On this episode of #WorkTrends we’re thinking through a very common challenge these days: successfully managing the modern workforce. How do you stay connected with your team and give people the tools they need to be successful? We hear from Sean Jackson, a former Marine who’s on a mission to make work better by empowering talent.
Jackson is the founder and CEO of employee directory and workforce data company Sift. He says that when he transitioned into the corporate world, he discovered that too many people don’t get the freedom they need to thrive. He offers advice on how to manage the modern workforce and set our teams up for success.
We also talk to author Kyle Nel about how he led massive behavioral change at Lowe’s.
Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.
Jackson says that while many people have a vision of the military as a rigid, top-down management structure, the reality is much more complex. In fact, he says, the modern military is predicated on giving more freedom of action to leaders down the organizational chart because those low-level leaders are often away from their commanders and without reliable communication. In battlefield conditions, the ability to make quick, effective decisions is an essential element of success. It’s this approach that underpins the concept of the “strategic corporal.”
In the military, the lowest rank with direct reports is a corporal, who Jackson notes can often be quite young — people who join the military at 18 can find themselves operating as a manager by age 19. “In the military, at the end of the day, they’re just concerned with effectiveness, and if every decision you made had to be given by order by somebody up the chain of command, you’re not going to be able to figure anything out,” he says.
He says the military today is making an effort to better equip leaders at a much more junior level — workers the corporate world often doesn’t allow to make strategic decisions. But he says this approach is similar to what some agile startups are doing.
“They’re laying out commander’s intent, laying out a mission or vision that their soldiers or their employees are going to execute, and then they’re empowering all of their leaders in the organization to fulfill that mission and not trying to fill in the blanks so much,” he says. “They’re actually leaving a lot of white space to let smart people who are closer to actions and closer to information make the decisions to achieve that mission.”
Putting Handcuffs on Talent
Jackson says that when he transitioned into the corporate world, the biggest surprise was how hierarchical it was compared with what he experienced in the military.
“The military’s kind of notorious for being bureaucratic — and, to be sure, there are a lot of forms to fill out and a lot of acronyms,” he says. “But getting into the corporate world, in some ways I felt like I had less control.”
Jackson was a sergeant by age 24, commanding 48 Marines in Afghanistan. But in his move to the corporate world he found himself an individual contributor with more many more restrictions on what he could and couldn’t do. It’s a reality that he says prevents the top talent in too many organizations from thriving and contributing all they can.
“It was really interesting to me that corporations are desperately trying to hire the smartest and brightest people they can with these amazing skill sets that frankly they don’t have internally — then when they get there, they handcuff them with a whole bunch of bureaucracy and rules and regulations,” he says.
Leaning Toward Transparency
Both in the HR tech space and more broadly, Jackson says he’s inspired by newer organizations that are committed to the concept of hyper-transparency, whether that’s sharing executive salaries or other strategic data with lower-level employees.
“I think we are definitely leaning toward transparency,” he says. “Like the military, it’s not because it’s fun or it makes you feel good; it’s because it’s more efficient when you’re expecting people to be making decisions at lower and lower levels. If they don’t have access to that information easily, quickly and simply, they’re not going to be able to make these informed decisions, so I think the most progressive companies are saying ‘Hey, let’s give people the data and information they need to do their jobs and then that’s going to make us more effective in the long run.’ ”
Resources Mentioned in This Episode
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