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Flexible attitude

Employers must adapt their management styles and culture to get the best performance from their staff

A man jumpingTo be an 'employer of choice' a company must have a strong employer brand that recognises the importance of managing human capital effectively and securing employee commitment. People considerations are now a priority on most business agendas, but it is the organisations that really invest in their people and truly recognise staff as their greatest asset that will reap the greatest rewards.

Evolution of the workplace
'Lifetime employment' is a thing of the past and social attitudes towards work are changing. People are no longer willing to follow clearly defined career paths, nor to sacrifice other aspects of their life to accommodate a job. The modern workforce has rising expectations regarding career choices, which are not based solely on financial considerations, but also on achieving a meaningful work-life balance.

In addition to the changing labour market, organisations are facing fiercer competition, more complex technologies, changing markets and increasing customer expectations. As a result, the organisational structure is delayering; there is more cross functional working and job roles are no longer static. Job descriptions have been replaced by more fluid and less clearly defined roles that require greater employee flexibility and agility, and that are often geared to the particular skills and competencies of the incumbents.

A strong employer brand recognises the need for a flexible and responsive environment to get the best out of people. It also drives employee engagement to achieve increased personal performance and superior results.

Employee engagement
Employee engagement can be defined as ones emotional connection to an organisation. An engaged employee is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work and cares about the future of the organisation. Such employees work with passion and feel a profound connection and commitment to the team. Overall, this leads to an enjoyable and fulfilling work experience.

Effective leadership is critical to employee engagement as it provides clarity and direction, and creates a climate that motivates and maximises each individual's potential for success.

Creating an inspiring, motivating environment requires an exceptional understanding of the differerent needs and aspirations of employees. After all, it is these needs and aspirations that must be met in order for each person on the team to reach his or her full potential.

Truly effective leaders have exceptional self-awareness and are able to modify their leadership styles in response to different situations and people. They inspire trust and encourage open and honest communication regarding the needs and aspirations of their team.

What are needs?
Needs are drivers and can be understood as what an individual must have in order to be the best that he or she can be. The need might be 'to be something' or 'to have something' such as 'to be respected' or 'to have control.' When needs are met, the individual will be fully focused on the good of the organisation instead of on him- or herself.

There are some things that all humans have in common, such as a craving to have meaning in our lives - a sense of belonging; purpose - a reason to get out of bed in the morning; self esteem through the knowledge that we are making a valued contribution; recognition for our efforts; fulfilling and rewarding relationships with others built on trust, mutual respect, honesty and integrity, and the aspiration to grow and fulfil our potential.

Strong employer brands will generally look to adopting these common human traits into their cultures and, in so doing, are likely to satisfy their staff's most critical needs.

What is culture?
Culture is 'the way we do things around here.' It can be identified by the employees' shared values and beliefs, and the common and accepted way of interpreting events.

A shared vision and a sense of belonging will ensure every employee feels part of the organisation. If everyone understands how their contribution impacts on the overall success of the business, they will have purpose. Recognition and reward for hard work ensures staff feel appreciated and motivated. A collaborative and progressive working community builds strong internal relations and drives personal development.

What is talent management?
Talent management (or human capital management) is the process of fostering, developing and retaining employees, as well as attracting new highly skilled people to the firm.

The process emerged in the 1990s, but is fast growing in recognition as organisations become more aware of the fact that it is their employees' talents and skills that drive their business success.

The term means different things to different people. To some it is about the management of high-worth individuals (the 'talented') and to others it is about how talent is generally managed. Strong employer brands driving for employee engagement will take the latter approach, with the assumption that all people have talent that needs to be liberated. This school of thought believes that selecting just a few individuals would not lead to a wholly fulfilled workforce, resulting in waning commitment, with the obvious knock-on effects.

Strong employer brands will devise strategies and implement plans and processes to track and manage their employee talent - from talent attraction, through performance management (including training and development) to succession planning and retention programmes.

Key aspects of talent management - such as understanding employees' needs and identifying their aspirations by asking what they are striving to achieve throughout their career, what their short- and long-term ambitions are and what career progression means to them - will ensure employee engagement by driving performance on an individual level. 

Successful talent management manages individual expectations, aligns them to the business and devises a career development plan that the individual will be motivated towards. This includes setting SMART objectives, identifying individual strengths and limitations, motivators and fears, and recognising where individuals are of most value to and 'best fit' within the organisation.

Benefits of employee engagement
Engaged employees directly impact on productivity, quality, creativity and innovation as well as on client engagement. They will increase customer satisfaction, results, sales and overall business success. This, in turn, creates a happy, harmonious, collaborative and positive working environment, which has the positive spin-off of increasing well-being and reducing stress and the level of absenteeism.

Engaged employees who have an emotional connection to the organisation directly impact on a companyís ability to retain staff. These employees go out of their way to make their employer successful and are passionate about what they do and who they do it for. Their enthusiasm drives brand advocacy and establishes the company as an attractive prospect for new talent.

Tools to assist
Strong employer brands recognise the need to be adaptable and embrace change with enthusiasm. They also realise that learning needs to be continuous and ëon the jobí.

Coaching can play a vital role in the development of strong leaders and teams. Once  perceived as a ënew ageí fad, coaching has become a highly respected professional activity that equips individuals and organisations with the understanding and skills to deal with this increasingly demanding world of change.

What is coaching?
Coaching aims to build self-belief and confidence through self-awareness, to unlock potential and improve an individualís performance. Techniques employed are focused on solutions and are goal-orientated, with the aim of empowering the individual and inviting accountability.

Coaching views people in terms of their future potential as opposed to past performance. This supports the style that many organisations are adopting in the modern working environment in order to secure employee engagement.

Coaching skills used to improve the performance of an individual can be applied equally well to teams. The effectiveness of a team is the sum of individual membersí contributions. Coaching, therefore, harmonises individual efforts into a cohesive effort to achieve the desired outcomes and performance.

There are other tools and techniques that can assist with human capital management and most can be adapted and tailored to the specific needs of an organisation.

Personal Profile Analyses (PPAs), for instance, provide an understanding of peopleís behaviour and gives insight into their strengths and limitations, motivators and fears. They can be utilised as self-awareness and, therefore, self development tools. If used correctly, a manager will adapt his or her style to get the best from individuals, tapping into their motivators and eliminating their fears.

Everyone is different and while there will be employees that are driving for results and are hungry for success and responsibility, others will be motivated by the status quo and will crave the security of a stable environment. PPAs are a useful tool for understanding each personís key drivers.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is also an accurate and objective method to measure an individualís emotional competence in the work context. It can assist you in recruiting more effectively, managing your people better, equipping your managers with the skills they need to become more successful, facilitating more productive teams and enabling better communication throughout the company.

EI goes beyond behavioural characteristics and will tell you how well people understand and manage their emotions, how well they interpret and deal with the emotions of others and how they use this knowledge to manage their relationships.

Conclusion
The secret to securing employee engagement is to gain clarity of what individuals need and want from their employment. Once identified, you can assess how well these needs are being satisfied and which ones need to be addressed as a priority. Recognising employeesí needs and aspirations will allow you to harness talent and maximise potential.

Sustaining employee engagement takes long-term commitment. It will be those organisations that invest in their people as their greatest asset that will ultimately win the ëwar for talentí.

The Author
Lesley O'Keeffe
, career and talent management consultant and corporate and executive coach

9th June 2008

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