The transformation of work in the digital, global era is gathering pace, with demonstrable benefits for business, people and the environment when it is well implemented. Yet many organizations cling to rigid, industrial age working patterns. Here, Alison Maitland and Peter Thomson set out their guidelines for making a successful transition to agile future work by challenging and changing organizational culture and management attitudes.
We have drawn up what we call the ‘TRUST principles’ for organizations that want to make a successful transition from the old to the new world of work. These are based on the business and socio-economic case for change, the large body of research on motivation and the effective approaches we have encountered in our research. They are designed to be global guidelines.
1. Trust your people
2. Reward results
3. Understand the business case
4. Start at the top
5. Treat people as individuals
1. Trust your people
Time and again in our discussions with business leaders and managers, trust emerges as the essential ingredient when people are liberated to do their best work. Trust is a two-way process, requiring open-mindedness and adaptability on both sides.[ms-protect-content id=”9932″]
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, emphasized the centrality of trust in his blog in February 2013. ‘To successfully work with other people, you have to trust each other,’ he wrote. ‘A big part of this is trusting people to get their work done wherever they are, without supervision. It is the art of delegation…’
Swiss Re, the global reinsurance company, embarked on new ways of working in 2012. ‘We want to move away from a leadership philosophy that’s ultimately based on command and control to a leadership philosophy based on trust, freedom and shared objectives,’ explained David Cole, chief risk officer.
For some leaders, trust will come naturally, but many others have to learn it through experience and deliberately challenging their own assumptions.
2. Reward results, not hours
To break free of the old model requires a radical change in the way work is rewarded. Future work will only fully succeed if the number of hours worked is decoupled from ‘success’.
Under the prevailing model in many organizations, even salaried employees are expected to put in their minimum contracted hours – and to work considerably more to be seen as ‘dedicated’, ‘loyal’ and ‘conscientious’.
This is a deeply ingrained belief that can only be overturned through a well-orchestrated change program, driven from the top.
Ending the long-hours culture is a critical step on the path to future work.
The argument for this change is very simple. People who work efficiently get the job done in less time than those who are less efficient. People who take a long time to do their work are probably wasting time and are certainly not as productive per hour. People who are paid by results have every incentive to think up smarter ways of getting the work done. Their reward is more ‘spare’ time for them to use as leisure or to generate more income.
Managers have historically been bad at defining and measuring the output from work because the Industrial Age model judges and rewards people for their time. They have described work as a series of tasks – the job description – instead of approaching work in terms of goals and outcomes.
In future work it is results that count. Work is about the purpose, and the focus of management is on achieving that purpose. What is achieved is important; how many hours it takes the individual to achieve it matters less.
Setting targets and outcomes will vary between sectors and roles. In many jobs, it is not just about achieving the numbers. Indeed, a pure focus on hitting numerical targets can be harmful. Wider outcomes such as excellent customer service, or ensuring patients are treated compassionately, or creating an environment where diverse talent can flourish, are equally if not more important.
3. Understand the business case
In every case where we have found organizations whole-heartedly embracing new working practices, the reason is a business one. It may be that the company is losing talented people. It may be that there are risks to business continuity, whether from severe weather, pandemics or terrorist attacks. It may be that the company has a technological advantage and wants to translate this into more efficient ways of working. Or it may be a combination of factors.
Each organization has to establish its own business case for moving to future work. This can be a challenge. As with any big change, the case has to be made, often in the teeth of resistance. ‘The pain is upfront in proving the case,’ says Caroline Waters, former director of people and policy at BT. However, the many business benefits we highlight in the book will help you understand the potential gains for your organization. The important thing to remember is that this is about doing better business, not just about being nice to people.
Offering alternative work patterns simply to suit individual employees is unlikely to bring about the fundamental changes in the work model that will benefit the business – and other employees. Unless it is business-driven, any improvements in ‘flexibility’ will be subject to the whim of individual managers and may be short-lived.
Manufacturing is not an obvious place to encounter a ‘give-and-take’ relationship between management and staff. But Stuart Fell, owner of Metal Assemblies, a medium-sized engineering firm in the West Midlands, the traditional heart of England’s manufacturing industry, believes in two-way flexibility based on trust. Employees at the company, which makes pressed metal components for car manufacturers such as Nissan and BMW, must be flexible in responding to sudden changes in customer demand, and managers must be flexible in responding to employees’ ‘real world’ responsibilities.
Most of the work is done in shifts round the clock at the fixed location of the metal presses. Even so, within the 100-strong workforce there are about 50 different working arrangements. ‘The needs of the business can frequently be met better by people who also are having their needs met,’ Fell says. ‘I could name employees who would not work for us were it not for the flexibility we offer. I also know there is business we have won because we have been able to respond quickly to a customer demand.’
4. Start at the top
As with any major change program, leadership needs to come from the top, even if pressure starts from below. To shift to a new work model, senior leaders must not only encourage other people to change, but also change themselves. Otherwise, attempts to adapt to the new world will remain confined to small pockets within an organization and risk being snuffed out by a dominant culture that is inclined to stick to ‘the old ways’.
The CEO may be an early champion of change who instinctively grasps the business case. The stimulus may come from outside, such as an imminent threat to business continuity, or an urgent need to cut costs while maintaining productivity. Or the chief executive may have to be persuaded by an influential colleague or a successful trial in a business unit. However it happens, the leadership team must be convinced, in order to convince others. The best way to do this is to demonstrate that the change applies to them too.
Leaders and managers have to learn how to let go of control, rather than hanging onto it. ‘Don’t dictate, delegate’ is a useful maxim. This will be harder in some national cultures than others.
Openness and adaptability should be attributes of today’s leaders and should be integrated into leadership development. Unconscious biases (which we all have) can act as a barrier to the acceptance of different leadership styles and help to perpetuate a monoculture in the upper echelons of business. One of these biases is that ‘presence equals commitment’. Many of today’s leaders grew up in a ‘face time’ culture and can find it hard to see that this is not the only way to be effective. Surfacing and addressing these hidden biases is an increasingly important part of leadership development in progressive companies.
5. Treat people as individuals
To be successful in the new world of work, you have to treat people as the individuals they are. This is the essence of good people management and it is put to the test when people are working remotely or are part of a team dispersed across different regions or time zones.
Prescription and uniform solutions do not work. To produce their best, people need to be able to work in the way that suits them. Some are temperamentally suited to long spells of solitary work, making them ideal remote or home workers. But most people need regular contact with colleagues, and at least some of this must be face-to-face. Nor is everyone able or willing to work from home, even for some of the time. Home may be a place to escape from, rather than to.
Some people are highly self-driven, while others need deadlines, even artificial ones, imposed from outside to get down to the task in hand. Being in an office surrounded by other people working, or at least appearing to work, can be the motivation they need. People also work to different rhythms: some are early birds, others night owls.
Managers, therefore, need to be highly adaptable and sensitive to these differences among the individuals who make up their teams.
This is an edited extract from Future Work: Changing Organizational Culture for the New World of Work, by Alison Maitland and Peter Thomson (Palgrave Macmillan 2014)
About the Authors
Alison Maitland is an international writer and speaker on leadership, diversity and work, and a former Financial Times journalist. She directs The Conference Board’s Diversity in Business Council and is a senior visiting fellow at London’s Cass Business School.
Peter Thomson is a leading consultant, speaker and researcher in the field of new working practices. He is a director of Wisework Ltd and was Director of the Future Work Forum at Henley Business School for 16 years.
For more information visit www.futureworkbook.com