The workplace of tomorrow

Recently, I presented about the world’s best practice in terms of company engagement and practice, and its relation to Asian culture at the 2015 Beca Asia Leadership Conference.

Having recently transferred to our Singapore office from Auckland, I was apprehensive about the cultural change more than anything. Apart for a quick holiday in Singapore and Indonesia in the past, I knew that living and working in Singapore was going to be a big change compared to New Zealand.

The Asian cultures are very different and unless you have worked in Asia, it is not something you can easily comprehend. This article is about my lessons learnt and how companies can look to become the workplace of tomorrow.

Companies today are struggling with an ever-increasing percentage of disengaged or high staff turnovers and I wanted to look at why that is as my presentation topic. In my research I looked at facts, results and studies led by well-known organisations and universities across the globe. What I found was companies have to adapt, now more than ever, to keep their staff engaged, motivated and feeling inspired. Or else, they will be left behind.

In order for any company to change, it has to start from each employee.

Historical Facts – East vs. West

There has always been a distinct difference between the work ethic in the East and the West. The East is where 80% of the world’s global manufacturing is done. It is not only China that is booming as a base for low-cost production. Manufacturing and exports are growing rapidly in other parts of Asia such as Vietnam.

Why is that?

Beyond the fact that it is cheaper than anywhere else, the work ethic is not comparable. People are committed and work for long periods of time in a repetitive way in the East. Now, it is not to say the work doesn’t get done in the West but it is more creative and fun in the way it operates (Berman et al.2013).

People in Asia work in a very different way. Companies here very much operate based on the Control Demand Model (CDM) (Keraskek, 1979). What is this model?

CDM is focused on the balance of job requirements and autonomy rather than value add. It is a model that promotes hierarchy, authority, repetitive work and punishment. In a CDM model employees come to work, do the job, and go home. The boss is the only person who can make decisions (right or wrong), allocate the job and the employee does what he is told.

Research shows that Asia is a culture which has a high Power Distance Index (PDI). This index measures the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. It shows that employees expect to be told what to do and have little involvement, if any, in the decision-making process (Hofstede, 2001).

But the world is changing.

Moving from a Control Demand Model to an Aspirational Model

The working environment is changing towards an Aspirational Model where everyone can be a leader.

Leaders are being urged to become ‘aspirational’. This means, they no longer want to be the symbol of Authority but of Aspiration and no longer want to be seen as hierarchical but networked. They no longer want to be right but hope to be. Leaders should not feel threatened or scared to be challenged by their team.

Why the change?

Because the employee of tomorrow is asking for it. Jacob Morgan, author of the book 'The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization' talks about this in a recent Forbes article:

‘The only way forward is to challenge convention around how we work, how we lead, and how we build our companies. Employees which were once thought of expendable cogs are the most valuable asset that any organisation has. However, the employee from a decade ago isn’t the same as the employee who we are starting to see today.'

The evolution of the future employee is one that has changed considerably over the last few years. Nowadays, when you interview someone, chances are, they will ask you more questions than they ever asked before. They want to know where your company is going, where do you think they will add value, what are the staff benefits, what’s in it for them and more. It is no longer just about the salary. They want to feel valued. They are fuelled by curiosity and ambition.

The employee of tomorrow is someone who can work anywhere, anytime from any devices. The concept of asking staff to be behind their desk during certain hours is now redundant. It is all about the value they add.

There is no more company ladder – thinking you need 25 years in a company to get anywhere near the top is obsolete. The employee of tomorrow is someone who is career driven. They will not join your company if they feel they have to climb the ladder for years to come.

Everyone can be a leader!

If companies don’t adapt, they will be left behind.

The Employee of Tomorrow is chasing the Dream Company.

The employee of tomorrow is someone who is fuelled by curiosity and aspirations. It is no longer a matter of money as they want to work for big companies that will recognise their work.

So what makes a Dream Company?

Top Corporate Stupid Rules (Liz Ryan, CEO and Founder, Human Workplace):

  1. Stupid Attendance Policy
  2. Stupid Frequent Flyer Policy
  3. Stupid Dress Code
  4. Bell Curve Performance Reviews
  5. Stupid Bereavement-Leave Policies
  6. Stupid Approvals for Everything
  7. Stupid Disciplinary Rules
  8. Stupid Feedback Mechanisms
  9. Stupid Forced Ranking

This research has allowed me to reflect on our business model. It made me realised that we, Beca, have to change to move with the times. Most importantly, the key points that came across is that is doesn’t matter where you are. All you need is people who aspire to be part of a company that has goals, accepts differences and is open-minded. If people have a job they love, the outcome will be greater than any expectations.

References Berman et al., 2013, Impact of societal culture on the use of performance strategies in East Asia, Public Management Review, Vol. 15, No. 8, 1065–1089

Hofstede, G.2001, Culture's Consequences: Comparing Values, Behviours, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations. 2 ed. Thousand Oaks, Ca.:Sage Publications

Robert A. Karasek, Jr., Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Jun., 1979)

Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, May 2013, Creating the Best Workplace on Earth, Harvard Business Review

Ignite Your Thinking

What Do You Think?

Veronique · 20/11/2015 5:08:24 PM
Thanks Greg for your support. Here is the quote again from Patrick Overton for anyone scared of trying new things.

"When you have come to the edge of all light that you know
And are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown
Faith is knowing one of two things will happen:
There will be something solid to stand on
Or you will be taught to fly."

Greg Davies · 20/11/2015 4:24:00 PM
Great read Vero, thanks! Great to have you in Singapore inspiring change.
As you know it is hard to understand all the different viewpoints that our diverse business brings and harness them to work collaboratively towards shared goals and vision. We all have a part to play in achieving the changes required to make our business successful and an enjoyable place to work into the future.
My challenge to our Singapore Team is to embrace Vero's message and think about how you and your team can contribute to making positive changes. Some of this will take us into unfamiliar territory but we need to get out of our comfort zones and embrace new things to stay ahead of the pack. Give new ideas a try, you will be surprised at what they can achieve!

Veronique · 20/11/2015 3:37:47 PM
Thanks Jon! I am glad the video is well received, it was fun to make! Hopefully others too can hear my passion, and embrace it :-)

Veronique · 20/11/2015 3:36:20 PM
Thanks Georgina! I really enjoyed doing this research! I am glad you liked the video!

Georgina Hoad · 20/11/2015 3:00:37 PM
Fantastic insight, Vero!
I especially enjoyed your video. We all dream of working for a dream company and I think you have uncovered the perfect recipe - good stuff!

Veronique · 20/11/2015 1:48:18 PM
Thank you very much. Your comment is correct, totally agree.

Veronique · 20/11/2015 1:44:40 PM
Thank you very much. Glad you enjoyed it!

Nick Jarvinen · 19/11/2015 11:58:43 PM
Enjoyed reading this insightful article. Living in Indonesia I would offer that rather than say, "The Asian culture is very different" I would say, "The Asian cultures are very different". If Asia only had one culture it would be boring to me. The melting pot of cultures in the region and even in the countries is what makes it so interesting and challenging.

Stephen German · 19/11/2015 10:40:09 PM
A great article Vero and you are right, companies and people have to move with the times to get the best for both parties. A great article and food for thought.

Jon Huxley · 19/11/2015 3:45:49 PM
A great piece Vero! The video is a real highlight. Your own passion comes out loud and clear. Well done.