Age of Enlightenment
◗ ◗ The chest thumping Alpha- male ( and female) are going the way of the dinosaur, says a leading HR expert. Today’s enlightened employer is all about providing satisfaction and nurturing potential
BABY boomer bosses, wake up and smell your retirement cheques: The bad old days of ‘‘ crush, kill, destroy’’ management are over. And companies that still use them to hound people out of their organisations instead of nurturing careers and building teams will themselves be destroyed by the market.
According to Peter Wilson, the head of the Australian Human Resources Institute ( AHRI), there is a direct correlation between value to shareholders and companies who treat workers decently - or employers of choice in today’s jargon.
Employers of choice eschew the male- dominated chest thumping Alpha- male ( and female) torment of beta and gamma monkeys in organisations for a ‘‘ first among equals’’ industrial approach.
First, how do we define an employer of choice: ‘‘ Very clearly, they are people who are good to work for,’’ says Mr Wilson. ‘‘ It means work environments where people are treated well according to clear and current values in society. And also where their employer is known to provide challenging, satisfying work and focuses on you realising your potential.’’
Management at these companies are ‘‘ a bit like a skills coach at the football’’. He adds: ‘‘ They help you improve your game and have a program for that.’’ At the moment, the workforce is changing from baby boomers whose thinking has been influenced by Harvard MBA- type logic, he says: ‘‘ This is where performance indicators and following the leader rule.’’
But employers of choice focus on contemporary values of a continuous balance between work and life. Mr Wilson adds: ‘‘ You don’t take a long summer holiday, you take short breaks, you work 24- 7 at times when it suits you.’’
On the other hand, the employee expects to be treated fairly and equitably whether you are a man or woman regardless of what race you might be. ‘‘ You are not interested in a workplace that is wellknown for stereotypical baby boomer male behaviour, but more one where differences are appreciated and the workplace is structured flexibly, there is no sexual harassment or any other racial or gender issues that you can get when the organisation is driven by that very male type of thinking by people in their 50s and 60s,’’ he says.
The mindset is more a ‘‘ first among equals model in the leadership sense and where teams are known for the way they maximise the performance of individuals’’.
Mr Wilson says AHRI is developing an award to recognise Australian employers of choice: ‘‘ A lot more medium and larger size companies are doing staff engagement surveys. That’s one thing to look for if you want to be with an employer of choice. Do they do regular staff surveys? ‘‘ In large organisations, it’s very hard to manage them. It’s very hard to manage communication from the top to the bottom and back. It’s very hard to get information from people at the coalface and then transform it into a better place to work than it used to be.
‘‘ A lot of the better employers have not only enlightened leadership around the first point, but very strong formal and informal tools to communicate and pick up staff feedback and respond to suggestion from people about how to improve the workplace.’’
What do you do if you find yourself in an office of chest- thumping Neanderthals? ‘‘ You can vote with your feet. What people tend to do and where you get successful change in an organisation is to try to find a role model.
‘‘ Is there a group known for their enlightened people management and what can you learn about that and what spotlight can you provide to top management? Can you say: Look, this is how someone else does it.’’
Mr Wilson uses GE as an example of enlightened people management: ‘‘ GE is one of the best performing companies in the world and they take their people management practices very seriously. They spend a lot of time on improving working conditions, improving communication in the work- place, concentrating on leadership development programs. It’s no big surprise shareholder value and people engagement are two statistics which are highly correlated.’’ Mr Wilson says the winners of the annual Fortune 500 awards for the top businesses, were ‘‘ almost without exception good people managers’’.
He says a global benchmarking study found ‘‘ 30 to 40 per cent of companies are still really in the dinosaur class’’.
‘‘ Those old attitudes among about to retire baby boomers are still alive and well,’’ he says. ‘‘ The market won’t put up with that long term: the smarter ones are responding and bringing in young people to change things. The companies that don’t will continue to decline.’’
‘‘ People work best when they are confident about what is expected of them,’’ Mr Wilson says. ‘‘ They feel the values of the organisation are supportive to them, and they feel comfortable they are supported there and they are not worried about an accident that may lead to an injury or they are not worried about being stressed to the point of having a heart attack or a stroke.
‘‘ With 24- 7 log- on capacity, the smarter employers don’t mind if people come in at 10 o’clock after they have dropped the kids off at school. Smart employers don’t worry as long as employees can get the job done. The smarter companies are keeping good people and attracting more.’’
Peter Wilson: Changing cultures