The South African workforce is faced with a myriad of challenges which places immense pressure on both employees and employers, the pressure to remain relevant and competitive in a demanding economic environment. We are bombarded with messages about embracing the fourth industrial revolution, corruption and announcements of retrenchments within major corporations. These challenges not only affect employees but also make their families and communities unsettled. Those in the unemployment line are left hopeless. These challenges breathe uncertainty for everyone.
With these pressures comes an expectation from employers that employees should do more and be the best at what they do. For savvy employees who are ahead of the curve; the ones who work on their personal brand, invest in their professional development with or without the support of their employer, the ones who stay on top of industry trends – these savvy employees are not caving under these pressures.
Due to this new breed of fearless employees, time is running out for employers who have for decades used fear-based strategies to get more out of their employees without increasing their salary. These fearless employees don’t accept this unreasonable and unfair treatment and they confront leaders, daring to ask the difficult questions even if they risk being victimised and discriminated against within the workplace by the management and leadership of the company.
It may seem like these employees are in the minority, but they are slowly and surely making their voices heard and known within their organisations and within their industries. Few leaders are ready to hear and act appropriately on what these brave and fearless employees have to say.
Where do these fearless employees get the grit in such tough economic times? Savvy employees know that to survive and thrive they must rely on themselves and that means not solely relying on their employer to be their source of income and professional reference. Savvy employees prepare for uncertain times and that means being known as professionals outside of their organisation.
The increase in employee strikes across South Africa, even in some rather surprising industries is a strong indicator that this new breed of employees is in even greater numbers than anticipated.
And unfortunately, for those organisations who have tried their best to avoid making the kind of employee appointments where the employee’s profile screamed ‘rebel’, the choice is no longer theirs. The success of their company depends on hiring those rebels because when it comes to innovation, rebels always rule. And to be profitable companies must constantly innovate.
Here’s how organisations can prepare themselves for this new generation of fearless employees?
1. Get rid of the age-old HR policies
Treat your employees like adults, with the decency and respect they deserve. Start with assessing your human resource policies and ask yourself whether you would feel demeaned if you were not an executive at that company. Be honest. If your answer is yes, then these policies need to be rewritten and republished and quickly. Things don’t have to be done the way they were always done, just like your business needs to embrace changes in technology to better serve their customers, HR policies must simultaneously be amended to ensure they are still relevant in your changing business environment.
2. Get rid of the top-down leadership approach
The leader-follower approach should be dead as far as I am concerned. You don’t need to have the title ‘manager’ or ‘director’ to be a leader, because leaders should be followers too and many times the so-called followers take the lead because if they didn’t, no work would get done. As a manager or director, you should assume the role of a facilitator. Connect the dots, bring great minds and great people together, create a space where creativity and innovation is possible so that the team can deliver excellent results. Facilitation should be your main role. Allow your people to flourish; for them to choose to follow or to lead when appropriate.
3. Let your professionals be specialists
If you’re cutting costs and scaling down with retrenchments, then make sure you also scale down on your workload. You cannot cut resources and expect the same results with fewer people. Focus on what is the most important products or services in your business. Which products and services produce the desired results and revenue for your business and require the least resources? Then let your remaining staff focus on developing or improving those products and services that show the greatest return. Let your professionals specialise, because that is the only way they will create, innovate and deliver the results you need.
4. Stop the 'us and them' power trip
It is expected that once you assume a leadership role, that you will have certain privileges. However, when you constantly boast about those privileges in front of employees and mention it with the aim to show distinction, then you lose their respect. This kind of power trip demotivates employees and this generation of fearless employees have no respect for leaders who value things and status more than people. Without respect, employees won’t trust leaders. You can’t operate at your optimum level as a leader if you don’t have the people in your team who fill the support roles, and fulfil those roles superbly. One level of employment is not better than the other, it is simply a different level of requirement to attain ultimate success.
It’s not enough to upgrade your technology and even your people to remain competitive, you need to upgrade the way you manage, lead and communicate with your employees. It’s important to assess your human resources policies, and management and leadership practices to ensure that you are ready to embrace the future, remain competitive and inspire your employees to bring their best selves to work. This is the only way your business will continue to innovate and remain relevant in this tough economic climate.