Live Blogging–Opening Meeting of the Flexibility Working Retreat

Hello from Park City Utah, and the Alfred P. Sloan/AWLP Flexibility Retreat. My intention was to blog last night after the opening dinner meeting, but I failed to factor the two hour time difference into my plans. By the time we finished at 9:00 pm MT, it was 11:00 pm ET which is way past my bedtime. So today there will be two postings this morning and this evening. Start with my BlogTalkRadio interview with Kathie Lingle, Executive Director of Alliance for Work-Life Progress and host of the retreat (please forgive the couple first-timer technical glitches!).

blog radio

Themes from the Opening Session

The group is primarily composed of corporate and university flexibiliy strategy leaders responsible for making flexibility a reality in their organizations. As someone whose primary area of expertise is corporate flexibility it was interesting to observe the common challenges to flexibility in higher education, but also distinct differences that emerged from the opening activities.

First, representatives from corporations and universities were asked to place a dot on the flexibility continuum to describe where their organization’s strategy would rank. The continuum was:

1) Let’s Make a Deal–Flexibility is mostly informal, one-off individual deals
2) Flexibility Policies and Programs–Flexibility is a policy or benefit
3) Flexibility Has Many Faces–Many Types of Flexibility Supported
4) Flexibility is a New Way to Work and Manage Careers–I how you work and who you are

Most of the dots for both the organizations and the universities fell between 2 and 3, moving from a policy based strategy to one where many types of flexibility–formal and informal–are supported. Unique findings included:

–Two companies were moving from 3 to 4 where flexibility is part of how work is done, which was very encouraging
–Everyone agreed it was very hard to put an entire organization into one neat category because some pockets of the organization are further along than others. There isn’t consistency.
–Academic medicine emerged as an area in universities in desparate need of a more effective flexibility strategy as it is losing talent very rapidly due to overwhelming demands.
–Both groups agreed that there are still a lot of “old school” managers who stand in the way of flexibility effectiveness because they just don’t want to deal with it and don’t understand the business case

Second, we were asked to discuss why flexibility is important in your organization and what are the key drivers?

Bottom line: The main driver is talent. Bob Drago from Penn State pointed out that labor markets have transformed over the past decade whereas before lower-skilled talent represented most of the movement between organizations, today the movement is within the highly-skilled talent. There was consistent agreement that if companies and universities have any hope of attracting and leveraging the engagement this top talent, they must offer flexibility.

One Fortune 500 leader noted that in a company-wide employee survey flexibility was the number one benefit ahead of compensation and health care across all of the generations.

Key drivers for flexibility that were discussed in addition to talent attraction and retention were leadership development as young people are chosing not to advance because of the perceived time and energy commitment of senior level jobs. Real estate cost containment. And for universities, improving the diversity of the tenured faculty population which is still primarily male even those a majority of students are female.

Clearly, there is a great deal to discuss today, and I will blog about today’s session this evening. That posting will also include an interview with Claire Van Ummesen, VP of the American Council on Education. See you tonight!

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