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What the Rise of the Individual Means to Your Business

“Companies with a strong mission and purpose outperformed the S&P 500 by 8-fold over a 20 year period,” says Deloitte/Bersin in their 2018 report, “The Rise of the Individual in the Future of Work.” These companies, they say, have “soul.” Who would have thought, until now, that we’d think of a company as having a soul and what does that mean? I would venture to say that in these companies every employee matters in a culture that values purpose, passion, character, collaboration and respect for the individual. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what employees say they want, and more.

A company is, after all, a collection of individuals—and always has been. We just haven’t recognized it before. Historically, mandates came down from above along with rules about even the smallest of things, like the classic example of IBM not allowing anything but white shirts for men. Today’s young workers demand something entirely different; they want their individual needs, growth, and interests addressed and they’ll use their power in the marketplace to force change. Older employees are jumping on this bandwagon too. Companies that want to attract and retain the best people need to become more like the best companies.

The road to becoming one of the best begins with a deep look inside the walls of your company as well as into the wider world to understand what engages employees and what concerns them. Making the necessary changes to meet today’s workplace expectations will increase your financial outcomes. Ignoring them could mean a hit to your reputation on social media by a single unhappy individual, whether candidate, employee, or customer.

What to look for in the soul of your company

With the individual becoming paramount, companies need to navigate a range of employee needs and expectations to identify ways they can offer employees customized experiences.

Following is a list of the major things today’s multi-generational workforce says they pay attention to when deciding where to work or whether they’ll stay. As you look into your company’s soul, rate your culture on these factors to better understand where you are now and where you need to be:

• Purpose and mission
• Recognition-rich culture and strong values
• Meaningful work and the autonomy to do it
• A flexible, healthy, and humane work environment that’s diverse, inclusive, and collaborative
• Trusted and inspirational leadership developed through transparency, communication, and investment in people
• Hands-on management committed to goal setting; coaching and frequent feedback; and professional and leadership development
• Reskilling and upskilling opportunities and a say in defining their own development plans
• Freedom and space to explore and innovate
• Project/team orientation rather than hierarchy
• Work assigned based on expertise rather than job descriptions and titles
• Respect as an individual rather than treated as a resource
• Regular check-ins and feedback in all directions
• Frequent review of compensation
• Use of data to measure performance
• Work-life balance

If you figure all of this out and apply it in your own unique way, and it’s a lot to consider, you can transform your company into a “simply irresistible organization” and crush your competition.

A ladder yesterday—today a swing

Employees used to climb the corporate ladder, usually over decades of employment with the same company, before retiring with a pension and gold watch. Today, the median tenure is 4.2 years (less for younger generations), as people swing from job to job looking for a better work environment—or just because they can in this fierce talent market.

As Bersin puts it: “Individuals are telling employers, ‘I’m not going to take it anymore.’” What they can’t take may be what you offer. Take an honest look at your culture and values; listen to your employees; and shift your thinking to our new reality, individualism. Repeat this process annually and all boats will rise.

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