They make bookstore shelves sag and they all promise to make your organization more competitive, your employees more productive (and satisfied) and your bottom line sweeter. But when the economy’s booming, employees are hard to find, and work-life balance means a scheduled family lunch in the middle of the 60-hour work week (did we mention employees were hard to find?), who has time to pay attention to management trends?
Here’s a cheat sheet for Alberta entrepreneurs: the five critical management ideas you should be paying attention to no matter how hot it gets in the trenches, plus a few brain teasers to help you get to the next level. The common thread that binds them together is simple: to succeed in today’s business environment, your business and its people have to be flexible and adaptive. Being rigid went out with the corset and the boiled shirt. But you already knew that.
The End of the Bonus?
Pratt & Whitney’s Bill Halley wants high-performing employees as much – maybe more – than the next manager. But he is not a fan of the performance bonus. As a reward tool, a bonus only works the first time, says Halley. “After that, it’s expected.”
The retention bonus is even more pernicious. It has spread like knapweed among Alberta oilpatch companies “at an alarming rate, and way down the ranks below the traditional vice-president level,” notes Robert Travis, Calgary managing director of Boyden Global Executive Search. It’s a development that isn’t making anybody particularly happy. Human resources people call it riding the tiger. Explains Boyden’s Brent Shervey, “He who rides the tiger can never dismount.” One retention bonus frequently leads to another, escalating payroll costs of the employer and snapping “velvet handcuffs” on employees, whose performance frequently plummets as they stay with a company for purely financial reasons.
Many Alberta employers are exploring alternatives to the cash bonus. “Every survey ever done has shown that salaries need to be competitive, but money is not a key driver in employee satisfaction,” says Gord Maron, chief financial officer of Edmonton-based PCL Construction.
If not money, then what? Because just about every survey also shows that reward and motivation are key to employee satisfaction and retention. For employee-owned PCL, the employee ownership program is a key component of its recruitment and retention strategy in the extremely competitive Alberta marketplace. But, says Maron, “it’s not a panacea that solves everything, that’s for sure.” Ever-more competitive benefit programs, career development support and continuing education plans, and the company’s focus on addressing work-life balance issues are all part of the puzzle.
It’s a puzzle every Alberta company is struggling to get right. While employee ownership on the scale practised at PCL is not on the rise, profit-sharing plans are proliferating, as are variations on stock options, including restricted stock grants with long vesting periods, designed to increase employee loyalty without resorting to lining their pockets, notes Travis.
Some management trends of note, beyond budgeting and high performance teams among them, may also be part of the puzzle. For Pratt & Whitney, says Halley, a critical ingredient is giving employees control over their work environment. Across the oilpatch, notes Travis, presidents are holding town-hall meetings, sending personal notes of recognition to employees and exploring flexible work hours, all in the name of increasing employee loyalty and retention in a marketplace chock full of options. First one to get it right wins.
Rewarding Employees resources:
To explore some traditional and non-traditional ideas for rewarding employee performance, flip through Bob Nelson’s 1001 Ways to Reward Employees: 100s of new ways to praise (Workman Publishing, 2nd edition, 2005) and its sister publication The 1001 Rewards and Recognitions Fieldbook (Workman Publishing, 2002). For something more meaty (not to mention counter-revolutionary), pick up something, anything, by Maurice Buckingham.
Managing Employees – and Their Families
Here’s a question employers are hearing a lot lately: “I am in a sweatshop right now. Can you assure me that if I come to work for you, I won’t be jumping from the frying pan into the fire?” Work/life balance issues are front and centre for most top candidates, and Alberta companies are struggling to answer them honestly. We are, after all, in the grips of a labour shortage.
Still, employers are coming up with creative solutions that allow their employees to have a personal life while working hard, by offering flexible work weeks, giving an extra day off every second week, or revisiting telecommuting. The biggest companies may offer recreation on site (child care on site is a growing issue), the smaller ones subsidize gym memberships, and a few are subsidizing maid service, so employees can work more and clean house less.
The labour market is so tight, flex days, flex hours and other commitments are a real competitive advantage in the war for talent – for moms and dads. “It doesn’t hurt that a top-notch employee has any number of places he or she can go,” says Robert Travis. “Right now, if you say this is important to you, you will get a real meaningful conversation on it.” Whether you really will get to eat dinner with your children every night … well, a labour shortage in a booming province also means fewer people doing more work.