Want to adapt to the future of work? Start by canning these 5 outdated workplace practices.

1. Hierarchy

What was good for the Industrial Age is completely obsolete in today's relationship economy, yet most companies still operate this way.

Back in the old days, hierarchy and "do what you're told" worked. Bodies performed simplified, repetitive tasks on the production line, needing commands and direction from the ivory tower.

Today's Millennial talent want a flat structure that allows the freedom to be inclusive so they can collaborate, participate, innovate and self-organize.

In Worldblu research, organizations that promote freedom-centered leadership (versus, hierachical, fear-based leadership) create cultures in which everybody -- regardless of title, rank or position -- has the choice and responsibility to exercise leadership skills.

The companies in the research that promote an inverted pyramid of freedom, autonomy, and democracy saw an average cumulative revenue growth rate over a three-year period that was 6.7 times greater than that of the S&P 500 companies.

2. Upper Management Hoarding Information

Transparency is the new normal, and executives that hoard information have to adapt. The more information they hold back, the less knowledge their employees will have, which puts them in an unfavorable position to make better decisions.

What do I mean by "transparency?"  Well, it's going beyond the traditional business definition of full disclosure of financial information to investors. This is simply too narrow a focus.

The first display of transparency is to the people who work inside your organization. Information has to flow freely among managers and employees, and then outward to shareholders. Your people can't innovate or function well at the rate and speed you want unless they have access to relevant, timely, and valid information.

And who's responsible for creating the systems, policies and shared behaviors for a culture of transparency to happen? You guessed it -- it falls on the leadership team.

If you can't be honest with your own employees, how can you be honest with your customers, suppliers, and the public?

3. That Dreaded Annual Performance Review

Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I can say the same about the insanity behind this obsolete HR practice: Time consuming "check in the box" rituals for busy managers who feel obligated but whose hearts aren't it in; emotionally-disengaging "hot seat" event for employees walking on egg shells; and an annual hunt for a mountain of paperwork by HR just so things stay in compliance.

Really, get rid of this tradition because they just don't work. Instead, upgrade to frequent feedback -- monthly one-on-ones where you get to coach employees and evaluate their progress in real-time, not just the results.  

This is what your Millennial high achievers and high potentials crave and want in order to keep them developing, building strengths, and adding value.

Twilio, the cloud communications company based in San Francisco, ditched their performance reviews to focus on more frequent communication. Here's Jeff Lawson, CEO, in an interview with The New York Times.

We don't wait until the annual performance review to give feedback. You never want to have a surprise. This is especially important with millennial workers, who really want feedback. They want to always be learning, always be growing, and they're looking for that constant feedback. It's not that they're looking for constant praise, but rather they want to keep score. They want to know how they're doing.

4. That Equally Dreaded Annual Employee Opinion Survey

These annual rituals can certainly help improve key metrics, but because they only happen once per year, there are several drawbacks that make them obsolete:

  • They're too long and have too many questions, so employees get survey fatigue. It also takes too long to analyze the results for action planning. Things may have already shifted by the time HR and upper management roll out a new program.
  • Employees typically don't receive any feedback.  As a result, your people don't take the process seriously which hurts the integrity of the survey responses. If they don't see the value of it, they're not going to respond honestly or respond at all. That may explain why your numbers are so low.
  • Employees don't know the purpose and importance of a survey -- it hasn't been communicated upfront - so they either won't complete it, or worst case scenario, they complete it quickly and half-assed without really thinking about the questions.
  • Too much responsibility is put on middle managers to fix problems, and they just can't handle the weight. Newer companies understand that employees in the front-lines are typically the ones that have the best ideas for problem-solving, and will gladly involve them in the process and solicit their opinions.

What's the upgrade you should be looking for? Real-time measuring of employees through short pulse surveys. Companies with a strong service orientation to their employees understand that they have to spot trends before they escalate to problems.

Basically, a pulse survey will specifically target an area for improvement, and typically include between 5 and 10 questions.

The point is to send a different one out to your tribe every week. Some companies will just ask one question, which is fine. Just don't ask the same question every week.

But for it to work as it's intended, leaders must be prepared to act on the responses, otherwise it defeats the whole purpose. Because they happen so quickly and are so specific, you can keep your finger on the....well, pulse, of what's going on with your people.

By welcoming these short surveys as a corporate norm, inclusive companies know they can leverage the opinions of younger Millennial employees about what they want out of work, as well as tap into and take advantage of their knowledge by asking questions such as:

  • On a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend working at your company to a friend?
  • Is there anything holding you back from recommending [your company name] to your friends as a good place to work?
  • Do you have a clear understanding of your career or promotion path?
  • Hypothetically, if you were to quit tomorrow, what would your reason be?

So what does the future of your workplace look like? For many more ideas beyond the ones above, subscribe below.

Published on: Jul 20, 2016
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