Finally, I have stopped procrastinating on the promise of Part II, and have left the introduction of Part I intact for continuity.
In the meanwhile, much thought has gone into Part II, stimulated by reading the likes of Charles Handy’s books (The Empty Raincoat, The Age of Uncertainty), Funky Business, and others, all speaking of the migration to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, shaped by sensors, mobile computing, artificial intelligence and data analytics. At the recent Davos conference, 30 execs (together employing 3 million people) agreed that the current revolution requires business leaders to deliver not just profit, but also purpose by engaging employees and customers. The demand for Knowledge Workers is at a premium, and will continue to be so; motivating them will be key to our success.
Our company’s growth and, in all probability, yours too, is dependent on a motivated team of individuals who are, by and large, doing what they enjoy doing. In other words, both willing and able to perform their assigned tasks – and committed.
There’s a dearth of Knowledge Workers in the market, resulting in fierce competition for the services of skilled people. Attracting and retaining these people has become a business imperative.
It is hard to unlearn the messages that we have heard repeated since we were children. One of them is: “Business is a stiff and formal place. To be human and spontaneous is fun, but it isn’t professional!”
Some organizations understand the connection between passion and performance, but many missed that memo completely. They run their organizations like factories. Treat your knowledge workers like automatons and you will attract and retain the wrong people, lose the right people, or both.
Sometimes it takes a shock — a wave of top employees packing their bags and going to work for your competitors, for instance — to deliver the message: the only way you can keep great employees in the company is by treating them like great employees.
Here are two policies for your consideration which are more likely to attract the talent we need rather than have that talent race for the exit doors.
Commitment through Involvement
“Commitment through Involvement” is a favourite expression of mine, and implies a policy of inclusivity. We are often surprised at the quality of thought emanating from the most unexpected sources.
In the bad old days, the old policy of “mushroom management” prevailed: keep them in the dark, and feed them “fertilizer”. This entailed telling people what they needed to know, not what they wanted to know; after all, a little knowledge is dangerous. And information as a power base was one way of keeping one’s position.
Most companies have a vitality hiring policy and, like us, have found that today’s newbie is current with world events and trends, and have the capacity and curiosity to absorb information far exceeding those of us preoccupied with running our teams and companies. These are, in essence, our target market, if not today then certainly tomorrow, and we bury them in “coding” teams where they have little or no comprehension of the business outcomes expected from their lines of code.
We should involve these bright young sparks in the total product development process as early as product conceptualisation, through to product launch and market take-up. Whilst they may not have the experience to develop the “what”, they do know the best “how”, and certainly what would appeal to them as the target market.
Let’s not waste these valuable resources by limiting their exposure to the bigger picture. They become easily bored, not fully committed and will fly the coop if treated like mushrooms. There is immense satisfaction in seeing the end product reach its market and knowing that you have been involved in more than just the production of lines of code.
Why is the company thinking restricted to the few “at the top”? Because we know best? I doubt that, so let’s not be bound by the hierarchical “boss knows best”; let’s introduce 360-degree involvement.
As a little aside, our Core Values were developed over a period of a year and each and every member of our team had input.
Learning – a way of life
What differentiates successful companies from the others? Is it the leadership? Certainly. Is it the customer first approach? Absolutely. Is it product innovation, leading the pack, best company to work for? Yes to all of the above.
However, competing in our rapidly changing world, whether as companies or as individuals, requires one fundamental factor: continuous learning.
Strategies are very seldom durable and, based on our acceptance that we cannot predict the future (thank you, Mr Taleb and your “Black Swan”), we, and our companies, need to be adaptive, which is very difficult without a culture of learning for life.
Is continuous learning a Core Value for you and your company? Do we attract the right kind of employee if this is not the case?
Meeting the business demands for new products and services in a 40-hour week has become nigh impossible, so taking time out for that critical off-site 5-day course, studying at night for that next certification…yep, it’s tough, but it needs to be done. If we are not growing as individuals, our marketability fades, as does our appeal to our current company. Not a great place to be.
Do we assess a new hire’s appetite for learning at the initial interview? Do they subscribe to the company’s values? Does the recent graduate believe the job is done having spent the past 16 years studying, or do they have a plan aligned to continuous learning (both personal and technical)? What do they expect from the company and what are they prepared to put in themselves? A good place to start: let’s not take on new folk that would not embrace continuous learning off their own bat.
Whilst financial incentives for individuals to grow their skills should not be required, that’s probably a little too idealistic. We live in a world of instant gratification, so an immediate increase commensurate with the qualification makes sense, rather than burying it into the annual increase. And make it public; after all, most of us like to see our names in lights, even if we profess not to. Funding the costs of the learning should not be an obstacle to it happening, so the likes of a “you pass we pay” policy is applicable.
Paid study leave is quite common and appropriate to demonstrate the company’s commitment to the “Learning as a way of life” Core Value.
You may not have seen the 50s (yeah 1950s) movies “Village of the Damned” or a more recent same genre movie “Children of the Corn”. Whilst these are both horror movies the concept of knowledge sharing, where one learns, all learn, is thought provoking – a learning accelerant. So whilst teams learn from each other, mostly within teams as some team continuity makes sense, learning stagnates the longer the team stays in place.
Some forward thinking companies have adopted a “Friday information exchange hour” open to any developer interested. Its a little difficult to gauge the result but it demonstrates the companies commitment to continuous learning. Whilst management topics may limit the spirit of free thinking some form of structure will avoid Friday hour becoming mere waffle sessions.
We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that IT folk are primarily loyal to their industry and must maintain their marketability which is achieved by staying current. If we don’t assist them with this, someone else will.
So as a continuum to learning – a way of life, share your ideas with us. Tell us we are missing the real motivators and what you believe they are. Do we know why we are losing our best people ? We are certainly not going to find that out at the EXIT interview.
If you are interested in extending this topic there is a Part III in the making.