A Capability Framework for Business Ecosystem LeadershipParticipants in today’s business ecosystems collaborate in ways that are significantly different than previous collaboration models. This requires a shift in mindset and a new and unique set of management practices.
Job Quality is a Pathway to AlphaWhat business results are possible when you redesign jobs? In “Job Quality is a Pathway to Alpha,” IRC4HR is funding development of educational materials and an information campaign to raise awareness of the evidence base regarding the power of improving jobs to generate above-market returns (alpha).
Let us know what aspects of human relations in the workplace need to be studied.
What should be next in human resources and organizational research?
Let us know what questions, challenges, and trends you would like to see examined by new research or explored via webcasts and seminars.
It’s easy to see that quality of life often starts with a good job. But defining what constitutes a good job is complex. Can we say exactly what makes a job “good”?
15th May 2023 Comment on thisWhat exactly is a good job?
Defining and designing good jobs requires more than checking boxes
It’s easy to see that quality of life often starts with a good job.
For example, in the coming weeks, another cohort of students will graduate from high schools, community colleges, trade schools, and universities. Many of them will land that coveted first good job. Soon you’ll see them forming or growing families, investing in homes, saving for retirement, and maybe even starting their own side hustle or small business. They’ll be growing as people, tapping into their purpose, and enjoying their well-being.
The impact of a good job extends beyond that employee’s personal life, as well. The economic activity of someone with a good job contributes to the community overall as they buy goods and services, vote in elections, volunteer for causes, and contribute to civic life. The same goes for the success of the company where they work. And how they feel about themselves at the end of the workday contributes to the quality of their family and other relationships.
This good job phenomenon might be easy to see, but defining what constitutes a good job is complex. Can we say exactly what makes a job “good”?
Scoring a Good Job
The Good Jobs Institute (GJI) says that good jobs meet the basic and higher needs of the employee.
Basic needs include pay and benefits, schedules, career paths, and security and safety. These basic needs can be quantified. GJI even offers a free Good Jobs Scorecard for you to evaluate your job or company.
Higher needs include achievement, recognition, belonging, meaningfulness, and personal growth. These subjective areas are not included in the scorecard.
Likewise, JUST Capital also offers a scorecard for grading jobs. Their categories include hiring, wages and compensation, training and development, stability and hours, health and safety, benefits, and workforce composition. Each one of these seven categories has multiple verifiable data points that contribute to the overall score.
The Just Capital scorecard also includes an eighth category, Worker Experience. Like the higher needs of the GJI model, it is an effort to capture some of the qualitative elements of a good job and it is “an important part of assessing JUST jobs,” but it, too, doesn’t quite complete the definition.
Scorecards Matter…What Else?
Scorecards like those from Good Jobs Institute and JUST Capital are critical for measuring job quality, which is crucial for organizations that want to improve the quality of their jobs and that seek to establish a link between investments in workers and the returns on business performance. After all, companies might believe that they are providing good jobs without looking at what evidence supports that belief. And as the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed.
However, it seems clear that not everything about a good job can be easily quantified and compared across companies and industries.
Addressing the higher needs and work experience of an employee is also relative to the specific employee. Your experience and needs will be different from mine.
Employee survey tools such as Great Place to Work, Lattice, Glint, and Culture Amp try to get at these qualitative areas by asking employees about belonging, trust, pride, camaraderie, and other subjective topics. Self-reported survey data is helpful, but it, too, doesn’t quite craft a precise definition.
In defining a good job, as with many things related to human relations, the answer is “it depends.” A good job depends on meeting an individual employee’s personal needs and preferences beyond the quantifiable. It looks different from person to person, company to company, region to region, and industry to industry.
One person’s flexible schedule may be another person’s intolerable chaos. Comfortable job security for one person might drive another to boredom and disengagement.
It can even be different for the same person at different stages of their working life.
In today’s tight labor market, designing good jobs might seem to be all about attracting and retaining the scarce, critical talent needed to run a successful business. More recently, it has provided many workers with increased leverage and “voice,” helping to restore some of the balance in an employer-employee relationship that increasingly tilted towards employers for much of the past forty years. But even with labor being in higher demand, employees need to remember that good jobs are those that work for the employer as well.
