Fast Company wants you to have your best year yet in 2012; click for more advice and tips on how to work smarter, manage your career, and lead a more meaningful life.
The "Flex and the C-Suite" series periodically showcases leaders who have made flexibility at work a key strategy for achieving smarter and better business results. In other words, they get it.
Allison O’Kelly is the founder and CEO of Mom Corps ™, a full-service staffing services company that helps employers tap into the market of talent (men and women) that has opted out of the traditional workplace and wants flexibility. O’Kelly, a Harvard MBA, founded the company in 2005; it's since grown to 15 franchise locations across the country.
Mom Corps is an interesting example of an entity that doesn’t just offer flexibility internally, but has built a business model that helps other organizations leverage and execute their strategy using flexible talent. Here’s how O’Kelly describes Mom Corps' commitment to "practice what we preach":
What are the top challenges/opportunities you see for business over the next year or two?
From a challenges perspective, the issue is continued uncertainty. Many of the leading companies that we work with want to hire. They want to kick off projects that have been on hold. They want to capitalize on opportunities to position themselves for growth when the tide turns. But the duration of the recession is becoming increasingly unsettling. A sizeable misstep could set the company back further on the road to recovery.
On the positive side, a recession is an opportune time to grow a business. Organizations can best position themselves by taking a deep look inward and identifying what value they bring to the market, where their marketplace is headed, key strategies for growth, and the kind of team it will take to execute.
In your opinion, how does flexibility help an organization address those challenges or seize those opportunities?
Organizations that employ a healthy and robust work/life flexibility environment--not one just on paper--will win the talent war. And moving forward, all of our challenges and opportunities hinge at least at some level on the ability to attract and retain the best talent. In terms of company profitability and employee satisfaction, there really is a silver bullet, and that is alternative staffing.
Workplace flexibility is particularly attractive to mid- to executive-level professionals, a group increasingly in demand as Boomers retire and a much smaller Gen X demographic comes in to replace them. At Mom Corps, for example, we help companies tap into a candidate pool that is not accessible through traditional employment and staffing channels. These are well-vetted professionals with years of experience in their field of focus and a desire to work in a flexible work environment, based on necessity, preference, or both.
Here is the dilemma for organizations not offering at least some element of alternative work options--there are enough companies and other options available to employees today that finding another job matching their lifestyle is not the hurdle it once was. While still not prolific, workplace flexibility is a growing preference and getting lots of attention.
What three factors have been most critical to the successful implementation of flexibility at Mom Corps?
- One of our core values is "Responsible Flexibility." We practice what we preach by living lives with work-life synthesis. We encourage our internal staff, franchisees, and consultants to live well, we work hard, and we never take advantage of the gift of flexibility.
- Understanding that flexibility is different to each person, each company, and each hiring manager. It's a function of finding the match that works for all parties.
- Technology that has allowed us to work in a web-based environment from any location.
What would you say to a C-Suite leader who still thinks work/life flexibility is a nice-to-have perk, not a strategic imperative?
That he or she is already working at a disadvantage. Workplace flexibility is good for profits. It is also good for employees and the environment, both of which also positively influences profitability. It is also the preference of Millennials--our largest generation ever and the near future of our workforce.
Company leaders who aren’t at least considering how to implement flexible work options into their culture are generally uninformed and don’t realize the current, and more importantly, the future impact it will have on how they attract and retain their most valuable business asset--employees.
They also might not understand that the concept of work option flexibility can take on many forms and it doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing scenario. Here are some ways we counsel clients on employing a flexible work culture:
- Ask employees their opinion--you will likely find they aren’t asking for much.
- Define regular office hours for both in the office and off-site. This can alleviate some anxiety around flextime for managers who know they can plan around those times to physically see their team.
- Review company compensation models and policies to reflect flexible work options and ensure that employees who participate are not unfairly and inadvertently penalized.
- Don’t just offer the program to employees, encourage it. When you’re talking about a culture or mindset shift, it has to be championed from the top.
- Promote flexible work programs externally as well as internally. It is a recruitment strategy.
- A word of advice: Be completely transparent with your workforce. If you are launching a test of flexibility, be clear that it is a test to avoid disastrous morale issues down the line should you decide to shift course.
- Know that if you broach the subject of flex options, there may be no turning back, so make sure you are committed at least in some way.
If you are either an employer or an individual interested in learning more about Mom Corps, go to momcorps.com.
[Image: Flickr user Emran Kassim]