The employee is in the driving seat

In the last few years there has been a lot of debate about the use of the notion of accountability in business.

Discussions on accountability tend to focus on processes that support or account for performance.

Personally, I think sometimes we miss an important dimension of accountability, which is rendering it meaningless – the notion of accountability “to whom” and here’s where I argue the notion of “accountability to self”. At Sodexo, we have built this idea into our approach to development, engagement and performance, giving employees the framework in which to own their performance and contribution to the business and empowering them to be in the driver’s seat of their personal development..

You may have heard the expression “you can lead the horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” and that’s entirely true. You can create the most incredible workplace, reward processes and development programs, but if they don’t resonate with the employee and what they need to be successful, or the employee has no control or accountability for these experiences, the investment will not bring the intended return.

This is a significant shift for organisations who typically have carried accountability for employee experience and performance. Consider the classic engagement surveys; once the results were in the next steps typically have been to create action plans, improve reward structures, set up social groups and so on. For the most part, these activities are led by the organisation. In some organisations these surveys lead to additional listening forums and then the action plans, but always with the sense that the outcome is owned by the organisation. In this context, employee accountability is demonstrated by either being a passenger on the ‘bus’ or choosing to step off and take a different route.

While I argue that employee accountability is key to performance and experience that doesn’t mean the organisation doesn’t have a significant role to play in creating the context and framework within which individual can succeed. At Sodexo, we want employees to feel empowered and ultimately accountable for their own success and destiny, so what does that mean for the organisational development function?

Here’s the approach we are taking:

  1. The first step was to understand the personas that drive the culture and success of our organisation and then create experiences to align with their needs. When we worked to redefine our approach to performance and talent, of course, the organisational outcomes were central to our thinking, but that thinking was a collaborative effort involving more than 300 employees who represented the diversity of our business. Admittedly, we were surprised by what they described as their needs and we would not have had that same insight had it not been for the crowd-thinking approach. This inspired a move from annual to ongoing, employee-led multi-dimensional conversations, which are developmentally focused, anchored in feedback and balance the What and the How. Change can be difficult, but it is easier when there is buy-in and involvement with the creation of the philosophy and people can clearly understand “what’s in it for me”.
  2. The next step in our methodology was to provide clarity on the roles and responsibilities of individual, managers and ‘the organisation’. For Sodexo that meant stating and reinforcing that the employee is in the driving seat; the organisation creates the framework in which to operate, but the employee selects their experiences and chooses how they respond to them. And when we say the employee is in the driving seat, that means they take ownership for setting their own objectives, within the framework of our company strategy; they take ownership for the frequency and rhythm of conversations with their manager; and they take ownership for their development plans based on transparency around the skills and competencies required to progress into more senior or different roles. As with most development functions we’ve moved from the organisation (manager or HR) defining an employee’s learning plan. There will always be role-based learning that needs completing, but it’s important to balance that with development that supports the individual to grow at their pace and in alignment with their own goals. This has been a gradual transition for us globally, with different countries, regulations and works council relationships, for example, defining the pace, but through opening up our approach we see a number of benefits. Firstly and simply we allow each of our employees to be themselves and manage their time as appropriate to support their own learning. Secondly this brings great opportunity to create engagement, belonging and a sense that the organisation truly believes in each person’s potential to grow, if they wish to do so.
  3. Finally, we use data to enable performance and personal growth rather than correct and bridge deficits.  How many times have you started watching a series on Netflix because it knew you’d watched something else? The algorithm is able to make suggestions based on your previous viewing habits, taking the guess work out of the choices you make. When we look at our engagement scores we see that individuals have been waiting for the organisation to help them grow; they have not been satisfied with the growth they are achieving. Our new approach is to ask people whether they know how they can grow their own career rather than their satisfaction with how the organisation grows them. We use this data to continue to measure how we are delivering on our commitment to provide a framework for individuals to thrive.

We’re only at the beginning of this journey. Our approach to all things is that our employees are in the driving seat and can create their own success… and be rewarded for that success and contribution to the business performance. We provide an environment in which employees can help to drive their own engagement and contribute to the solution. They can rate learning content so others can benefit from the collective wisdom and feedback and proactively share feedback with others.

Like any change it will take time, but for now our philosophy is set and the first steps have been taken. We are working to respond to our employees as insightful consumers, who choose the experience they want, vote with their voices and ultimately will succeed whether thanks to us or in spite of us. Let’s hope it’s the former!

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