As if being in business needed to be any more demanding, post-pandemic issues seem to include a shortage of (or at least a delay in receiving) needed materials from the supply chain and, perhaps even more challenging, the need for and absence of skilled workers.
There are many theories related to the latter. Enhanced unemployment benefits, employees who have grown accustomed to working remotely and have little or no desire to return to the workplace, and the general sense that job opportunities are plentiful are contributing factors bringing a new level of “employee empowerment.” How can business leaders respond to these changing dynamics? And are work-related standards likely to slip as employers dare not do anything that might alienate members of their workforce?
I read with interest an article in the Wall Street Journal by Sharon Terlep titled “The Benefits of a No-Jerks Rule”. The piece details the remarkable turnaround at Newell Brands. Led by CEO Ravi Saligram, who took the reigns at Newell in 2019, a tone was set when he presented to the company’s world-wide workforce a slide which read: No “Jerks” (Saligram used a different, more colorful word than “jerks”, one commonly reserved for rude drivers, for example). Employees took great notice of course but there was more to it than a simple matter of getting their attention.
Saligram put in place an aggressive debt reduction program and focused on increasing sales of some of Newell’s more noteworthy brands including Sharpie markers and Yankee Candles. No surprise there. However, it is his attention and dedication to changing the passive/defensive culture at Newell that is most often cited by stakeholders as the primary reason for the turnaround.
I was once asked at a leadership seminar for the key to attracting and retaining superior talent. “Don’t hire jerks” was my reply. That got a quick laugh but a serious and robust discussion on the topic ensued. Is your hiring process robust enough to spot “jerks” (especially talented “jerks”)? One way to help accomplish this is to have several people interview the candidate, in small groups and one on one. Eventually, the fact that the person is a “jerk” will usually come through. They can’t help it; they’re such “jerks!”
And what about those on the current employee roster? I once offered this comment to a group of senior executives “there’s probably someone on your payroll right now who shouldn’t be, and you know it.” The room grew uncomfortably silent.
So, how will the challenge of finding and attracting qualified, talented workers affect organizations and their culture? One thing is for sure. Organizational leaders will need to establish and communicate standards of performance and behavior while balancing the need for creativity and flexibility in how work gets done.
And here is some good news. High performers value high standards and are likely to turn away from organizations that allow less than acceptable effort and behavior.
For more information on measuring and improving organizational performance and culture, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.