In the opening session of the second day of SHRM 2012, Malcolm Gladwell gave one of the most talked-about topics a fresh and unique twist. He began by addressing one of the biggest challenges facing a lot of organizations: employee recruitment and retention in the new social paradigm that Millennials bring to the multi-generational work landscape.
In other words, Gladwell maintains that every 30 or 40 years generations start to make changes in how they see the world. This shift to a new paradigm can create profoundly different notions of how an organization should actually engage the next generation.
Gladwell illustrated his point by contrasting two powerful social movements – the civil rights movement under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the recent Occupy movement that has been picking up steam throughout the world. These two different movements, he said, highlight the difference between the old and new methodologies. This difference is one of hierarchies vs. networks.
Dr. King brought about a lasting change that culminated with the Civil Rights Act by leading a movement that contained all the traditional elements of a hierarchy. This can be defined as having a strong leader, a recognizable structure throughout the organization, and a unifying ideology or strategy. The Occupy movement, on the other hand, does not feature any of these elements. Instead, it has a strong network that, by design, lacks a single leader, has no standardized ideology, and protesters look to the people next to them for support rather than looking up the ladder.
Most employees in the workforce who were born before 1980 tend to connect through structures that are part of a hierarchy. They are accustomed to situations, meetings that are more closed, disciplined, and centralized, with decisions and strategies being made by the leadership team at the top. Recently, though, a trend has emerged in which businesses are starting to incorporate many networking principles, which is creating a decentralized, open and flexible environment.
Gladwell was careful not to claim that one organizational structure was better than the other. Instead, the point was that each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, and it is more important to look at how today’s leading organizations are capitalizing on both methodologies to retain talent and increase employee engagement.
Apple, for example, is founded in the most open, flexible, and networked environment in the world: Silicon Valley. It began by breaking away from most of the prevailing corporate structures of the time, and as it grew it started creating partnerships with others and learning from its counterparts. At one point the company even entered into an agreement with their fiercest competitor, Microsoft.
Things changed, though, when Steve Jobs returned to head the company. Suddenly there was one dominant ideology and strategy that influenced all their decisions and changes. Now, Apple continues to succeed by blending and taking the best of both worlds, and the endeavor has made it one of the most successful and admired companies in the world.
These points were reiterated later that same day at SHRM when Dan Satterthwaite spoke on “Building a Culture of Creativity. Satterthwaite is the head of Global Human Resources for Dreamworks Animation, and he shared a little bit on how that company fosters creativity and innovation through a network within a hierarchy. These insights have led to an employee retention rate of 95% within that company:
1. Communicate often and openly to build trust
Employee engagement is much easier when individuals feel like they are connected to something bigger than themselves. This feeling of connection can be built through open, transparent, and candid communication.
Jeffery Katzenberg, the CEO of Dreamworks, keeps all 2,200 employees current on the company’s situation through a daily blog post. He accomplishes this by writing from his Blackberry every night and sending it out to the entire company. This way everyone in the company is connected to daily touch points which can bring people together with a common conversation. According to employee surveys, this simple process has helped make employees feel more engaged, connected and involved.
Katzenberg pointed out that “Getting people to do their best creative work requires this deep connection with their organization.” The company continues to reinforce this trusted environment with company updates, new employee welcomes, mid-show reviews, creative reviews, internal wikis, and a range of other communication methods.
2. Let failures lead to original, unique ideas
If people aren’t allowed to fail, there’s also no way to succeed. Dreamworks understood that a great movie idea could come from almost anywhere, so they created a Movie Pitch program. Every employee has the opportunity to write and pitch a movie idea. While obviously most of these pitches don’t get picked up, some of their most successful ideas were generated through this program. That’s why the company took it a step further and developed a training program to teach employees the best ways to pitch their ideas. This has even led to a system where they welcome any pitch type, from new business ideas to software and mobile entrepreneurism.
3. Understand that engagement requires choice
Employees can be engaged by including them in the decision-making process. For example, in the past, when a movie wrapped, everyone who had worked on the movie were “cast” into their next project or assigned to another script. Now, everyone gathers together to look at the upcoming projects and selects the one they want to work on.
Satterthwaite pointed out that one of the most important things is to create an environment where employees feel motivated and inspired to continue producing great work. He finished his session with a clip of Jeffery Katzenburg that explained the overarching vision for their workforce, saying: “If people love coming to work, if they feel there is recognition and reward for doing great work, we win.”
While most of us probably won’t ever work at Apple or Dreamworks, there are many lessons that can be taken from their histories. They provide a model for dealing with the expectations and needs of the next generation of employees, and the most successful organizations will seek out different possibilities and leverage them to find, recruit, and retain talent.
About the Author
: As our resident wordsmith, Heather McArthur
writes stories about employee recognition for O.C. Tanner
,and recognition’s ability to transform corporate cultures and lives.