Leadership, Strategic HR

The Route to the Top of the Corporate Ladder Is Not Always Vertical

When employees are happy in the workplace, they almost always want to climb the ladder to positions of greater responsibility. While this hasn’t changed, workers are no longer thinking in terms of making a linear ascent to the top of a hierarchical organization.Corporate

Instead, many employees prefer a series of nonlinear moves that increase their overall knowledge of the business and enable them to work more closely with colleagues. They want to join multiple teams and try out various roles, which makes them more well-rounded. They are still climbing the ladder, but today they want to take a different route, and move up by moving around.

In order to meet these workforce expectations, organizations will likely need to adopt a digital mindset—not only adopting emerging technologies, but thinking and behaving in a digital way. Becoming a successful digital organization happens, in part, when businesses activate what Deloitte calls a ‘Simply Irresistible OrganizationTM’—one that offers meaningful work, a positive environment, supportive managers, ample growth opportunities, and trusted leadership.

By applying this framework, organizations enable workers to move up the ladder in the nonlinear way that suits them. They will hold on to their most promising employees, and avoid the lost knowledge, lost productivity, and added recruiting expenses that come with staff turnover.

Embracing the digital mindset, new styles of work, and alternate ways of climbing the ladder means recognizing that the purely hierarchical organization may be a thing of the past.

Shifting Values

Today, the traditional, hierarchical organizational structure of businesses is in a state of disruption. Commerce has become global, and a proliferation of digital tools and thinking has changed the way people work. Most successful enterprises embrace these changes, and show flexibility in how they structure the workplace.

In the past, many workers were siloed from one another, fulfilling only the duties required under their job descriptions until a manager advanced them to the next level and gave them a new job title.

But employees today—many of whom are Millennials who grew up with digital and social technologies—do not want to be siloed. They are constantly finding new ways to communicate and collaborate with one another, forming networks of teams that share information, set their own goals, and make their own decisions.

Deloitte research has found that most employers want to restructure their organizations to suit this new style of working. As stated in the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, “an important part of designing for adaptability is a shift away from hierarchical organizational structures toward models where work is accomplished in teams. Indeed, only 14 percent of surveyed executives believe that the traditional organizational model—with hierarchical job levels based on expertise in a specific area—makes their organization highly effective. Instead, leading companies are pushing toward a more flexible, team-centric model.”

This means enabling a team-centric workplace where employees can gain new experiences and skills, try their hand at different roles, and be agile to meet not only their personal ambitions, but to improve overall productivity. Those that hold fast to the more rigid, hierarchical model of the past may face a harsher reality as the war for talent grows.

As they increasingly go digital, many successful businesses are enabling workers to form and disband teams quickly, and to share and access information seamlessly. Many are decentralizing the decision-making process so that networked teams can function with more autonomy. Tools and technology platforms like Deloitte’s ConnectMe™ can help the workforce access what they need, when and where they need it, to help streamline HR processes, highlight opportunities, and improve employee engagement.

Organizations are making these changes for an important reason: they want to keep valuable employees from jumping ship.

Trust the Younger Worker

Millennials tend to have a reputation for jumping from job to job, and for lacking the loyalty to employers that past generations have had. Deloitte research has found that this is a misconception, and that Millennials want to stay long-term at their jobs, provided they are engaged and are offered flexible working conditions. This is good news for the Human Resources function, where anxiety is running high over perceived talent shortages and skills gaps.

In fact, the Deloitte 2017 Global Human Capital Trends report found that 82% of the 10,000 HR leaders surveyed rated the ability to attract skilled workers as among their top concerns.

This war for talent cannot be won simply by offering workers a path to promotion. What today’s employee wants is a rewarding work experience during every phase of their development, and the feeling of being aligned with their company’s mission.

The key to instilling that feeling is to give younger workers the flexibility to do their jobs the way they want to. This means trusting them to form their own teams, make their own decisions, and to work from locations other than the office.

Deloitte research shows that flexibility and accountability go hand in hand, as workers employed in more flexible environments report higher levels of personal responsibility. For example, at organizations that have the most flexible structures, 34% of workers take “a great deal” of personal accountability for their organizations’ reputations. This compares to just 12% within enterprises where there is low flexibility.

It requires a leap of faith to restructure the workplace so employees can have more flexibility, but we have found that it’s typically a gamble worth making.

How to Become Irresistible to Your Workforce

Making organizations more team-based and less rigidly hierarchical has not just been shown to boost job performance and job satisfaction among younger workers, but to keep them from seeking employment elsewhere.

Deloitte’s Millennial Survey 2017 found that in highly flexible working environments, the difference between Millennial workers who see themselves leaving within 2 years (35%) is just two points above those anticipating they will stay longer than 5 years (33%). For Millennial workers in less flexible organizations, there is an 18-point gap (45% versus 27%).

Retaining employees comes down to making your organization an irresistible one that has a positive work environment, supportive managers, opportunities for growth, and leadership that is trusted by the staff. It also involves offering a meaningful work experience, which for today’s workers means the opportunity to develop new skills by playing various roles on different workplace teams. And it means being able to work socially and share information freely.

More and more of today’s workers are telling their employers how they prefer to work, and that they want to move up by moving around. If we want to keep these employees, we should be listening to them.

Marc Solow
Marc Solow is a Managing Director in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice and serves as the HR Shared Services Leader for the ConnectMe platform. Marc has a deep background and extensive experience consulting with clients to transform their Human Resources functions.  Recently he has focused on helping clients design and build consumer-grade employee experiences utilizing digital technologies.As used in this document, “Deloitte” means Deloitte Consulting LLP, a subsidiary of Deloitte LLP. Please see www.deloitte.com/us/about for a detailed description of our legal structure. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting.