Too many companies straitjacket their people from the moment they join the organisation – they smother them with policies, procedures and prescribed ways of behaving and doing things which stifle the very strengths, ideas and skills they were hired for in the first place. To compound the problem, people are hired for strengths, but much of their feedback is focused on what they are not doing well, rather than on their strengths and successes. The results are predictable – motivation, teamwork and innovation nose dive, followed shortly after by declines in customer satisfaction and financial results.
There is a radically different and much more effective way to manage your people. Companies like Moonpig and Rackspace have very intentionally and systematically devised a way to escape this suffocating corporate straitjacket by putting the following principles at the heart of their HR strategies and practices:
Expect the very best
As Iain Martin, MD of Moonpig said at a recent event of ours: “We expect people to be brilliant and tell them this at interview…once they join, we expect them to deliver”. If you expect people to do their best and be excellent and reinforce this message at every stage of the employee life cycle, the vast majority will do their best not to let you down, provided you create a supportive and positive environment in which they can flourish. Conversely, if you expect people to be lazy and below par then your staff are unlikely to flourish.
Build inclusive, strengths-based teams
At companies like Rackspace, Moonpig and Facebook, employees are encouraged to become more aware of and fully deploy their natural strengths (i.e., underlying qualities that energise you and you are good at or have potential to be good at) to achieve team goals. So, if they are passionate about building relationships, they might be tasked with the job of growing several major client accounts. At Rackspace, employees even have their top strengths on their employee badge as a reminder to themselves and their co-workers. Employees are also not expected to be well-rounded. They are empowered to bring in co-workers in areas where they don’t have strengths. By building highly energised, complementary teams, these companies become ‘talent magnets’ and outperform their rivals by an impressive margin as employees want to go the extra mile and remain loyal to the company.
Treat employees like your close friends or family
Employees deserve trust respect, and consideration. They should be treated in the same way you would expect to be treated by your close friends and family. For example, if people want some flexibility to work from home and there is no good rationale for them to be in a defined physical location, then try to accommodate these requests, perhaps initially on a pilot basis. Similarly, encourage them to input their ideas on how to improve the work environment to make it more engaging, fun and productive. Try out the best ideas and experiment with different ways of creating a more positive, high-performing culture.
Cultivate a fun, celebratory workplace
All clients we work with that have a great work environment spend a lot of time and effort recognising effort and performance at the individual, team and organisational levels. There are numerous low and no cost ways to do this including birthday cakes for everyone whose birthday falls in a particular month, hand-written ‘thank you’ notes, extended weekends or time off on your birthday, recognition awards, company parties and picnics, etc. Add a bit of fun and variety to spice things up rather than simply giving out recognition awards at all-company meetings.
Don’t overcomplicate things
Many companies with persistently average or poor workplaces spend too much time talking about the latest HR fad without changing much of substance, or they keep changing things without giving their plans sufficient time to be adopted by employees and bear results. They get locked into a “new is best” hamster-wheel that quickly results in scepticism and declining credibility for the HR team. As with a good business strategy, HR strategies take a while to bed in and can’t be rushed, especially not in a large company. Therefore, it is important to weight up all the options and select the best one for the longer-run, rather than chopping and changing every couple of months.
Straitjacket employees typically leads to a sense of powerlessness, frustration and stuckness amongst employees or a desire to escape as quickly as possible in a Houdini-like manner, an option that is typically invoked by the most talented employees. By implementing these straightforward principles companies can rid themselves of the corporate straitjacket and build a thriving and high performing workforce.