Many CXOs’ leadership styles remain stuck in the past, preventing their companies from attracting and retaining talent. So says David Burkus, associate professor of management at Oral Roberts University and author of Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual, published earlier this year.

While researchers have explored the principles behind effective leadership for years, “not enough people in academia are talking about what their research actually means,” Burkus said. He’s a self-described “idea smuggler,” trying to take research findings and bring them to the hands of managers.

Many principles of business management have been carried over from the days of factory management, Burkus said. At that point, management’s job was to assign, and laborer’s job was to do, not to think.

“This was great for factories, but not for today,” Burkus said. “A manager can tell you what the objective is, but has to trust your knowledge to get it done. The people on the front lines now usually know more about the work that needs to be done than their managers.”

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This has implications for how CXOs design management structures, wages, and evaluations, Burkus says–all of which combine to make a workplace more or less desirable to talented job candidates.

“In the tech industry, where you have a war for talent, you have to create a meaningful place to work, and also tie in a sense of purpose,” Burkus said. For example, someone may be tasked with getting people to click a certain icon more often. “Good managers can inspire the idea that that task changes the world,” he added.

Here, Burkus lays out five ways CXOs can modernize their management style to find and retain talented employees.

1. Make salaries transparent.

Our current model of secrecy when it comes to salary information actually reduces employee performance, while transparency improves both output and effort, according to the Academy of Management journal.

“Secrecy is not working,” Burkus said. “We have a culture in the US where we are in some cases actively preventing people from talking about salary, which is illegal.”

Managers worry that people will compare themselves to their colleagues, and that this will lead to workplace strife, Burkus said. In fact, “we as humans are always comparing our efforts and rewards to others,” he said. Burkus said he believes in equity theory, or the idea that individuals are motivated by fairness. If they identify inequities in their own work or that of others, they will seek to adjust their work to reach the right level.

“Transparency allows us to be open about the rewards, and for the conversations to happen,” Burkus said. If you feel that you’re doing the same amount of work as someone who is paid more than you, you can now go to management and either learn what you can do to reach that level of pay or have your pay adjusted, if you are correct.

The number of pay-transparent companies has grown recently, and now includes Whole Foods and tech startups Buffer and SumAll. Every salary is listed on an employee intranet, and after the initial novelty wears off, employees can better prepare for conversations about improving the system or their own performance to move up in it, Burkus said.

2. Create more informal performance reviews.

The concept of the performance review began in the 1950s, in the US federal government. It was based on the idea that we need to give people feedback to better perform their job, Burkus said.

Eventually, companies began tying the reviews to rankings and merit-based bonuses–veering away from the original goal of giving feedback to improve performance.

In some companies, people deliberately avoid being on the same team as other talented people to gain a better rank, hurting the company’s output, Burkus said.

Instead of a high-stakes yearly performance review, “the goal should be to give people meaningful feedback on a more frequent basis and in an informal way, which is far more effective,” Burkus said.

For example, in 2012, Adobe switched from an annual performance review system to an ongoing “check-in” system. Under the old system, writing an extensive review would take managers away from their other duties, and voluntary attrition spiked in the months after the review. With the check-in system, managers hold informal conversations once a month or once a quarter to discuss feedback, expectations, and growth and development. “It’s a chance to improve performance, not just evaluate it,” Burkus said.

3. Limit internal communications.

Constant communication via email and social media inhibits workplace productivity, research shows. “Most of us think email is a tool for getting stuff done, but even at work it can be an incredible distraction,” Burkus said.

Burkus recommends managers set a “deep work” time at least once a week, where all employees shut down their email and agree to only communicate face-to-face if they need something.

Some companies have taken extreme steps to reduce emails: In 2012, Volkswagen stopped sending emails to employees while they were off-shift.

Atos, a 70,000-employee IT services company based in France, began moving to a zero internal email policy in 2011. It created a custom, company social media solution that does not notify employees of new messages, so they can check it at a convenient time that does not interrupt their workflow.

4. Don’t equate presence to performance.

The open office designs adopted by many companies in recent years succeed in facilitating conversation and collaboration, Burkus said. However, they also make it more difficult for employees to concentrate for long periods of time.

With this being the case, managers should allow employees to leave the office for a quiet space when necessary. “Otherwise, you’re not giving them the freedom to be productive,” Burkus said.

5. Build and maintain alumni employee networks.

Often, when an employee leaves a company for a new job, all communication is cut off, Burkus said. But keeping track of former employees has many benefits. “A lot of companies are seeing the need to manage and cultivate alumni networks, allowing them to interact with the company,” Burkus said.

Many people who leave a company go to another in the same industry, Burkus said. Therefore, they can still provide knowledge on the market. This is also useful for recruiting purposes: “In areas like tech where we need talent, being a company that is known as a great place to be from in addition to a great place to be is valuable,” Burkus said.

A lot of times, you have to make the sell to a job candidate twice as hard, since they will likely only believe half of what you say, Burkus said. “You have to create a place to interact with people in a meaningful way, but also do meaningful work,” he said. “If you can make a good salary anywhere, you will go where you have great people to work with and great work to contribute to.”

You can watch Burkus’ TED talk on the subject below.


The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. David Burkus, professor at Oral Roberts University and author of the book Under New Management: How Leading Organizations Are Upending Business as Usual, offers five tips to help CXOs develop a more effective, modernized management strategy.
  2. Burkus recommends managers make salaries transparent, create more informal performance reviews, limit internal email communications, allow employees to work remotely when necessary, and build and maintain networks for past employees to share research and industry knowledge.
  3. In-demand tech employees look for a workplace that offers the opportunity to do meaningful work with talented people, so CXOs need to ensure they are providing that kind of environment, Burkus said.