February 03, 2022
Helping Clients Navigate the New World of Work: The New Workplace
BY BECKI HAINES, PHR, SHRM-CP-PASC
Prior to our workplace upheaval in 2020, work life had been a pretty predictable formula for many businesses. We did things the way we always had—the way society had taught us to look at work because there was simply no outside pressure to force us to change our perspective. As much negativity as is associated with the pandemic, I would suggest that it has had a positive, clarifying effect on the business mindset by challenging false assumptions about work productivity. My favorite business book, “businessThink” by Dave Marcum and Steve Smith, says “A solution is worthless unless and until it creates business value,” and I think we had allowed our focus to be locked in on business norms instead of business value.
There is no greater example of this than the common concern heard from our clients with non-exempt, remote staff asking us to help them better prove their staff members are really working. When I hear this, my immediate thought is, “They don’t know how to measure performance because they’ve always measured time.” In their defense, historically, this has been the norm. Businesses have measured non-exempt staff by the hours they put in, or what many like to call the “butt in the seat rule.” On the flip side of that, we’ve also made it clear that exempt staff were measured by the work they accomplished without much regard to the hours that were required. It’s as if we took the method of payment via the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and decided that also looked like a good way to measure productivity as well. The rulers by which we measured productivity should never have looked so different. We all know people we’ve worked with who are physically present at work but aren’t answering their telephones or responding to emails timely. We also know those people who will answer their phones even while watching Johnny play at his Little League game. The thought that people being physically present would somehow give us the green flag that they were doing their jobs well is absurd, yet most companies practiced this method of accountability until recently. The “old normal” created lazy leaders and gave us a false sense of security. Increasing time spent has never been a good business metric.
How do we guide our clients to a new successful formula to encourage productivity? Simple. We encourage a fully deployed mission with communicated measurable outcomes housed within a respectful culture. Let’s dive a little deeper on this three-pronged approach.
“…you don’t get the results you want because your definition of success is not shared.”
—Dave Marcum and Steve Smith
Many of us have spent days, weeks, and even months agonizing over defining a company mission. As exhausting as that process can be, the job is not done once it’s on the website, letterhead, and rolled out to staff. Remember, “A solution is worthless unless and until it creates business value.” Full mission deployment is only reached when each of your staff is using the mission as the litmus test for what work to engage in and how to engage in that work. The events of the last two years underscore the importance of having a fully deployed mission.
There are many good things vying for your employees’ time. Good doesn’t necessarily translate into what’s right for your business though. If you have staff making decisions based on what’s good, but it doesn’t align with the mission, it simply isn’t right. You no longer have the luxury of overhearing conversations or stopping by their desks to see where their focus lies. To ensure your staff members are all moving in the same direction toward your goals, they need to be empowered to make decisions on what is right for their positions’ efforts by holding it up to the mission statement.
“Anything that is measured and watched, improves.”
As crazy as it sounds, most company leaders can’t tell you what factors lead to their success. Oh, they can tell you when they are financially successful, but they are simply looking at the effect of success and not the cause. To repeatedly succeed in business, you must drill down to know what causes growth in your business. If you thought mission creation was a difficult process to go through, hold on folks. You needed to start measuring your business input and outcomes yesterday—and continually moving forward—to see business drivers come to the forefront.
Once you identify those drivers, communicate them to staff members. Let them know how those drivers will be measured for the health and well-being of the company. If happy clients are a key driver, maybe a net promotor score needs to be of great importance to your staff. If timely production is a key driver, a production volume metric might be in order. This is not to micro-manage, but to educate, get creative juices flowing about how to improve, and offer some additional on-demand feedback to your staff. These drivers and the outcomes they create should be a part of every meeting, every performance review, and every decision made. It’s easy to forget the other side of the equation here. Just as we’re being asked by leaders, “How do I know that employees are working?” staff are asking, “How do I feel secure that my leaders know I’m adding value?”
“Why is culture so important to a business? Here is a simple way to frame it. The stronger the culture, the less corporate process a company needs. When the culture is strong, you can trust everyone to do the right thing.”
Many well-known leaders, Richard Branson included, have gone on record that their secret to success was creating a culture of respect for their employees, knowing that their clients would then be treated well in turn. A culture of respect reinforces the standard to which all interpersonal relationships are held. If your employees are happy, statistically they are more productive, have less interpersonal conflict at work, and provide a higher level of customer service to clients.
The question is, how do you create an intentional culture of respect? I recently read a LinkedIn poll that asked where culture was taught, and then gave options like onboarding, company meetings, social media, etc. The reality is, culture cannot be created in one event. Culture is not an event at all. Culture is created by a thousand small decisions made by the leadership of a company so that combined they convey a whole and complete message. Culture is essentially the personality of the company. Just like someone’s personality cannot be defined by one conversation, neither can a company’s culture be defined by one initiative. If your workforce has become remote, you are going to have to find new ways and employ some extra effort to arrive at your cultural destination. Maybe you used to have spontaneous ice cream parties; now you may have to send breakfast by way of DoorDash. Maybe you have a culture of honoring the personal lives of your employees. Recognizing that your staff is now living where their offices are located, perhaps you need to set firmer boundaries for when emails should be sent to allow for brain rest and family time.
Intentionality by your leaders has never been more important. Now more than ever, we need daring leaders who are willing to try new things. Remember, our old workplace habits were once new and innovative. The torch has now been passed.
BECKI HAINES, PHR, SHRM-CP-PASC
Read in NAPEO's PEO Insider February 2022 Issue