As the Coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on both populations and markets around the world, organisations need to work out what it means for them going forward, particularly in regards to their workplace interactions and relationships.
As everyone knows, executives have spent decades trying to find the right balance between driving performance and productivity and making their business a great place to work. At the same time, conversations about wellbeing and diversity have entered the debate meaning the need to adopt more human-centric approaches has risen.
What’s notable about the conversation, however, is that its origins in conventional management theory have undermined the progress organisations could have otherwise achieved had they focused on true human centred science.
The reason for this is because managers have presumed the parties (employers and employees) are opposed given their motives appear different rather than seeing them as equal members of a team who rely on one another’s contribution for their interests to be met, i.e. increasing wages for employees and ever greater dividends or returns for shareholders.
An analogy I have often used to highlight the relevance of this point can best be seen in sport. As we know, the owners or management of a sports team need their players to perform to realise their aspirations. Equally, the players themselves need those in command to invest in their development in order to succeed as individuals. If the parties understand they are on the same team and will therefore win or lose together, they will find a way to make it work. If, however, they believe they are on opposing teams and, therefore, think the answer to their predicament is to try and extract more from the other (party), they will not only negate their chances of success, they will destroy the integrity of the relationship and thus enter a meaningless race to the bottom.
While the flaws with this approach are obvious in a sporting context, it’s important we understand that this is how the majority of organisations are trying to operate, i.e. most leadership teams see their workforce as a resource they need in order to do business rather than the key to their success as a business. As a consequence, they focus on trying to extract as much as they can from their employees rather than investing in their ability to optimise their productivity and impact.
Because workers know the ‘unwritten rules of the game’, they have largely focused on doing what they need to keep their bosses satisfied rather than focussing on their development in order to improve their contribution.
The result of opposing views means companies presume it’s about finding a balance between expectation and reward rather than optimising their people’s performance in order to increase their respective benefits. In other words, the ‘parallel paths’ organisations have pursued for decades (being workplace expectations versus their pay and conditions) have never been right albeit it’s an established practice that’s permeated throughout every sector of the market.
Creating the next great era for your business
While COVID has added a layer of complexity, it has also brought forward the need for organisations to rethink the way they engage their people and ultimately, how they operate.
Having spent over 20 years examining the human factor in business, I would argue the vast majority of staff remain disappointed with the lack of meaning, inspiration and leadership in their business; hence employee engagement remains low. Conversely, the vast majority of executives know they need more from their people to do better but don’t know how to engage them in the conversation given what they’ve witnessed in the past.
Although such responses are understandable, it is vital we accept they are symptomatic of the ‘parallel paths’ organisations are pursuing as opposed to the reactions we should expect from the respective parties, i.e. if we were to apply this premise to sport, we would only ever see one party (either the players or management) being happy with a particular outcome but never both.
The fact is, most people in business believe others in their organisation have to give something up for them to do better rather than thinking the better everyone is, the better off they will be as an individual.
This is because the practice of parallel paths forces organisations to focus on the distribution of earnings between the parties rather than the driving of growth and value creation. In other words, ‘it’ assumes there is a limit as to the amount of value a business can generate hence conversations with staff often get stuck in discussions about who gets what out of what’s currently earned.
To realise a different outcome, organisations need to replace their existing contract with their people with a mechanism that inspires them to do more so they in turn can earn more. Specifically, executives need to engage their people in a different way so they understand that the key to their success won’t come about by trying to get more out of the business but by working with it for the benefit (and betterment) of each other. Of course, it is especially important if a business is to achieve growth during this uncertain time when there’s a need for both physical distancing and more remote working.
Despite the so-called success stories, there are very few organisations that have found the answer. The majority of those who think they have, tend to see an uplift in staff metrics and/or reduced opposition as opposed to a radical increase in the organisations value and future prospects.
As performance specialists, it is clear to us that there has never been a better time for organisations to realise a dramatic change in workplace relations for the fact is, what is fundamentally good for people is fundamentally good for business; hence it’s not about trying to find a balance between the parties, it’s about being clear on your aspirations and the value change and growth can deliver to everyone.
See also: How to optimise remote working