Posts Tagged “strategic flexibility”

The 10 Keys to Building the Flexible Workplace of the Future

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(This article originally appeared in TheAtlantic.com)

In a follow-up reflection on the overwhelming response to her article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” Anne-Marie Slaughter wisely noted that we need a new framework for work and life.

She’s right. We do need a new model that moves beyond the outdated limits of “balance” and “having it all.” This approach would acknowledge the radical transformation that’s taken place at work and in our lives over the past two decades, offer greater flexibility and creativity to manage our responsibilities on and off the job, and deal with the lack of child care, eldercare, and paid family leave.

The good news is that a new, flexible work/life framework already exists in a growing number of organizations. In fact, it’s an open secret waiting to be scaled. But the challenge is how to get more organizations to try.

For the past six years, my company has worked with BDO USA, a professional services firm with 40 offices and 2500 employees across the U.S., to create and implement their award-winning work+life flexibility strategy, BDO Flex. The success of this program shows how a new approach to work and life can be tailored to the needs of a business and its people. It also shows how to avoid the common mistakes that turn well-intentioned policies into feel-good window dressing.

Here are 10 ways to avoid the common traps and adopt a new, more flexible framework:

Make the goal work+life “fit,” not balance. One of the first steps in the BDO Flex process was to update the language. How do you describe what individuals want to achieve with flexibility so that it reflects the realities of a professional services firm with international clients and periods every year when the workload increases? Having a consistent “balance” may be impossible, but you could manage your unique work+life fit in a way that met your needs and the needs of the firm.

Recognize that work+life fit is an issue for everyone, not just women and parents. Initially, the perception of BDO USA senior leadership was that the firm needed greater work+life flexibility primarily to attract and retain women. This is the belief in many organizations. However, when an internal survey found that the men and the single people at the firm were having more trouble managing their work and life than the women and those who were married, they quickly reset the focus of BDO Flex. Everyone needed the flexibility to manage their work+life fit.

Base work+life flexibility on an employee-employer partnership. A one-size-fits-all policy or program administered unilaterally from the top-down by a manager or HR will have limited success. From the beginning, it was clear that for BDO Flex to succeed, leaders, managers, employees and HR would all play a role in an active partnership that created flexible work solutions based on the unique needs of a particular business line and its people. (For more, click here to go to TheAtlantic.com)

6 Ways to Promote Work Flexibility Culture Change

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Our client, the professional services firm BDO, recently produced a short video about their award-winning approach to work and life flexibility.  Here are the six lessons every organization can takeaway from the clip to help better position flexible work as part of the culture, or the way the business and people operate every day:

Lesson 1: Language matters. BDO Flex is a “strategy.”  It’s about getting work done, serving clients, and managing people.  It’s not a program or policy.  There are policies to support various aspects of the strategy (e.g. compensation, telework equipment) but “flexibility” itself is not a policy.  There are programs that use BDO Flex, but “flexibility” is not a program.

Lesson 2: The employee AND the business must succeed for flexibility to work. All of the stories and key themes in the video reinforce the point of “dual” benefit and impact:

  • ReThink–The possibilities are endless
  • ReFresh–You work hard. Use Flex to recharge
  • ReDefine–Don’t accept business as usual
  • ReDiscover–Don’t lose sight of your dreams
  • ReAssure–Small changes can make a big impact

Lesson 3: Take the time and invest the resources to create a shared vision of success that anchors the strategy. It took months for the firm to create the “BDO Thrives on Flexibility” vision statement, but that process changed hearts and minds and created a shared understanding which moved the culture.

Lesson 4: Flexibility is not just about formal flexible work arrangements. It’s about both formal and informal, day-to-day flexibility in how, when and where you work and manage your life. It’s not an “arrangement,” but a well thought out plan tailored to meet your unique needs and the needs of the business.

Lesson 5: Men and women want and use work flexibility. Work flexibility is not a women’s issue.  It’s a strategy to help all people fit the unique pieces of their lives together in a competitive, hectic, global economy and for businesses to work smarter and better.

