Decoding company culture in the new world order

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The new world order – where good talent is rare and precious, stressed urban living is driving us a little crazy, and the workforce demands personal time like never before – requires businesses to be more human than ever before.

While professional success and ambition are still top priorities for the new workforce, more and more people are getting exhausted of the rigid structures and rules of office work. They are finding new avenues to use their skills. It is perhaps only a matter of time before full-time, five-days-a-week work culture becomes a thing of the past.

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In the past, businesses competed with other businesses to retain employees. That meant the bar was not very high. If you could pay a little more than your competitor, and were not too oppressive or exploitative in general, you landed yourself a “great place to work” trophy. Now, full-time work competes with much else – freelance work, gig economy, shared economy, and more. The avenues to make money go way beyond full-time employment, and often offer self-actualization too. They deliver opportunities without the heartburn of bureaucracy and politics and focus entirely on skill. It is a simple process of evolution, and our workforce is ready to take the next step. If businesses don’t want to lose great talent to the new workforce’s need for self-actualization, contentment, and personal freedom, they needed to start their process of change yesterday. Hopefully, there is still time.

So, in this new world order, how can businesses continue to be attractive to talented individuals? A few realizations will help:

Respect your employees’ fresh ideas and let them remain their own

The first rule of leadership is that there is rarely just one right way to do things. Management must understand that. Businesses need to give people the freedom to decide the route as long as everyone agrees on the end result. Let them work on their own ideas to achieve shared goals. Give them the space to make decisions.

Often, our hierarchy-led culture makes leaders believe it is their job to correct or improve whatever their team brings to the table. Yes, adding value is essential. It is expected when you have a certain number of years of experience under your belt. But don’t give in to the temptation of what leadership mentor Marshall Goldsmith calls “adding too much value”. He says, “It would seem like it would be better for all concerned if our ideas were always improved upon. It’s not. Imagine an energetic, enthusiastic employee comes into your office with an idea. She excitedly shares the idea with you. You think it’s a great idea. Instead of saying, ‘Great idea,’ you say, ‘That’s a nice idea. Why don’t you add this to it?’ What does this do? It deflates her enthusiasm and dampens her commitment. While the quality of the idea may go up five percent, her commitment to execute it may go down 50 percent. That’s because it’s no longer her idea, it’s now your idea.” 

Organizations must also get a little more fearless. In our work culture, human errors, mistakes, and failures often count as cardinal sins – a hallmark of close-mindedness if there ever was one. Not making any mistakes is often the result of never trying anything new. Any place that doesn’t allow failure will rarely see employee propose big new ideas due to the risk it often entails.

Open yourselves a bit, business leaders, and we don’t just mean your purse strings and desk layouts. Open yourselves up to fresh ideas and the voices that bring them. That is the only way to deliver trust and purpose, the hallmarks of employee engagement and work satisfaction in the new world order. 

Your employees are fully rounded adults with needs beyond financial

If businesses can’t respect the needs and commitments of their employees outside the office, they are bound to lose in the long run. Old-school bosses continue to think that people go to work because they need the money. Well, everyone needs the money. But your employees also have children and aging parents at home. Hobbies and interests are important again after a generation of sacrificing them in the pursuit of a salary.

Work is not (and should have never been) the only important thing in your employees’ lives. Sure, some of your employees might still put it at the centre of their lives. Reward it if it brings any real value in terms of innovation or organizational success. But stop making long hours a parameter for commitment or to measure individual success. It’s flawed thinking. Remote and flexible employees are known to be more content and productive. Flexibility on the part of organizations has inherent business value too. Make it the new normal if you don’t want to lose your employees to competitors or gigs that allow more flexibility.

Continuous learning is non-negotiable

When I say continuous learning, I don’t just mean spending a weekday every month in a workshop. With the kind of workload and personal commitments your employees have, it is no surprise that these workshops see them checking mails, finishing last-minute deliverables, and generally making sure that work is done. That’s not learning.

Make continuous learning a shared vision by making sure that your managers include learning goals as an inherent part of appraisal discussions. The basic premise of flexibility applies to learning and development too. Don’t add to an already long laundry list of obligations your employees must cater to, both personal and professional. Instead, invest in technologies that empower your employees to learn on-the-go. Allow self-service trainings through knowledge share points and learning apps. Many edu-tech start-ups now have business models like pay-per-use and pay-per-click. Continuous learning is democratized like never before. Prohibitive cost is not an excuse businesses have anymore. Start now, before it is too late.

Deliver social impact top-down

Whether it is about making social impact or simple changes like bias for action vis a vis talk, what your management does sets the context for the rest of the organization. Change starts at the very top.

Weber Shandwick, a reputation and public relations agency, speaks of CEO activism. “We have identified CEO activism as a new dynamic executive engagement platform that has the ability to drive and differentiate corporate reputation. CEO activism has at times been very effective. In the past year or so, a number of CEOs have spoken out about social and environmental issues such as climate change, income fairness, same-sex marriage, immigration, gun control, and discrimination – all issues that are not necessarily tied to the bottom line,” the company said in a press release.

Clearly, a CEO who has the courage to speak on hot button issues that don’t necessarily impact his/her business sends a message to potential and current employees that the organization is not afraid to say and do what is right. In the new world order that is much more open and exposed than ever before, such fearlessness is aspirational. But don’t stop at just talking. Make social impact an organizational goal by involving your employees in corporate social responsibility. Crowdsource ideas and act on them. Appreciate it if your employees ask for personal time off to volunteer. Your employees are much more involved in social issues now. If the job allows them the luxury of self-actualization through social good and lets them deliver more than armchair activism, they are bound to see more value in their jobs.

At the very least, these changes will ensure that your relationship with your employees goes deeper than paycheques in return for deliverables. It recognizes your employees’ self-actualization and other personal needs and doesn’t berate them for it. It views them as well-rounded individuals and celebrates balance. A healthy company culture is one that allows employees to not only become better professionals but also better human beings. Often, it is easier to deliver than you imagine.

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