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Competing in a "flat world", a term popularized by columnist Tom Friedman, requires (well) rounded people. Becoming a well rounded talent requires continuous learning and development of knowledge and skills. Organizations that want to succeed in flat world competition better be creating enriching workplace experiences if they wish to attract and retain the high-caliber talent they need.
How can you create an enriching workplace? It isn't easy and doesn't happen overnight. But with some planning, a lot of persistence and adept execution of seven key practices, any organization can create an enriching workplace.1. Job Stretch and Mobility
Feel like you're stuck in a box at work? If you do you've got plenty of company. Many organizations define jobs narrowly and allow little or no movement across organizational boundaries or even within them. But to grow, talented people need to be constantly challenged and stretched. This means the ability to take risks, to try new things, and yes, even to fail - whether by doing something differently in an existing job or tackling an entirely new one. If experience is indeed the best teacher how much are we learning if what we do rarely changes?
SEI Investments, a leading global provider of outsourced investment business solutions, has created an environment that provides continual challenge to staff and enables them to regularly move around the organization and to frequently take on new tasks and responsibilities.
2. Mentoring Not Just Managing
Nothing speeds up the transfer of knowledge and know-how or enhances individual development more than a quality one-to-one dialogue between an experienced person and an up-and-comer.
W.L. Gore, creator of Gore-Tex fabrics, is a mentoring-intensive organization. Managers are called "Sponsors" and act as advocates for their assigned staff. They commit to being knowledgeable about their activities, well being, progress, accomplishments, personal concerns and ambitions. Each associate has at least one sponsor and some have more than one.3. Freedom and Stimulation
Often the environment in which people work can make a huge difference to the speed and quality of people development. Two ingredients essential to making a workplace conducive to learning are stimulation - through frequent exposure to a wide variety people and ideas and the freedom to explore and pursue individual ideas and passions.
Google is a nirvana for the best and brightest technical talent in the world. The company's commitment to human capital is strong and was a core principle expressed in its now famous IPO filing in 2004. Staff are given huge amounts of freedom to determine when, where, how and on what they work. Each is allowed to spend 20% of their time each week working on personally initiated projects.4. Deep Immersion
Nothing frustrates talented people, particularly young up-and-comers, more than being asked to wait their turn before getting the opportunity to contribute to important projects or initiatives. This is not only demotivating to people but counter-productive to performance as opportunities to contribute depend more on tenure and pecking order than merit.
Trilogy, a software company based in Austin Texas not only avoids this problem, but has created a fast- track, merit-based process that starts with every new hire. Its induction program is on steroids - goals are not only cultural induction, bonding and skill development but to create the company's next generation of ideas, products and leaders. The program is led and run by Trilogy's top executives, including its CEO.5. Teaching and Coaching
This means having people in the organization - both managers and specialists - whose role it is to help others to grow, learn and realize their potential. Many organizations have de-emphasized this key task as pressure to meet quarterly performance targets have cascaded down to every level of the organization.
Schools provide an inspiration and model from which other organizations can learn. They have teachers whose only job is to develop their student's skills and learning. While few organizations are positioned to employ full-time teachers, many should encourage and help managers and staff to take on this role. They can do this by explicitly acknowledging the value of teaching and coaching and including these responsibilities in the expectations and measures of performance set for managers and staff.6. Diversity of Talents and Personalities
The value of diversity in business seems obvious to most observers, but few leaders really know how to leverage the differences that people bring to the workplace. As Ricardo Semler, head of the innovative Brazilian conglomerate Semco puts it - "I prefer Coq-au-Vin to Chicken McNuggets". He is not talking about food but rather cultures that blend diverse talents and perspectives (like the ingredients in a slow-cooked Coq-au-Vin) versus those that impose numbing conformity on their people (like the industrial-style sameness of Chicken McNuggets). And believe me, many companies have Chicken McNugget talent - mass produced, standardized and consistently mediocre. Far better to blend diverse ingredients into a rich and unique tasting stew - ala coq au vin!
Semco backs up its words with actions. It regularly pairs younger and older workers together. Its "Lost in Space" program affords young staff the opportunity to move around the company on a regular basis during their first few years. This helps them to both develop new perspectives are well as inject their own fresh ideas throughout the business. Their "Trading Places" initiative let's people trade jobs as a way of gaining new experience and skills.7. Horizontal Growth Paths
Flattening of hierarchies in recent years has severely curtailed growth paths in many organizations. But growth shouldn't just be up the ladder or depend purely on acquiring managerial skills. Another productive growth path is horizontal and progressive organizations have created lateral paths that allow people to broaden their skills and knowledge within their disciplines and jobs.
Companies like IBM, Texas Instruments and Intel have instituted technical mastery programs to allow individual contributors and specialists to develop their knowledge and learning and to be paid and recognized for it. This means talent can advance based on their learning pace rather than have to change jobs or be promoted to get ahead.Hype or Reality?
So how does your workplace stack up on these seven practices that matter most to creating an enriching workplace? Are job stretch and mobility, freedom and stimulation and horizontal growth paths the exception or the rule at your employer? Are mentoring, teaching and coaching rare or pervasive throughout your organization? Is diversity merely an overused word in your company's communications or a real principle on which your organization operates every day?
Do you work in an enriching workplace? What practices make the most difference to the quality of your experience? Please e-mail Tony DiRomualdo at email@example.com
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Tony DiRomualdo is a business researcher, author and consultant. His work focuses on how changes in global business dynamics, talent management practices and information technology-enabled tools and capabilities are transforming the workplace. He helps individual leaders and teams to create Next Generation Workplaces. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.