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Organisational culture

Looking Sideways and Down

25 June 2019

When looking at how operations management is evolving, it seems that some of the more innovative companies follow an organisational design akin to the Netflix model of “highly aligned, loosely coupled” i.e. that all employees have a very clear understanding of what the company wants to achieve and how they can help the organisation to achieve it (highly aligned), but that the organisation gives them the space they need to create and innovate (loosely coupled). They “look up” often, both in terms of making sure that the work that they are doing is in keeping with the companies vision set by the top but also in terms of not being too distracted by the day to day, looking around and trying new things. The success of this approach is very dependent on the people that you employ in your organisation however. 

Once you’ve created the right environment for people to flourish, designed the system to help the employee – not hinder, you need to really look after the people that are fantastic and remove the people that aren’t.  One of the best ways to go about achieving this is to ensure that your recruitment strategy is extremely thorough. 

Organisations like Netflix and Spotify take hiring new members of staff very seriously. It’s quite common for them to have multiple stages to their recruitment process, encouraging staff members to interact with the potential candidate to determine whether they’d be the ‘right fit’, numerous tests to be passed whether it’s a live coding challenge or team scenario solving, written assessments, multiple interviews, profiling and assessment centres.  As hard as you try to ensure the right people join, you never really know until you know, through lived experience. 

Recently, there have been a few fun ‘recruitment hacks’ doing the rounds on Twitter and Linked In – for example, in a job interview, does the person leave their coffee cup on the table, or take it with them? Leave it, and you don’t care about others, you’re not focused on detail and you obviously think a tad too highly of yourself. Hire the person that takes their cup away, who asks where they could wash it up, they’re the sort of person you want working for you! I’m confident that I’m a ‘take my coffee cup with me’ kind of girl but another example was where a boss concocted a ‘whilst you’re here, can you help us move the office furniture a moment?’ ruse. How would I react in that scenario? I think I’d probably attempt to chip in but I would definitely be pulling the ‘what on actual earth?!’ face. (My face is often my enemy, simply unable to hide what I am thinking). I probably wouldn’t be receiving a positive phonecall immediately afterwards. 

This article suggests that such ploys aren’t a great way of selecting new members of staff, and I get that, but I have to say, I wish that there were more reliable ‘hacks’ to expose employee traits within the workplace.  One of my frustrations are people who are indeed amazing at ‘looking up’, but not so fantastic at looking sideways or down.  They deliver amazing things to their superiors and are rewarded as a result, but they aren’t so easy to work with if they don’t work for you. They’d rather invest their time in that upwards trajectory than dealing with you and your needs and to be fair to them, it works, for them.  In my experience however, simply looking upwards isn’t how great organisations are built.

Yes, everyone needs to be highly aligned and looking upwards towards the C-Suite’s vision, but delivering that vision involves collaboration and that’s often what’s lacking in organisations, particularly hierarchical ones. Collaboration involves sideways and down, as well as up.  It’s the kind of spirit that the coffee cup challenge is trying to uncover, but perhaps not reliably enough to employ as a genuine recruiting tactic. 

So, if not dirty coffee cups, what could an employer do to look for collaborative traits in a new recruit? Thinking about interviews I’ve been part of and interviews I’ve led, we often focus on trying to better understand if candidates are able to elevate their approach to deal with Executives and very Senior Academics. Do they have the skills and diplomacy needed to engage with and look after these important customer groups?  I don’t think that I’ve ever asked “Have you helped someone in work that you didn’t have to and how? What have you done to make colleagues’ work better and easier? Have you helped anyone else’s career to flourish other than your own?”

Perhaps these lines of questions could illicit some answers akin to the coffee cup challenge? People that go above and beyond to improve and make things better.  I long for cultures of helpfulness within organisations. They can achieve so much. Shock horror, they can even be more powerful than lean!  I’ll be trying to look for helpfulness upwards, sideways and down within my next recruit and I hope that you will too.