Some of the most successful companies have abandoned traditional leadership, and are treating their employees like customers.
“We can’t have the inmates running the prison.”
The comment in the US, by the owner of NFL team XXX Robert C. McNair, was directed at players kneeling in protest during the national anthem, and it said a lot about entrenched views on the employee/employer relationship.
“While the heart of the issue is the complicated topic of race and American policing, that core issue has gotten all tangled up with another one: NFL players as “workers” who are “employed” by owners and fans,” commented Roger Martin, author and academic in the Harvard Business Review.
But indications are that the relationship between organisations and their employees is rapidly changing. No one works for life at any one organisation anymore and the kind of employee loyalty enjoyed by the car companies, for example, has died with them.
A recent study by Unispace supports the growing view that the role of HR departments is becoming increasingly central to how this relationship is orchestrated. After conducting interviews with more than 100 HR directors worldwide, including representatives from American Express, Juniper Networks, DLA Piper and Dexus, researchers found that successful companies overwhelmingly saw the relationship between employer and employee as mirroring company and consumer.
One Fortune 500 company HR director said, “We refer to [employees] as the first, and most important customers”.
It’s an important emphasis that Deloitte has already flagged in its Human Capital Trends report for last year where it talks about the “new organisation” … “built around highly empowered teams, driven by a new model of management, and led by a breed of younger, more globally diverse leaders. (They might also have added: who are rejecting traditional hierarchies).
In response, says the report, the mission of the HR leader is evolving from that of “chief talent executive” to “chief employee experience officer”.
Which brings us back to the NFL.
In eight words, McNair inspired his star player to miss training, and almost caused his entire team to walkout. He failed to understand both the seriousness of the players protest, and the relationship between talent and organisations.
“Old-fashioned labor organisers might find irony in the Houston Texans players, who have an average annual salary of $3 million, threatening to walk out of their workplace,” says Martin. “That is the new world of talent management. Owners are going to have to get used to talent, not capital, being on top of the heap.”
How can HR foster strong employee/employer relationships?
- Research shows that companies which invest in their employee relations experience improved productivity and increased profits.
- Creating harmonious and happy workplaces leads to greater loyalty and retention and reduced turnover.
- A friendly and welcoming workplace means less conflict and more time for people to concentrate on what they are there to do.
The key to all this, of course, is good management that is kept up to date through skills development and training. The characteristics of good management?
- Explains objectives clearly and sets achievable goals that can be exceeded.
- Delegation allows employees to learn and be empowered.
- Effective and open two-way communication.
- Creates a fair and open workplace by promoting equality.