diverse team having a meeting

The power of putting people first

May 17, 2022

The power of putting people first

Synopsis
5 Minute Read

For your organization to thrive in a modern and competitive workforce, you may need to shift your mindset and your approach towards employee satisfaction.

Back in the 1960s, the younger generation adopted the slogan “Power to the People” as an expression of rebellion against the older generations who held all the money and authority in society. Today, that might be considered a call to action for managers to find ways to better engage their employees and help them be more productive, happier, and more likely to stay.

The past two years of the COVID-19 environment have given everyone a chance to rethink their existing belief systems about what's possible, which means employers now have more freedom to challenge themselves to manage differently. Just as importantly, the idea behind this shift is that the human-machine is never finished. The workplace is becoming one that requires continually rethinking governance, strategy, organizational structure, performance management, and compensation to evolve towards the culture that a company wants and the results it wants to achieve. Those efforts can require collaboration within the company and with other organizations and stakeholders.

One big mind-shift is to realize this shift in needs from the basics to more complex needs — while the work itself and the issues in the work are also more complex. Employees are not necessarily satisfied enough by having money thrown at them, or by popcorn Fridays, or by being allowed to bring their dog to the office, or, more recently, to work from home. Managers need to think about how they organize work to allow for more autonomy and self-management — things many employees are increasingly asking for. However, one strategy doesn’t fit all, which is why this shift is tricky for managers to do on their own. Every business is unique, with its own culture, expectations and goals. Managers today need to rethink the motivations of their people and how to address those motivations almost daily.

This process starts with thinking about how to install or cultivate the culture managers want in order to get the results they need. One way to do that is by focusing on key outcomes or results rather than on key performance indicators (KPIs). This links the work to what is trying to be achieved, not necessarily a measure that work in some form is being done. This opens the door for deciding on how the work gets done, and testing whether it is really achieving the intended result.

The more autonomy employees have in terms of getting their work done and working together, the more a human approach to management is needed to get things done, rather than relying on regimented steps, procedures, and handbooks. Giving employees more autonomy does not give managers a licence to step back. They still need to monitor their workplace systems and constantly think about how they're getting to the desired results in active ways. That's a big challenge. A more human-driven system ultimately relies on employees whose needs are ever-changing, so workplace systems need to be ever-evolving.

Part of the change from a mechanistic directive to a people-focused one includes a greater focus on coaching, coordinating, and collaborating. One tourism agency, for example, has made a greater commitment to developing their people by providing coaching as well as providing managers with the coaching skills they need. The agency also replaced its more traditional performance management system with one that lets employees use “postcards” to discuss what they’ve been up to with managers, who can use those postcards as a form of exchanging feedback about performance and expectations. This makes the conversation around performance less mechanistic and less about completing forms for the human resources department.

The No. 1 driver of employee engagement, and therefore productivity, is clarity around what is expected, and that may involve a continuous feedback loop. A once-yearly employee satisfaction or engagement survey is not enough, nor is an annual performance review, since business and employee needs can change much more frequently. Managers in one city, for instance, have started surveying different parts of their organization at different times, which makes receiving the data and ultimately acting on it more manageable. It also shows employees in each area that there’s a commitment to treat their needs uniquely, rather than adopting organization-wide cookie-cutter systems. This also means extending beyond ongoing dialogue with specific employees about what they want and how they are performing to include how they feel about their leaders, as well as consultations on codes of conduct, diversity, and other ways of working.

On the surface, changing your organization’s narrative can seem simple. Still, it requires some digging to understand people’s motivations and how best to align those with the company’s goals. For example, one national retailer improved sales by listening to how shelf-stockers felt about their jobs. The answer: not just to sell more things, but primarily to help people buy products. The shift towards understanding their purpose inspired employees to better stock the shelves. Ultimately, that aligned with the company’s goal of improving sales.

Knowing your people better than ever helps them contribute more, thereby serving your customers better than ever. Put another way, the solution to being on the other side of the disruption the changing workplace is creating — and not being disrupted by it — is to fall in love with the problem, not the solution. And that means understanding and embracing, rather than fighting against, the Power of your People.

Learn more

To learn more about how MNP can help your organization maximize the power of its people, contact Len Nanjad, partner in Consulting Services.

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