One of the big debates in Britain at the moment (overshadowed recently by the Hutton Enquiry and Iraq) is whether or not to ban fox hunting. New legislation is progressing through Parliament to outlaw this ancient activity in rural England. I have personally never really understood the thrill of hunting â€? of any kind. I donâ€™t even understand fishing â€? it looks a lot more like doing nothing and drinking beer, than a real sport. But donâ€™t mind me. I know many people who do enjoy hunting. Thereâ€™s something primal and powerful about it. But whatever your view about hunting animals, the fact remains that itâ€™s the end of hunting season in human experience.
For most of human history, people have had to go hunting for the things that matter. In the earliest days of human life on our planet, this involved hunting for food and safety on a daily basis. As we moved to more agrarian based economies, it involved hunting for the land that was the basis of economic success â€? and this often meant leaving the crowded home country and setting sail for the unknown land with its promise of wide open spaces. In the more recent years of the Industrial and Information eras, people have to go hunting for capital and investment in their factories and schemes.
Until recently, our sources of strength, power, wealth and success have been hunted for. They been dependent on tangible things â€? on land, borders, factories, and objects that we can see and touch. But no longer.
Now, the sources of strength, power, wealth and success are dependent on our intellect, emotions, and creativity â€? on our willingness to understand, develop and recreate ourselves. It depends on us. And these are intangibles – they cannot be bought or obtained. You cannot send someone to get them for you – not even a lawyer! You have to develop these yourself, and there are no shortcuts.
The world is currently transitioning from the industrial era, through the information era, to the emotion economy. In this new world, relationships, emotions and emotional intelligence are critical. In a word, the key is “humanity”. For too long we’ve thought that simply getting more and more technology would solve our problems. The last 3 or 4 years have shown the danger in doing that in an unbalanced way. In a high tech world, people are crying out for high touch.
Today, people are choosing which company to work for (and which company to stay at) not based on traditional criteria. Hunting season is over. But companies are still using the old trophies to attract and retain employees. If anything needs to be hunted down today, its these talented people, who have what it takes to be successful in this new world. But if hunting has changed, then the tools of the hunt have also changed. You can no longer rely on the old contract with your employees, where essentially all you offered them was the outward signs of success, wealth and power. You gave them a salary, promotions to better sounding job titles, which allowed them to buy bigger cars, flashier clothes, and bigger (or, in fact, smaller) cellphones and gadgets. In return, they gave you their loyalty, time and energy. You could largely suck every bit of these things out of them, not caring at all what happened to them outside of the walls of your office complex.
Today’s contract is different. Or it should be, anyway. Today, there are some critical differences required in what a company is prepared to give to employees. The money, the status and all that was in the old contract is a given – it is expected. But more is required from the new generation of demanding employees. Companies can choose to stick their heels in, and simply say, “Hey kid, the job IS the perk”, but this will ultimately be self-defeating. The workplace is changing. Hunting season is over.
So, what then are some of these new requirements? The list is endless, really, but it all comes back to one main concept: An understanding of the humanity of every employee.
But, in case the lense through which you see the workplace is so clouded with years of corporate experience, let me give you some examples of what really great companies to work for are doing â€? and let me go beyond the obvious, as well â€? I assume youâ€™ll do the obvious to create a nice ambience at work:
- Flexible working hours. Although not every industry can offer flexi-time options, this is a big bonus if you can. However, every company can offer more flexibility and understanding when an employee requires time to deal with certain personal issues (e.g. sick family member, moving house, death of family pet). Of course, they can take advantage of this â€? but the trick is to create a work environment where people will not feel the need or desire to take advantage. In the new contract, breaking trust will be the most serious offense that it is possible to commit, and serious consequences to this can therefore be contracted.
- Compulsory extra (â€šfreeâ€›) day of leave on your birthday. It has to be compulsory because if senior management doesnâ€™t take their birthday off, others wonâ€™t either, due to office pressure and wanting to â€šlook goodâ€›. PS â€? it wonâ€™t work to give a nominal day off, somewhere near an employeeâ€™s birthday. The actual day is the most important day of all 365 days in a year for each employee. The only time this will work is if the employeeâ€™s birthday always occurs on a public holiday or holiday period.
