The age of the employee: to really transform your brand, you need to empower your staff first

Organisational culture is fast becoming the central component from which organisations adapt, retain their relevancy and ensure they are fit for purpose. But how successfully are companies adapting their working cultures and is there real change happening in the workplace?

The connected economy is not only pressuring organisations to transform but it is also putting on new demands and opportunities for the global workforce. What many of us were taught in school was how to succeed during the industrial revolution, but this is not the skillset required for many of us any longer and this video courtesy of Sir Ken Robinson provides some fascinating insights on why we should rethink the education system so our youngsters will be better equipped for the modern workplace.

A recent Gallup poll entitled “The World’s Broken Workplace” indicated that only 15% of the world’s one billion full-time workers are engaged at work”. The US based research company concludes within the article that organisations need to transform from command and control structures to managers becoming “high performance coaches”.

The connected economy offers us all an alternative rather than having to follow the tribe and there is more than ever an opportunity to find our own path and our own voice. In fact, this workforce persona has gathered pace, as the book Rebels at Work articulates brilliantly.

Written by Lois Kelly and Carmen Medina, Rebels at Work lifts the lid on a growing number of employees working within organisations that could be deemed a rebel but more importantly, a good rebel, which is defined as “someone who is not motivated by personal glory but looks to introduce new ideas that can benefit co-workers, customers, or community members."

The book goes on: "The greatest calling for rebels is helping our organisations evolve from what they are to what they can become….finding thoughtful ways to examine new ideas, identify when and how to move on them and taking the first step.”

A good rebel is defined as:

  • "Curious, pays attention to emerging trends and how it might affect your work"
  • "Steps in to take on the difficult tasks that require creative solutions"
  • "May have been told by their boss to 'give it a rest as that's now how we do things around here'"

The role of a good rebel could also be defined as a linchpin within an organisation, a descriptor Seth Godin explains like this:

“The job is what you do when you are told what to do. The job is showing up at the factory, following instructions, meeting spec, and being managed. Someone can always do your job a little better or faster or cheaper than you can.

"Your art is what you do when no one can tell you exactly how to do it.

"Your art is the act of taking personal responsibility, challenging the status quo, and changing people. I call the process of doing your art 'the work.' It's possible to have a job and do the work, too. In fact, that's how you become a linchpin.

"The job is not the work.”

We are seeing a growing need for new organisational cultures that empower and promote the skills (or softer skills), of generalists – these are hard to define “measures”.

It is becoming abundantly clear that organisations can spend money on finding people with the more vocational, tactical skillsets but the real difficulty is encouraging, and more importantly retaining, the skills of employees who can adapt and reinvent themselves as changes in the marketplace or opportunities arise.

These are the types of skills and mindset a growing number of employees, regardless of age or “seniority”, are looking to accomplish. But how can these be welcomed into organisational hierarchies?

Is it any surprise that companies struggle with siloed thinking when their job opening/descriptions are all phrased this way? Head of programmatic, PPC expert, social media lead and PR head... etc.

The growing motivations of employees are to be making a real difference, building opportunities and collaborating both internally and externally.

They are not necessarily incentivised by progression up the corporate ladder; rather they seek an alternative reward, by being given the permission to build, connect and create opportunities to benefit the organisation

An article by Ross Breadmore resonated with this view when it comes to the role of “digital” within organisations.

Breadmore says: "Being a generalist is important because the only constant is change, so being able to adapt, pick up new hard skills and hone soft skills is key. When the dust settles and patterns emerge you can move onto the next challenge”

Organisations needs more independent thinkers, more idea generators and more connectors.

The Intrapreneur

This changing employee mindset is fuelling the rise of the "intrapreneur", a movement Fast Company describes as being driven by a workforce eager to make a real impact and change: “The future will belong to individuals and companies who embrace the entrepreneurial spirit whether that is inside or outside a company."

The key motivation of the employee, whether a generalist, rebel at work or intrapreneur, is delivering incremental, “hard to measure” value to the organisation by pleasing and meeting the needs of the person for whom the organisation is in business – the customer.

And to meet the needs of the consumer requires a cultural shift to put the voice of the customer at the heart of how a company operates.

Author Jay Baer, who wrote the book Youtility, puts forward an alternative way for companies to adapt their proposition and put the people element at the centre of their operations:

"Youtility is marketing upside down. Instead of marketing that’s needed by companies, Youtility is marketing that’s wanted by customers – Youtility is massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long-term trust between your company and your customers."

There is no map or instruction manual to follow to achieve Youtility – it’s common sense and taking the initiative and having an organisational culture that cares passionately about its consumers.

Author Mitch Joel, in his book, Ctrl, Alt, Delete, declared that more of us need to retune our thinking into three key elements:

  1. Look to the edges – Start to take the initiative a lot more and ask yourself what is the company I am working for not doing that I could be creating value? Where could I be demonstrating added value for the organisation?
  2. Invest in yourself – Don’t be afraid of re-skilling. More organisations are expecting their employees to take on the responsibility to re-train and learning skills that will help support the business over the next two to three years.
  3. Embrace your squiggle - Don’t assume the path to success is climbing the corporate ladder anymore or not changing jobs and not changing industries.

More organisations should be welcoming the intrapreneurial mindset of the employees wanting to make positive change and be challenged. In return, these businesses will be rewarded with ideas that help them find new ways to innovate and adapt to better working methods that will ultimately improve the experience for the consumer. It's time to embrace the age of the employee.

Simon Swan is head of digital marketing at the Met Office and is writing in a personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter @swanny_s

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