It’s still true that a company needs to make a profit from the workforce it employs. A company that pays its workforce more in terms of tangibles and intangibles than it receives through productivity and profitability will soon be out of business.
Going out of business is the opposite of the secure and stable employment called for on good job scorecards. Moreover, research also demonstrates that employees experience a sense of improved job quality when they feel like they are achieving shared goals with their employer. In short, alignment of interests and purpose are necessary for employees and employers to both be successful and they also contribute to what makes a job “good.” This philosophy was the basis for the founding of my organization, Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources (IRC4HR), by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1926.
Relationships Help Define Good Jobs
To design good jobs, scorecards and employee surveys are necessary but insufficient. Employers need to be curious about and empathetic with the needs of their specific workforce and the communities from which they draw that workforce. This requires that managers and leaders build actual relationships with the people who work for them, relationships that enable honest discussions about needs and experience, which drive the iterative process of good job design for individuals, and support performance across teams and organization networks.
Managers, leaders, and workers would be advised to study Rob Cross’ and Rebecca Garau’s work on the network strategies of successful people, as well as Rob’s work with Jean Singer on the relational drivers of well-being (research funded by IRC4HR).
Rob and his colleagues find that networks contribute to the subjective sense of thriving. Successful people make network investments that create and support a sense of purpose in their work. They are conscious about developing their social network outside of work as well, which helps them gain perspective and foster well-being.
Networks also contribute to better on-the-job execution and thus support quantifiable aspects of a good job. Successful people engage their network for help in creating innovative solutions to problems and challenges. Their network also helps them scale their accomplishments, in part through the informal influence they develop across teams and functions. Creating and scaling innovative solutions for the company should translate into quantifiable benefits of pay and advancement as well as the higher subjective needs for achievement, recognition, belonging, meaningfulness, and personal growth.
Collectively, this picture of excelling at work while enjoying more and better relationships in and out of the office looks a lot like a good job.
The Bottom Line
Employees, employers, and the communities they inhabit have much to gain from good jobs. Scorecards and employee surveys are necessary tools in the good jobs design process. But organizations need to go further and create a culture that supports the honest, trusting relationships and the alignment of interests that form the foundation for the good jobs that benefit everyone.
27th September 2022 Comment on thisHealing our fractured society: A role for companies
The workplace, perhaps more than other institutions, has the potential to strengthen our fraying social fabric and lift our spirits
Photo by Jay Castor on Unsplash
I’m sad about the state of our country. At a time when we are facing social and existential problems that can only be solved by coming together, we seem to be driven farther apart and further into despair.
But I have some hope.
It might sound strange, but after more than three decades as a consultant and researcher on organization culture, I believe the workplace has the potential to strengthen our fraying social fabric and lift our spirits.
As Rebecca Henderson writes in her book, Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire, “At their best, larger corporations are cooperative communities, persuading hundreds of thousands of people to work together toward a shared goal.” Most companies are also places where coworkers – and their beliefs – present a greater degree of diversity than is typically found in our families, churches, or neighborhoods.
As a result, the workplace can be a unique place for building common ground. It has the power to help everyone – of all religions, races, and ranks – feel a sense of belonging and shared purpose.
And the meaning and community that our companies can engender have the potential to ripple out in positive ways beyond the workplace.
Even better news – this isn’t a utopian fantasy. Many companies have pioneered healthy, inspiring, inclusive cultures, getting great business results along the way. And new research insights and practical tools offer a roadmap for others to move their organizations in this critical, society-healing direction.
It’s personal for me
I believe so strongly in the promise of organizations partly because I grew up with little exposure to their potential to elevate individuals and cultivate community. Adults in my small, blue-collar hometown in upstate New York generally did not work for major corporations that invested in people and cared about the culture of the organization.
But I did. In my 20s, I got a job at a human resources management consulting firm. I’d never heard the term “HR,” but quickly saw that some businesses think about people as “resources” in the best sense. As assets for investing in. And they recognize that there is mutual benefit in developing employees, engaging them, keeping them safe, and cultivating healthy relationships among them. Later, I worked as a strategy, organization change, and human capital management consultant at PwC, a company that invested in employee and leadership development along with a positive culture of shared purpose.
