By | Dave Ulrich | Speaker, Author, Professor, Thought Partner on HR, Leadership, and Organization
HR professionals often miss the most important contribution they can make to employees.
Recently, a group of thoughtful senior HR folks were discussing what HR could offer employees to increase the employees’ well-being at work. They discussed experience and research-based answers: autonomy to make decisions, relationships that nurture, visions and purposes that create meaning, opportunities to learn and grow to become better, leaders who inspire, and so forth.
Traditional Employee Well-Being
HR seems to reinvent new words or phrases to describe the enduring process of helping employees give their best effort. Let me offer a brief summary of some of the key topics in managing employee well-being or sentiment.
Evolution Over Time of Employee Well-Being or Sentiment Concepts
Why this cursory and brief historical overview? Most HR answers to the question about what HR most contributes to employees is found in this table: some of the evolution of and latest renditions of how to enhance employee well-being. Generations of organization scholars have worked to inform organization leaders on how to inspire and fully engage their people. Too often, this work is circular not spiral. Circle thinking causes HR to relearn what has been done before; spiral thinking helps HR to build from one set of ideas to another and improve. Circles repeat the past; spirals create the future. Circles regress and rediscover; spirals progress and invent.
Emerging and Enduring Source of Employee Well-Being
While recognizing the importance of the above work, but moving ahead, the best way to foster employee well-being is for HR to contribute to making their organizations more competitive so that the organization wins in the marketplace. Without winning in the market place, all the above paths to well-being are moot. Our research shows that the war for talent is won by Victory Through Organizations. When HR helps organizations compete, employees win. Peter Drucker realized this with the quote: There is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. The customer is a foundation of a business and keeps it in existence. The customer alone gives employment.
Creating winning organizations obviously requires employees who give their best, but it first requires the organization to compete by building capabilities like information (external sensing), innovation, collaboration, shared culture, and agility. HR (with line managers as owners) can help define, instill, and sustain these capabilities.
How to Create Competitive Organizations through Capabilities
Start outside-in. Competitiveness is not what we do but how others perceive or value what we do. We don’t just build on our strengths but use our strengths to strengthen others. Likewise, organizations should deliver value to their targeted customers by knowing what those customers want and need; this is often defined as a firm brand and must be translated to firm culture. These customer promises then impact how to hire, train, pay, and engage employees. Being the employer of choice is not enough; an organization must be the employer of choice of employees that customers would choose, develop skills that will delight customers, and have a leadership brand that focuses on how the personal leadership competencies of executives deliver customer value.
Focus on capabilities. Organizations don’t think, act, or feel: people do. But organizations shape how people think, act, and feel. To shape employee well-being and improve customer loyalty or engagement, organizations ought to focus less on morphology (roles, rules, routines) and more on capabilities (what the organization is known for and good at doing). Organizations don’t compete by having the right structure but the right identity. In our work, we have discovered that capabilities around information (external sensing), customer obsession, innovation, agility, and culture lead to more competitiveness. These capabilities ensure that customers receive what they want now and what they need in the future thus helping the organization compete.
Manage the process of organization. Leaders (and HR professionals) who create competitive organizations find ways to engage others in that process.
· Talk about the organization as a source of success.
· Share stories of the organization capabilities that win.
· Celebrate the organization and team as much as individuals.
· Constantly remind employees of having the “right” culture.
· Invite many to participate in the organization choices that embed the organization capabilities required to win. Ensure that daily choices about where to spend time and energy are aligned with the desired capabilities (e.g., if customer connection is a desired capability, then spend more time with customers). Continually reassess how the organization is performing, ranging from teams within a unit to cross-functional teams to key capabilities to the right culture.
When leaders model a commitment to the organization, they signal its importance to others.
Institutionalize the organization capabilities. Successful people learn and grow; so do successful organizations. Organizations adapt to their business context and sustain that agility through investments in HR practices:
· People: Hire, train, develop, and promote people who have the competence and commitment to compete in the future.
· Performance: Develop positive accountability with clear standards and consequences that shape the right behaviors.
· Information: Source and share information (through structured and unstructured data) that brings rigor, insight, and creativity to decisions.
· Work: Create the right work processes and practices that embed the desired organization capabilities into policies decision rights, and physical facilities.
These HR mechanisms can both enable organizations to change and sustain change.
The work of promoting employee well-being is an important work and should be given proper time and attention. But when HR professionals first create and sustain competitive organizations through the work of capabilities, resources are then available for employee motivation, motives, satisfaction, commitment, engagement, and experiences.