Researchers at Stanford University and the University of California–Berkeley found in a recent study that companies can increase their profitability and innovation outcomes by creating a workplace that balances cultural agreement and diversity in the company culture. The researchers used text analytics to analyze cultural differences based on Glassdoor employee reviews, then measured these differences against business outcomes. In their analysis, they identified two distinct forces at work:
- Compositional Diversity: When employees disagree with each other what makes up a company’s culture.
- Content-Based Diversity: When company culture is made up of a diverse set of topics, which may sometimes conflict with one another.
After considering how compositional and content-based diversity impact organizations’ business outcomes, the researchers found that organizations with higher levels of compositional diversity are associated with negative business outcomes, while organizations with higher levels of content-based diversity are associated with positive business outcomes. From what we uncovered at CEB, now Gartner, in our latest research on organizational culture, both of these findings make perfect sense.
Aligning the workforce to a common vision of culture drives business performance…
Our research finds that organizations have better business and talent outcomes when they have a high level of what we call Workforce-Culture Alignment or WCA for short. Organizations with high WCA have a common set of core cultural expectations that are consistent across the enterprise, ensuring a lower level of what the Stanford-UCB scholars refer to as compositional diversity. Congruent with the findings from their study, we find that without a shared understanding of the desired culture, it is impossible for the workforce to engage in a concerted effort to put that culture into practice. When WCA is low, progress toward the desired culture is slowed and both business and talent outcomes suffer as a result.
…as does empowering employees to translate the culture independently.
Recently writing at Personnel Today, Ben Batts made the provocative argument that in the age of digital learning, corporate learning and development functions should stop creating content and start aggregating it instead:
Basing your learning strategy, digital or otherwise, on the creation and delivery of content, makes it tremendously difficult to serve your workforce in a timely, relevant and personalised manner. Creation is slow. It’s expensive. It requires an increasing level of expertise to make online learning content that looks and feels credible in a world of premium resources. …
The world is full of content. It is full of learning content. So, wouldn’t it be more efficient to procure and curate existing content, than to create it from scratch? … As learning professionals we’ve taken it upon ourselves to be the curators of this content; to take a range of sources and craft the perfect piece of learning content for our audience. I think we’re going too far and having all the fun.
The core of my thesis is this: be the aggregator of suitable resources and let your learners work out for themselves which content is appropriate, necessary and useful for their context. You can’t possibly hope to personalise things enough to make this right for every person. But people can make it right for themselves.
Designing learning content has always been at the core of L&D’s work. As Batts mentions, things are changing: Learning is moving online, it’s no longer limited to the classroom, and the amount of content available is ever-increasing. So, how does all this change L&D’s role? Batts’s answer is to turn L&D into a content aggregator, allowing employees to chart their own courses by choosing the content that is right for them.
The proliferation of online learning vendors and free products certainly creates an opportunity for corporate L&D functions to benefit from content they did not have to create themselves. The notion that L&D should stop designing learning altogether, however, misjudges how employees learn best and undervalues L&D’s expertise.
Remote work is rapidly on the rise among knowledge workers in the US and other developed economies. The ability of employees to work from anywhere opens up a lot of possibilities for their employers in terms of hiring candidates who don’t live in your city, saving money on office space, and enabling collaboration across vast distances. Some organizations are bucking the trend: IBM, an early pioneer of remote work, recently “co-located” much of its distributed US workforce to six regional headquarters, citing the need for teams to collaborate and communicate more closely day-to-day. Critics of IBM’s move argue that the company is losing more than it stands to gains with this move, by limiting where its employees can live and work and taking away a degree of their autonomy.
Skeptical employers may be forgiven for assuming that the “autonomy” remote employees enjoy translates to freedom to slack off. A recent study, however, suggests that remote workers with greater autonomy are in fact more productive. Ian Buckingham takes note of the findings at People Management:
Nick van der Meulen of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University, gathered data from 1,450 employees at four public and private organisations that practise working from home to assess the best ways to maximise performance. Participants were asked a series of questions, which covered the frequency of communication with their manager, the extent to which they work from home, manager trust, job performance and the manager/employee relationship.
Van der Meulen suggests something many of us have realised for some time now: “The boundaries of the office structure have changed and with it management has had to shift its approach. The results of our survey showed that managers need to offer trust and freedom to get the most from their employees in return. Any failure by managers to offer this was found to be highly detrimental.”
The recipe for a successful remote workforce, Buckingham concludes, is “self-determination or autonomy within a framework of clear objectives and expected outcomes, accompanied by excellent communication between employees and managers.”
