Leading Sustainable Organizations
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I’m at the 2015 Milken Global Conference in the upscale Beverly Hilton, joining my fellow panelists in the green room to put our mics on for our session. Set on the left coast, the Milken Conference has a different zeitgeist than the global confabs held around the Atlantic. A countercultural Cali vibe survives here, expressed in mashup sessions like “Philanthropy, Technology, Celebrity and Marketing.” Our panel, entitled “Values, Human Capital and Corporate Performance,” is no different.
The panelists are discussing a shift in the values and expectations of today’s best employees. When I graduated from college back in the olden days, the job negotiation formula was simple: Salary, benefits and bonus. It turns out that’s not enough anymore. The next generation wants something different from their work life than their predecessors — and corporations are scrambling to decipher the keys to keeping them engaged and in their cubicles (or the mobile version thereof).
To illustrate, I recount the story of one of my best MBA students, Peter, who upon graduation scored the dream job of his peers at a major consumer goods company. Identified as a high-potential employee, Peter was fast-tracked for corporate success with training programs and functional rotations. To all appearances, he was well on his way to being “set for life.”
He quit after just two years.
When I asked why, I got a surprising answer: “I was only using a tenth of my being at work,” he said.
Unable to express his higher self, Peter took his high-potential “being” to the social enterprise VisionSpring — and, in his words, is “opening people’s eyes to the simple and beautiful power of vision.”
Peter has identified the new negotiation formula: salary, benefits, bonus and being.
The inclusion of “being” is part of a long evolution in what we bring to our workday. At the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, manual laborers were expected to shut up, follow orders and bring their hands. Then, with the dawn of the information age, they became “knowledge workers” and were asked to bring their heads. Today’s high-touch, relational economy requires “emotional intelligence,” so employees are now expected to open their hearts.
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Each shift has brought us closer to engaging the whole person at work. Peter is a harbinger of the next “is” shift toward what Abraham Maslow called “self-actualization.” Work is no longer only about solving technical problems in exchange for a paycheck. Employees want an opportunity to express their whole being: Physical, intellectual, emotional and, yes, even a spiritual sense of higher purpose and contribution.
What’s interesting is that my fellow panelists are already seeing this in their businesses and are providing new avenues for personal expression. Efrat Peled, CEO of the Tel Aviv-based Arison Investments, says offering employees the opportunity to express themselves through purpose and values opens up creativity and committed action. Peled notes that “99.9% of employees want to be connected to a positive cause… and I wouldn’t underestimate the knowledge of the people in our systems.” By fostering internal social networks through their Doing Good Model of values, Arison encourages employees to affiliate with each other based on their expressed values and passions. And in doing so, the company unleashes the creativity and commitment of their workforce.
Panelist Pamela Thomas-Graham from Credit Suisse concurs that allowing employees to express their passions and values fosters innovation. One example is a Credit Suisse program called “Real Returns.” It emerged when employees expressed a concern for women who, due to the demands of motherhood or the need to care for an elderly family member, had dropped out of the workforce. The employees wanted to provide a re-entry pathway for these women and created the idea of a “Returnship” — an internship that offered talented professionals the opportunity to get their corporate groove back. Credit Suisse found that the program provided access to experienced candidates who might have been overlooked in the past.
These examples are encouraging, but companies are only beginning to understand both the challenges and opportunities of engaging the whole person at work. What’s clear is that the days of leaving your values and being at the threshold when you step into the corporate elevator are coming to an end.