Lesson 6: Flexibility is not about child care only. Yes, parents absolutely need to work flexibly; however, as the video shows so do employees who have spouses who relocate, who have a passion for ballroom dancing or cartoon drawing, and who want to stay healthy.  And it’s for leaders who want to reduce the level of employee burnout and service clients better.

What other lessons did you learn from watching how one organization is talking about and positioning strategic flexibility in their business?  What is your organization doing?

If you haven’t already, I invite you to connect with me on Twitter @caliyost!

The Strategic Use of Flexibility (NEW Article in Talent Management Magazine)

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(This article appears in the October, 2011 issue of Talent Management Magazine and was co-authored with one of my Flex+Strategy Group partners, Donna Miller)

As the dust settles from the Great Recession and a new economic reality emerges, businesses are beginning to take a hard look at how they can manage their talent for maximum business impact. The urgency to review and rethink is driven by leaner headcounts, larger workloads and greater stress as technology and globalization.  These trends erased the traditional lines between work and life. The result is a shift in expectations about how to manage responsibilities on and off the job. Businesses are moving beyond the traditional one-size-fits-all model of work and career and taking a more strategic, flexible approach.

Since 2007, Work+Life Fit Inc. and Opinion Research Corp. have conducted a biennial national study to track the state of work-life flexibility from the employees’ perspective. The results of the 2011 Work+Life Fit Reality Check study confirm that new, flexible ways of working have gained traction since 2007. However, organizations need to do more. Helping employees manage the way work fits into their lives and organizations’ profits and growth plans in a transformed economy will require making flexibility — informal and formal telework, flexible hours, reduced schedules and compressed work weeks — an integral part of the operating business model and culture.

Traditionally, that meant writing a policy or training managers. But strategic flexibility requires dedicating people, time and money to a coordinated culture change process — one that clearly defines a business’ unique rationale for greater flexibility, establishes a shared vision of how managers and employees will use it and executes with relentless communication.

(Click here for more)

Strategic Flex and the Weather–Will You Be Open for Business Tomorrow?

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(I’m watching the path of hurricane Irene from my book writing cave. and praying for the best.  I want to ask business leaders the same question I did in February 2010 as a blizzard approached–will you strategically use telework to stay open and not ask employees to risk harm to get to work?  Or will you have to close down?  Here’s the original Fast Company post.)

As we brace for the second wave snowstorm bearing down on the East Coast, I’m remembering an experience I had a few years ago at a major pharmaceutical company widely recognized for their work+life strategy.

As I presented a series of Work+Life Fit seminars to the employees and managers, snow began to fall.  On that particular day, I was scheduled to facilitate one session in the morning and another after lunch.  Midway through the afternoon session, a few inches of snow had accumulated and you could tell people were anxious to get on the road.  Then the most amazing thing happened…

A number of managers in the room stood up and asked their team members to meet them in a group.  As the various teams gathered, you could hear everyone sharing how they planned to work the next day.  Some would work remotely, others thought they’d wait until after rush hour and come in later, and a couple planned to take personal days if they couldn’t find child care for their very young children.

As the teams reached agreement and dispersed, the managers gathered together and opened their laptops in a circle and began to coordinate with each other.  How would they conduct meetings that were scheduled?  Some decided to cancel meetings while others converted theirs to webinars.  One manager who oversaw a manufacturing facility sent emails to the plant foreman flexibly coordinating the staffing for the next day.

I watched in awe.  Finally, the manufacturing manager saw my faced and asked me, ‘’Why are you smiling and shaking your head?”  At this point, all of the managers in the room looked up.  I responded, “Do you realize how much money you are saving by flexibly coordinating tomorrow’s work in anticipation of the snow?”  You could tell they were a bit confused.

They didn’t see what they were doing as unusual.  It’s how they flexibly managed their business and in their culture.  So I pointed out, “See your competitor down the street?  Do they use flexibility as easily and strategically as you do to maintain operating continuity even if it snows?”  Another manager said, “No they don’t.”  I continued, “Okay, so who’s open for business tomorrow and who isn’t?”  Now they were smiling and shaking their heads, “We are.”

This group of managers knew that their company supported flexibility, but it was the first time they consciously realized how they were using it to meet a business need–staying open when nature strikes!

