Our goal is to make senior managers more accessible as they move up the management chain, to break down the walls between management and employees and get information and most importantly, ideas, flowing freely across the organisation, regardless of whether they originate from the bottom or the top.
There are a number of practices that have been put in place by many companies to increase the exposure of senior managers within an organisation and to increase interaction with staff across the organisation. Examples of this include:
- Getting senior managers to work in open plan offices with everyone else.
- Having social or informal gatherings such as breakfast briefings, company picnics, sports days, etc.
- Work shadowing, with junior staff shadowing senior managers.
- 360° reviews.
- Blogs for senior managers to express their thoughts and receive feedback.
- Mentoring and buddy schemes to facilitate communication among staff at different levels of the organisation.
However, these do not tackle fundamental issues at play, such as:
- Symbols of separation and hierarchical differences.
- Physical visibility of senior executives, especially within large organisations and multinationals.
- Minimal engagement between staff at different levels.
The solution is to do away entirely with offices for senior managers and C-suite members. Not only that, we would further suggest that these senior managers move from floor to floor, department to department and if necessary, country to country, for fixed periods of time. They need to be committed to spending a certain amount of their time at each of these locations actually at their desks, for example 10-15% of their time.
This guarantees that employees will be able to find them from time to time and that they will get good exposure and visibility within the organisation. Knowing that senior managers will be around, employees will have a chance to interact with them. And one of the requirements that could be put on the senior managers is that a certain percentage of their time has to be spent with junior members of staff. Perhaps this should even become part of the formal evaluation of all senior executives.
The benefit for the organisation is better communication between staff across the hierarchies. It not only allows staff to access senior managers but senior managers to access staff. This can be supplemented with some of the examples given earlier such as blogs, social events and informal meetings. This idea, when implemented, makes it very hard for senior managers to avoid interacting with the company and also makes it very difficult to just pay lip service to these efforts.
However, the success of this hack needs to be measured not only in terms of the increase in interactions and information flow up and down the company that it generates, but also in terms of how those translate into improved business results. Therefore, we propose the use of the following key success metrics:
- Number of ideas generated from conversations with junior staff.
- Number of times those ideas are followed-up by discussion in senior level meetings.
- Number of times those ideas are taken forward to implementation.
- Employee feedback on senior management visibility and accessibility.
- Senior management feedback on employee engagement and accessibility.
In the longer term, we would expect other positive impacts, such as:
- Increase in strength of employees’ sense of community and participation
- Increase in cross-departmental cooperation
- Increase in opportunities for internal mobility of employees
- Increase in employee retention
- Increase in employee awareness of other activities of the company
In addition to the overall benefit for the company and to the effect of extrinsic motivators such as employee feedback or performance reviews, we believe the following intrinsic motivators will also play an important part in generating the required engagement from both senior management and employees:
- Mutual Benefit: by making this initiative top-led to senior executives and above, it grants not only junior staff access to senior executives but also senior executives available to their peers and / or bosses. This open office strategy benefits all enabling senior executives to give valuable face time with senior individuals in the organisation.
- No Absentee Landlord: unless senior executives are constantly involved with staff, the wrong types of behaviours may develop at the lower levels. As part of the development of junior staff it is important for junior staff to have visible role models. This provides a better opportunity for senior executives to more closely observe their staff in their work settings and if required take action immediately rather than wait for extrinsic feedback systems.
- Active Parent: senior executives, as part of their contribution to the organisation, have a responsibility to develop junior staff. This includes supervision, nurturing and support. By allowing them to interact with junior staff in an open environment enables senior executives to better meet their people development obligations. Additional junior staff have the assurance knowing that their support network / supervisors are nearby.
- Faster Execution: senior executives that share the open plan office with their staff are more accessible to their colleagues and have a better chance to apply a hands-on management style. Employees are always visible and issues can be identified and resolved much earlier and faster by being close to the day-to-day activities.
- Greater Employee Mobility: In addition to better knowledge of company as a whole, and enlarged internal networks, this initiative
- Cost Effective: Open plan offices typically allow for better use of space and ultimately mean that more employees can be fitted into the office. There are also ancillary environmental benefits from open plan offices and shared consumption of resources (printers, lighting, etc.).
We suggest that the following for a quick experimentation of this hack:
- Middle Management First: Rather than doing this with the C-suite or top level executives to begin with, the experiment could be started at middle management level on a small scale. This would allow results to be built up and then used to convince senior managers on how useful the idea is. Middle managers may also not be too wedded to their perks and offices yet and may be more amenable to becoming the guinea pigs for this experiment.
- Transitional Phase: Rather than force senior executives out of their natural habitat, we suggest creating a transitional phase whereby we allocate shared open spaces that are optional to all levels of staff. Once individuals get comfortable with working in their new open environments, offices can be removed. As part of this transitional approach, to ‘encourage’ senior executives out of their offices it is recommended to move any phones and printers outside of the office and if possible also remove doors from offices.
- Set Test and Control Groups: it is important to baseline the organisation to determine the level of engagement and interactions that junior staff already has with senior staff, through the use of surveys. To control for cultural and company bias, we would need to separate executives in each company that we experiment on into test and control groups. The control groups would continue working in the traditional way with offices and all the perks that go with them. The test group would undertake the idea that we have espoused and do away with offices while moving around the organisation and interacting with staff. This will need to be carried out for 6-12 months to allow staff and managers to become fully exposed to the project. Feedback on the metrics mentioned above can then be gathered to assess the effectiveness of the idea.
- Align Performance Objectives: it is recommended to align senior executives’ and employees’ objectives with this initiative. This entails incorporating the metrics defined above in performance reviews, in order to measure senior executives and employee engagement.
Elena Chubarova, Satyamoorthy Kabilan, Prachi Kanvinde, Isaac Khan, Diana Sepulveda