Employers need to be special, not just good

Make your organisation special, not just good

Employers that fail to rethink their corporate cultures, working environments, values and incentives in the face of the ongoing digital revolution will struggle to compete with the new generation of disruptive online start-ups, apparently.

So, not much to worry about there then.

But despite the apparent enormity of the ask, London Business School’s (LBS) charismatic professor of strategy and entrepreneurship Costas Markides did have some fascinating points to make in his keynote speech at the HR Tech Europe show in London last week.

One of the key challenges, he said, was how to make your organisation “special”, rather than “good” or “very good”, in a world where “talent is less loyal, more mobile, less constrained and more willing to jump ship”.

To illustrate the point, Markides cited an LBS study involving a group of 30-year-old executive high fliers who had been selected to undertake a fully paid-for, four-week course at the school to develop and recognise their talents.

When asked how long they expected to remain with their current employer, 37% of them said less than two years, while 90% said no more than five.

But the clincher was that a vast 93% anticipated having more than 10 different employers over the course of their career.

As a result, Markides believes that the big question in future will be less about how to attract talent and more about how to “retain and energise” it – which is where corporate culture comes in.

However, he did acknowledge that the example (see below video) of “wacky” US online shoe company Zappos, where employees dress up as bar staff and superheroes and there are no cubicles to be seen, was an extreme one…

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Becoming special

Markides pointed out that it was important to think about the “special” culture that you wanted to create yourself in order to fashion it – and whether words such as “personal”, “team-working”, “devolved decision-making” or “fun” resonated or not.

Having said that, culture will not be the only determinant of success. Another key element will revolve around providing the right incentives, which for the younger generation are increasingly “emotional” in nature – such as “living their values” and working for a firm where values are similar.

Another consideration will be how to ensure that people work effectively in a world in which technology has progressively blurred the boundaries between work and home life.

The issue is that, as ways of working become increasingly decentralised, it becomes impossible to control behaviour using traditional rules and regulations. Therefore, it becomes necessary to lead by example and “instil values through your day-to-day behaviour”, Markides believes.

“The control mechanism will be strong shared values, with the strong being the time and effort spent in selling them to people so that they go into their hearts, not just their brains,” he said.

As for encouraging innovation and creativity in a world where competitive advantage is progressively short-lived, on the upside, a conducive environment will help to unleash them. On the down side however, given the trend towards remote working and virtual talent networks, it will be crucial that people “interact on a face-to-face basis” for this to happen – a statement that creates its own set of conundrums and has “serious implications for organisational structures”.

As to how such change is likely to come about, meanwhile, Markides believes that the only way to truly effect change is to “shock people into it”.

“The shock can be negative or positive in order to galvanise people – like Kennedy did when he said he was putting men on the moon – but 95% of the time, it’s negative,” he concluded.

So let that be a warning to you.

Cath Everett

About Cath Everett

Cath has been a journalist and editor for more than 20 years, specialising in HR and technology issues.
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