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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Hey Bosses, Employees Aren't Your Problem

There are presently massive changes happening in leadership practices.  It's early days yet, but the long-term prognosis is good.  As was the case with the Labour Revolution, smart employees are realizing they need to rethink their approach to Human Resources, just as HR folk are revisiting the whole purpose of their industry.

Where We've Been:

By and large, the prevalent stigma around employees is that they aren't focused on company success and are either not clever enough to see the big picture, too selfish to care or too lazy to add value without their own.  The assumption of bosses the world over is that employees are a problem that needs constant management, like weeds in a garden, if the work is to get done.

Salary and punishments are sticks and carrots to keep workers in line; all the frills they ask for are simply excuses to detract from productivity.

So, if an employee calls in sick, it's likely that they're looking for an excuse not to come in.  If they say directions weren't clear, they're stalling for time.  If they produce work that doesn't meet the expectations a boss had in mind, it's obvious the employee wasn't paying attention.

Enter micromanagement - the boss will either watch their employees like a hawk or push harder on middle managers to fill that role for them.  Sure enough, micromanagers will find employees less engaged, less productive and more likely to take every sick day available to them.  It reinforces the belief that the employees themselves are the problem.

Management, in this perspective, is about stopping truancy.

Where We're Heading

The age of the all-knowing boss is coming to an end.  Smart leaders are recognizing that being top dog doesn't make them omniscient, nor does it mean that their say-so is all that matters.  Instead, they're turning to science, behavioural economics and are willing to pilot innovative strategies to find, retain and motivate the best employees to the best results.

Google is a great example of this.  Instead of penalizing employees for being human beings that need recuperative breaks, socialization and food, they're optimizing engagement to ensure their team has their base needs met and that the process of meeting those needs feeds into the companies mandate of catalyzing innovations that will change the world (while making a profit).

There are other employers out there taking step in the same direction; great Canadian firms like Optimus SBR and Environics have started seeing their employees as the solution, not the problem, and are developing and implementing strategies that puts their team in the co-pilot's seat.

Surprisingly, there's even a movement growing within bureaucracies like the Ontario Public Service to change their working culture, though such initiatives are getting stuck in the clay layer of entrenched, comfortable middle-management.  Political Parties still lag far behind, but then, they're an industry focused on competition and wins, not achievement.  

Leadership, in this perspective, is about empowering individuals to be active participants in company success.

Nothing in this cognitive labour support movement is airy-fairy or pandering; it's evidence-based and it's effective.  The bosses that think otherwise can continue to lean hard on their employees and look to cut when they see their revenue drop, but this is the path to extinction.

The Conscious Revolution is here to stay - and the leaders that will build success in the knowledge economy are recognizing that their human resources are human first, and need to be treated as such.

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