ImageFlow / Shutterstock.com
As technology has enabled more knowledge workers to work from anywhere, fewer of them need to be in the office every day. This sea change in the way people work has driven the rise of the coworking market, where vendors like WeWork are now even selling their flexible workplace solutions to large corporations. Back in March, Jeanne Sahadi at CNN Money spotted a rising trend of “hoteling,” in which employees don’t have individually assigned desks but have to reserve them each day they want to come into work (or in a “beach toweling” system, take them on a first-come, first-served basis), which saves employers money on expensive office space. Sahadi talked to an employee at EY about how the flexible desk system works there:
Maryella Gockel has worked at global consulting firm EY for 35 years. She said she hasn’t had a permanent office for the past decade. As a member of a global team, Gockel often works from home, in part because she has to be on early morning and late night calls with colleagues in different time zones. Of course, creatures of habit may not love the “work wherever” arrangement. …
If you work in the office at least three days a week, often you’re allowed to make a long-term reservation for the same space if you want, Gockel said. At EY, the only stipulation is that whenever you’re not there, you have to make that space available for someone else’s use.
In April, Denver Post writer Emilie Rusch toured the new Denver offices of commercial real estate firm CBRE, which also did away with assigned desks, even for senior employees, as part of the company’s “Workplace360” transformation:
The flexible workplace market is large and growing, as more knowledge workers are able to do their jobs remotely. The core clientele for providers of coworking spaces has so far encompassed entrepreneurs, freelancers, scrappy startups, and nonprofit organizations, but one major player in the market, WeWork, has begun reaching out to large corporations as well, “betting that firms will trade suburban office parks and bland commercial towers for its hip, urban workspaces,” Rachel Feintzeig reports at the Wall Street Journal:
General Electric, KPMG LLP and Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. already house some employees in WeWork offices around the globe, and the 90-location WeWork is making a concentrated push to both land more corporate customers and spur existing ones to take on more space. A 10-person sales team is out pitching companies and chasing leads, and WeWork recently posted a job for a head of enterprise sales to grow membership among Fortune 1000 companies.
Open-plan offices have proven disappointing to many of us who have worked in them, not quite living up to their promise to automatically generate creativity, camaraderie, and collaboration. On the other hand, nobody really wants to go back to the cubicle days, so is there anything to be gained from the creative office design movement? Yes, writes Carson Tate at Fast Company, but it’s not the open office. Autonomy, she contends, is the real creativity booster:
If the most popular feature of the past generation in office design is a wash at best and a bust at worst, are we back to square one? If it isn’t more open space—let alone zany features like office slides—that measurably improves how people work, what actually does? It turns out the answer is simple, but possibly harder to design for: autonomy and control over your work environment.
Columbia University psychologists have found “evidence for a biological basis for the need for control and for choice—that is, the means by which we exercise control over the environment.” This, they say, is a built-in “imperative for survival” among our species. And according to researchers Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, conditions that support an individual’s exercise of autonomy also enhance performance, persistence, and creativity.
That’s the question Belle Beth Cooper digs into at Quartz:
One study in Taiwan surveyed 1,380 staff members from 230 community health centers. The more autonomy employees had at work, the more satisfied they were with their jobs and the less likely they were to transfer or leave their positions. Other studies have shown personal autonomy at work correlates to lower turnover among nursing-home workers, higher engagement at work for nurses, and increased job satisfaction among general practitioners in Australia.
Autonomy has also been shown to alleviate negative emotions felt by customer-service employees doing stressful work. According to Steve Maier, a psychology and neuroscience professor at the University of Boulder, stressors we can’t control are far more damaging than stressors we feel we have some control over. It’s even possible that autonomy at work helps determine our longevity: One study of British civil servants found a lack of job control contributed more to incidence of coronary heart disease than standard risks like smoking.
The importance of autonomy becomes even more clear when compared to the deleterious effects of micromanagement. According to one research paper, the costs of long-term micromanagement can include “low employee morale, high staff turnover, [and] reduction of productivity.” In fact, the paper’s authors note, “The negative impacts are so intense that it is labeled among the top three reasons employees resign.”
Our own findings tend to support this notion: Our latest preferences research (which CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can read here) indicates that increased emphasis on work-life benefits is almost as important to employees as a pay raise. Our most recent Global Talent Monitor found that they had become the leading attraction driver in several major global markets, while poor management problems are the top driver of attrition worldwide.