Once employees feel challenged, invigorated and productive, their efforts will naturally translate into profit and growth for the organisation.
The idea of happier workplaces creating the right conditions for better work isn’t a new one but it is one that is far more widely accepted today than probably ever before. The problem seems to be how to make it happen. So what’s stopping us?
I know all too well that in many companies there is no natural home for a conversation about improving the performance of the organisation by making it a better place to work – put simply it takes too long, it takes the kind of commitment that not even a CEO can offer, we work to too short cycles that encourage the wrong behaviours but if it doesn’t deliver measurable results almost instantly then we can’t do it. We all know that too.
Seeking to emphasise this point about it not being in the interests of the CEO, I googled “what is the role of the CEO in a plc” and the first three responses that contained actual job descriptions had the following (and only these) people-related responsibilities:
- ensure the Company has appropriate organisational structures;
- provide clear leadership, inspire and support the Company’s employees in all areas of the Company’s business, including the development of ideas, products, and operations. Ensure employees have all relevant up to date information, including relevant information from the Board;
- draw up plans for the succession to the key management positions within the Company, ensure that appropriate plans are made for other levels of management within the business, and ensure that these plans are discussed with the Board and progress reported. This includes the identification, development, and promotion of high performing employees into appropriate positions of leadership including proposing new executive directors;
- Ensure appropriate succession plans are in place for key managerial positions at all levels, including a suitable management trainee programme.
- Ensure development and application of appropriate personnel and training policies, including annual appraisals.
- Make recommendations to the Remuneration Committee on salary and other remuneration elements for senior management.
- Setting performance targets for executive directors and senior management which are both stretching and achievable, and establishing systems of monitoring to ensure that these targets are met or, if not, that appropriate action is taken.
- Ensuring that effective procedures are in place for informing and consulting with the Company’s employees and setting their remuneration and policies and procedures applicable to their employment
There is arguably nothing wrong with the responsibilities above but there is plenty missing. They are certainly lacking anything that describes creating a great workplace or getting the very best from the company’s employees – the closest is the one reference to “inspiring and supporting employees” in CEO 1’s responsibilities. Now, I’m not sure what words you might use to describe what CEOs should be trying to do for their employees but the absence of anything remotely resembling caring for employees, promoting welfare, establishing a productive culture, or anything similar is as good evidence as I might have wanted for how important it is considered. Without CEO endorsement, support and encouragement it is unlikely that any firm will successfully embrace the idea that a healthier, happier workplace will deliver sustainably better results.
Without CEO endorsement, support and encouragement it is unlikely that any firm will successfully embrace the idea that a healthier, happier workplace will deliver sustainably better results.
One of my favourite conversations about this topic of freedom, trust, and respect in the workplace was with a divisional CEO of a major outsourcing organisation. Like many big companies, he was wrestling with the challenge of being a company that relied heavily on infrastructure (big offices, etc) and the associated cost implications compared to other “lighter” competitors. How do we move ourselves to having fewer employees in the office and more people working remotely in more flexible patterns? The various elements of complexity associated with the question flowed easily enough in conversation before having talked ourselves to stand still we moved on to discussing the World Cup and whether they had particular provisions made for employees to watch whilst working… The irony in the response “no, we don’t allow any TV, streaming and social media on our sites” made me laugh and highlighted brilliantly the distance between where they are and where they want to be. As I said at the time “If you don’t trust people to work at their desks when you can watch them (if you want to) there is little hope for creating the kind of business you’re imagining any time soon.”