Author Profile Picture

Michael Moran



Read more about Michael Moran

If we created the ideal workplace, it would look like this


We know the business case for increasing employee engagement but let’s consider a fresh perspective.

Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies, globally one of the largest I.T. outsourcing firms, says HCL achieved this position by putting employees first and customers second. He says: the first question is “what is the core business of any corporation?” and the answer is to create different shared value for its customers. The second question is “where does that shared value get created?” and the answer is in the interface between employees and customers.

Leaping into the future

Nayar built a corporate culture where employees will follow him, not literally off a burning building, but in a leap into the future. When he became CEO he told everyone that they would set a strategy collaboratively – and meant it.

There’s a debate around performance management systems; earlier this year Pierre Nanterme told the Washington Post that Accenture are discarding annual job appraisals, because they don’t make sense.

“People want to know  – am I doing all right? Nobody’s going to wait for an annual cycle to get that feedback,” said Nanterme.

Deloitte, Adobe, Expedia, Motorola and Kelly Services all reviewed their systems and Microsoft abolished its performance ratings and review process.

Corporate insecurity and defensiveness the real problem?

Nobody likes annual appraisals! Managers don’t relish tackling difficult conversations and rarely receive training in how to deliver feedback; nobody likes forced distribution rankings or standardised systems. It’s a real problem but, sadly, corporate insecurity and defensiveness too often block consideration of alternatives.

Cargill, the agricultural producer and distributor, has a strong culture of valuing employees. Wanting to help employees respond to rapid changes in the operating environment, and to reduce organisational complexity they designed the Everyday Performance Management process on the principle that effective PM is an ongoing process and day-to-day activities and practices predict performance quality – not Likert scales and tickboxes.

PM from the e’ee POV

Do you understand what matters to your employees? Understand their personal and career values, what motivates them, what they like doing and are good at, their aspirations?

Learn from the marketing department; understand the customer, and sell them what they want. Traditional industrial relations thinking says treat employees fairly and consistently but this leaves us with the lowest common denominator in terms of PM, because one size does not fit all.

Effective career management creates a transformational shift in organisational engagement. In a knowledge economy, your most important asset is the energy and loyalty of your people – “to turbocharge retention, you must first know the hearts and minds of your employees and then undertake the tough and rewarding task of sculpting careers that bring joy to both” (Butler & Waldroop).

Problems arise with a lack of congruence

What happens when there is no congruence between employee and organisational aims – if an employee is in the wrong job, if you’ve hired the wrong person? Well, obviously it’s best to agree how to facilitate their exit; both parties, ultimately, are better off that way. Tough but fair.

There is probably more scope for job sculpting than you may think; generally, people self-select, picking jobs they think they will like it, and do well. Job sculpting is a different way of looking at PM, that taps into talent and potential to provide a career proposition that meets shared needs.

Top performance comes from talent

Money is not an effective motivator but engaged employees make a real difference. This is not fluff, it is borne out by the metrics. Top performing organisations in terms of career management tend to do better across the board, reporting better overall HR and business performance (F(463) = 3.61, p = .01, Np2= .18) – Crawley & Fulton.

Pay attention to ensuring employees understand the organisation and what it offers them. The MacLeod report highlights the role of the manager: who listens and cares, who develops and stretches employees. Smart companies nurture a culture where talent can flourish by communicating in meaningful terms about how the organisation is doing and which behaviours drive success.

For ongoing improvement in engagement, productivity and performance take a tip from ‘Creating the Best Workplace on Earth” by Goffee and Jones who say “the ideal company makes its best employees even better – and the least of them better than they ever thought they could be.”

Here’s what other big thinkers say:

In 1914 Henry Ford doubled basic pay for his workers, explaining “The owner, the employees, and the buying public are all one and the same, and unless an industry can so manage itself as to keep wages high and prices low it destroys itself, for otherwise it limits the number of its customers. One’s own employees ought to be one’s own best customers.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard says “Great companies assume they can trust people and can rely on relationships, not just rules and structures. They are more likely to treat employees as self-­determining professionals who coordinate and integrate activities by self-organizing and generating new ideas.”

Author Dan Pink stresses purpose as a motivator “Help your employees answer “why?” for everything that they do, and clarify their stake in the future of the company.”

Lucy Kellaway of the FT suggests “Hire only managers who are able to manage, and who are good at telling people how they are doing, not once a week but all the time. If they aren’t up for this, they should not be made managers. If they are up to it, they don’t need an appraisal system as a crutch. They are better without one.”

Richard Branson is unequivocal: “My philosophy has always been, if you can put your staff first, your customers second, and your shareholders third, effectively in the end the shareholders do well, the customers do better, and your staff are happy.”

If you are serious about employee engagement then put employees first and build the business around their needs. It makes sense once you gain some insight into the key factors that motivate your people.

Author Profile Picture

Get the latest from HRZone.

Subscribe to expert insights on how to create a better workplace for both your business and its people.


Thank you.