The World Has Changed, Corporations Have Not (Part 1)

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In 1957 the U.S. hit an inflection point. (1)

For the first time, we started thinking more than producing. White-collar workers outnumbered blue-collar workers. Since then the spread between the two has only increased but we have not changed our mindset or our systems to help get the best from those who do the work. We have moved from an industrial age to an age of human potential that drives work.

The nature of today’s work requires your workers come up with solutions that are more creative and innovative than ever before. The problems they confront do not have prescriptive, rote solutions.

Compounding the problem is the fact that very few are successful solely through their own doing in any company. Success is communal in the sense that solutions are typically found via cross-functional cooperation. Because of this, people management is exponentially more difficult. You not only have to solve the riddle of how to draw out the best in everyone but understand how people with very different skill sets can bring out the best in each other.

Nobody has figured this out. And yet, you must. Your job today is to optimize people’s thoughts and ideas…to help your company turn brain waves into dollars.

And as if that’s not enough, the employment power dynamic has shifted.

Job opportunities are no longer limited to the local Sunday classifieds. Your organization now competes with every job that is available in a global marketplace. Workers can now comparison-shop using their contacts and several online resources that review companies and their cultures. Technology and globalization have led to candidates having as many options for finding a job as picking out a new pair of shoes.

Employees as a Consumer of Work

Think of today’s worker. If he or she is younger, the worker grew up with technology. They communicate via devices. Their Rolodex is LinkedIn and their social group is connected on Facebook. Whether young or old, they use Consumer Reports, Yelp and other rating services before they make any major purchase like checking out home service providers on Angie’s List or planning a vacation with TripAdvisor.

So why would they not want to access the same kind of information when considering one of the most important decisions in their life; where to work?

Today’s worker is a consumer – a consumer of work. A decade ago a job seeker applied for a job via print advertising. They had a nicely prepared resumé that was often sent in the mail. These days, everyone has his or her resumé, or at least his or her profile, online. Everyone is open to new opportunities at any given time. This is a huge challenge for HR. We can’t just think about filling job requisitions. We have to think about continually re- recruiting our own people, keeping them engaged, and providing a culture that nurtures their professional and personal growth.

Although the world has changed, our systems and infrastructure for people management are antiquated. Think about performance management that does not include the flexibility to track contingent or flex workers and rarely provides the insight into which cross-functional individuals actually work together.

The world of human ‘resources’ has to change. And culture is at the core of all we do. It is the natural place to start.

A couple of starting points to keep in mind before making the leap to brain wave herder.

How, not what.

Anyone your organization would consider hiring is going to be smart. You have reviewed their resumé or job profile and verified the background, skills and credentials. The difference in a few IQ points at the top end of the spectrum is not going to make a difference in accomplishing goals. The difference is how they put those smarts to use. Does their value system align with how your company does business? Will your culture inspire conversation, creativity, and innovation from the people you hire?

Instilling a Culture of risk Taking

At Southwest, Herb Kelleher was famous for establishing a culture where employees were encouraged to take risks, and part of that stemmed from an environment where it was okay to make mistakes.

Herb had the wisdom to know that an employee would learn much more from a mistake than a win.

Daily decision-making was pushed down in the organization, which meant that occasionally people made the wrong choice. While the problems were always debriefed, rarely was the person accountable for the problem fired. We focused less on blame and more on problem-solving which promoted a culture of continuous learning and teamwork. This motivated and inspired versus creating an atmosphere of fear of failure.

1  Time Magazine, “NEW PROBLEM FOR UNIONS: The Rise of the White-Collar Worker, January 5, 1959

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