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Employee Engagement Careers, Flexibility and Personal Growth

By Lisa Hays, Fresh Perspective
Posted June 26, 2015

Image of swerving, winding highwayCareers rarely follow a straight line. More often there are shifts, turns, obstacles, unexpected building blocks and even dramatic swerves that all create an oddly-shaped yet ultimately rewarding patchwork unlike what typically might be described as a "career." And that can be an incredibly good thing!

Today's business environment demands extremely high performance, a broad based of skills, agility and considerable resilience. Employers must create a workforce able to excel in these conditions which requires working to craft solutions addressing both employer and employees' needs.

Purina Logo

Purina square iconNestlé Purina PetCare ranks #3 on Glassdoor’s 2015 ‘Best Places to Work Employees’ Choice Award’ (up from #10 in 2014). This Nestlé subsidiary does several things particularly well which not only win them awards, but also keep their employees happy and engaged, and they wisely recognize the effect on their bottom line. 

Solidify career paths and opportunities for growth and advancement
Employees – particularly Millennials – want to know about options for different career paths, and what specific achievements move them along their chosen path. Many employers struggle to address promotions, careers and compensation in such definitive terms.

While specific career progression is often legitimately unknowable given the accelerated speed of change in most industries, leaders can share internal values and criteria, and clearly identify how major decisions are made.

The established corporate structure, hierarchy, business objectives and strategies should be shared broadly across the workforce. A few examples:

  • Company hierarchy and reporting structure – demonstrate – from the top – how the structure was determined, and, if applicable, share exceptions where a different structure is in place and why
  • Company goals and objectives – so clear that everyone understands (and each individual should know what part their role plays in the company’s ability to achieve key goals and objectives)
  • Accountability – how consistency in accountability, with resulting positive and negative outcomes is based on individual and group performance

Business leaders should convey to employees that they appreciate their need for flexibility while also being prepared for rapid, adaptive decision-making. Change is constant, and businesses must continually respond, with a focus on game-changing innovation. Perhaps the most desirable employers are those where a specific career path is NOT set. When new opportunities are frequently created and employees have options to broaden their experiences and expertise, both employers and employees benefit.

Even in an ever-changing environment, it’s critical each employee has frequent informal discussions and “checkpoints” with their direct manager to track their own progress, understand where they excel, and in what areas they need to improve – or perhaps more experience is needed. Each employee should KNOW how well they are performing relative to the objectives set for them.

Purina Square IconNestlé Purina PetCare provides an online career center accessible to everyone in the company so employees can see opportunities across the entire organization. They also provide “self-diagnostics” to help employees identify possible job opportunities they might not have considered.

Provide flexibility in ways employees want and need it
Not surprisingly, a diverse workforce has widely varying flexibility needs. Often, providing desired flexibility will be easy, and a positive long-term arrangement. In other cases, you may need to get creative to provide an employee with some flexibility, even if you can’t meet all needs. The greater the value of the employee to the company, the more important are efforts to deliver flexibility that helps keep them with the company, productive and engaged.

What’s important as an organization is to understand the importance of employee flexibility, and be as accommodating as you can – without compromising business strategy and objectives. Optimally the organization will establish guidelines, while providing as much flexibility as possible for individual managers to be able to meet as many of their employees’ needs as possible.

Purina Square IconNestlé Purina PetCare offers flex-time for employees and an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) with free, confidential access to professional counselors trained to help with a variety of personal or family issues. Additionally, they offer unpaid sabbaticals, onsite child care, elder care resources, phased retirement planning and lactation rooms. Per “Purina Insights” (internal surveys), 72% of employees agreed with the statement: “I am able to take off time from work when I think it’s necessary.”

Facilitate personal growth
Employees seek opportunities to broaden their skills, increase their knowledge and prepare themselves for future opportunities. When employees are given the chance to learn new things and then how to apply that learning, both they and the company benefit. Offering opportunities to participate in cross-functional projects/teams and/or cross-train provides increased agility for both the employee and the company.

Mentoring is an excellent way to help employees gain additional exposure, and provide them with guidance on company culture, and how they can enhance their performance in areas important to company growth. Whether formal or informal, implementation of mentoring on a broad scale is a great way for the company to gain engagement by showing employees they care enough to put in the time and effort to mentor others.

Purina Square IconNestlé Purina PetCare offers seminars, classes and learning experiences as well as professional development technical e-learning classes for their associates. “Purina Insights” surveys show 66% of employees often or almost always experience a free and transparent exchange of ideas and information within the organization. They feel free to discuss varied topics with individuals higher on the corporate ladder, with 72% saying management is approachable and easy to talk with.

“We really want employees to explore going across functions as much as they can.”
Steve Degnan, Chief Human Resources Officer

Employer and employee relationships today are far more informal and straightforward than in very structured “corporate hierarchies” of the past. The need to make decisions far more quickly, followed swiftly by resulting actions is now more the norm than the exception.

In this work environment it’s imperative to have the best talent, and take the steps necessary to ensure these individuals are receiving frequent feedback, opportunities for growth – optimally inclusive of cross-functional assignments – with flexibility in how work gets done built in.

Those who are learning, growing, rewarded for strong performance and working in a culture where they experience true caring for them as individuals are highly engaged, provide excellent role models for others, and contribute significantly to the company’s bottom line.

Fresh Perspective
Fresh Perspective helps business leaders make key strategic decisions. We adeptly research, analyze and synthesize results to deliver only ‘need to know’ insight to leaders so they make the right decision the first time. Lisa Hays, founder and CEO, gained considerable experience from widely varied roles in large corporations. She combines her 30+ years’ experience, expertise and objective viewpoint to directly help business leaders.

Lisa Hays, Fresh Perspective, Inc.
Twitter: @Periwinkle4Lisa

Meet Lisa Hays, President/CEO