Today, I was drawn to an article in my Sunday paper about a woman about whom I knew almost nothing. It was an article that lambasted this person in very direct terms about an essay that she’d written for The Atlantic magazine about the difficulties of maintaining a high-profile career whilst also being a parent and wife.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton academic and – for two years - director of policy planning at the State Department, under Hillary Clinton, has enjoyed both the warm glow of personal success in a high-flying career and the approbation of other career-women for espousing and living the life of a “Modern Woman”. Hence the severe criticism that she drew after publishing the Atlantic essay 7 days’ ago.
I was intrigued enough by the force of the bile being directed toward her to go and find the offending essay – which is here http://bit.ly/N5oce1 - and reading it; not because I have any particular interest in feminism or the American political milieu.
As I read it, I found myself not particularly responding in any meaningful way to the admission that the feminist ideal was being undermined by the considered observations of one of its own. I instead found Ms Slaughter messages had a much generalised and powerful impact; one which spoke more tellingly of the state of organisations and the importance of the role of real employee engagement.
Here are some comments on the points that Anne-Marie Slaughter raised or implied in her essay.
- Understand your own personal drivers. Unless employees can articulate their own needs, desires and drivers in the context of work and personal life, it is very difficult for them to know how they can give of their best at work (or at home).
- Beware the career stereotypes. Ms Slaughter highlights admirably the fact that people generally and organisations in particular seem to be defining the world of work using archaic parameters. An example of this is the accepted wisdom that people peak at work between the ages of 45 and 55 – but as the average mortality age rises, this becomes less and less relevant.
- The power of identifying the key influencers. Successful working is about working with the right people to get the job done and knowing who can give the strongest and most appropriate impetus to your work for successful outcomes. Great stakeholder management provides far greater chances of success and can also enable more flexible ways of working.
- Time-management and prioritising. Working in the increasingly-frenetic world fuelled by ever-slicker technology which in turn develops ever-greater expectations of response-times, I watch clients of mine trying to balance the demands of their various inboxes with what’s actually important at work. It seems obvious that unless we can personally operate a whole lot smarter we will lose control of our work-life equilibrium and end up exhausted, unfulfilled and possibly looking for a new job.
- Beware time-machos. Time machismo – what a great phrase! – relates to those people who value the time spent at work more highly than the productive outputs. Time-machos are those people who are always in work when you arrive and are still beavering away when you leave. They are the people who see hours-worked as a competition that they have to win.
- Concentrate on the amount of face-time. How much face-time do you actually need with people? Who need more; with whom can you deal with less face-time? Determining this will help to establish how much time you need to be office-based and how much time can be spent remotely.
- The power of joined-up HR policies. Okay, so this is not covered in Anne-Marie’s essay but is clearly implied. The written policies that govern the organisation’s employees, the ways in which people get remunerated, the flexibility to set output-focussed objectives, the things for which people earn plaudits / receive negative feedback: all these set the tone of the organisation, determine what sorts of people are attracted to the business and enable individuals to live a healthily-balanced life.
- The impact of the unwritten ‘rules’. The tone set by the senior team has an enormous influence on organisational behaviour. The extent to which “what gets measured gets done” often determines the degree of suffocating process compared with the flexibility to achieve the required outcomes by the most effective route possible. The toleration of time-machismo and other unacceptable behaviours sends out clear messages to organisation members that senior managers are not perhaps good stewards of the individual.
The essay from Ms Slaughter might have upset some people. But I believe that it contains strong reinforcement of the tenets of employee engagement and effective HR management. Why not read it and form your own views: it’s an interesting read.