You’re Hired And It’s Mutual: 5 Ways Employee Culture Is Great For Leaders

In the world of work, there’s a new type of relationship agreement to be forged — a win-win built on trust between employer and employee that reflects a clear shift in workplace and social media culture. It’s mutually productive, an entirely different way of viewing work, and it should form the core of your new talent strategy. I’ve come to this conclusion based on two disparate poles in talent strategy making news: one encouraging, one discouraging. I’ve been accustomed to this wacky weekly swing lately.

On the plus side is The Alliance, the groundbreaking new book by Reid Hoffman (co-founder and CEO of LinkedIn), Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh, which I like quite a bit, as it maps out this vital talent and culture retooling in a refreshingly clear way. On the minus side: Black Friday, 2014: a day marked not only by bargain frenzy, but a nationwide Walmart workers’ strike. With live Tweets, hashtags and dedicated Facebook pages, the retail giant’s taken it on the chin, and such sustained mobile coverage stains the corporate and employer brand image — from one about value for consumers to one about not valuing its workers. This is bad news for sure.

Wherever you stand, that’s a crystalline example of employer / employee relations at their worst, played out in realtime in the public eye. In this highly mobile, social networked world, such conflicts can wreak a whole new kind of negative on a company’s brand. It underscores just how much the world of work has changed.

Back to the bright side: There’s a new paradigm between leaders and staff, company and talent. With yesterday’s lifetime employee contract overtaken by downsizing and layoffs, employees need to sustain their own careers, shifting loyalty back to themselves and focusing on their own personal brand. I can’t over stress this change in workplace culture. It’s been happening for a few years now. How does a company work build and retain this talent, and continue to get the best of its employees? To borrow from AppleThink Different. For leaders and employees alike – It’s all about recognizing, celebrating, and joining this clear cultural shift. It’s about being part of something bigger than yourself – I call this culture.

Here are five steps I want all leaders, employees and all of us to grab a hold of right now:

1) It’s not a hire. It’s an alliance. Shift your vision from ladder to lateral. The companies that will come out ahead in this hyper-mobile, hyper-networked world are those that can build true alliances between leaders and employees. That means open, honest, and mutually beneficial. 

2) Retool the culture into one of trust. Like transparency, trust is a term whose buzz can obscure its clarity, but I’m talking active, tangible trust. Company leaders need to empower employees to build those personal brands and expand their professional networks — in a way that ensures that those activities also benefit the company. Make it clear: you trust them to work on their own career; they trust you to enable them to keep growing and innovating within your company. In our new workplace culture this is the glue that keeps us together.

3) Create a workplace based on cross-empowerment. The new world of work — multigenerational and globally connected — offers infinite ways to mentor. With older and younger generations all in it together, each having their own skills and experience, there are unprecedented opportunities for each to empower the other through mentoring and reverse mentoring.

4) Lead with Open Arms. A critical change in workplace culture is the definition of employee: the company-man is extinct. Free agents fill this fluid, intensely competitive talent market. Strategic advantage will be gained by those who can not only hire, but retain talent — with leadership that recognizes employee sovereignty, and can find a way to capitalize on it.

5) Make a social contract. Hoffman and his coauthors helpfully delineate LinkedIn’s own approach to hiring, which I find to be a promising talent matrix: you’re hired for a period of time — a matter of years — for a “tour of duty” with clearcut missions and goals on both sides. I’d recommend that all facets of the hire, including onboarding, work from this concept. Based on honest conversations, it’s an authentic relationship that can foster not only productivity, but also returns, as employees recall their positive experience and come back for another stint.

What’s happening now is the New World of Work, 3.0: Smart companies are innovating real solutions to attracting, managing and retaining talent that match the new workplace culture, not clash with it. It’s exactly what we need. There’s enough negativity and employee disengagement out there already. Change is good for all of us.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.

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