And now I lead Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources, a 501(c)(3) research organization that studies how to best foster healthy, productive human relations in the workplace (and it happens to be the predecessor of that HR management consulting firm where I launched my career as a consultant).
My experience as a workplace strategist has shown me that work makes a tremendous difference in our lives. Unfortunately, the difference can be negative. Decades of labor cost-cutting and shareholder primacy have disproportionately rewarded certain groups and left others behind.
But as organizations helped cause some of the unrest and polarization threatening society today, they are also well-positioned to help solve the problem.
The business of building a better society
Some might argue that organizations have no business fretting about social and political divisions. But a clear-cut distinction between commerce and the rest of society has always been a myth. Companies have long affected the broader community through the workplace experience they create for people as well as via the public policies they influence by lobbying and financially supporting politicians.
And today, an organization’s customers, investors, and employees expect leaders to engage in matters of public interest. Fully 86 percent of people expect CEOs to speak out on social issues, the impact of the pandemic, and job automation, according to a study last year by research and marketing firm Edelman.
There’s also a quieter way for organizations to contribute to a fairer, better future. It has to do with the kind of culture they create. With how people interact daily, with lived values, and with the extent to which the organization cultivates a shared purpose with its workers.
Company as community
I’m talking about organizations creating a community – a place where people who may disagree on many issues can come together respectfully, recognize their shared interests, and accomplish goals that could not be achieved alone. A lot of attention gets paid to corporate policies and codes of conduct, which are critical. But what matters more is how people interact on a daily basis.
Aleria, a technology firm focused on creating inclusive, equitable organizations, recently studied 5,000 incidents in which people felt excluded at work. It discovered that the main source for a person’s experience of exclusion was not a company policy. It was the way another person treated them.
This speaks to the importance of creating a culture where “everybody matters,” as authors Raj Sisodia and Bob Chapman wrote in their 2015 book of the same name. Chapman, CEO of manufacturing company Barry-Wehmiller, has an employment philosophy of “caring for people and giving them meaning, purpose, and fulfillment through their work.”
Barry-Wehmiller revenues have risen from $20 million to $3 billion under Chapman’s leadership across nearly five decades. And it isn’t the only company that has prioritized positive human relationships and found success.
Consider the annual Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For list. This ranking, based on employee surveys by research and advisory firm Great Place to Work, tells a hopeful story over the past two decades. Several measures that speak to social solidarity rose 10 percent or more between 1998 and 2017 within the companies that ranked in the 100 Best. These include employee experiences of consistent cooperation, that “people care about each other here,” and that “we’re all in this together.”
The 100 Best is made up of big companies whose employees are diverse in terms of geographic regions, demographic background, and political beliefs. Still, these organizations found ways to build a stronger sense of community over time—even as our country grew more polarized. What’s more, the 100 Best have regularly outpaced competitors in terms of stock performance, customer satisfaction, organizational agility, and other business performance yardsticks.
The why: Your bottom line and beyond
The business imperative to foster healthy human connections and collective purpose has only grown more pressing in the past few years. Employees have been experiencing high levels of stress and isolation since the pandemic began. And even though many appreciate (or even insist on) work-from-home arrangements, workers also miss the camaraderie offices can provide. Nurturing connections among employees in this moment is important for motivation and productivity.
In addition, a major reason for the “Great Resignation” has been “toxic” work cultures where workers feel disrespected, where diversity, equity, and inclusion aren’t valued, and where unethical behavior takes place. The dissatisfaction with unhealthy cultures extends to top executives—according to a recent survey of workplace well-being conducted by Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence, nearly 70% of the C-suite are seriously considering quitting for a job that better supports their well-being.
What’s more, organizations are increasingly becoming “networks of networks.” And in these emerging business ecosystems, positive relationships among peers across and beyond the organization are critical.
Then there are wider reasons for prioritizing a strong civic culture in your organization. People’s professional networks are vital to their personal well-being, according to research by Rob Cross and Inga Carboni.
