There is no debating it: The last 15 months have fundamentally disrupted the way we think about the workplace. Standard HR procedures that leaders relied on for decades are out the window, leaving leaders to rethink their approach to employees’ personal and professional development. Values around flexibility, authenticity, and well-being are key.
While it might sound simple, many organizations are finding it quite challenging to prioritize an approach that centers around these values. In today’s increasingly hybrid and remote working world, there is no such thing as status quo, and unpredictable external events can change employees’ attitudes at the drop of a hat.
That’s why a company’s culture—and by association, its core values—must be centered around employee empowerment. Employees should never be “managed.” They should be supported. Regardless of role, responsibility, or level, they should be given the tools needed to self-start, with their direct managers providing support and removing barriers to success.
The best way to foster a workplace like this, especially in times of change and disruption, is to focus on a shared vision and build trust with employees so they feel empowered to drive forward in a way that works for them and therefore the business. In short, treat employees like the CEO of their own function.
FIRST, CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
Being an employee-driven business starts with trust and respect. It’s also important to adopt a philosophy centered around inclusiveness. At my company, we have fully adopted the adage from author Kenneth H. Blanchard: None of us is as smart as all of us. We believe every employee is smarter and stronger together. With a foundation like this, the practices of collaboration, knowledge sharing, and innovation become instilled across the company. It enables every employee to have a platform and avenue to bring new ideas to the table that result in tangible and measurable value. Employees become encouraged to spread their wings and take on new challenges, or carve new niches in their roles.
One of the best ways to ensure this is possible is to create a set of principles everyone at the company subscribes to. These values are not the same as the company mission or vision. They should instead act like markers on a hiking trail or bumpers on a bowling lane. They not only keep the business out of trouble, but they also keep it on the right path. Values should also go beyond inspiration. They should be used to inform action. For example, center all-hands meetings, employee awards programs, team priorities, and annual reviews around the values.
THEN, CHANGE YOUR STRUCTURE
To embed a philosophy like this into the employee experience, you will likely need to make some structural changes. A company’s organizational chart is a great place to start. Top-down hierarchies might work for traditionally regimented industries, like manufacturing, but they won’t work for information-driven and knowledge companies. A more modern approach, one that enables employees to be empowered to be their own CEO, is required. All you need to do is flip the traditional org chart upside down.
This model places the CEO at the bottom of the organization to act as the trunk—or roots—of a tree. The CEO’s job is to support the executive team and employees in achieving success by removing obstacles and providing vision and inspiration. The rest of the executive team sits above the CEO as the branches, supporting their teams and so on until you make your way to the leaves on a tree.
This enables employees who are closest to the opportunities and challenges to be empowered to take action and drive change, while feeling supported along the way.
IT’S ALL ABOUT EMPLOYEE EMPOWERMENT
New data shows that one in four Americans said they would consider leaving their current job post-pandemic. This information alone indicates that companies cannot afford to not be innovative in their approach to work and culture. Fostering a culture of empowerment won’t happen overnight. Companies and HR leaders need to constantly create working environments—both physical and virtual—that nurture passionate, collaborative, and innovative employees, with the notion of empowerment at the center of it all.
Ray Martinelli is Chief People Officer at Coupa.