What about you and your organization?  Will you be open for business, or not?  Are you having coordinated conversations today about how everyone plans to work tomorrow, or if they plan to work?  Or will you just take your chances?

United Nations Interview–Strategic Flex “How to,” Work+Life Fit Defined…and More

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I want to thank my friend, Aparna Mehrotra, the Focal Point for Women at The United Nations for asking me to share my thoughts on a wide range of flexibility and work+life fit related topics in the most recent issue of the UN Women’s Newsletter.   In her role at the UN, Aparna is committed to advancing the strategic application of flexibility both within the organization and beyond.

Here are some of the questions that I answer in the interview:

  • What are the three principal achievements we’ve accomplished and the three principal challenges we face in our work?
  • What is work+life “fit,” and how have I applied it in my own life?
  • What are some of the main issues facing working women in leadership positions in the private sector?
  • What are the characteristics of the emerging workforce that make flexibility essential?
  • How do you combat ongoing skepticism about the benefits of flexibility to an organization?
  • Recognizing that policies alone have limited impact, how do you improve implementation of flexibility?

Are there other questions that you wish I’d discussed about work+life fit and how to make flexibility real and more strategic?   Let me know either in the comments or in our NEW “Make Flexibility Real” LinkedIn group.

Fast Company: How Millennials Are an Untapped Treasure for Business

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Somehow last week turned into a spontaneous celebration of the potential within the Gen-Y/Millennial generation that’s just waiting to be fully tapped. Everywhere I turned, articles, conversations, and presentations reaffirmed my belief that we need to move past the intergenerational finger-pointing and harness the good, albeit different, approaches to work and life that the Gen-Y/Millennial generation offers.

Because it’s their inherent flexibility, openness, and communication skills that hold the key to future success in business and life for all of us, if carefully mined.

It started when I read an article in this month’s Fast Company magazine by Nancy Lublin, CEO (and self-described “Chief Old Person”) of Do Something entitled, “In Defense of Millennials.” As an employer of 19 full-time millennial staffers, Lublin shared how she flips the common complaints lodged against the generation on end and makes them into a positive:

Compliant #1–they multi-task: Lublin agrees that they do, and often not with great success but that isn’t going to change. So, instead, “I see my role as defining a clear goal, giving her the resources to take the shot, and then getting out of her way while she takes the dunk.”
Complaint #2–they share too much information on their social networks: Lublin sees it as, “Free advertising.”
Complaint #3–they are entitled: Lublin believes it makes them hungry for responsibility and she gives it to them.
Complaint #4–they require too much praise: Lublin feels that we all need more praise, so gives it freely.

But it’s the last paragraph in which she wonders, “Maybe the real problem isn’t this generation–maybe it’s that the rest of us don’t manage them for greatness, for maximum effect,” that rang in my ears when I met with a terrific senior leader last week.

We met for lunch prior to a work+life fit strategy session I facilitated for his group. I asked him, “So how have you found working with the millennial employees in your organization?” He smiled and proceeded to share the following story that perfectly illustrated their power to get things done when we guide and let them, (Click here for more)

Why NPR’s Segment Is Really About “Employers Make Room for Strategic Flexibility” (Not Work-Life Balance)

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Like many, I let out a little cheer whenever a mainstream media outlet discusses the realities of managing work and life in our new work+life flex normal.   But I am consistently amazed how the real story is often lost behind the traditional language and mindset that’s not kept pace with reality.  The first segment of NPRs three part series, “More Employers Make Room for Work-Life Balance,” is an interesting case in point.

First let me join the chorus of those high fiving NPR for covering the topic!  It’s important.  But it’s also another missed opportunity to update the way we think about work and life, and position flexibility as a strategic imperative for employers and individuals.

Let’s deconstruct, update and reframe the important themes from the first segment…

Theme #1:  It’s About Strategic Flexibility

While the employer interviewed at the beginning of the NPR segment sounds like a very nice person, her real motivation for offering flexibility is that, “People who have lives are much better workers.”   Her focus wasn’t on her employees’ individual work+life fit realities (that’s not her concern), it was on the outcomes—more productivity and retention.  And those outcomes are achieved by offering flexibility, not a particular work-life “balance.”

