It's their attitude towards how people work, rather than the work or industry itself, that attracts and retains the best talent. This is the message at the core of Josh Bersin's newest book, “Irresistible” – a heavily-researched, anecdote-dense handbook for how to make an organisation genuinely attractive to people.
Reading “Irresistible”, the hundreds of interactions with leaders and experts that we've had over the years came to mind. Huge companies like Unilever and IBM, which feature in the book's generous list of case studies, have of course nailed the seven principles that Josh Bersin writes about. But so have many others – and at People Matters we've had the great good fortune to hear from them directly.
Here, we look back into the conversations we've had over the last few years and highlight a few – but not all – great quotes and pointers that “Irresistible” brings to mind.
De-emphasise the hierarchy
A common factor in many of the “Irresistible” principles, and a trend that's being taken with increasing seriousness in today's workplace, is the idea that hierarchies need to be phased out and power distances narrowed. The first principle – teams, not hierarchy – states it bluntly: people should be allowed to operate independently, including outside of their own function and in collaboration with people from other departments, without needing to be constantly controlled and directed by management.
People Matters heard this advice more than a year ago, from Virendra Shelar, General Manager of OMRON Corporation's Global Human Resources Strategy Department and President of OMRON Management Centre - Asia Pacific, who said: “A culture of trust will have to be strengthened into the company. We have to trust that people are doing what is required of them, that we don't have to micromanage them and check on what they are doing every half hour or one hour. It is all about building trust with not just one person, but with the entire team.”
That was his prediction for how management will change in 2021 – and he was entirely correct about the shift that managerial approaches have taken, and how the importance of trust has increased. As the third principle of “Irresistible” – coach, not boss – puts it, leaders should exist to enable, not to order people around.
We also heard this advice right back at the start of the pandemic, from Liz Smith, Chief Human Resources Officer of digital consultancy Mobiquity, who told us: “Leaders need to recognise that employees are people first and they are multidimensional. Leaders should emphasise professional development of their team members, give employees more autonomy to set more of their own work patterns, and provide input on what they will work on whenever possible.”
Although she was speaking in the context of leadership during crisis, it was clear even then that this approach ought to be the norm even during times of stability – that leaders and managers should put more effort into developing talent, and less into micromanaging it.
Focus on the work people actually do
Another central factor that makes companies irresistible is whether they focus on the right aspect of the work. The second principle of “Irresistible” – work, not jobs – talks about concentrating on tasks and outcomes rather than traditional measures of capability such as academic qualifications or years of experience.
We heard one very practical approach along these lines from Trent Jones, APAC Human Resources Lead for ABB Electrification, who told People Matters that in an industry with a highly competitive talent landscape, what people can do is more important than where they come from: “Looking for people outside typical industries has long been part of our human resource strategy. We focus on finding synergies that different fields might have, looking for adaptable skill sets, and aim to train and set our talent up for success in their roles...Industry knowledge and exposure continue to be highly sought-after skills in talent, but we also make sure to consider the bigger picture in forming holistic and strong teams. We value people with complementing skill sets and highly encourage cross-industry and cross-business function learning.”
Of course, this approach needs to be matched in employees' career development, which the fifth principle of “Irresistible” sums up as growth, not promotion – the idea that career development is about gaining skills and capabilities via continuous learning.
That link was clearly drawn by Francine Katsoudas, Chief People, Policy & Purpose Officer at Cisco, who told us last year: “We need to reframe the skills discussion against the backdrop of 'career journeys' and leverage technology to get a snapshot of the skills we have, work with leaders to understand the skills we need, and map to new opportunities that will allow individuals to own their career paths. What is important to us is that our workers have the right skills, not where or how they acquire them.”
Make sure employees gain satisfaction at work
“Irresistible” isn't just about processes and operations, of course. The entire premise of this book is a more human-centric style of managing people, which is nicely encapsulated in the next three principles: culture not rules, purpose not profit, and employee experience not output.
Culture in particular has become inextricably intertwined with the shift to flexible and remote work, with leaders telling us that the challenge is to shape and maintain a work culture that keeps people satisfied in this very different working environment while still being inclusive.
“I’ve spent 20 years at VMware designing a culture that was anchored to an in-person experience. Now, a significant portion of our workforce has been added since the pandemic that hasn’t been part of the pre-pandemic VMware culture,” said Betsy Sutter, Chief People Officer of VMware in a conversation early this year. “We need to continue establishing a strong culture that is inclusive of all communities to drive collaboration and innovation and foster a sense of belonging."
Similarly, flexibility combined with digital acceleration has made technological tools a linchpin of employee experience. Natasha Dillon, Chief People Officer of Inmarsat, told us: “In order for the flexible model to work successfully, businesses and employers need to digitalise the employee experience. Employees are increasingly expecting a consumer-grade experience when it comes to workplace technology...in the same way that lockdown initially forced businesses to adopt technology in order to continue working from home, I predict there will be another major shift towards digitised employee experiences.”
That conversation was in mid-2021, and since then, the ongoing boom in HR technology has proved her right.
The final principle of “Irresistible” postulates that employees are more interested in a company's purpose in the world, than in its profits – something which has been thoroughly borne out as younger, more idealistic generations enter the workforce in an era when climate change, war, economic recession, and social enlightenment are shaking their notions of a stable world.
Sophie Smith, HR Director for Experian APAC, told People Matters last year: “The pandemic has elevated the significance of understanding, articulating, and authentically operating in accordance with the stated purpose. There is a newfound sense of perspective emerging with many organisations and employees reflecting on the unique value they bring to the world. Organisations will need to ensure their purpose aligns with their product portfolio, performance metrics, people strategy, and decision-making frameworks. Employees will increasingly reflect on whether their core values are aligned with their employer’s purpose.”
These are just a few of the conversations we've had with leaders over the years. Keep reading our website for more such insights!
Image credit: Josh Bersin