And the experience people have at work affects how they show up as family members, neighbors, and citizens. Most adults work. And how those individuals feel when they leave their job has a profound impact on how they treat other people outside of work. Whether it’s their family, friends, or someone at the grocery store.
Put simply, workplaces shape our social fabric—for better or worse.
The how: Respect everyone, cultivate relationships, elevate purpose
So how do leaders create what Martin Luther King, Jr., called a “beloved community”—where everyone feels they matter? I see three key steps.
Anti-democratic, populist movement in the United States and other countries can be seen, in part, as a response to spiking socio-economic inequality as well as a profound sense of disrespect and diminished autonomy among working class people. Dignity, purpose, and fairness are fundamental human needs that – at least in the context of work – employers can provide and that contribute to better business . And this means all their employees, not just the more highly paid, “knowledge workers” who often get better treatment.
A recent report by McKinsey and Co. made precisely this point: “People in lower-paying jobs also want their psychological needs at work to be satisfied. Yet data show that those needs are typically going unmet, far more often than is the case for higher earners.”
Among McKinsey’s suggestion is designing jobs that are “more skills-based, autonomous, connected, interesting, or purposeful.” Research by Ellen Frank-Miller – Job Quality is a Pathway to Alpha – shows that companies that do this also realize improved business performance.
Recognition, a say in decisions, and opportunities to take initiative also are important. Managers are vital here. They must be selected, developed, and recognized for creating a consistently respectful climate where all team members can thrive.
Social isolation during the pandemic only exacerbated what some call an “epidemic of loneliness.” Organizations can act as an antidote to people feeling disconnected and lonely.
Before the pandemic made remote working much less prominent, shared office spaces naturally fostered some workplace relationships. Now, organizations need to play an active role in cultivating bonds among co-workers. This takes some careful thought—especially at a time when many companies can be seen “bungling” their flexible workplace initiatives.
Thankfully, scholars such as Cross and Carboni have discovered ways that managers can help optimize healthy social and professional networks for their teams. Among their critical strategies is actively managing the internal network structure of teams through actions such as rewarding collaboration, engaging folks on the “edge” of the team, and minimizing silos.
Cross and Carboni also urge managers to cultivate high-quality relationships within teams, in part by increasing awareness of team members’ expertise, fostering trust, and preventing difficult team members from undermining morale. They also call on leaders to build connections between team members and others in the broader organization.
Author Michael Arena adds that leaders in particular ought to intentionally cultivate connections across teams. The pandemic has eroded those ties among leaders, leaving teams to be cut off in “neighborhoods” rather than linked in a cohesive, broad network.
Recent crises have many people “languishing” – questioning the meaning of life and feeling a sense of malaise. This is especially true for young people.
A quest for more purpose in life is among the reasons behind the mass resignations and job shuffling over the past two years.
Organizations can help themselves and their people by elevating purpose. This means treating the organization’s mission and values as more than mere words on a wall. It may mean reflecting on and updating the company’s highest calling – ideally with broad input from employees.
Elevating purpose means making decisions in keeping with the proclaimed mission and espoused principals. And it means helping every employee see how their efforts contribute to a larger, worthy goal.
Purpose can look very different for different businesses. Some industries have a clear, uplifting goal – such as the healthcare arena’s focus on human wellbeing. But virtually every business can connect what it does to a meaningful end. And managers can help connect the dots for employees, so they experience purpose in their work.
Enhancing our collective well-being
If organizations take such steps to cultivate purpose and community, much good can come. Businesses can help us in this moment of collective anxiety to renew our faith in each other and our sense of shared human aspirations.
So yes, I’m sad and worried by what I see around me. But I am encouraged by what’s possible in our organizations. Consider these stirring words from Raj Sisodia and Bob Chapman in their book, Everybody Matters. They are talking about companies. But I believe their quote applies just as well to our society.
“Everyone wants to do better. Trust them. Leaders are everywhere. Find them. People achieve good things, big and small, every day. Celebrate them. Some people wish things were different. Listen to them. Everybody matters. Show them.”
