Today at IMPACT: Finding Your Way in the Shifting Ethos

Impact 2013

Posted by Cathy Benko on April 24, 2013

Do you ever feel like you’re the lead actor in an oxymoron? For example, unemployment is high yet there is a talent shortage. It’s a global economy, yet in his keynote speech yesterday,  “The World is Local—High-Impact HR”  Josh Bersin tells us it’s more local than ever. We seek one-size-fits-all customized work experiences. You flex like Gumby, yet CEOs are saying HR is the least agile of all the business functions.

Call it a sign of the times. Our workplaces are feeling the impact of sweeping social and economic shifts. Think about it: Fewer than 17% of U.S. families are traditional (i.e., dad bringing home the bacon and mom taking care of the home front) vs. two-thirds 30 years ago…Negative or anemic growth rate of the working-age population…Organizations that are, on average, 25% flatter than in the past…and it’s estimated that 20% of the workers will have the skills needed for 60% of the jobs (mostly because the job haven’t been invented yet) by the end of the decade.

Not only are these talent-related trends converging, but the ethos in which we live as a society is shifting as well. Traditionally, businesses provided goods and services at a profit, with the aim of maximizing shareholder return. Governments provided for the public good. And nonprofits provided charitable services to meet a range of societal needs. But now for a multitude of reasons, governments act as funders to spur private sector interest and investment. Businesses emphasize “shared value” and address unmet societal needs through innovative business models (e.g., TOMS). The public has a greater consciousness—85% of Americans say they want brands to be known for supporting causes, and 41% have purchased a product because it was associated with a cause. These figures have doubled since 1993.

It’s no wonder HR is reeling a bit. HR organizations are expected to keep up with all of this change, and many are dutifully juggling a portfolio of projects in response. But point solutions alone won’t deliver change. What’s needed is a broader system of change that allows flexibility in guiding and supporting the different ways work gets done (how, where, when) and how people engage with their work and their employers.

We can start by dismantling the corporate ladder. It’s a product of the industrial age that worked when the objective was scale efficiency and career journeys were linear climbs to the top. But today’s information economy is first and foremost about scaling agility. That’s where the corporate lattice comes in. A lattice structure better symbolizes (1) how today’s careers are built today—zigzag vs. linear; (2) how work gets done—from anywhere vs. from that building you commute to every day; and (3) how participation (and engagement, and passion) are fostered—no longer top-down but from and to anywhere.

In the ladder world, company information was largely controlled—top-down and top-out. Your storefront displayed only what you wanted it to. But in today’s latticed world, all of our corporate houses are, to borrow from Fortune journalist David Kirkpatrick, “built of glass.” And who lives in these glass houses? Your people do.

That’s why we also need to be forging alliances between the CHRO (chief HR officer) and CMO (chief marketing officer)—so that those tens or hundreds or thousands of employees can be our ambassadors and brand advocates—walking, talking, posting, texting, and tweeting positively on our behalf.

Of course, the potential also exists for negative brand and reputation-related implications. So how do you skew the conversation in your favor? By establishing and sustaining an authentic and emotional connection with your people through a compelling talent experience that includes growth, development, flexibility, opportunity, meaningful work, and societal impact—what we call “citizenship.” Citizenship includes all the ways we make a difference to the communities in which we live and work. And it’s fast becoming a top influential lever for engagement.

You, as HR executives, are curators of the talent experience, which also makes you a curator of the brand. Eighty-five percent of corporate value creation comes from intangible assets—which at the end of the day fall into three categories: brand, IP, and people. Tomorrow’s winners will be those who make the most of these intangibles. Stepping off the ladder and onto the lattice, and forging the link between your talent as walking (and instagraming) brand “expressers” and your corporate brand, are smart places to start.

Cathy Benko Cathy Benko Vice Chairman and Managing Principal, Deloitte LLP.

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