The Evolution of the Employee

Author: Greg Gerber

Having spent the better part of 20 years driving talent acquisition strategies within global organizations and small start-ups, I’ve had many opportunities to see and hear how organizations are evolving in the constant fight to attract and retain top talent.
In today’s aggressive battle over top talent, there are so many more tools available to help organizations than when I first stepped into the profession in the mid 90’s; however, the workforce is so much different than it was back then, and it is evolving at lightning speed. Organizations who understand how to adapt to the way professionals wish to practice their trade, and put this understanding to practice, will have the best chance at winning the war on talent.
Finding top talent is easy, attracting top talent is more challenging, but retaining top talent is the hardest proposition of all. So let’s focus our conversation today on the latter two, because it is there that we can impact the organization the most.
To attract and retain employees today, we first need to understand them. Below is a diagram from Chess Media Group that clearly outlines the evolution of the worker:
Evolution of the Employee
“Based on the above evolution these are the key things to pay attention to…
Create work and work environments that are truly flexible
The first two items above along with ‘focusing on outputs’ comprise this idea of flexible work, that is working anytime, anywhere, and being evaluated not by how many hours you sit in a chair but by what you produce. There is no longer a need for most employees to work from an office or to work 9-5. Unilever is doing a great job of this where they are rolling out this concept of (what they call) ‘agile work’ to their 175,000+ employees around the world. Aetna and American Express are among other organizations leading the way for flexible work. The future employee will only work in this way.
Use any device
We’re already starting to see this with BYOD, but gone are the days of company sanctioned phones and computers. Instead, the future employee will be able to use any device they chose to get their jobs done. Companies like Ford, IBM, and Intel have been among those leading the way in allowing their employees to use many personally-owned devices for work.
The death of the ‘ladder’ and customized work
When you start working for a new company, usually you start off at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole. In other words you begin as a sales coordinator, then a sales manager, senior sales manager, sales director, and so on and so forth. You have to climb the ladder for a few years in the hopes that one day you will reach a position that you are happy with. However, with the freelancer economy, collaboration platforms, and new management approaches; employees are now starting to shape their own career paths and how they actually work. Companies like Deloitte offer something called the Mass Career Customization Program which allows employees to change their work preferences twice a year, changes include things such as making a lateral move within the company or selecting how much time an employee wants to spend traveling. Other organizations like Valve or Treehouse allow employees to completely pick the projects they work on or who they work with!
Sharing and collaboration
Employees used to hoard information and keep it to themselves. There was no incentive, scalable way, or reason for employees to share what they know with others. Knowledge is power and if employees keep their ideas to themselves then they have the power. Employees were also not encouraged to share or think creatively, their job was merely to show up to work and perform their tasks…that’s it! For the future employee the exact opposite is true. Collaboration platforms are making it easy for employees to share information and organizations are creating incentives to do this ranging from internal incubators to intrapreneuer programs to open innovation programs. Internally, email is also shifting from being the primary form of communication to being the secondary form of communication.
Going forward any employee can have an idea that can turn into a new product, service, or opportunity. Shell with their GameChanger program and Whirlpool with their ‘Winning Workplace’ program are just two examples of organizations that are shifting their culture from hoarding to sharing.
Anyone can be a leader
As mentioned above employees were thought of as being expendable cogs which meant they had no voice within the organization. Once again, collaboration technologies play a crucial role as they give any employee within an organization the chance to be a recognized leader by sharing their ideas, thoughts, concepts, etc. Any employee that is able to build a following with the content they share internally is capable of being a leader; something which was not possible before especially not at the scale that collaboration platforms allow today. Think of how many people have become leaders as a result of social platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, now employees can do the same inside of their companies.
Knowledge vs adaptive learning
Knowledge is now nothing more than a commodity. To be the world’s smartest person all you need to do is pull out your cell phone where you have access to anything you need to get answers to. This means that for the future employee it’s not knowledge that is the most important but the employee’s ability to learn new things and apply those learnings to new situations and scenarios that come up. In other words, always being able to learn how to learn and stay adaptable. This is far more important and valuable than what you ‘know.’
Everyone is a teacher and a student
In most organizations today if you want to learn something you have to sign up for and attend a class that may be a few days or a few weeks away. Today (again thanks to collaboration platforms) any employee can take out their cell phone and record a ‘how-to’ for anything ranging from setting up a modem to programming something on excel. Simply being able to connect employees to each other provides a way for democratized learning and teaching in ways that were never before possible. Thanks to sites such as Udemy, Coursera, and Khan Academy we have the ability to learn what we want to learn and teach what we are uniquely qualified to offer to others.” *
With all of this being said, the philosophy should never be, “Build it and they will come”. There will always be a spot in any organization for truly talented “Talent Acquisition” professionals, who know how to find top talent, understand how to attract top talent, and who can also influence the long term retention of top talent. Attracting top talent is only the initial battle in attracting and retaining today’s workforce. Today’s organizations will need to both adapt and evolve to a more nimble, adaptive, and flexible workforce based on the principles outlined here, or suffer a stagnation and eventual atrophy in business.
*Footnote: Excerpt taken from Forbes article LEADERSHIP 9/02/2014
Author: Greg Gerber