Irresistible: The management principles for today’s companies
Over the last 25 years, I have been studying management and HR practices in companies around the world. As I expanded my work into areas such as learning, compensation, employee experience, and productivity, I kept asking myself, “Which of these practices actually work?”
What I found was that despite the best intentions of HR and business leaders, many management practices are institutionalised and outdated. Job descriptions, performance management methods, bonuses and rewards, and even the functional hierarchies of business structures are based on old practices developed in the industrial age when work was essentially divided into two categories: labour (people who performed the actual work) and management (those who told people what to do).
This categorisation worked well when most companies sold widgets or industrial services. But the world has changed. More than 70% of all jobs are now service related and companies are becoming increasingly digitised, service-centred, and innovation-focused. Enduring companies need employees who create, collaborate, invent, and problem solve every day. As smart as managers may be, it is not enough for them to simply tell people what to do.
Becoming “irresistible” is an essential business strategy that will even further differentiate companies and help leaders deal with whatever is ahead.” – Josh Bersin
My latest book, Irresistible: The Seven Secrets of Enduring, Employee-Focused Companies, is focused on the principles used by companies that endure and adapt, have created trusted brands, and sustain profitability.
The research behind the book
The practices described in my book were distilled from my years of research into workforce trends and the HR practices that have biggest business impact. I also wanted to find a way to assess employee sentiment and to do this, I poured through years of Glassdoor data to look for trends.
What I found was quite profound. No matter how I broke down the data (by industry segment, company size, region), I came up with a bell curve. About 10 to 15% of employees rated their companies and managers between 4 and 4.4 on a five-point scale. About 15 to 20% rated their companies in the 2s or lower. And then 65 to 75% of employees rated their company in the middle – around 3.2.
Next, I dug into the companies at the top of the scale to learn more. I found that these top-rated companies had three things in common:
- The capacity to survive and thrive throughout good and bad business cycles and market shifts.
- Profitability over time.
- Respected, enduring brands.
In other words, they are “irresistible” to employees, customers, and shareholders.
I then dissected the ways these companies excel and the practices they employ and summarised my findings into seven distinct principles. While these seven “secrets” sound simple, they are quite complex when it comes to real-world implementation.
Chapter by chapter, I describe each principle and its history along with examples of how various leaders put the principle into action. Comparison charts help readers see what the practice would look like when implemented. I end each chapter with recommendations for putting these practices to work in your own organisation.
The seven secrets summarized
1. Teams, not hierarchy. Irresistible companies rely on interlocking, empowered, and collaborative teams for agility and innovation. Leaders facilitate and support teams, which are often cross-functional, and allow employees to move from project to project to best utilise their skills. Rigid organisational hierarchies, designed to protect executive power and control decision making and career paths, no longer work.
Underlying effective teamwork is an emphasis on agile work practices; the chapter explains how the principles of agile software development have helped companies embrace empowered, agile teams to react quickly to business changes.
2. Work, not jobs. Routine jobs, those which require defined skills typically applied in very defined ways, are disappearing. However, non-routine jobs, comprised of tasks performed at irregular intervals and often executed in different ways dependent on the situation, have exploded. This trend is creating better jobs, higher paying jobs, and jobs that require new skills.
Rather than confining employees to specific job descriptions, leaders should focus – and develop – employees for the high value work. This chapter explains why I think the nine-box grid must go and why pay should be based on work, not just position or tenure. I also go into new ways to assess the potential fit of job candidates.
3. Coach, not boss. In human-centred organisations, the primary role of leaders is to coach, empower, support, and care for their employees. The “command and control” approach to management just does not work anymore. Some companies blend their leadership ranks with managers who have functional expertise and those who excel at coaching to provide the information and background employees might need with performance support and facilitation. Annual performance appraisals, based on goals set at the beginning of a performance cycle, are obsolete. I discuss the importance of continuous performance management and new ways to look at goal setting.
4. Culture, not rules. Rather than structuring work around rules, irresistible companies design work strategies that elevate employee safety, health, inclusion, and wellbeing and give employees agency. Employees look forward to coming to work and are inspired to do their best. While a company’s culture must be driven from the top, everyone in the organisation must take a caretaker role. This is especially important now as we see more flexible and remote work arrangements.
The chapter delves into the importance of fairness and transparency in decisions and pay, the importance of really listening to employees (different than the traditional satisfaction and engagement surveys) and taking a hard and honest look at how your company’s current practices move the needle on diversity and inclusion.
5. Growth, not promotion. Opportunity for personal growth is one of the strongest drivers of employee engagement. People need to feel they are learning all the time – not only to help them do their jobs better but also to further their career goals. Irresistible companies do not tie development programmes and resources to certain job levels or job types. Realistically, promotions are limited to only a few employees; personal and skills growth should be available to all.
Offering ways and resources in which employees can learn continuously should now be part of every company’s learning strategy. Course catalogues are not enough. Employee growth occurs in four ways: formal training, experience (projects, assignments, jobs), exposure (mentors, coaches, peers), and a supportive learning environment that gives people time and space to learn, rewards the acquisition of new skills, and offers new opportunities.
6. Purpose, not profit. Profits matter but without a distinct, clear purpose, a company can often lose its way or its competitive edge. The chapter starts with a description of how purpose has shaped and facilitated the growth of Unilever, the multinational consumer goods giant. In a purpose-driven company, all functions and practices of the company reflect its purpose, from R&D to sales and marketing, to customer relations. A clearly articulated purpose is also important when it comes to attracting and retaining employees. Research shows that people want to drive positive change and value meaningful work.
7. Employee experience, not output. I have been writing and talking about the importance of employee experience for years. Too often, employees spend hours every week on workarounds, navigating approval processes, or dealing with work tools and systems that make their jobs harder, not easier. Designing positive experiences into every aspect of an employee’s journey and workday not only drives retention and engagement, but it also has significant impact on productivity. I discuss in the chapter how technology, when selected carefully and implemented well, can do much to resolve bottlenecks and increase collaboration.
Becoming “irresistible” is an essential business strategy that will even further differentiate companies and help leaders deal with whatever is ahead. Many HR and business leaders are grappling with employee burnout, hiring and retention challenges, hybrid work strategies, or preparations for an economic downturn.
Making work better for people and organisations has been the most important undertaking of my career. I truly believe we, as HR professionals, have the power to help our organisations thrive, grow, and inspire people. My goal is to help you make your own work, your teams, and your company more productive, fulfilling, and yes, even fun.
About the Author: Josh Bersin is a Global Industry Analyst, CEO of the Josh Bersin Company, and author of the new book, Irresistible: The Seven Secrets of Enduring, Employee-Focused Companies. He will also be joining HR Tech Festival Asia 2023 as part of a lineup of global and regional thought leaders and HR luminaries to provide key insights into what is shaping the way we work.