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Three Best Practices Employees Crave

Talent leaders can prevent best practices from turning into worst practices by creating and sustaining a positive work environment.

September 4, 2012
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In theory, best practices bring positive results. The intent is to use them to simplify processes, improve quality, save time and provide a consistent framework within which talent can efficiently operate. Organizations create best practices to support employees and help them succeed. However, a 2012 Fierce Inc. survey titled “Workplace Practices: What Role Do They Play in Your Organization?” finds there is often a disconnect between an organization’s well-meaning best practices and their impact on talent.

Of the nearly 800 corporate executives, employees and educators across the finance, health care, retail, aerospace and defense sectors who responded to the survey, 44 percent claim their company’s best practices hinder employee productivity and morale. Forty-seven percent report their organization’s current practices consistently get in the way of achieving results. This means long-accepted best practices are failing to address the issues they were intended to fix and instead escalate problems and limit performance.

Three practices can create and sustain positive, productive work environments, and have the added benefit of giving talent management clear insight into what employees want: corporate transparency, individual autonomy and organizational responsiveness. These three practices are also tools organizations can use to ensure best practices remain relevant and do not devolve into worst practices. Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents identified one or more of these three practices as the top ones that consistently improve their organizations.

The Need to Be Clear
According to the Fierce survey, some 50 percent of respondents identified lack of company-wide transparency and too little involvement in company decisions as key areas of concern. Nearly 50 percent selected lack of transparency as the top practice holding their organization back, while 25 percent were concerned that decisions were made behind closed doors or information is only disseminated on a need-to-know basis.

Transparency into how and why decisions are being made is no longer optional in the modern workforce. Because of the last 20 years’ economic roller coaster, including the Enron scandal, the mortgage crisis, even the recent Facebook IPO, lack of transparency and closed-door discussions are increasingly equated with dishonesty, corporate greed and corruption.

Talent management can rebuild trust within the workforce by shifting the way in which employees access information and participate in the decision-making process. For example, increasing the flow of information and consistently reporting to staff throughout the year as to the organization’s overall health, strategy and goals will engender trust. Most employees would rather participate in the good and bad news than have management protect them in an effort to avoid demoralizing talent. Given the speed of modern-day communication, it is only a matter of time as to when the news — good or bad — is posted, emailed or tweeted. Organizations must take steps to ensure they are the messengers; otherwise negative impact on morale is likely.

Further, management should actively involve talent at all organizational levels in the decision-making process. There was once a widely held belief and expectation that managers and leaders would have all the answers and make the calls. The expectation of today’s talent is for leadership to seek out diverse opinions and engage staff so that decisions are well informed while providing insight into the process used to arrive at the decision.

Give Them Some Power
Fifty percent of respondents identified the most beneficial practices as those that encourage accountability, development and individual empowerment within an organization. In their book, The Handbook of Self-Determination Research, authors Edward Deci and Richard Ryan found employees have three basic desires when it comes to work: competence — a strong understanding of their work; autonomy — the ability to decide what they do and how they do it; and relatedness — the ability to engage with others through the course of their work.

Organizations that address these needs experience higher retention levels, and job satisfaction increases because employees do not feel constantly monitored by controlling supervisors and co-workers.

Talent managers can shift past paradigms where autonomy was given exclusively to higher-level employees by offering increased autonomy at all levels. They should start by defining clear decision-making responsibilities with employees so they understand which decisions are theirs to make, which need to be jointly made and which should be passed to others. Providing clarity empowers individuals and creates roadmaps for professional development and opportunities for employees to request more responsibility.

Unlike best practices, autonomy offers employees the freedom to employ creative problem-solving skills and strategic thinking while avoiding the group-think trap. When employees are entrusted to take on challenges, they are often fully engaged in outcomes instead of blindly following protocol.

For example, HAVI Global Solutions, a global packaging and supply chain company, invested in problem-solving training for its employees, with 95 percent of the U.S. workforce and 75 percent of international employees having received training thus far. Its goals were to develop more organization-wide transparency and inclusion among its business units, as well as break down corporate silos and improve the overall quality of decisions throughout the organization.

Through workforce training, HAVI Global Solutions developed a common language and toolset to increase collaboration, leadership development and an autonomy culture resulting in smart risk taking. Through coaching and the development of clear roles, employees have begun to trust their own instincts. They are now more independent and proactive, bringing solutions, rather than problems, to their discussions with management.

Here’s What We’ll Do
A dichotomy exists between an employee’s willingness to provide feedback about best practices and an organization’s willingness to respond. Seventy percent of survey respondents said they would candidly approach decision makers within their organization if they felt a company practice needed to be re-evaluated or adjusted. However, of those who reported limited benefits from their organization’s practices, less than one-third believed their company was willing to change practices based on employee feedback.

In an effort to support transparency and provide a continuous feedback loop, talent management should create regular touch points to extract ideas and opinions from the workforce while keeping employees abreast of what the organization is doing with the information. Leaders should consider scheduling monthly pulse checks with employee teams and recognize individuals for their input, or think about organizing quarterly, companywide or division-wide meetings, and make sure to report back to employees on how their feedback helped management reach decisions. When organizations make a concerted effort to hear from talent, and talent feels the “ask” is authentic, decision makers gain the emotional capital required to make even unpopular decisions without losing support.

Regardless of the outcome, maintaining clear two-way communication is key for today’s workforce. When employees have a voice, they feel as though they are contributing and, as a result, become more engaged. Management reaps the reward of knowing exactly where it stands with its employees, and thanks to a robust communication flow, the organization has a fully functioning early warning system as to what is and is not working well.

There are transparency lessons to be learned from some consumer-facing initiatives already in use. For example, Starbucks has created its own My Starbucks Idea website. Starbucks invites consumers and website visitors to submit their ideas for products, service improvements and social responsibility ideas. Tens of thousands of concepts have been submitted, reviewed by other consumers, given thumbs up or thumbs down and reviewed by Starbucks management. This level of engagement and transparency results in rich data and taps into groups’ collective wisdom.

Similarly, Dell has created a site named Idea Storm. Like My Starbucks Idea, Dell’s 5-year-old site invites consumers to vote on potential advances to the company’s line of technology products. More than 17,000 concepts have been contributed by site visitors, more than 700 votes cast on the individual concepts, and 500 ideas have been implemented by the company. This transparent communication with stakeholders and the collective wisdom of Dell’s consumers has led to tangible benefits — product innovations — and intangible benefits — ongoing, deeper, brand-building conversations with its customers and potential customers.

These sites invite key stakeholder groups to actively participate in strategic decisions and the company’s long-term success. These stakeholders are promised a reasonable level of response, demonstrating that the organization is actively engaged in the communication process. On top of that, people who submit winning ideas receive recognition — although not material compensation — from the company.

Talent management should stay vigilant about its organization’s needs and desires today versus what the business required decades ago. Best practices are often created with a specific need in mind or as a result of a leadership belief or philosophy. As much and as often as an organization’s workforce demographic and competitive landscape shifts, so should its best practices.

Halley Bock is the CEO of Fierce Inc., a leadership development and training company. She can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.

What Employees Want

1. Transparency
2. Autonomy
3. Responsiveness

Source: Fierce Inc., 2012

SURVEY RESULTS

Nearly 50 percent identify lack of company-wide transparency and too little involvement in company decisions as key areas of concern.

Nearly 50 percent selected lack of transparency as the top practice holding their organization back.

25 percent are concerned decisions are made by management behind closed doors.

25 percent dislike that information is disseminated on a “need-to-know” basis.

Source: Fierce Inc., 2012

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