I have written a lot about the need to design our organizations around the needs of the employees. I see this as part of a digital mindset that we need to be adopting if we want our associations to thrive in the 21st century. The world has changed (permanently) and individuals expect us to run the organization and meet their needs at the same time. So we should.
That being said, I don’t want to imply that organizations should just pander to the needs of every single employee. While I like the customization and the long-overdue focus on employees, I also firmly believe organizations should have clear and intentional cultures. It’s a line in the sand, and something the organization should defend, which means ultimately it’s not an either/or of employee-first or organization-first. Instead, there should be alignment between the individuals and the organization around those cultural ideals.
So, yes, we should be supporting our individual employees to develop and grow as leaders based on their unique needs, but we must also recognize that their individual growth needs may actually grow them right out of our organization.
Zappos is getting a lot of attention for their adoption of the Holacracy system of self-management. About a year into rolling it out, they realized not every individual who worked there was really cut out for self management, so they offered three month’s severance pay to anyone who wanted to leave, and 14% of their people left. That’s cultural clarity. It’s not that those 14% were poor performers. They just didn’t align with self-management, which is a cultural pillar at Zappos. They got clear that trying to “develop” those individuals in ways that was fundamentally misaligned with where they were headed was a mistake.
We need the discipline in our organizations to get clear like that and have the tough conversations with individuals who are not aligned. It means more people need to quit, and it means more people need to be “coached out” (no one wants to say “fired” any more). These separations are a good thing. It is called “good turnover” by some of the organizations I’ve studied, and I think it’s a natural part of healthy systems.
But in associations we tend to value loyalty, even it if is blind loyalty. Just like for our members, we proudly distribute trophies for working 10, 15 or 25 years at the same organization, without ever once evaluating if there is a clear cultural alignment. We need to change this.
The first place you’ll start changing this is in your performance review system. It’s not about rating the employee as a 5 or a 4. It’s about letting them get clear on what direction they are headed in and then making sure that aligns with what the organization needs. When there is alignment, the performance of the system goes up, and that’s what “performance” reviews should be about.
How often do you talk about cultural alignment with your people? How could you integrate that into performance reviews?