- Concierge â€? a new function, probably related to HR, but doing exactly what a hotel or restaurant concierge would do. In other words, whatever anyone asks them to do, to make their stay at the office more pleasant. It could be fetching carrying when the car needs a service, or booking tickets for a movie later tonight with the wife, or getting the suit dry-cleaned.
- Get rid of HR. I suggest this not because HR is the problem (although they often are), but because the new generation of employees would much rather have control over their own issues. Why not let people join whatever medical aid, retirement scheme or savings system they want to. Give them their full salary with no deductions and let everything else be their problem. Or, better yet, even take your training budget and split it between your employees. Then let them know that their jobs will be open every year to a free market auction, and the person with the best combination of skills, experience and training for the job will get it. Everybody knows best what training they need to keep ahead in their own job â€? give them the cash and tell them to go and get that training. Its up to them now, remember.
- Self awareness training. In the new environment, understanding self is the most important part of doing your best. Helping your employees get to grips with their strengths and weaknesses is critical. And note that teams these days are not put together based on shared values and attitudes. The basis of good team work these days is to start by celebrating the diversity and individuality of each member of the team, highlighting strengths and weaknesses, and being prepared to share the leadership, like a flock of migrating birds, as each new part of the terrain indicates a new personality type would do a better job in charge.
- The single biggest issue that takes and employeeâ€™s focus off their work is the breakdown of their marriage. So, not just for reasons of â€šhumanityâ€›, but actually for bottom line business benefit, companies should be providing marriage enrichment for their employees. This could come in a variety of forms, from training courses (both spouses to attend, of course), counselling (made available by the company, on company time), and company sponsored time away, to inviting spouses to company functions (especially multi-day strategy sessions) and celebrating wedding anniversaries (maybe with another â€šfreeâ€› day off each year!).
- More and more companies now provide child care facilities, especially for single parents. This is largely a crï¿½che type facility for pre-school children, but after-school supervised sessions would also be appreciated. Companies that do after hours training (e.g. network marketing companies) should provide child care at such training as a matter of course. And, instead of just inviting spouses to multi-day strategy sessions, why not the whole family, with child care facilities provided?
- Talking of children, the second most stressful thing most employees go through is having to deal with their teenage children going off the rails. This usually happens at the same time the personâ€™s career is just taking off, and as they move into senior leadership positions. Parenting training is therefore something that companies should seriously consider. In fact, any training that goes beyond simple functional training, and heads more to â€šlifeskillsâ€› would really get most employeeâ€™s attention.
- Fun, leisure and laughter. It goes without saying that removing the games from everyoneâ€™s computers, or banning hallway chatter, or even limiting internal emails would completely go against the spirit of the new emotional era.
- Unallocated parking spaces. Change the parking bays to â€šfirst come first servedâ€›, and see what happens. It continues to amaze me that in so many companies, the allocation of parking bays is a massive issue.
- The new generation of employee does not do well with one year rewards. They want short-term rewards and incentives, based on smaller time units and discreet projects.
- Surprises. â€šExpect the unexpectedâ€› should become an office motto. The worst thing you can do is make the office boring.
These may feel like little things. They are. In the world of relationships, itâ€™s the little things, done consistently and with the right attitude that count. If youâ€™re married, youâ€™ll know exactly what I mean. The key to the list above is to realise that it is not comprehensive, nor prescriptive. These are not the 7 Habits of Highly Effective New Economy Companies. They are simply indicative of what a company that takes the whole life of each of their staff members seriously might actually do. Companies that see their employees as human beings, with a life outside of the office, and not just as economic entities within the bounds of the office space, will be creative and empathetic enough to come up with a list of their own.
Two big hints here will be helpful: (1) why donâ€™t you ask them what they want? (2) Women are better at this stuff than men. Women have never been great hunters anyway. Itâ€™s a pity weâ€™ve most often tried to make women more like men to get ahead in the workplace â€? especially now when the workplace is just becoming less masculine and more emotionally intelligent.
20th Century author, Eric Hoffer, once noted: â€šThe Paleolithic hunters who painted the unsurpassed animal murals on the ceiling [caves] had only rudimentary tools. Art is older than production for use, and play older than work. Man was shaped less by what he had to do than by what he did in playful moments. It is the child in man that is the source of his uniqueness and creativeness, and the playground is the optimal milieu for the unfolding of his capacities.â€›
Giving people place to find themselves is the way of the future. Hunting season is over.