Why it matters: Our employers can’t give us work-life balance.  All they can do is create a flexible culture and operating model that lets us manage our unique work+life fit in a way that meets our needs and the needs of the business.  No matter how nice an employer might be, there must be a strategic business imperative behind any flexibility or it will be unsustainable.

Also, the business impacts should be as broad and deep as possible up front and go beyond individual work+life fit.  Same flexibility, multiple business and individual benefits that can include working smarter, servicing clients better, managing global teams, disaster preparedness, controlling operating costs, etc.

Theme #2: It’s a Process That Considers the Unique Realities of the Individual, Job and Business

The flexibility discussed in the segment and in the accompanying SHRM study is referred to as a “policy,” or a “benefit.”  But really it’s a process that flexibly adjusts how, when and where work is done.

Every person interviewed in the segment had a different work+life fit that they achieved for distinct reasons.  And their jobs uniquely supported the type of flexibility they pursued.  The only way to determine what type of flexibility is going to work for a particular person and a specific job is through a process that supports the analysis.  Not a check-the-box benefit.

People say, “But what about consistency?”  Consistency comes from having access to the same process to analyze your unique realities and come up with a plan that’s going to work for you and your job.  A good analogy is the compensation.  Same process.  Different inputs.  Unique raises and bonuses.

Guaranteeing the same type of flexibility for everyone with a one-size-fits all policy sounds fair, but doesn’t work.   As the NRP segment notes:  Not every person wants every type of flexibility.  Not every job supports all types of flexibility.  And not every type of flexibility fits neatly into the standard, rigid flexible work options.  What about the person who telecommutes once a week and shifts his or her hours?  Is that two different options or one tailored flexible plan?

Additionally, not every business can accommodate a results-only work environment where there are no hours, and no set meetings.  Again, focusing on results and not face-time is a very important objective, but how an organization gets there in terms of strategic flexibility will look different for each business.

Why it matters: The NPR segment accurately noted, “Experts caution that many flex-work programs appear more generous on paper than in practice.”  I agree.  As long as flexibility is a benefit or policy, it will continue to sit on a website outside of the day-to-day operations.  It will look nice and sound good, but will have limited impact.

The only way flexibility will ever become a real, meaningful part of every employer’s operating model is if it is a tailored, process-based strategy that is developed by the employees and leaders of a particular business.

Theme #3:  It’s a Work+Life Flexibility Revolution

I agree with Phyllis Moen, the highly regarded sociologist quoted in the segment, “We are in the middle of something like an industrial revolution.”  But it’s not a “work-time revolution.”  It’s a work+life flexibility revolution.

Why it matters: We need to shift our mindset and language to acknowledge that work and life are one in the same.   We can’t talk about a revolution in work-time without acknowledging a related and reciprocal revolution in how we manage our time outside of work.   And it’s not just about time.  Yes, there’s an increased need for flexibility in the hours that we work, but there also needs to be flexibility in how we work, and where we work.  Taken together it’s a work+life flexibility revolution.

The deconstructed, updated and reframed takeaways from the first segment of NPR’s three part series are: It’s about strategic flexibility based on a tailored process that considers the needs of the individual, job and business.  And it’s part of a work+life flexibility revolution. Now, let’s see if the remaining segments hit these points more directly.  Here’s hoping!

One last interesting point.  NPR uses the SHRM study of “Flexible Working Benefits Offered By Some U.S. Companies” as supporting data.   However…

  1. Missing from the SHRM study’s list are reduced schedules and day-to-day flexibility.  These are two important types of flexibility that should be part of any organization’s strategy, and
  2. Considering the fact that work+life flexibility is essentially missing from SHRM national conference agenda, how can its research offer a path to a more strategic, forward-thinking conversation about flexibility?  Just a question.

What do you think?  Why don’t we update our language and approach to work and life and flexibility to be more strategic?  Do you think it matters?  Why?

Join me! I will appear live on Friday, March 19th at 4:00 pm ET/ 1:00 pm PST on Maggie Mistal’s radio show on the Martha Stewart Radio Network Sirius 112/ XM 157.  Topic:  How to Manage Your Work+Life Fit Heading Back to Work After a Layoff. Click here to sign up for a free 7 day trial of Sirius/XM and listen.