Businesses face a rapidly changing landscape. Fortunately, the changing expectations of staff and the emergence of new ways of working provide businesses with an opportunity to respond by unlocking the full potential of their employees.
Employers have a problem; new technologies are increasing the competitive pressures they face and, at the same time, the expectations of those entering the workforce are changing. But there is an opportunity for organisations which can energise the evolving workforce to meet the emerging challenges.
A changing workforce
Under traditional approaches to business transformation, organisational leaders plan out structural reforms, commission IT systems, then rebuild their teams around new business processes.
In years gone by, employees would keep their heads down and hope to survive the disruption created as businesses responded to new challenges: the security of regular paycheques, a steady career and a comfortable pension was worth the discomfort of riding out top-down changes.
“The engines of transformation in your organisation are your employees”
But in today’s workforce, Millennials and Generation Zs are steadily replacing Generation Xs and the Baby Boomers – bringing a very different set of expectations. With the job for life and the final-salary pension long gone, the offer of security has lost its power. A growing proportion of current employees anticipate careers of constant change – and they’re comfortable with that.
What’s more, when a decent salary can no longer purchase a property, people instead seek jobs that give them purpose: work must have meaning. Employees increasingly want to make an impact – to use their initiative and help lead their organisations, building a better business for colleagues, customers and managers – and getting noticed along the way.
So the promise of security lacks its old leverage, and the prospect of change its former menace. And contemporary workers don’t want to be managed like pieces on a chessboard; they seek an approach that gives them the right to suggest changes, and the tools to deliver them. Their search for meaningful work can be hugely powerful; but to harness it, organisations must rethink their relationship with employees.
“Organisations are facing the huge challenge of disrupting and transforming themselves, and that translates into massive changes for employees,” comments Ileana Stigliani, Associate Professor of Design and Innovation at Imperial College London’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Department. “For employers to successfully implement those changes, employees must see the opportunities for them to grow, experiment, and expand their skillset.”
“The engines of transformation in your organisation are your employees,” says Gareth Lewis-Jones, Head of Business Consulting at NTT DATA UK. For transformation demands deep expertise: nobody knows your customers, systems and services better than the people who work with them every day. And today’s workers, driven by the desire to make an impact, can provide the energy and ideas to reshape their organisations. To thrive in modern, highly-competitive, fast-moving environments, organisations must first look inwards – tapping into the huge assets of their employees’ knowledge and ambition.
“Good leaders don’t stand on top of the mountain pointing in a direction. They help everyone to understand the purpose of the organisation, then get out of the way and let people get on with it. When you start to engage your employees with purpose, then you can pivot the whole organisation.”
In this environment, Lewis-Jones argues, the traditional approach to ‘employee engagement’ is no longer fit for purpose. We need to re-energise employees through experience, not simply to engage them.
Employees’ job satisfaction stems from their ability to make a difference, with organisations and staff working towards a common goal.
“And that comes down to empowerment,” says management thinker Dave Coplin – a former Microsoft Chief Envisioning Officer, and the author of Business Reimagined and The Rise of the Humans. “Good leaders don’t stand on top of the mountain pointing in a direction. They help everyone to understand the purpose of the organisation, then get out of the way and let people get on with it. When you start to engage your employees with purpose, then you can pivot the whole organisation.”