As a friend of mine recently started working for Automattic my attention has been refocused on the importance of people within organisations. Its more than the superficial discussions about whether we call people “human resources” or “people”. What is required is a fundamental shift in thinking of how we view the people we need in our teams.
More and more I’m made aware of a sub-culture that is developing in companies; companies that really care about their people. The primary method this can be measured by is how much (or more accurately how little) they try control their people. The manifestations can be seen in a wide array of “policies” such as remote teams, open working hours, respecting of personal and family time, and the valuing of personal needs. And the result you may ask? Happy, hard-working employees that are uber-evangelists of their companies. Sounds like a win-win to me.
These companies are placing a high value on excellence and skills required to perform roles, as well as an extremely high value on cultural fit. These companies are recruiting a person, not a role. They are consciously taking the time and effort to ensure that every person they hire is going to add a forward momentum to their existing ethos. I guess the most appropriate metaphor here is that of making scrambled eggs, it simply takes 1 off egg to spoil the whole batch; so take your time adding each egg.
I love the way that Automattic re-name their roles to describe the core function they are looking to fulfil. I think that the guys at Method were spot on when the created a “complex” interview process to see who the person is that they are interviewing through a case-study approach.
A key resource I keep falling back on is the great talk/book by Dan Pink – Drive, where Dan proposes that one of the major people management areas we are failing in is that of outdated motivators. Typically these motivators are all about financial incentives, that Dan notes, do little for most of the knowledge work that is performed today. Our outlook and implementation of these motivators will give us a good evaluation of how we truly view our employees.
Every organisation is trying to reduce their cost of production, regardless of their industry. One of the core contributors to this cost is that of their employees. Increasing market competition is forcing organisations to reconsider how they manage this cost to ensure they remain relevant to the market. This places a high significance on the importance of strategic human resourcing. Together with this, employees are also changing their minds with regard to what type and form of employment they require as other socio-economic factors become more important than permanent employment. These 2 elements are the primary reasons that flexibility in the work place is becoming a key factor of Human Resource Management.
FLEXIBILITY IN THE WORKPLACE
Flexibly in the work place creates a mechanism for organisations to acquire the required skills at specific times to deal with abnormalities in their product or service demand. The idea of flexibility is that organisations do not carry the financial burden of skilled resource cost while the resource is not required or while the resource cannot be utilised for profitable gain. Thus the concept of flexibility is closely related to that of free markets and capitalism.
Although flexibility is most often referred too in the context of numerical flexibility, 2 additional forms of flexibility are also available to organisations and employees:
• Numerical Flexibility: Matching organisational employee resource requirements with the required resources for the optimal period as to not waste any of the organisations funds on redundant or inactive employees.
• Functional Flexibility: Dissolving of functional boundaries of a role as to allow excess capacity in a role the ability to assist in another area of need.
• Pay Flexibility: The practice of offering varying degrees of financial compensation for the same or similar work based on geographical, social and economic differences.
Flexibility however comes with drawbacks. Putting any form of flexibility in place will require additional management and in some cases more intentional effort on the part of the employer. Any grant of flexibility will fall outside of a normal practice. This by implication will require boundaries for this flexibility to be created and documented. The result is that catering for any form of flexibility needs to still occur within a defined structure, but this structure must allow for some movement/variation. All employees that engage with an employee through a flexible agreement will also need to be informed so that they can adapt their way of working with this person. A flexible working arrangement will also place a large responsibility on the individual to ensure that their required work is completed in the same quality and timeframe as if they were part of the standard.
OBSERVATION AND RECOMMENDATION
The concept of flexibility is often spoken about during our prospective employee interviews. More and more candidates are asking question regarding working hour and geographic flexibility as one of their key considerations for considering the advertised post. Unfortunately the trend is for the hiring organisation cheerfully respond with a positive response, but rescind on this once employment is underway. Often this is because the hiring manager does not trust employees to perform their required duties when they cannot be directly observed.
Although the concept of flexibility is often discussed and theoretically agreed too, it has not been successfully executed in general. This excludes functional flexibly, where the writer has experienced the complete opposite; organisations are more than willing to remove the bounds of a role so that the work can be performed. This is believed to be so because it has a direct benefit to the organisation; it does not have to procure additional resource capacity or additional skills.
Flexibility is a key factor in todays labour market. However the impact on the management of the organisation is not always fully understood, which may lead to a contracting of flexibility as employers actively look to reduce management overhead in exchange for the additional resource cost for permanent employment.
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING:
• Drive, 2011 – Dan Pink.
• Success built to last, 2007- Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery, and Mark Thompson
Atkinson, J. (1984). ‘Manpower strategies for flexible organisations’, Personnel Management (August)
Price,A. (2011). Human Resource Management (3rd ed., p.587). Pearson Education.