Any company that adopts a people-first belief system understands the importance of finding and hiring the right people. We’ve been basically doubling our team every year for the past few years; we are constantly in a hiring state and always on the lookout for really good people. You have to be a company that top talent wants to work at in order to win the war for top talent; this means that we are constantly tweaking our environment and culture to make sure that we stay (at least) one step ahead of our competitors in delivering the kinds of things that employees want.
It might not seem obvious at first, but IT policies can be a major factor in this.
(More on that below, excerpted from The Decoded Company: Know Your Talent Better Than You Know Your Customers, copyright 2014 by Leerom Segal, Aaron Goldstein, Jay Goldman and Rahaf Harfoush, in agreement with Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Random House. More information, videos, and experiments at decodedbook.com.)
One of the ways that some companies are responding to changing consumer expectations is by allowing their employees a wider scope of choice and control over their workplace technology. Bring your own device sounds like an IT policy, but for companies like GE, the freedom to pick the type of technology you use at work is a large part of their recruitment and retention strategy.
Under a pilot project introduced in early 2011, some GE employees had the option of choosing Apple’s Mac notebooks or desktops over Windows PCs. The pilot was built on a successful roll out of iPhones that began in 2008, 10,000 employees chose to make the switch from BlackBerry. Greg Simpson, GE’s chief technology officer, said that recruits often ask whether GE supports Macs and iOS devices as a way of asking “Are they a contemporary company or not?” Providing such support was “a recruiting-positive thing” for GE, he added.
In 2010, IBM introduced an official BYOD policy, which allowed employees to use their own smartphones and tablet devices to access company e-mails, servers, and databases. IBM’s chief information officer, Jeanette Horan, says the program “really is about supporting employees in the way they want to work. They will find the most appropriate tool to get their job done. I want to make sure I can enable them to do that, but in a way that safeguards the integrity of our business.” The recognition that employees have the power to drive decision making in the C-suite of the world’s largest companies is a powerful example of the consumerization of corporate IT. It can have big benefits for recruiting and retention, but it’s not without its potential issues. The policy has created real challenges for Jeanette Horan and her 5,000-strong team.
Horan said that many IBM staffers were “blissfully unaware” of the security risks posed by many of the apps that they download on their devices for fun. An internal staff survey revealed several practices that could put the company’s intellectual property at risk. By using their devices to create unsecured Wi-Fi hot spots to forwarding work e-mails to their Gmail accounts, Horan and her team discovered, there were a myriad of ways that confidential information could be inadvertently released to the public.
Now IBM configures each personal device to enable remote wiping in case an employee misplaces their phone or it is stolen. Horan’s team has created twelve “personas” that outline specific-use cases for what someone can and can’t do with their personal device. She has even introduced new software that encrypts information sent on IBM’s networks.
As new applications and devices are introduced, IBM must constantly review and update its BYOD practices. In 2012, Horan’s team banned the use of the cloud storage device Dropbox, which employees were using as an easier alternative to IBM’s private servers. Employees were creating their own personal Dropbox accounts, making it impossible for IBM to track or control access to proprietary information, especially if an employee’s contract was terminated. In addition, IBM has banned the use of iCloud, Apple’s rival cloud storage service, and disabled Siri, the voice-activated personal assistant available on the iPhone 4s and higher, for fear that the voice queries could reveal sensitive information, since they are uploaded to Apple’s servers. Even a seemingly innocuous question about finding a lunch spot near a certain location could show a trend of increased visits to a specific client’s site if looked at across a lot of users. These challenges will only grow as workplace technology becomes increasingly consumerized.
And there can be no doubt that it will. In a 2011 Accenture Survey, 45 percent of respondents indicated that their personal consumer devices were more useful than the tools and applications provided by their IT departments. The study, which surveyed 4,000 employees in 16 countries, found that 27 percent of respondents were willing to pay for their own devices to use at work because of the improvement in productivity and job satisfaction. “Employees are surprisingly willing to pay in order to use the technologies they love at work,” said Jeanne Harris, executive research fellow and senior executive at the Accenture Institute for High Performance. “As a result, they are going to use them, with or without their company’s approval.”
Using the latest technology is a big priority for talent. A third Accenture study revealed that 88 percent of executives surveyed believed that employee use of consumer technology can improve job satisfaction.