Campaigning for better conditions and human rights in the workplace has been the subject of many initiatives in recent decades. One of the eight ‘Millennium Development Goals’ established by the United Nations at the start of the century was eradicating poverty. This can’t be done without significantly improving pay and conditions for the billions who are in work.
In the past, most of the focus has been on strengthening regulations for employers – making sure that they are tough, binding and international. The assumption has been that it’s just not in the interests of the owners and managers of businesses to pay their employees well and offer them satisfying work and career prospects.
Research that I’ve carried out over the past 20 years challenges this notion. It shows that we create more prosperous, resilient and innovative businesses, as well as a better society, by engaging employees and creating great workplaces.
It’s not a zero-sum game. You don’t add to profits by taking from the workers. The economics of the workplace are far more complicated than that. What I’ve discovered through my extensive research – which is increasingly supported now by thousands of similarly rigorous studies – is that the economic value added by a well-managed and motivated workforce can outweigh any transitory gains from penny-pinching practices.
For example, by adopting people and purpose focused organisational culture and high-performance management practices, a large company saw 33% increase in revenue and increase in net profit of 213%. A small firm increased revenue by 500% and doubled staff numbers by putting people in the centre of the business.
As well as improving management, these findings can help us draft regulations that help employers create high-performing workplaces, rather than be seen as a burden or ‘red tape’.
It can be surprisingly difficult to sell the message about the economic value of better management. The scepticism is well ingrained, and the move from a hierarchical, uncaring style to an empowering one can be challenging. It’s about improving managerial behaviour in the round, not just introducing new policies.
Evidence is not always enough; you have to win over hearts and minds. Moreover, it helps to illustrate how it works in practice, not just sell an abstract concept, and new work, tools and processes that can help achieve this are emerging. I’ve tried to put all these elements together in my work – the What, the Why and the How.
In my book “The Management Shift – How to Harness the Power of People and Transform Your Organization for Sustainable Success” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), I have shown research evidence about why adopting people and purpose focused organisational culture leads to better engagement, innovation and profit; I have demonstrated what individuals and organisations need to do to address problems they are facing and I presented the 6 Box Leadership diagnostic tool that I used in more than 20 organisations worldwide to help them shift to the new level of working and success..
It’s far too big a challenge for one consultant and academic. I’m looking to build partnerships and alliances. In the new year of 2015, I’ll be coordinating with business leaders and management academics to launch a petition and a manifesto for fundamentally better management throughout the world of employment. Hopefully, that will contribute to one of the UN goals – to eradicate poverty through creating happier, more purposeful and productive work places that ultimately create higher profits!
Written by Professor Vlatka Hlupic