Today’s post is by Andrew Benett, author of The Talent Mandate: Why Smart Companies Put People First (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
A century ago, Frederick Taylor introduced scientific management principles to the world of business. His time-and-motion rules were a smart way to maximize production in the steel industry (their original purpose) and in other jobs involving repetitive tasks, but they have precious little applicability today—a time when value is derived less from mechanistic functions than from innovation and ideas. And yet we continue to see Taylorian techniques in businesses everywhere, from companies’ remorseless insistence on detailed time sheets (even in businesses that don’t bill for time) to ongoing attempts to eliminate distractions (e.g., banning social media and personal phone calls).
Happily, some smart business leaders have begun to figure out that what worked in the industrial age has no place in the ideas economy. Over the course of writing The Talent Mandate, I surveyed more than 100 senior executives about their talent practices. Only 11 percent of them believe that traditional command-and-control structures are still the best way to derive value from employees. What I have learned from these leaders and the scores of others I interviewed is that when it comes to managing talent in today’s vastly changed environment, it makes sense to loosen the reins. I encourage you to incorporate these practices into your own workplace:
Trust your talent. The notion of supercharging talent by trusting them to make smart choices is beginning to take hold. In our survey, 94 percent of senior executives said the most successful companies trust their employees, giving them the freedom and independence they need to do their jobs well. Henry Sauer, in charge of talent at fast-growing tech firm Rackspace, told me, “There aren’t a lot of policies here. ‘Wear clothes to work’—that is the dress code.” At Netflix, the policy for expensing costs for travel and entertainment is contained in a single sentence: “Act in Netflix’s best interests.” Take a look at your own policies and see what level of trust they express.
Stress results, not the clock. When you think about it, why would we measure an individual’s productivity in terms of the sheer number of hours he or she puts in at the office? It makes much more sense to measure everyone’s value by what they produce, regardless of whether the work took ten days, two days, or three hours. I am a big believer in results, and I also believe that you cannot overmanage your way there. As Sabrina Parsons, CEO of Palo Alto Software, put it: “My management style does not lend itself to babysitting people.”
Be flexible. As more businesses shake free of hidebound rules, we will see the emergence of policies that take better account of individual circumstances and preferences. I see a clear sign of this trend in the results of our survey: 86 percent of top executives agreed that “the most successful companies are flexible and open to meeting employees’ varied needs.” Former Apple CEO John Sculley summed it up thusly: “The older way in recruiting was, you hired a person and expected them to do it ‘our way.’ The new way is: Identify the talent and find out, how do they want to work?”
Millennials, in particular, demand flexibility. A 2012 MTV study found that 81 percent of young employees—and 69 percent of baby boomers—think they should be allowed to devise their own hours at work. Three out of five college students surveyed by Cisco said they have a right to work remotely and with a flexible schedule. It may be tempting to dismiss these generational preferences out of hand, but experience is beginning to show that flexibility offers great rewards in terms of employee motivation and productivity.
Do the shuffle. The physical office is loosening up, with talent getting moved around. At Care.com, they have the Sheila Shuffle—named in honor of founder and CEO Sheila Marcelo—whereby they bump everybody to a different desk annually. “It’s about embracing change, about evolving, about having less turfyness. There are no walls in this office. You have new neighbors every year,” Marcelo told me. At The Motley Fool, every employee has a desk with wheels, so workers who need to collaborate can roll their desks together, and those who need some alone time can shift off to a quiet spot.
Allow unstructured time. “Everything we know about innovation, it happens in the downtime,” says Sabrina Parsons. Forward-looking organizations are experimenting with the idea of long blocks of dedicated “thinking” time. LinkedIn gives engineers 30 to 90 unstructured days during which to come up with new ideas. Web-application company 37signals has undertaken a similar experiment, offering employees what it calls “a full month of free time to think, explore, mock up, prototype, whatever.”
I believe the loosened-up workplace can powerfully jumpstart your talent engine. That’s vital, because talent will be the single most critical differentiating factor in business success in the tumultuous years that lie ahead. If you do not grab the very best talent and nurture and grow them, rest assured your competitors will swipe them—and your business opportunities—right out from under you. Survival lies one way; extinction, the other. And how you manage your people will make all the difference.
– Andrew Benett is global president of Havas Worldwide and global chief strategy officer of Havas Creative Group. His newest book is The Talent Mandate: Why Smart Companies Put People First (Palgrave Macmillan, Sept. 2013).
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