Scientists believe our distant ancestors spent a lot more of their time noshing on leaves because they lived off the land. Back then, they needed an appendix to digest all those greens. But these days even those of us who love a good salad, don't need the appendix. In fact, it really does nothing much now except occasionally get infected (though the under-loved organ has recently been rehabilitated slightly).
What does this information have to do with entrepreneurs?
More than you might imagine. As it turns out, the idea of vestigial structures can apply to organizations as well as anatomy.
That's the essential takeaway from a thought-provoking Tammy Erickson post on the HBR blogs recently. In it, Erickson argues that certain business practices are as long-lost as our distant forbears' eating habits – like the jobs-for-life model, for example. Neither workers nor companies these days truly expect employees to trade unswerving loyalty for the company's benevolent and lifelong protection, but like the troublesome appendix that has outstayed its usefulness, many organizations retain talent management practices that only made sense when the loyalty-for-security deal was on the table. Erickson writes:
Until roughly fifty years ago, there was a tacit understanding between employees and corporations: If employees worked hard and demonstrated loyalty to the company, the company would reward them with a steady career and comfortable retirement...However, despite the obvious erosion, many of our talent management practices and behaviors are still predicated on this tacit agreement. It is the disconnect between the philosophy reflected in our formal policies and the reality of our personnel actions, between what we say and what we do, that lies at the heart of employees' sense of unease. Bottom line: the organization should not implicitly promise protection and care that it realistically can't and won't provide.
The implicit promise is still conveyed today through talent management practices that tie employee interests to long-term service: pensions, tenure-based perquisites of any type (amount of vacation, for example), training and development investments that are focused primarily on youthful new hires (with the expectation that they will pay off over a long period of time), and internal promotional ladders based on tenure. These vestiges of organizations' former commitment to long-term protection and care aren't consistent with today's reality. They just don't make sense.
Companies should "focus on measuring results, while leaving the choice of when and where to perform the work to the individual," suggests Erickson. Author and entrepreneur Ben Casnocha also has some ideas, suggesting that companies stop deluding themselves that they can squash job hopping and help employees be at their peak for the relatively short periods they're around.
London Business School professor Lynda Gratton has written a book called The Shift: The Future of Work Is Already Here about how work is moving away from an relationship between employer and employee that is akin to that between an adult and a child (protective and controlling) to one that's more adult to adult (respectful but far more hands off), which may also offer inspiration for employers looking to align their talent management practices with today's realities (or workers hoping to thrive in today's business environment).
Do any of your talent practices stem more from habit than from current reality?