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The other day I read an interesting blog by Professor Lynda Gratton of London Business School on what happens to work when routinely people live to the age of 100. Gratton’s research with a colleague at LBS showed that organisations are doing ‘worryingly little’ to prepare for the 100-year life, and may be faced with the consequences sooner rather than later.

Frustration began to emerge and I started to question my own work and my peers across our industry; both in–house practitioners and external advisors. We, who work in the world of performance improvement through people, need to stop playing safe when advising businesses and organisations on their people strategy. Each month I see evidence of dysfunctional, outdated top-down systems that at best bring order and clarity but at worst foster fear, boredom and apathy. The latest Global Perspectives survey showed that the UK still has one of the lowest employee engagement rates in the world, and we’re not improving. It’s clear to me that those responsible internally for ‘people strategy’ and we, as external trusted advisors, executive & performance coaches, simply aren’t pushing the boundaries enough. We need to encourage new thinking.

So what might ‘new thinking’ look like? I’ve looked around and gathered a few best practice examples and added a few of my own… imagine a business / organisation where;

  • Your manager is as interested in your development and career satisfaction as they are with your performance
  • You are expected to learn a new organisational skill every 12 months, and are automatically enrolled onto training programmes that deliver this
  • You are given regular access to your boss’s boss for a constructive conversation about the culture in your organisation
  • You receive an additional three month paid sabbatical for every five years of ‘good’ service
  • You have the automatic right to join a creative project in a different part of the organisation, and to spend 15% of your year on it
  • You are allowed up to six weeks unpaid leave a year which is nothing to do with ‘family friendly flexible policies’
  • Jobs aren’t classified as full-time or part-time but take many forms – temporary, contract, permanent, partnership, from 4 to 50 hours a week. Plus, they are all treated with the same level of respect
  • Your family feel part of your work, because it’s an exciting thing to be part of
  • You decide to leave your employer and your boss agrees to a positive handover to give you the best possible start in your new job – and you trust that he or she will do so.

We’d love to hear what ideas you have too! Please send us your comments.

Many leading organisations are doing some great work in this area already, with demonstrable results. The Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For, for example, invest more than 66 hours of training per salaried employee annually, 40% of which is focused on their growth and development rather than on their current role. Most have or are developing a system where each employee has a career roadmap to manage their professional development and work with their managers to set and achieve their goals. They invest a lot of time and energy into coaching and identifying opportunities that contribute to the growth of their employees. And they take employee well-being and engagement extremely seriously (there’s an interesting article here, incidentally, by Sir Richard Branson, who talks about how he has worked to increase employee engagement at Virgin).

But the rest of the world needs to catch up. I’m not talking just about increasing employee engagement and retention scores – I’m arguing that it shouldn’t be beyond the human race for people to have great lives AND a great job. Our work is a huge part of our life and it should be as good as it could be. Work that we genuinely enjoy, which stretches and fulfils us, is good for people but it’s also, ultimately, good for business.

It’s tempting to play safe as a leader, or to think that because you got to that level the hard way, everyone else should have to do the same. The brave option is to be the best leader that you can be, to reject all aspects of the old command-and-control model and to find new ways of getting the best out of people.

Time and again I read articles about how organisations risk being left behind, or about the dangers of continuing low productivity rates, or how companies are too slow to adapt to a fast-changing world. I think that old ways of thinking are at the root of many of our problems. So get ready to be challenged and tested. Get ready for your boundaries to be pushed. And get ready to see performance improve.

Rant over, for now…