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Jane Ginnever

Shift Consultancy Ltd

Founder

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The world of work must change… but how?

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There’s something fundamentally wrong with the way the world works. In a series of 5 articles over the next few weeks I’ll share with you why that’s the case, what we need to do about it and how you can begin to implement changes within your own organisation which will start your journey towards a more productive, successful, happier and healthier work environment for all those with a stake in it. The world of work is moving on, don’t get left behind.

If you’ve read my previous article you’ll know that it’s my view that the world is changing and that organisations must respond. Customers, technology and employees are all moving on at pace and many organisations simply aren’t keeping up. The world of work needs to change, for the benefit of all of its stakeholders.

I have a vision of a world where there are enhanced levels of trust within organisations as a result of more freedom for their employees, enabled by the latest technology; where there’s more long-term focus and a clearer sense of the purpose; and where more feedback is provided more regularly so that everyone (including the organisation itself) can grow and thrive.

Meanwhile, back in the real world…

As a line manager I’d always strived to engage people, support them to achieve their potential and respond to changing customers’ needs. As head of the HR function I aimed to do the same and I’ve helped to change the context in which people operated in order to enable their performance and the performance of the business.

It’s often been a huge challenge and I’ve faced many obstacles, but I have persisted (occasionally much to the chagrin of some of my senior colleagues!), introducing many elements of good practice and supporting individuals and teams to achieve. But building and maintaining trust throughout an organisation can be extremely challenging. 

How I introduced more freedom, focus and feedback

Then in 2013 I was asked to implement a change within a company which I wouldn’t have contemplated introducing elsewhere. I introduced ‘extreme’ flexible working supported by a new performance management system, which gave individuals total control over how, where and when they worked.

It felt like a huge leap, but I knew that it was the right thing for the business. If it worked it would help to create the environment that the CEO had envisioned, but I’d read about workplaces that operated like this (mainly small software companies in the US, or so I thought) and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to reproduce the effects they were reporting.  

We also redefined and communicated our purpose, using the story the CEO told about why he’d started the company, to help everyone understand why the organisation existed. This gave everyone a really clear focus about what we were trying to achieve.

Almost immediately it became obvious that by giving people the freedom to make choices about how, where and when they worked, we were also sending a huge message to all employees that they were trusted, not just by their manager but by ‘the company’.

This brought about a number of very positive changes, not least of which was changing the way that people thought about their work and their role within the business. People felt a greater sense of responsibility and ownership, they took the initiative to resolve problems they could see within the business and they stayed, with voluntary turnover reducing from 17% in 2013 to 6% in 2014. In early 2015 we were awarded a 2 star accreditation from the Best Companies to Work For organisation; the employees had judged the company to be an ‘outstanding’ place to work.   

So why did this change, radical as it seemed at the time, have such a huge impact on the way that the organisation worked?

Freedom

A high level of trust is vital for innovation, collaboration and learning. People need to be prepared to put themselves, and often their jobs, at risk to move outside of their comfort zone, challenge the status quo and admit their mistakes. And that’s exactly what’s required in order to create an agile business that can respond rapidly to change. Understandably however, the majority of people simply won’t take those kind of risks unless they feel they’re trusted and if they believe that the organisation will respond to the outcome (whatever it is) in a predictable and positive way. So demonstrating clearly through actions, not just words, that people are trusted is important.

People need to be prepared to put themselves, and often their jobs, at risk to move outside of their comfort zone

Moreover, in a relatively flat structure or a smaller organisation, development in the traditional sense of promotion to a ‘higher’ level simply doesn’t exist, and there are those who would argue that it shouldn’t. So giving people the freedom to develop their role in order that they can make a greater contribution to the organisation should be encouraged. Don’t box people in when they want to do more.

Focus

Without a clear understanding of where the organisation is going and why it’s going there, people aren’t able to respond effectively to change because they can’t make good decisions that move the organisation towards its goals. For example, if you know that your organisation’s purpose is to ‘make natural, delicious food and drink that helps people live well and die old’ (as is Innocent’s purpose), as a member of the customer service team you’d want to ensure that calls were responded to in a way which supported the caller to ‘live well’ and as a product developer you’d understand that the products you developed were to be natural as well as tasting great.

Compare that to an organisation with no express purpose other than to make a profit or make the customer happy. Engaging everyone in a common goal, one which makes a positive difference to society, is a great motivator and collaboration-enabler as well as guiding decisions throughout the organisation.    

Feedback

We’re told that one of the things that those Generation Y employees value is feedback, so why are companies like Accenture stopping their annual appraisals, and why aren’t Millennials protesting on the doorstep to bring them back? It’s because that isn’t the kind of feedback they need. Everyone is motivated to some extent by learning and people gain satisfaction from mastering something, not only those born between 1977 and 1994. Annual appraisals never really helped us to do that. What people need is regular, timely and relevant feedback, which is focused on an individual’s strengths and doesn’t shy away from constructive feedback when things could have gone better. 

The extrinsic motivators, divisional structures, rules and restrictions that are part of many organisations’ design don’t support us to do what we do naturally

The importance of alignment

There are many things that organisations do to inhibit employees’ performance. As human beings we’re naturally curious, ready to learn, sociable creatures that get huge satisfaction from solving problems. Ironically the extrinsic motivators, divisional structures, rules and restrictions that are part of many organisations’ design don’t support us to do what we do naturally. So it’s important that if you’re looking to make change happen you ensure that stuff’s not getting in the way, but that all the practices in place support and reinforce your aims.

For that reason, ensuring that the senior team understand and support your initiative is vital and that’s what I’m going to be focussing on next time. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about what motivates people, I’d recommend a book called ‘Drive’ by Daniel Pink (or watch this for an animated overview).    

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Jane Ginnever

Founder

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