Organisations understand more than ever that people are at the heart of their success or failure. Retaining and recruiting good people is key to solving the talent shortage conundrum – and human resource management plays a vital role in this endeavour.
Supporting people to work effectively in today’s fast-moving business environment is another key HR responsibility.
The vanishing office
Rewind a couple of years and take a look inside Microsoft Australia’s North Ryde Sydney HQ. It looked like any other workplace with cubicles, assigned work stations and partitioned offices.
Now, an astonishing transformation has taken place in the same office building. Three floors of slickly designed vast open spaces, punctuated by funky furniture and rimmed by meeting rooms and smaller glassed-in spaces, are populated on a Friday afternoon by relatively few employees poring over laptops. Work spaces, which can be mobilised so employees can work standing up, are nigh on paperless.
Photographic reminders of family and other typical desk ornaments are also absent. With no place for a plaque or award, wall-mounted screens flash a continual round of employees’ outstanding achievements. Human activity is evident in the centrally based kitchens and lockers on which employees have temporarily chalked their names.
Welcome to the uber-flexible world of activity-based working, where not one of Microsoft’s 500 Sydney-based employees has an allotted space, not even the CEO, and every employee works when and where they like.
When activity-based working took place about 18 months ago, Microsoft handed a floor of the building back to the landlord and a shift in mindset for the organisation took place.
This manifestation of change is just part of a major cultural shift that began about seven years ago that’s also been enabled by the organisation’s inherent technological connectivity. Under the global Workplace Advantage program, Microsoft employees across the world have adopted activity-based working.
There are clear signs it’s working. Turnover is down, engagement is up, customer experience is improving, referrals (word-of-mouth) for recruitment have also been improving, along with the diversity mix, while recruitment agency costs are down. Microsoft recently collected Aon Hewitt’s Best of the Best Employers Award for 2012.
A time for sharing
‘Company sharing’ is a trend that’s come of age. GE has gone a step further, formalising company sharing through a program called Access GE, which was kicked off internationally in 2009 and in Australia last year, to make GE’s resources and insights on big challenges accessible to its customers. “On the big issues, many businesses are facing the same challenges,” notes Arkell. In Australia, Access GE has been sharing knowledge on the economy, leadership development, HR innovation, human resource management and how to manage the carbon footprint and new financial legislation.
While the program is relatively new, the philosophy is not. GE’s leadership centre established in 1956 in Crotonville, New York State, where customers’ intact leadership teams are invited to participate in programs and share knowledge.
CBA has 42,000 employees in Australia and another 7000 offshore. It all started around seven years ago when the CBA commenced a leader-led cultural revolution in which trust and respect became key values for its employees, and was role-modelled by senior leaders. These provided important foundations for the rollout of its unconscious bias leadership program.
The aim of the program is to continue to strengthen the CBA’s culture through human resource management and set the organisation up for future success as a diverse and inclusive workplace that supports its people and the communities it serves. Through the process there have been many examples of people:
- Going into the program thinking they wouldn’t learn anything.
- Believing they treat everyone the same.
- Realising they do have a bias.
- Understanding they need to open their minds to people who are different.
The program contains some eye-popping statistics, such as the Australian National University research which showed that, before they land a job interview, people with Chinese names have to send out 68 per cent more job applications than those with Anglo Saxon names.
The next key step in tackling unconscious bias is embedding the learning. Constant reinforcement takes the form of fact sheets relating to different points in the employment calendar such as managing unconscious bias when recruiting, in talent or performance reviews and in flexible teams.