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Step Up or Step Out: The 10 Must-Do Things to Thrive in Today’s Economy

Posted by NEHRA  June 22, 2009 09:00 AM

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Stuck in outdated structures, the high-tech world continues to zoom past industrial-age organizations making them more and more out of date and ineffective today. To survive in today’s period of massive change to an intellectual and networked age, build these ten must-do things into your workplace.

We are in a period of massive change as our economy moves from the skill-focused industrial age to today’s talent-focused intellectual age. Yesterday’s manufactured products have moved offshore and have been replaced by today’s networked and thinking service economy. We made things; we now collaborate to make ideas. Everything about this process is new; everything about this process is in transition. How we hire, the future of work, how we build relationships, collaborate and manage a business are all changing. We are truly in a period of massive change. As we struggled in the move from the agrarian economy to the industrial economy (we reinvented work from farms to cities and manufacturing centers), we now struggle to move our economy from manpower to brainpower.

Many of today’s business support systems are failing because they support our previous and now outdated industrial-age structure. The new technology and intellectual age requires organizations to be more fluid, nimble and responsive. Structured, military-inspired, command-and-control industrial-age systems are now too slow and too cumbersome to respond in our speed-of-the-click world. Their structure inhibits easy and open communication, innovation and collaboration. Stuck in outdated structures, the high-tech world continues to zoom past industrial-age organizations making them more and more out of date and ineffective today. To survive in today’s period of massive change to an intellectual and networked age, build these ten must-do things into your workplace.

1. Create and maintain the best and most employee-focused workplace.
Employee-focused workplaces openly value their employees and by result, attract the best candidates and retain the best employees. Employee-focused workplaces create opportunities for employees to fully develop their talents and abilities, while driving results and owning their performance. These workplaces solicit information from employees about the things that will activate their passionate performance and build as many in as they can to address employee needs, so employees can stay focused on customers and performance.

2. Hire for talent – invest in the right people.
In an intellectual workplace, talents are the driving force behind each employee’s success; skills and experience were more valuable in an industrial-age economy. To succeed, organizations must be adept at defining talents (natural thinking and strengths) needed by responsibility and role, assessing candidates for good fit, and hiring the right employees. This process is more time consuming but it realizes that since your people are your profits, a commitment must be made to understand how to hire the right employee for the right role/responsibility in an intellectual age.

3. Redefine how work is done.
In an industrial age, it was important to have defined roles with standard job descriptions. Employees were required to show up to a specific location (plant, factory, facility) in order to work. Today’s intellectual workplace changes this model. Today, employees’ contributions do not necessarily need to be in a specific location or in even in a defined role. Today’s workplace allows employees to work (intellectual contribution) remotely. It also encourages managers to redefine staffing into a small fixed component of workers and a larger variable component, hired by task or responsibility. This introduces the concept of “just in time and just long enough” workers – workers hired for particular responsibilities or tasks and then released. This allows an organization to acquire the best talent in a particular area without the requirement of hiring those talents in a full time role; these new roles now require limited overhead, office space and other industrial-age systems, systems that in today’s world cost money and add little value. This allows employees to step in and out of organizations, doing the things in which they are the most talented, gifted and interested. This builds a new workplace model, limits spending, space and fixed manpower in favor of greater talent matching, variable contributions and higher productivity.

4. Constantly recruit the best.
With a new focus on a fixed and variable workplace, build a sustainable and robust fixed and variable sourcing and recruiting plan. Define the expectations of each role and responsibility to clearly define the talents needed in each to be successful. Network with others. Create a solid pipeline, particularly of variable, flexible employees, who can be called for specific projects or responsibilities and then released. Share the expectations and talents needed with all fixed employees to engage them in the sourcing talent process for the organization.

5. Clearly define role and responsibility performance expectations.
All fixed and variable employees/contributors must be held fully accountable for performance; each role and responsibility must have clear performance expectations from which they are reviewed, compensated and retained. All employees must now have a greater sense of performance ownership and this starts will clearly defined performance expectations that define performance outcomes but allow employees (fixed or variable) to develop achievement plans. These expectations can be used to pay for performance, attract top talent and hold employees (fixed and variable) accountable for performance and results.

6. Understand your world – become a strategic thinker.
Stay connected to the world around you and your business. Know the impact of the economy, regulations, demographics, social trends, technology and others factors affecting your industry and business. Know trends, facts and key indicators. Include employees in the review of business challenges, innovation and opportunities. Base your responses on the world in which you find yourself – stay current.

7. Communicate effectively, move information around, and use it to be great.
In an intellectual workplace, information is both power and capital. Organizations that stay connected to their world use information to share what they know, what they hear, and what they think; they use information to activate new ideas and solutions and move ahead of the competition. Develop ways to openly share news, suggestions, ideas and concerns. Ensure information moves clearly and effectively both down and up the organizational chain.

8. Commit to an unwavering standard of excellence.
Define, live and assess all performance by its ability to support and provide your defined standard of excellence. Be the best at what you do, without exception. Be the most responsive, the most innovative and the most professional in customer contact, ideas brought to market and quality at every level. Customers and employees commit to organizations that commit to excellence. As the workplace and products/services change, a guiding commitment to excellence will always insure the organization stays ahead.

9. Constantly recruit, educate and develop customers and employees.
Commit to knowing the most. In an intellectual workplace, performance power is in knowledge. Successful organizations constantly educate both their customers and employees – in good times and in bad. They focus on education, thinking and developing raises the bar for all involved. Customers are as important to educate as employees because in their education, they become a greater part of your collaborative approach to products and services. Gone are the days of organizations creating products/services for customers without their input, guidance and suggestions. Raise the bar for everyone – it encourages greater performance.

10. Applaud successes with wild enthusiasm.
We are in tough period as we usher in a massive change and economic transition. Successes are difficult when so much change is present. Activate your employees and customers by applauding successes in an extraordinary way. See each success as one step forward on the road to redefining business success. “What gets rewarded, gets repeated.” Applaud, celebrate and praise successes, innovation and performance; it activates the performance and encourages more. Word gets out quickly about organizations that value, honor and celebrate their employees and customers. These are the organizations that great employees (fixed or variable) want to work with.

We are truly in a period of massive change as our industrial age gives way to a new more networked, collaborative and thinking intellectual age. This requires us to be more involved in actively ushering in our new age, understanding how to succeed as we change and staying focused on value of and for our employees and customers. Now is no time for timidity. Leaders and managers need to step up or step out. Provide the clear voice, a solid strategy and an understandable view of how to impact results in this changing world. Massive change is on our agenda; learn how to use it and respond to it. And when the new age is fully ushered in, watch the horizon for the next age approaching and reinvent your plan to stay successful.

Author Biography:

Jay Forte, a former financial executive and corporate educator, now performance consultant, speaker and author, is the President of Humanetrics. Jay teaches organizations how to maximize manager performance, ignite employee performance and advance women’s performance, all with an underlying focus on first advancing personal performance. He is the author of Fire Up! Your Employees and Smoke Your Competition, and Stand Out and Get Hired. He can be reached at (401) 338-3505 or via email at

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About NEHRA - The Voice of HR Featuring articles and resources for Human Resources / HR professional and hiring managers from the Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA).

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