We’re currently in the midst of what people are calling, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
Unlike the last three, this one is characterized by a fusing of the digital, physical, and biological. Essentially, we’ve incorporated machines into virtually everything we do, so things in the business world are moving at lightning speed. Technology has led to a transformation in the way we work, the jobs we deem important, and the skills employers look for in the people they hire.
In an attempt to glean some insights about this rapidly evolving state of work, Slack created their “State of Work” report — an aptly-named collaborative study with GlobalWebIndex that was published last month. According to this report, by 2021, the necessary core traits for the average job will have changed by 42%.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Slack’s “State of Work” report is less concerned about the speed of change and more concerned with what companies can do in order to thrive in it.
The consensus? Alignment. Ensuring that everyone at your company is on the same page, both on a strategic level and a cultural one.
The report is a reminder that true alignment is easier said than done, especially since employees are using more apps than ever before and countless businesses are operating on global levels. Still, if you want to stay competitive, open communication and widespread understanding should be your top priorities.
That’s because alignment isn’t just the key to flourishing in an ever-changing business world — according to Slack, it’s also the key to keeping your employees happy and invested in your company’s success.
And I couldn’t agree more. At Karbon, alignment has been a top priority since day one. Not only in how we operate as a team, but also in the solution that we have built. A solution that is designed specifically to meet many of the exact needs outlined in the report, and help accounting firms all over the world better align their teams.
The “State of Work” report surveyed 17,000 workers from all different age groups, countries, industries, and hierarchical roles. It then broke them down into two main categories: aligned workers and unaligned workers.
Basically, aligned workers understood their companies’ strategies and resonated with their mission. Unaligned workers did not.
Believe it or not, this single factor had a massive impact on employees’ performance and contentment levels across the board. Aligned workers felt 53% more empowered to make strategic decisions. They were also 57% more likely to utilize tools and systems for adaptation and 47% better at understanding exactly what they needed to do in order to be successful in their roles.
Per the report, “By opting for strategies that promote alignment, companies benefit from a cascade of other effects, including more engaged and empowered workers.” The opposite is also true. Strategies that derail alignment tend to correlate with demotivated, disengaged workers.”
At best, these disengaged workers will go through the motions and hopefully generate some benefits for your company. At worst, they’ll pack up and leave, slowing your growth and potentially even joining your competitors.
Today more than ever before, employees want to feel like their work means something — and since there are now more job openings than workers to fill them, it’s a candidate’s market. If you can’t give your workers a sense of purpose, they’ll likely find a job that can.
I see this year after year at the AICPA Engage conference, where accountants from all over the world share insights to help strengthen their businesses. The number-one issue that comes up with attendees is attracting and retaining staff. They sit in their chairs and say, “We have trouble finding great staff, we can’t get our great ones to stay, and we don’t know why.”
To me, it’s pretty easy to see.
They don’t have any business morale or company-wide strategies in place. And if they do, they’re vague: “We love our customers” or “We want to help people save money.” At most, they can offer potential employees a decent salary and a cubicle with a desktop in a mahogany office somewhere.
For many of today’s workers, gone are the days of dragging yourself into the office, inputting arbitrary numbers for nine hours, and going home — only to do it all over again the next day. Employees want to work at companies with the same enthusiasm for their work that veterinarians have for animals, or viticulturists have for wine.
These are the types of companies that are going to generate a sense of alignment for their employees. And, in my experience, it’s only a matter of time before that enthusiasm trickles down to the customer.
At Karbon, most of our clients are in the accounting industry. I know what kind of other accounting firms are out there — and they’re offering the freedom to travel the world while working, the technology that’s necessary to truly serve customers, the kind of company morale that motivates their workers to get out of bed every day.
For instance, take a look at one of our clients, LiveCA. Here’s an example of accounting done right—because it’s human. Instead of a stock photo of an “accountant” (a white, middle-aged man) talking to his “client” (a white, middle-aged woman), they’ve got their team front and center at a Blue Jays game. Their website introduces all the employees and has videos of their company retreats. Their technology stack makes it easy for customers to get in touch, demo some apps, and learn about the process.
Just by visiting their website, a potential customer can see right away that this company is revolutionary. Anyone would want to work for them, so anyone would want to work with them.
But how, exactly, do you create that kind of culture within your company? How do you encourage people to get on board — and, more importantly, stay there?
“Without insight into their company’s strategic vision, people struggle,” Slack’s report says. On the other hand, when workers see and understand their company’s strategies, they’re much more likely to give their jobs positive ratings across a wide range of metics, like workplace culture and morale.
If you’ve founded your own company, you probably feel passionate about your industry. There’s a pain point you want to fix. The morale, the enthusiasm, and the goals are there.
Now you just have to share them.
The report found that the best way to boost alignment is communication. Those who receive regular feedback about their company’s strategic goals are the most likely to become aligned workers. That said, loading up your employees’ calendars with meetings isn’t the way to handle it. In this case, the quality of the communication is more important than the quantity.
According to the study, there are two main factors that influence the quality of communication: the chosen form of connection, and who the information is coming from.
Videos, collaboration tools, and company-wide meetings are most likely to encourage alignment — but regardless of the platform, if the information comes from the top, it’s so much more powerful. When executive management shares strategies instead of direct management, employees are 22% more likely to align with the company’s message.
In other words, if the CEO is communicating their goals, people listen. The strategies resonate.
At Karbon, I sit down with my team every two weeks to discuss quarterly goals — but it’s not just numbers. I’m also a huge believer in cultivating a narrative for the company. Andy Raskin, the highly sought-after business consultant, always says, “align your teams around a strategic story,”.
We also set long-term goals. That usually involves a breakdown of our next 12 months, but it also includes objectives that span five to ten years down the line, including a macro-economic view of our strategies.
These are things that I’ve made an effort to share with my team regularly. And because of it, I feel we’re getting more company-wide alignment than ever before.
If you’re experiencing a rift between your workers, a lack of enthusiasm, or an inability to retain customers, it’s worth changing up your tactics. As Slack’s report says:
“Fortunately, alignment is not a finite resource. It’s a competitive advantage available to every worker and every company, everywhere. What people want — and need — is to feel part of the bigger plan. To be kept in the loop. To have the support and understanding they need to achieve their best work. Even aligned workers agree that they want more alignment. And workers everywhere want more transparency, frequent communication and a clear understanding of who’s doing what.”
The process isn’t easy. It’ll involve pinpointing your core values and implementing them across your whole business model. And for that reason, so many companies just ignore it. But the state of work is changing now — not in the future.
If you want your company to stand out and move up, it’s time to make alignment a priority.
CEO & Co-Founder, Karbon
Stuart started his first business 13 years ago and has had many successful ventures, including Paycycle, founded in 2009, which he sold to Xero in 2011. He then built the global Xero Payroll team that delivers payroll software across the US, AU, UK and NZ markets. Stuart is now paving the way for smarter tools to improve how knowledge workers collaborate with their colleagues and look after their clients.