Jodi Starkman is Executive Director of the Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources.
8th August 2022 Comment on thisHow to solve today’s talent challenges—and prepare for tomorrow’s business opportunities
“Eco-system” mindsets, behaviors, and business structures are needed now and for the future
(Originally posted on SmartBrief, June 2, 2022)
Leaders today are struggling to create workplaces that attract and retain employees who feel engaged and empowered.
At the same time, leaders face a future defined by agile, interdependent networks of organizations and stakeholders.
Both challenges require a shift from traditional top-down, siloed, “ego-system” business practices.
There’s no app for that—no simple magic bullet. But embracing an “eco-system” approach can help you address both near-term talent challenges and long-term business transformation needs.
Customer experiences and employee experiences
What is an “eco-system” approach? Creating and capturing value by connecting across organization capabilities and resources is at the core of a business ecosystem. So, an “eco-system” approach begins with the ability to collaborate and co-create across organizational boundaries to deliver a high-quality experience.
In the case of your customer, no single business function “owns” the entire experience. Product development teams play a role, but so do salespeople, and the customer service reps who provide post-sale support. What’s more, leading organizations are co-creating solutions with their customers, partners, and suppliers through integrated, coordinated ecosystem relationships in which all stakeholders benefit.
This is as true for your employees as it is for your customers. No single function – or organization – owns the entire experience. Creating an attractive, engaging workplace environment requires collaboration across groups including managers, HR, IT, and external suppliers. And it turns out that working collaboratively to co-create their work experience is also what employees are looking for in today’s workplace. So, getting better at “eco-system” practices is good for addressing your talent challenges and for improving your business competitiveness.
The problem is that most organizations function in more of a vertical, hierarchical, self-centered, “ego-system” model.
Cultivating a thriving ecosystem within
How do you foster a healthy ecosystem within your walls? We suggest you focus on three areas: mindsets, behaviors, and business structures.
–Mindsets. In an ecosystem, success is a collective measure. One entity can’t be successful at the expense of the others. Leaders must adopt a view of success that encompasses the wellbeing of all stakeholders, including workers. Pay attention to employees’ needs for fair pay, autonomy, and a sense of purpose.
What’s more, employees should be encouraged to expand their mindsets. It’s important that they develop a big-picture view of your company – from how it serves customers and collaborates with partners to how their role contributes to business results – so they feel aligned with business goals and can contribute better ideas.
Scholar Roland Deiser calls the “ability to step out of an ego-centered frame of reference” and see things from an elevated perspective “decentration competence.”
–Behaviors. Leaders’ day-to-day activities must promote a positive, engaging experience for employees. Building trusting relationships through listening and empathy is vital. So is encouraging employees to build personal networks within and beyond the team. As scholars Rob Cross and Jean Singer have pointed out, such connections are vital to both business performance and personal well-being.
Leaders also need to inspire creativity and experimentation. Encourage your employees to take initiative, collaborate, and learn – in part by providing a safe space for failure. Celebrate healthy risk-taking by telling the stories of individuals and teams that experimented, failed, learned, and iterated their way to success.
–Business structures. Speed, transparency, and flexibility are important for cross-organizational collaboration. Unfortunately, multiple decision layers, vertical silos that don’t talk to each other, and conflicting internal stakeholder interests are frequent obstacles.
Leaders need to reduce organization layers, release some control, and empower managers, teams, and employees to make decisions and act. Leading people who don’t report to you is a challenge to traditional reporting relationships. Leadership in this context is about influencing. This includes aligning people with the purpose of the work and defining measures that reward collective performance, which could require a change in compensation practices.
Solving for today and tomorrow
With these mindsets, behaviors, and business structures, your people will feel more engaged and perform better, individually and collectively. They will learn the skills that will enable your organization to create – and adapt to – market disruptions. And your organization will be better prepared to thrive in a world of agile business networks.
By cultivating an effective internal ecosystem, you can solve today’s talent challenges and prepare for tomorrow’s business opportunities.
Jodi Starkman is Executive Director of the Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources.
