On the Horizon: Survey Says

When Having Activist Employees Is Good Our review of recent research shows new ways to engage staff.

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When Having Activist Employees Is Good Our review of recent research shows new ways to engage staff.

Engage, motivate, activate. Pick any buzzword you like, but companies are responding to a tough global-business climate with a single-minded focus on the one thing they can (or hope they can) manage: employees. But rallying the troops isn’t what it used to be, according to the latest research from the Korn Ferry Institute and others.

The Missing Link: Social Responsibility and Leadership Development 

It’s the right thing to do. At least that’s the feeling many companies moving into the social responsibility arena believe, as they take on environmentally friendly and philanthropic practices. But it turns out these strategies can also make for better leadership. According to a Korn Ferry Institute report on “Real World Leadership,” almost nine in 10 companies that involved their leaders with socially responsible actions got better performance and more engagement from them.

The trick, of course, is making sure that linking all those good deeds with leadership training actually occurs. The same study found that only 59 percent of do-good firms took that next step; the rest missed it. Igniting a sense of purpose through social responsibility can jumpstart engagement, which is a significant workplace concern. Only 36 percent of organizational talent is “highly engaged,” the global survey reported. While engagement tends to be highest in the C-suite, it drops to 50 percent for senior-level staff and then even more significantly to 33 percent for high potentials, 20 percent for mid-level leaders and 15 percent for first-level leaders.

Social responsibility also elevates organizations to become an employer of choice; 69 percent of respondents believe that working for a company aligned with their values would “dramatically improve” feelings about their jobs.

Engagement Tied to Activism

Employee activism. It sounds like a dirty word—or at least something that would keep a CEO awake at night—if you’re trying to help lead a company. But unlike consumer or social activists, who may be just as apt to be critical as helpful, workers who aren’t afraid to talk about their work and shake things up are becoming a valuable resource—and can boost engagement overall, says Weber Shandwick and KRC Research in “Employee Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism.”

It’s no surprise that social media is the tool of choice for employee activists, who can air their likes and dislikes about jobs, bosses and organizations. “While many employers are fearful that their employees will destroy their reputations with one easy click of a social media ‘share’ button, the fact is that we now live in an always-connected online world that is not going to reverse course,” the report states.

The good news is that a sizable segment of employees—21 percent, the employee activists—are taking positive actions and nearly no negative ones. For a workforce of 5,000 that means that more than 1,000 employees are “enthusiastically letting others know they stand behind their employers.”

The signs of rising employee activism can include: wearing clothing and accessories with the employer’s name or symbol outside of work; recommending the employer as a place to work; encouraging others to buy the company’s products and services; making positive comments where others can read them; and saying good things about the employer to family and friends.

And, since employees are online anyway and prone to making comments, rallying the activists to support the company may be the best way to tip the balance in favor of supporters versus detractors.

The Organizational Makeover

Companies today are tackling employee engagement, retention, leadership development and building a meaningful culture. But there’s more. Deloitte, in its report “Global Human Capital Trends 2016—The New Organization: Different by Design,” says 92 percent of survey participants see a critical need to “redesign the organization itself.” This new type of organization is:

  • Built around highly empowered teams
  • Driven by a new model of management
  • Led by a breed of younger, more globally diverse leaders

To lead this shift, CEOs and HR leaders need to understand and create a shared culture, design a work environment that engages people, and put in place new models of leadership and career development. But that’s not all: “Executives are embracing digital technologies to reinvent the workplace, focusing on diversity and inclusion as a business strategy, and realizing that, without a strong learning culture, they will not succeed,” the Deloitte report states.

Topeka to Taipei—the Question for Senior Management Teams
It makes sense: Global companies need global leaders, but what does that really mean? Global leaders are not just those who are sent from “headquarters” into another region. They understand distinctly regional differences and consumer preferences in developed and emerging markets, because they themselves hail from various parts of the globe. The question for global leadership teams, then, is: “What Color Is Your Passport?”—the title of a
Korn Ferry research report.

Effective global leaders are fluent and culturally dexterous, able to apply knowledge across multiple regions and cultures. “They can wake up in Tokyo one morning and fall asleep in Riyadh the next evening—running meetings, negotiating deals and motivating multicultural teams with fluidity and ease,” the report states. Global dexterity at the top of organizations means the senior leaders don’t “have the same color passport.” Consider: London-based British American Tobacco, a FTSE 100 company, has 71 nationalities represented in its headquarters. Among its executive team there are eight different nationalities.

Having a culturally diverse, global leadership team is not only good for tapping potential markets, it also sends a powerful statement about an organization’s commitment to identifying and developing high-potential talent from both developed and emerging markets.

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