Ahead By a Century
Today’s workplace is increasingly dynamic, agile and dealing with an astonishing speed of change. Add to this complexity a more diverse, multi-generational workforce, and it’s clear that it’s not “business as usual” anymore. How do successful organizations manage talent while faced with such transformational change?
Our recent roundtable on the 21st Century Workforce explored this question with a panel of experts. Here’s what we learned:
Recognize the traditional employer-employee relationship has shifted. Once upon a time, the employer provided employment. However, according to Nora Spinks, CEO of The Vanier Institute for the Family, today’s successful organizations focus on a more customized, individualized relationship between employer and employee, one that takes into account the whole person that comes to the workplace. Skills and talent matter, of course; however, there is increasing recognition that the aspirations and goals of the individual, their experiences and interests also matter and add to the overall equation. Or, more simply: The whole is, in fact, greater than the sum of its parts. These organizations focus more on providing employability, and not just counting the widgets you produce or the goals you check off an annual review. Speaking of performance reviews…
Does workforce performance measurement matter? Long dreaded by employee and manager alike, performance reviews are about gauging what is achieved, rather than how it’s achieved and impact to the organization. Today’s employees want to know their direct contribution to the workplace, and the traditional review process doesn’t track this level of feedback. This absence of a meaningful measure of employee contribution can lead to disengagement or worse – turnover.
Much has been made recently about the trend towards abandoning the annual performance review, and adopting a less rigid continuous feedback loop. While panelist Les Dakins, of Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto, agrees performance reviews have a ‘bad rap’, he cautions that continuous performance requires a different kind of skill and investment to be effective: How much feedback do you give? How frequent? What’s the right proportion of positive to constructive? And so on. Whatever managers may gain in dropping the annual performance cycle they may lose to the investment needed when implementing continuous feedback.
Dakins’ view is that sophisticated organizations need to adopt a balanced approach to measuring performance, taking a more holistic view of role expectations with how the individual achieves these results.
Measuring the ROI of talent: mission impossible? Our CFO panel member, Ken Scott of Accelerated Connections, believes it’s the most difficult question for any CFO, and not always quantifiable by a “nice and neat number.” Ken’s perspective is aligned with Les Dakin’s in this: It’s a question of striking a balance: by measuring the outcomes and assessing how these outcomes are achieved in light of factors such as morale, turnover and in-house promotions.
HR must lead the way in readying the organization for this new way of working. Today’s workforce is often a melting pot of generations, cultures and backgrounds. It’s also no longer solely made up of full-time employees – there’s more often a mix of contractors, freelancers and virtual workers. Mark Edgar, senior vice president of human resources for RSA Canada maintains that HR leaders must ensure their organization’s policies and practices take all of these factors and different perspectives into account. They must prepare the organization to deal consistently with the individual, and their needs, so that your workforce wants to come back to do their best work.
Agility training: not just for dogs. If there is one thing that everyone can agree on, it’s that change is happening at a much faster and continuous rate than ever before, and that’s not likely to change any time soon. Where HR experts once wrote about the need for employees to develop resiliency and adaptability, today’s workplace demands agility as the “must have” skill in the employee toolkit. Samantha Hurwitz, co-founder and chief encouragement officer of FlipSkills explains that employees juggle many more projects, move from project to project, team to team, manager to manager. Being able to easily and constantly shift gears and focus takes a higher level of agility: flexibility, open-mindedness, creativity, speed of learning and resourcefulness. Fortunately, agility is a skill that you can develop.
By recognizing the individual, and customizing the work experience for the whole person that comes to the workplace, successful 21st century workplaces are preparing for talent that is focused on their contribution to the workplace rather than simply achieving a list of goals. While challenging to measure, and demanding greater agility from the employee and the organization, HR leaders can lead the charge by preparing the organization for this shift from the traditional employer relationship of the past to a more individual, customized workplace experience.