22nd July 2022 Comment on thisExtending the Good Jobs Movement
How to build on the progress of the past two years
Photo by Raimond Klavins on Unsplash
We’ve gone fast. Now let’s go far.
Over the past two years, we’ve transformed how we work at a break-neck pace. Companies that balked at remote work for years suddenly made it the default policy. Executives who bragged about being laser-focused on shareholder returns suddenly pivoted to tout their commitment to multiple stakeholders. Employees who toughed it out at toxic workplaces resigned in droves and demanded flexibility, better pay, and more purposeful, inclusive cultures.
This is all positive progress toward a “Good Jobs” future, where work meets high-level human needs, such as meaningfulness and belonging, and provides for basic needs, like compensation and safety.
But there’s no guarantee that the Good Jobs movement will continue to advance. The lightning-fast changes in the workplace were sparked by crises including a pandemic, a racial reckoning, and climate disasters. As COVID recedes and the news cycle shifts to other matters, as it always does, the momentum toward good jobs could dissipate.
We might even backslide. Many executives are eager to return to the office and a version of the “old normal.” And the share of U.S. employees engaged at work dipped in 2021, to just 34 percent.
How do we ensure that the Good Jobs movement keeps rolling forward? I believe it boils down to the adage, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Applying this to the workplace means extending the movement to more people, organizations, and institutions, as well as coordinating the key players. It involves helping people see their interests converging around a vision of work that is more interconnected, dynamic, and human.
It amounts to a mindset change—and perhaps a change of heart as well. Workers, leaders, and investors must begin optimizing for the good of the entire system, rather than for their own self-interest.
The old: A siloed “ego-system”
For years, the major stakeholders in American business have pursued their self-interest, largely blind to the needs of the wider economic, social, and environmental systems in which they operate.
Investors sought “alpha” – excess returns – often ignoring the “externalities,” such as wages so low they require workers to rely on government aid programs, and environmental damage that contributes to our climate crisis.
Executives aimed to please those investors, seeking to push up stock prices in ways that guaranteed massive payouts for themselves, while skimping on investments in employees – in the form of decent pay or training opportunities – and hurting the long-term health of the organization. Leaders often paid lip service to diversity, inclusion, and belonging.
Workers, too, have had a narrow mindset. Many have viewed their skills as fixed and have been resistant to change. Organized labor has often myopically focused on squeezing higher pay and benefits from employers, failing to help prepare organizations – and workers – for success in fast-changing economic conditions.
The new: A networked “eco-system”
The past two years have exposed the faults of siloed, egocentric mindsets. What’s needed now is ecosystem thinking. A growing body of research is demonstrating the wisdom of viewing work and organizations in this manner. Consider the words of Roland Deiser, of the Center for the Future of Organization at Drucker School of Management:
“The tendency to put our ego-system before the eco-system – which comes with a limited ability to see ourselves as part of a web of connectivity that we continuously co-constitute – is one of the most important barriers that we need to overcome if we want to succeed…”
What does this ecosystem thinking mean for executives? It means taking to heart lessons from the pandemic and other recent challenges. It’s recognizing their reliance on supply chains and front-line staffers who risked the most during COVID to deliver products and services. It’s acknowledging how dehumanizing and unfulfilling work has been for many employees — points driven home by “the great resignation.”.
There are similar implications for investors. They are called to reward companies that demonstrate a commitment to good jobs, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship. This isn’t as hard as it seems. High-road businesses have already demonstrated outsized stock performance — a trend that continued during the pandemic.
Financial services firm Two Sigma Investments is among the pioneers taking a wider view. It launched Two Sigma Impact, a unit focused on broader social impact. “We believe Two Sigma Impact can contribute meaningfully toward a society in which quality jobs underpin better outcomes across many different dimensions, including stronger communities, broader equality and inclusivity, better health, and greater prosperity,” says Warren Valdmanis, Partner at Two Sigma Impact.
Employees, too, have work to do. They need to acknowledge the fast-changing nature of a digital, global economy, and embrace new learning opportunities. And as unions rethink their roles in the 21st-century US economy, they can engage more creatively with management to pursue shared, interdependent interests.
