Here is an excerpt from our upcoming eBook, Creating Performance that Matters in the Workplace, which will be released in full at this year’s Global Peter Drucker Forum.
We are in the age of digital transformation. The International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates digital transformation spending will increase from $1.8 trillion in 2022 to $2.8 trillion in 2025. Businesses are allocating spending and resources to implement innovative tools (e.g., artificial intelligence and machine learning) and business models (e.g., remote, hybrid) in hopes of materializing performance that matters in today’s fast-paced digital world. Unfortunately, discussions have frequently focused on technology and methodology and less on the quality of experience for employees. In reality, no amount of remote work or intelligent automation can generate lasting performance without a knowledgeable team that believes in their company’s mission and is invested in its success.
To generate this level of employee buy-in, an organization must instill mutual trust and respect between itself and its employees. To do so, employers must:
- Restructure the work environment to breed openness and inclusivity.
- Implement working models that promote employee wellbeing and put them in a position to grow.
- Reimagine leadership roles to be more hands-on and set clear business goals with employees to facilitate trust and teach productivity through autonomy.
Once mutual trust, understanding, and shared goals are established between employees and their employer, working methodologies and innovative technology can take a back seat to the organization’s staff as the leading driver of productivity.
Let’s take a closer look at how each of these techniques accumulates trust, respect, and performance that matters in the workplace.
Creating an employee-first (not intelligent-first) work environment
Businesses seem to be disjointed internally when it comes to the implementation of innovative digital technology and the ability of their employees to use that technology. In May of 2021, Emergn conducted a survey on the Human-Machine Relationship and found that 64% of technology leaders within a business describe their automated workflows/processes as “intelligent.” Yet, only 32% described themselves as an “expert” when it came to technology.
In order to maximize the value of digital solutions and drive performance, organizations need employees to understand how to operate and optimize their digital processes. This starts with taking an employee-first approach.
What does taking an employee-first approach entail? It starts with listening to and understanding your employees. A global study of over 4,000 people found that 74% of employees report being more effective at their job when they feel heard. Businesses with a pulse on their employees’ wants, needs, strengths, and weaknesses not only exude a level of compassion for their staff but also gain a better understanding of which technologies and practices would benefit their operations most. They can also recognize and address any employee reservations about digital transformation and determine what training or tools will help their employees grow and perform at advanced levels.
An employee-first work environment requires transparency and openness about a company’s plans, goals, and vision moving forward and a willingness to accept new ideas and employee feedback. Educating staff on the decision-making processes behind new software or operations being implemented can be an easy way to increase employee buy-in.
A business that practices transparency with employees builds trust by creating a more open and inclusive work environment.
Positioning employees to grow and succeed
After months or even years of remote working, many employees prefer to continue working from home. There is no denying that working from home has its benefits. Aside from being able to call into meetings in your sweatpants, the flexibility and accessibility have allowed employees to work outside the routine 9-5 schedule and replace the time spent in traffic at home with family. These advantages have led many to believe that companies asking employees to return to the office part- or full-time are doing so for the employer’s benefit. However, returning to the office has significant benefits, especially in terms of employee wellbeing and growth potential.
Regardless of how introverted you may be, humans crave connections with other humans. While Zoom and other video conferencing platforms have enabled us to see one another remotely, it does not fulfill the psychological or sociological benefits of face-to-face interaction. Isolation and a lack of human connection through remote working can hinder employees from developing relationships and lead to loneliness, which can have significant consequences on a human’s wellbeing.
Socialization and face-to-face interaction in an office setting can improve employee health, and studies show it can also positively affect an individual’s smarts, performance, networking, and career development. A study from the University of Michigan (UM) found that individuals who spend more time interacting with others display improved mental function and cognitive performance, and productivity doubles when teams collaborate in a shared room.
While the benefits of remote work are enticing, data suggest that workplace training, employee development, and collaborative projects are more effective in-person and both employers and employees should favor in-office working models—at least until employees are equipped with the knowledge and skillset to perform outside of the office.
Redefining the roles of leadership to equip and empower employees
How do employers bestow such capabilities and knowledge on their employees? It starts with exceptional guidance and direction by leadership. The old ways of top-down management where leaders barked orders to subordinates like some sort of military platoon will no longer suffice in today’s fast-paced, interconnected marketplace. Leaders need their employees to know how to think and react quickly to unique and potentially critical situations. Businesses today must redefine leadership roles, where leaders are more engaged and hands-on with their employees – this type of leadership is known as servant leadership.
A servant leader puts the needs of their employees first – unlike top-down leadership models that focus on a company’s success. The goal of a servant leader is to share power, work together, communicate and lead by example. Communicating and leading by example are two ways to quickly and efficiently teach employees the skills they need to be self-sufficient and highly adaptable.
By connecting and engaging on an even level with employees, leaders can build trust while nurturing and developing individuals to perform at higher levels – and eventually, become “servants” themselves. Business leaders who work with and empower employees further increase inclusivity and wisdom while building a more trusting relationship between themselves, their employees, and the company.
Reaping the benefits of earned autonomy
By creating a more inclusive employee-first work environment and implementing servant leadership into an organization, employers have an end-to-end pulse of their business’s anatomy. At the same time, employees feel more connected to the organization and gain the skills and adaptability to be self-sufficient. These, with the mutual trust and understanding gained between the employer and its employees, allow organizations to provide their employees with more freedom.
Businesses today have a unique opportunity to give their employees more of a say when it comes to how and where they work – which can positively affect performance output. Research shows allowing employees to demonstrate a healthy level of autonomy at work, like opting to work from home, increases levels of job-related wellbeing. And, today’s employees appear to put more value on the autonomy offered to them by a company. A Harvard Business Review study found that 59% of workers view flexibility as more important than salary or other benefits, and 77% said they would rather work for a company that gives them the flexibility to work anywhere they choose rather than just in the office.
While the thought of implementing an autonomous, hybrid working environment may turn some business leaders off, organizations that have established clear guidelines and built trust, will have confidence in their employee’s ability to perform and succeed. And, it has been well documented that self-directed employees with the tools and understanding of business goals achieve more than those who take a backseat to top-down management that controls the working environment to ensure productivity. A study of 320 small businesses –half of which offered workers autonomy, half of which relied on top-down direction – found companies that offered autonomy grew at four times the rate as businesses that didn’t.
New York Times best-selling author Daniel H. Pink believes that motivation and the capacity to generate performance that matters rely on a company’s ability to make an employee feel free yet connected.
Organizations that establish clear direction and trust with their employees, while increasing their wellbeing and growth through in-person collaboration, can introduce healthy levels of autonomy among their employees. Combining connectivity with autonomy will help employers unlock an untapped drive within their employees.
Stay tuned as Emergn continues to count down to the November Global Peter Drucker Forum on Performance That Matters by releasing a new chapter from its digital eBook, Creating Performance that Matters. Each chapter breaks down each of the five ways to create performance that matters in the workplace in today’s market. In Chapter Three: Facilitating Collaboration and Productivity Through Communications, we discuss how strengthening communications can help businesses meet goals faster, improve time-to-market and optimize performance.
Be sure to check out Chapter One: 5 Ways to Create Performance that Matters of the Emergn eBook.