CEOs worldwide focusing on openness, collaboration: Survey

Loosening of control to harness talent, creativity, new ideas
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/17/2012

CEOs worldwide are striving to move away from tight operational control towards increased organizational openness, according to a survey by IBM.

Forty-two per cent of 1,700 CEOs surveyed in 64 countries, including Canada, said their organization is moving toward organizational openness — the opening of organizations and empowerment of individuals to facilitate innovation, collaboration and creativity.

“Obviously, there’s an important place for control — finance, regulatory functions — but, in general, CEOs see the importance of openness as a way to harness the talent in their organizations, the creativity, the new ideas, the way to bring teams together,” said Marc Chapman, Boston-based managing partner at IBM Global Business Services. “At the end of the day, openness is leading to better performance.”

To foster an open environment, employers should have policies in place that give employees some autonomy, said Karen Pyra, president of Pyra Management Consulting Services in Newport, N.S.

“If you have a client complaint about something, the policy doesn’t say, ‘You must do X, you must do Y, you must do Z.’ It says, ‘Resolve it to the best of your ability, using your judgment’ and gives people authority to different levels,” she said.

This will enable employees to feel empowered to do the best job they can and allow for smoother operations, said Pyra.

CEOs also need to be transparent with employees if they truly want to foster organizational openness. Since a lot of corporate information is easily accessible to the public nowadays, CEOs need to make sure they are sharing pertinent company information with employees, said Wendy MacIntyre, HR specialist at Michele Dorsey Law in Charlottetown.

In an open culture, employees should not only have a clear understanding of all aspects of business performance, but understand how their work fits into the bigger picture.

“If you understand the actions you take today, no matter how small, actually impact the bottom line, you’re going to think about what you do,” said Pyra. “If you don’t… you’re working in a little silo doing your job and you can’t harness people’s creativity if they don’t have the knowledge of the bigger picture.”

Collaborative environment

As part of this shift toward openness, CEOs are focusing on creating a collaborative work environment, with 63 per cent of survey respondents saying it is a top priority.

When employees work together, they can create something more innovative or find a better solution to a problem because they are capitalizing on group capabilities, rather than everyone being pigeonholed, said MacIntyre.

Regular team meetings are a critical component in collaboration, said Pyra, who holds team meetings with her employees every two weeks.

“People talk about some of their issues and challenges and sometimes we group problem-solve. Even if you’re not someone who can contribute to solving that particular problem, you can still benefit by hearing the process we use to solve it,” said Pyra.

“It’s so important in this day of email and texting to get people together, face-to-face, as often as you can.”

Creating unconventional teams is a great way to foster collaboration, said Chapman. Employers should mix specialties and expertise so employees can work with diverse types of people who think differently and have different backgrounds.

A collaborative culture will help organizations attract and retain talent as it is a welcome shift from a traditional, competitive corporate culture, said MacIntyre.

“Competition used to be seen as a motivator but, in today’s society, the newer generation is looking at more collaborative practices and competition can actually prevent people from working together,” she said.

Ethics and values important

Organizational ethics and values are also a top priority for company leaders, according to 65 per cent of respondents to IBM’s survey. CEOs are moving away from rigid rule books that impose controls across the organization to belief systems that have been shaped by employees, said Chapman.

“Beliefs have to be revisited, they need to be shaped with engagement and input from employees and, on a larger scale, as one CEO put it, ‘Our job now as CEO is to be chief engagement officer,’” said Chapman.

“They need to make sure the belief system is sound and clear to everybody and everyone signs up to that and lives by it.”

An organization’s mission, ethics and values should not only be written in the employee handbook but demonstrated by senior management, said MacIntyre. Managers should live the individual statements and regularly talk to employees about them.

“If there’s a value to serve customers well, management might come up with a nice fluffy, general statement but they need to make it practical to employees — talk to them about what this means, ask ‘How did you work with this client?’ ‘How would you live out this value statement?’ and perhaps say, ‘This is how I see it could be done,’” said Mac-Intyre.

Top characteristics for workers

With collaboration a key focus for CEOs, it makes sense that this is the top characteristic they are looking for in employees, found the survey. Collaboration (75 per cent), communication (67 per cent), creativity (61 per cent) and flexibility (61 per cent) are the characteristics CEOs identify as most important for employees’ success.

“These are characteristics that help bring people together to be collaborative in these new teams. These employees can live and contribute in a culture that has a strong belief system but is also very open. And through that, you can drive creativity and collaboration — this is making sure you have ‘future-proof’ employees,” said Chapman.

The HR leader in any organization plays an important role in helping the CEO shift the corporate culture to one that is open and collaborative, and ensuring the company has the right employees to help make that shift, he said.

“The HR leader always needs to know what’s on the mind of the CEO,” said Chapman. “Talent is the most important resource in the mind of CEOs in terms of where new ideas, new insight and new value can come from and it’s the HR leader’s role to find ways to tap into that and unleash it inside a company.”

Keys to success

Top employee characteristics sought by CEOs

collaboration (75 per cent)

communication (67 per cent)

• creativity (61 per cent)

flexibility (61 per cent).

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