At stake: Our collective wellbeing
The stakes are high that key stakeholders keep the Good Jobs movement going. If organizations, investors, and employees fail to move beyond zero-sum thinking, everyone will lose. Historically high levels of inequality will increase, breeding social discontent and distrust. We’ll continue hurting our planet, which will ultimately reduce the long-term viability of business, not to mention human and other forms of life.
But a different future is possible. The rapid progress of the past two years doesn’t have to be a mere fleeting moment.
We can make work work for all.
After going fast, we can go far.
Jodi Starkman is Executive Director of the Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources.
14th March 2022 Comment on thisFive “P”s for Inspiring Employee Commitment and Engagement in Today’s Hybrid World
Plus a “C” for weaving them all together.
Managers, there’s more you can do to help your workforce succeed in today’s hybrid, remote world.
But done right, the approach I outline below won’t just serve your employees and boost your team’s performance—it might just ease your mind and lighten your load.
In my last blog, I talked about three vital practices for managers in this moment. The three were based on the collaborative practices that high-performing leaders use to build agile, successful teams: paying attention to the structure of the team, the quality of relationships on the team, and how the team fits within a wider ecosystem.
Today I offer another view of what effective management looks like.
I’m going to focus more on the ways managers work directly with team members to foster engagement and high performance at a time of remote and hybrid work arrangements.
I’ve read many business articles tackling remote workplace culture, reviewed relevant research funded by IRC4HR, and reflected on my career as a mostly remote employee at several large consulting firms.
Taking it all into account, I see five critical conditions managers can create to engage employees and drive better results. Call them the 5Ps: Psychological Safety, Purpose, Professional Development, Parity, and Power. Here is more on each:
Psychological Safety. This was vital to engagement and high-performing teams pre-pandemic. I’m talking about a climate where employees can bring their full selves to work, they feel included, and they are able to express themselves without fear of being mocked or marginalized. Where it’s safe to share an opinion, to not know something, and to engage in respectful debate. And psychological safety is even more important now. A climate where it is Ok to say you’re not Ok is especially critical, in part because of the stresses that built up for so many people over the past two difficult years.
There’s another facet of psychological safety that applies as companies move to bring at least some employees back to the office: speaking up about physical safety concerns. If your organization doesn’t listen to employees who raise questions about COVID-19 masking protocols or inconsistent application of safety rules, you can count on problems with morale, performance, and attrition.
In short, as Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic shared in a recent Fast Company article, “however (and wherever) people work, it is essential that their voices are heard, and that they feel empowered to speak up, to disagree, and to ask difficult questions.”
Purpose. This is another perennial piece of the engagement puzzle that has become more important during the pandemic. Purpose has been established as a critical driver of individual motivation, and we also have learned that meaningful work is vital for attracting and retaining employees. Over the past two years, people’s attention to purpose has intensified. Nearly two-thirds of US-based employees surveyed by McKinsey said that COVID-19 has caused them to reflect on their purpose in life.
Cultivating a shared vision and mission is challenging when employees are scattered across the city, the country, and the globe. But it can be done. As Rob Cross and Inga Carboni put it in a recent paper: “Use one-on-ones and periodic career discussion to establish drivers of purpose. Allocate up to a third of these meetings to understanding aspirations and priorities. Identify what purpose means to each team member and how it relates to the group’s work.”
Professional Development. It’s easy to skip or skimp on employee development during chaotic, turbulent times like the ones we’re facing today. But it is a big mistake. Learning opportunities have long been an underutilized retention and capacity-building tool—just before the pandemic, 94% of employees said they would stay at a company longer if it invested in their development. Amid the pandemic, employees continue to want to grow. Of the 26% of workers who are reportedly planning to switch jobs post-COVID, most are doing so because they’re concerned about career advancement.
How do you effectively develop employees when they work remotely? Thankfully, virtual learning technologies and online courses are widely available inside and outside organizations. And finding opportunities for your folks to work on assignments where news skills can be developed and/or applied remains a critical vehicle for development. I also suggest a tactic used by a major consulting firm I worked for two decades ago: expect employees to demonstrate their learning progress and their contributions to the learning of others as part of regular performance reviews. Ask employees to develop and share new areas of expertise, and then give them time and space to do it.
