Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What makes us happy at work? Hint: Times have changed.

Winning the Talent Wars

We live in a world where companies are working exceptionally hard to attract, retain, engage and motivate their talented employees. A new generation of young people has started entering the workplace in the last decade, bringing with them new values, different expectations and a fresh outlook on work and the workplace. The shift in the values of these young people is necessitating a shift in workplace culture. Those companies wishing to attract the attention of these young stars – as employees or customers - must take these shifts seriously.

How Times Change
Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, and TIME magazine’s "Manager of the 20th Century", was asked on his retirement a few years ago what the most significant change in the workplace was during his career. As recorded in an article in Newsweek (4 April 2005), he answered as follows:
“In the 1960’s and 70’s all my direct reports were men. Many of those reports were fathers, and fathers were different then. They did not by and large, attend ballet recitals on Thursday afternoons or turn down job transfers because they didn’t want to disrupt their kid’s sports ‘careers’. Most of their wives did not have jobs with their own competing demands. All that changed of course.”
For Welch, the workplace of his early management days was one where employees were expected to work overtime without question, to be in the office over weekends on a regular basis, and where these things happened with no reference to the personal and family life of the employee. Today's workplace is very different.
The old workplace contract included terms such as “paying your dues” and “the system will provide”. The old contract swapped loyalty for security. In essence, the employee would come into an organisation and sell its products and services to its clients at its price through its channels, using its systems and processes. In exchange for the employee becoming that unmarketable (think about it - the more you learn about one company's systems and processes, the more unmarketable you become elsewhere), the employee was offered one thing in return: security. It was a simple contract, and it worked!
But how many companies can offer security these days? Not one!
Yet, that does not concern today's young workers. They are not asking for security, because they know that it is an illusion, even if it is offered. So, if your company cannot offer security, why is it still asking for loyalty? That's what today's young people want to know. If you can't give a long-term commitment, why are you asking for one?
Today's young people are looking for more than just a secure pay cheque at the end of every month. They are desperate to find deeper meaning, self-development and 1
fulfillment. They want to remain employable - having skills beyond just the current job description, and a confidence that they could get the job anywhere at any time. The more confident they are of that fact, the more likely they are to stay exactly in the place that is giving them that confidence. This is a paradox - but understanding it is the beginning of success with today's young talent.

Wells and Fences
A story might help to explain this. In South Africa, Karoo sheep farmers spend considerable time and resources maintaining the fences at the edges of their farms. Their sheep, in turn, often move to these fences and graze at the edges of the farm - sometimes even putting their heads through the fence to taste the sweet, green grass on the other side.

In Australia, however, most outback sheep stations don't have fences. Their focus is on building wells at the centre of their farms. They believe that the best way to keep sheep on their stations is to dig deep, clear, cool wells of water at the centre, and to draw the sheep in and keep them close.

The same applies in our businesses. Too often, we spend our time building fences (e.g. contracts) to protect the “boundaries”, and don't take the time to make the centre attractive. We focus on stopping people leaving, rather than giving them a reason to stay.

“Every afternoon at about 5 o’clock, all of the assets of this company leave the building and go home. It’s my job to ensure that they want to come back the following morning.” Jim Goodknight, CEO of SAS Institute, consistently rated one of the world’s best companies to work for (from an interview aired on Carte Blanche in July 2006).

Three Spheres of Life
Every human being operates in at least three spheres in their lives. The first is their personal life, which relates to their self, their body and soul. The second sphere is the social, which includes family, friends and community interaction and involvement. The third sphere might be called professional, corporate or work, and involves the income-generating activities of a person's life. These three interlinking spheres of life all need to be addressed by the individual.

Historically, companies have focused almost exclusively on the “work” part of this trio, leaving the individual a few hours a day, or one or two days a week, to look after the other two areas of personal and social interaction on their own. This must change. Companies are now expected to have some input and contribution towards an individual's personal goals and development, as well as their social and family commitments, over and above their interest in the person as a worker and employee.

What You Can Do
In order to build some wells to attract talented people, companies must consider at least the following:
• Work-life integration – we need to go beyond simple “balance” of work and personal commitments and help people to integrate. We already enable them to take work home, with laptops, cellphones and Blackberries, but now we need to reciprocate, and allow them flexibility to let their personal lives intrude into the office. Today’s young people ask questions like: “If I answer emails on a Saturday night, can I take my kids to a movie on Tuesday afternoon? If not, why not?”
• Outputs-based remuneration – companies that have tried flexibility and failed to make it stick invariably did not adjust their remuneration and reward systems to take account of the work-life shift. To be truly effective, you need to pay people for what they produce, not how many hours they spend doing it.
• Better use of technology – to achieve the above two goals requires everyone to use mobile and interactive technologies, and especially requires leaders to learn new skills of managing virtual teams.
• Significance – they need challenging work that stretches and develops them, and a sense that they are contributing to changing the world in some way.
• Mentoring – they need access to the senior leaders in their company, to learn the things you can’t read in books or get from studying. They want to have access to the years of wisdom often locked up in the unwritten instincts of those who have been on the job for a few decades.
• Savvy Leadership – to achieve all of these, companies need new types of leaders that are not constrained by command and control approaches, but are willing to learn, unlearn and relearn on an ongoing basis.

The war for talent is not a temporary blip in corporate history. It is a new reality that is here to stay, and the sooner companies make adjustments to their cultures, the more competitive they will be able to become. Talent is the most important component of a sustainable competitive advantage in the 21st century.

Found at http://www.rawltd.com via MIT OpenCourseWare
Find more at TomorrowToday's blog and Ethical Customers

The author, Dr Graeme Codrington, is an international expert on talent and the future of work. He works with TomorrowToday.biz, a strategy consultancy focused on helping companies get the most out of their leaders and talented staff and customers. He can be contacted at graeme@tomorrowtoday.biz. See more by the author at www.graemecodrington.com

Hmm, food for deep thought.

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