Our Employer-Employee Marriages Need Counseling

Our Employer-Employee Marriages Need Counseling

The monthly jobs report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reads like a national marriage scorecard. There are tallies of courtships (“job openings”), marital unions (“hires”) and a variety of divorces (“total separations,” “quits,” “layoffs” and “discharges”). Our recent scorecards contain some positive how-much news: Employment marriages have outpaced employment divorces for more than a year, and the national unemployment rate is now south of 6 percent.

That said, I’m concerned that business leaders, like the BLS report, focus far too much on quantity while ignoring the quality of employment marriages.

This is crucial because the nature of employment relationships is changing quickly and dramatically – and too few organizations are keeping pace. In his book The Start-Up of You, LinkedIn Co-founder and Chairman Reid Hoffman urges job-holders to apply an entrepreneurial mindset and tactics to furthering their careers. “Age-old assumptions about work have come undone,” Reid and his co-author Ben Casnocha point out. “There are new rules, and you need to know them – or else you may be on track to irrelevance.”

I have similar advice for executives and managers who hire people: The quality of our employer-employee relationships is downright dysfunctional. The primary reason for this is that we’re doing too much shifting and not enough elevating. If leaders fail to recognize and correct this mindset and the habits it fosters, organizations are headed for more, and nastier, breakups.

‘Death of a Salesman’ Culture Lives

Here’s some guidance for leaders, hiring and human resources managers, and all of the individuals responsible for bringing new people into the organization: You should elevate more.

By that, I mean you should inspire employee behavior rather than trying to iteratively improve it through traditional forms of motivation and coercion. Dangling carrots and wielding sticks in response to how well an employee measures up against a discrete list of goals and expectations no longer suffices. We’ve entered an era of elevated behavior where success hinges upon whether or not our people fulfill the outsized, creative and character-based requests – the Big Asks – we’re putting to them.

Our Big Asks of employees have become so pervasive that they’re transforming into competencies. A report by Palo Alto-based non-profit research firm Institute for the Future identifies 10 increasingly important work skills. These include talents like: The ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication; cross-cultural competency; proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rules-based; and the ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning. These are deeply ingrained, cultivated attributes, not the type of skills that can be acquired through a workbook or a single training course.

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