Such a policy both enabled and nudged me to build my reputation within the consulting organization and develop thought leadership, while also supporting the development goals of colleagues. It was a true “win” for me, my colleagues, our clients, and our business.
Parity. I’m talking here about paying attention to the fairness of your decisions and an equitable experience for all members of your team. Failing to ensure parity in the workplace has long caused employees to disengage and quit. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, the Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd, and heightened awareness of injustice overall, employees are even more attuned to bias in the workplace. To leaders playing favorites. To discrimination. To microaggressions.
Responding effectively when members of your team commit microaggressions takes discernment and courage. And overall, stewarding a culture where everyone is treated equally requires self-awareness and discipline. This is especially true in hybrid work arrangements.
Managers must remember that team members working from home or in other locations may be left out of important conversations. Even impromptu office discussion can lead to major opportunities that will impact someone’s career. At one of my former consulting firms, I had a boss who would walk over to our section of the office when he had a burning idea. If you were present, you got picked for the assignment. If you weren’t there, you missed out. “Proximity bias” is a real thing. In addition to being mindful of this phenomenon, one thing a manager can do is schedule periodic “virtual watercooler” interactions: short video chats to mimic the ones that take place in person.
Power. Employees need a real voice in decision-making. While managers providing direction in terms of defining objectives and purpose – the “what and why of work” – is helpful, people want and need to make decisions about how their work gets done, along with other aspects of their work environment. For too long, many employees have received more “what and how” than “what and why” when it comes to manager direction. That approach makes little sense in the emerging economy, in which human attributes such as creativity, a collaborative spirit, and empathy are differentiators.
What’s more, younger employees, especially, expect to have a say in their organizations. But for all employees, having some authority and autonomy at work is part of a “good job,” as defined by scholars of this topic, including Jen Gresham, whose organization Work for Humanity is helping small businesses generate good jobs.
Work-from-home arrangements and other distributed forms of teams are intensifying the need for organizations to distribute authority more widely. And employees don’t want to give up the greater autonomy many of them experienced while working remotely during the pandemic—during which time much of the workforce demonstrated higher levels of productivity.
Put me in Coach!
If there’s one specific practice that ties the five “P”s together, it is a “C.” I’m talking about coaching—managers evolving from top-down bosses who give directions to guides-on-the-side who encourage, inspire, develop, support, and listen to employees.
This shift in leadership – and employee – mindset is the goal of Jen Gresham and her collaborators in a new program funded by IRC4HR. Together with WORC, Work for Humanity has launched “Bounce Forward: Helping Small Businesses & Workers Thrive Together.”
Jen’s “Bounce Forward” pilot is based on research that shows high-involvement work practices and increased coaching capacity not only result in more engagement, productivity, and satisfaction for workers, they also allow owner-managers to focus on more strategic aspects of the business. The result is that workers have a more fulfilling work experience and the ability to contribute more value to the business, owners are freed up to pursue more value-added tasks, and the business performs better.
As one participant shared, “I’m really grasping that it doesn’t take more time to coach than it does to tell. So, what I’ve been practicing is when somebody brings me a situation or a problem, I’ll ask ‘Okay, well, what do you want to do about that?’ And then listen to what their own problem solving came up with and just give feedback off of that. It’s worked very well because they always have some idea.”
This positive coaching relationship can take place virtually or in person. It leads to employees feeling empowered, developing new skills, and being more engaged in the business. What’s more, anecdotal evidence suggests employees are less likely to leave their “coaches” and their wider team for a different job.
And this gets to the all-around win of the five Ps and the single C. These steps don’t just benefit employees and boost performance. Managers, they also help you. Reduced turnover cuts down on the time you spend filling empty positions and reduces disruptions to team collaboration and productivity. More effective teams and individual employees mean more peace of mind for you. And by distributing decision-making through smart coaching, you free yourself up to focus on other value-creating tasks that support your own development and performance.
Good for your employees, good for your organization…and good for you.
Jodi Starkman is Executive Director of the Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources.
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