The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Employee retention

Mark Mortensen and Amy C. Edmondson sought to understand what organizations should change to not only gain but also retain employees. From this interesting research, they developed the proposal of an employee value proposition.

They developed a matrix. It uses one axis describing short- and long-term as well as another axis highlighting individual and collective areas of impact. The four quadrants build a system.

The first quadrant in their matrix focuses on material offerings. It described the things employees will think of and ask for when they join an organization. It is what is on their mind at that moment. But, as with most such offerings, once it is owned it is quickly forgotten. They are the ones people most easily can compare organizations by. They may not all be needed, but when they are not given, there is a chance that employees will point at what other organizations offer.

The next thing, employees will look for, are opportunities for growth and development. It is the quadrant looking at the long term for an individual. These opportunities should be aligned with the possibilities the organization perceives for individuals. It relates to their possible careers as well as shifts in their responsibility.

On the collective side of the employee value proposition, one will find the elements of “Connection and Community” as well as “Meaning and Purpose.”

Remote work has become established. But it doesn’t always solve the individual’s desire for connection and community. The time has come when individuals start to search for ways to feel a connection with their organization as well as the community, they are in. Different employers will find different solutions. Most of them learn that they cannot operate well without providing adequate solutions. While virtual connections will be useful, they can’t replace the possibility to connect in person. A lot of people now find value in coming back to the office if they experience the community.

The last quadrant “meaning and purpose” build on the long term. Like all the other quadrants, it can be influenced by others as well as influence the other quadrants. This quadrant links with the meaning people give to their work and the purpose they had in mind when they joined the organization. It needs to be aligned with what the organization does and how it implements it. It helps when the organization can name them. However, when people join an organization, they come up with their idea of this organization. It usually includes an idea of how it can change the local or global society.

Once these four quadrants become interdependent, they can support one another.

People can, for example, take a different perspective on material offerings. If there is no reason to come to the office, people will not be interested in what it feels like. But, if coming to the office is there to contribute to the community, people will cherish an office that eases doing that.

Whenever one of the four quadrants is used in isolation, they may develop a life of their own and transform the culture into a toxic one.

UNICEF experienced this with their purpose of “results at all costs.” It is a very powerful purpose whenever applied to the results to be accomplished. But failing to integrate it, into the way people worked for UNICEF, led to individuals forgetting the collective they worked with. Having such a focus seemed to be aligned with their purpose, but it was actually disruptive of it. Individuals didn’t pay attention to the inner working of the organization. They forgot that it remained essential for them to work together as teams.


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