, try trust first, and accept that this may not always produce what you want. Rules may look like a quick fix but they can inspire a “low trust” downward spiral that typically creates more problems.
- Don’t ask others to do things that you wouldn’t do yourself. You are unlikely to engender respect for the rules - or for yourself - if you repeatedly create exceptions for yourself or for others. If you have rules, believe in them!
- Check how the rules affect all stakeholders. Rules affect not just employees and regulators, but also customers and the wider society. Next time you introduce a new rule, be sure to examine the impact it might have on customers, consumers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
- Organizations should be as complex as they need to be – but not more. Some businesses, like innovative pharmaceutical companies, are intrinsically complex. The people who get to the top of organizations often get there because they are good at complexity. But paradoxically, once they get there, they must strive for simplicity.
- Explain the purpose of the rules. People are much more likely to follow them when they understand their raison d’etre.
- Be prepared to re-examine your underlying business processes. By looking carefully at the details that comprise every way your organization does business, you can eliminate unnecessary complexity.
Rob Goffee is emeritus professor of Organizational Behavior at London Business School, where he teaches in the world-renowned Senior Executive Program. Gareth Jones is a fellow of the Centre for Management Development at London Business School and a visiting professor at Spain’s IE Business School in Madrid. Goffee and Jones consult to the boards of several global companies and are coauthors of Why Should Anyone Be Led by You? and Clever, both published by Harvard Business Review Press.