Last time we talked about the above. I started with a seeming gripe of all of the images that show, effectively, a powerless employee rather than what employment truly is – a partnership in which an organization that needs a service compensates (in many different ways) a person who has the talent and abilities to provide that service. We covered the first five items:
- Empowered with purpose derived from the vision
- Allowed to create purpose collaboratively with the mission of the organization
- Provided with autonomy aligned with organizational goals
- Engaged with a mutually beneficial career path
- Communicated with even when there is little to disclose
This time I want to cover the last five briefly. I believe that when we shift our thinking to put these more into a context of partnership, then we will not only value organizations but also learn to build cultures that can be successful and increasingly profitable.
Provided opportunity to fail well
I am reminded of Etsy and the story of the “Three-armed Sweater Award” for this one. For those of you who haven’t heard this story, I will summarize – a new employee completely brought down the site by a simple mistake and instead of being fired he was awarded for identifying a critical defect. Now, I have to admit that my first reaction would not be to reward this (I am still growing), but I do find a critical attribute here: leaders must learn to take failure in stride. Another great example is Babe Ruth. Regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all time and a slugger, he also had one of the highest strikeout percentages in the leagues. Why? You don’t hit any of the balls you don’t swing at. Employees need to know they can “swing” and miss. If not you will have an extremely risk averse culture that will not value innovation. In that there are other conversations about having a “safe” culture or creating an environment that isn’t so close to the edge of failure that a single misstep can cause cataclysmic problems, but that is for another day.
Shown their value to the organization
A couple months ago, I did a session at the office on attempting to be a better 21st century leader. We spend a lot of time in my world talking about 21st century skills and how employees either don’t have these things any more or need to learn them in order to be successful, but we, as leaders also need to work on some “stuff.” Value is not just about doting on employees or making sure that employees are treated “fairly” (don’t get me started on this new “f” word in the business world), but about recognizing the contribution of who the employee is as much as what they do. Years ago I was going through a phase where I didn’t feel like I was “doing” things for a certain company. I felt like we are at such a critical stress point and things were flying around us that my typical tasks as assigned to me in my job description just weren’t getting done. In the midst of this I was talking to a leader who said, “right now we don’t need what you do, we need who you are.” That leader went on to tell me how the biggest way I could contribute was to continue to encourage, coach, assist, question, protect, and keep leaders accountable and it wasn’t about the project plan, the release plan, or even the facilitation of our practices. And while I truly believe that organizations are and should be performance oriented, there is also a need for value to be identified in why and how organizations interact with their employees as much as what the employees do.
Encouraged to self-improve and learn
This one might get some push back and may be a bit of flame thrower. I generally don’t think/believe/feel that it is the companies responsibility to teach their employees how to do the job. While there are some definite variables around this. For example if a manufacturing company installs a new piece of machinery it is logical for them to train their employees on that new equipment. However, I mean general concepts, competencies, and abilities to do a job. I have heard many developers complain that their organization is moving away legacy software and that how dare they not train the developers on AWS or Angular or whatever. At what point in our careers did we decide that it wasn’t our responsibility to grow? Good organizations might include their employees on plans for change and might even provide mentoring opportunities. In some cases, an employer might desire that a team member learn something that serves the employer, but the expectation is not that all training is paid for but rather that there is a partnership in identifying and planning ahead to meet the employer’s vision and goals.
Incentivized for contributing to organizational improvement
Why incentives before compensation? Simple. More people stay for how they are respected and treated at an organization over what their salary is. One of the most difficult questions I have been asked is “what is your salary requirement?” The problem with this question is that, while it can be the largest portion of a compensation package, it is only part of it. My response usually goes, “what are the incentives? What are the other packages that you offer?” Salary is simply equitable exchange, incentives are the things that can remind us why we work for a company. As we begin to see more application of agility across human resources, the ability to provide flexible incentives based on individual contributions and plans becomes more and more necessary. And even though “teams” are key in our world, teams are made up of individuals with different complimentary skills that should be awarded.
Equitable exchange of compensation to services
In Daniel Pink’s popular talk about Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, he quotes a study which I shall now mess up. Generally, it says that you have to pay people enough to take money off the table; that it no longer has to be “worried about.” In expounding on this, team members want to know that there is appropriately, not equally, applied compensation models. If you disagree with that, do a poll and see if people think they deserve to make more or less than a coworker. You will not get a lot of “I think I am exactly like so-and-so.” The conversations will mainly be around comparing what they do to what they make. Employers should focus less on being fair or providing for their employees and more on building a culture that communicates about equitable exchange of service to compensation based on individual contribution to the organization and the organization’s bottom line and growth. It is on the employer to take signs like high turn over, diminishing work enthusiasm, and other things as a sign that there is some inequity, but it is also on the employee to make sure that they remain in partnership with the organization on this.
So, that was a lot. Mostly ramblings but if I were to summarize it would be this: as an employee, it is imperative that develop a mentality of hard work and not privilege (or thinking we deserve something). For employers, it is definitely time to see your team members as partners that help you achieve the vision of your company! Together we can build environments that raise the level of performance and happiness alike!