In recent years the relationship between employer and employed has changed fundamentally and rapidly. Such change is here to stay. Zeitgeist (the 'spirit of the time') in terms of employment is encapsulated in the four or five keys words highlighted earlier. We have a required employer: employee relationship akin more to partnership than master: servant, and where the most productive and profitable partnerships are likely to be those where this requirement is positively embraced.

21st Century Partners

If partnership is to be effective it requires each 'side' to move away from confrontational attitudes and towards a realisation that mutual respect and trust may be the only way in which an improved and sustainable level of productivity and profitability can be achieved. This may be a challenge for some. A report of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development, 'Impact of People Management Practices on Business Performance', concludes, 'If managers wish to influence the performance of their companies, the most important area they should emphasise is the management of people. This is ironic given that our research has also demonstrated that emphasis on human resource management is one of the most neglected areas of managerial practice within organisations.'

Moving towards partnership is not simply 'a good idea' or the latest fad, it is based on economic reality. In its report 'Benchmarking the Partnership Company' (conducted by Birkbeck College and London School of Economics), the Involvement and Participation Association concluded, 'partnership pays off - organisations have a better psychological contract, there is greater trust between employees and employers and (my emphasis) PERFORMANCE IS HIGHER'. Partnership however, requires a change of attitude and poses challenges - for both parties.

Challenges for Employers

1. To Lead

The initiators of this new relationship must be management in which regard the report of the Hampel Committee on Corporate Governance provides guidance: 'Business prosperity cannot be commanded. People, teamwork, leadership, enterprise and skills are what really produce prosperity an effective board should lead and control the company.' The report does not use the word 'management' the operative word is the more positive and dynamic term 'leadership'. Managers who are real leaders are likely to motivate their teams, create real partnership and benefit from all that flows from it. As Roosevelt said 'the art of being a great leader is to get people to do what you want them to do because they want to do it'. Sadly in the UK the number of managers able to motivate their employees is relatively few - over 66% admitted in a recent survey by recruitment specialists Robert Half, that they possess only limited motivational skills.

Good motivational management LEADS. Research indicates that the majority of employees want good management/leadership and to be treated with fairness and respect. If partnership is required, leadership is essential.

2. To be Flexible

The concept that employees' personal commitments were nothing to do with their employers is no longer a sustainable view. The best performers can select the best employers, and employers that wish to retain the best employees will be those that accept the need for balance and provide assistance for their employees in coping with their personal obligations -flexibility will increasingly become the norm - if only since it is what the vast majority of employees want. Flexible hours contracts, increased time-off whether paid or unpaid, homeworking, 'cafeteria' contracts (where the employee can select the range of benefits suitable to their situation at any time), creches for both children and elderly relatives being cared for, additional facilities for 'trailing spouses' (i.e. partners of those whose employers have required them to relocate - possibly overseas), will need to be provided by employers concerned to ensure that they attract and retain the best employees.

This is probably the greatest current challenge for employers but ironically, if the experience of those that have adopted the requirement positively is to be believed, could be a source of considerably increased productivity.

3. To Foster Mutual Respect

Manager who are leaders must treat employees with respect and, above all, to listen to their views and their ideas. Thus, empowerment and brainstorming are also being used to allow employees to have a direct input into working activities. Innovative thought must be encouraged, indeed it is essential since, as management guru Peter Drucker said, 'the enterprise that does not innovate, inevitably ages and declines and in a period of rapid change such as the present, an entrepreneurial period, the decline will be fast'.

Man is a creature of habit - it is comfortable to deal with what is known, tested and habitual. But comfort does not protect let alone generate competitive edge. Creativity challenges all three habits - it forces us to think, to postulate and to theorise. Those that can do this and turn ideas into reality are successful leaders, able to motivate their teams to create the most successful organisations. In 1998, International Research Ltd conducted a survey on employee attitudes. 87% of those interviewed rated being treated with fairness and respect top of a list of preferences. The ability to perform challenging work came next (80%) with 'freedom to get on with the job' (77%) in third position.

Challenges for employees

1. To be Accountable

As partners, employees must be prepared not just to share in the benefits but also to accept the responsibilities. Whilst employees are unlikely to share in an organisations' losses, at least they must be prepared to be accountable for their own efforts - and failings. Increasingly, APPRAISAL schemes are being used to ensure that employees are made more accountable. Few schemes are as effective as they could be, mainly since it seems that few managers treat them as the spur to the future - identifying training needs and career progression. The ability to inspire people to give of their best will be essential in the fast changing economy of the 21st Century.

2. To Take Care and Give Excellence

There is a widespread attitude impression that 'second best will do'. Adoption of such a culture is an insidious drain on the search for excellence which should be the goal of all organisations that wish to survive. Whilst such attitudes manifest themselves at the sharp end with uncommitted employees, as the Chinese saying goes 'the body rots from the head'. If this is the sharp end attitude it can only reflect the attitude of senior management with an imperfect idea of what is actually taking place at the sharp end. 'The best manure is the farmer's boot' - and the best way of ensuring accountability, care and excellence is for managers to lead from the front - not from behind a desk, behind a secretary and behind a closed door.

The Initiative

The message from the foregoing is clear. If the Organisation wishes to survive, traditional attitudes, procedures and habits need to change - and keep changing. This scenario may be difficult for some to embrace. As Gary Hamel (co-author of 'Competing for the future') stated recently, 'Where are you likely to find people with least diversity of experience, the largest investment in the past and the greatest reverence for industry dogma? - at the top'. Yet it is from people at the top - and only from them - that dynamic leadership must come. The skills, experience and expertise of employees are the greatest assets of most businesses - they are at least of equal value to capital and need to be treated as 'partners', and their commitment harnessed and maximised. Management can only achieve this by creating trust. Market researchers MORI recently discovered that whilst only 11% of employees trust their bosses, 75% believe in the core values of the employers - a solid foundation for a new commitment and partnership.

One Word Guidance

This book seeks to provide practical guidance to the requirements of employers in interfacing with their employees. Many of the requirements now encapsulated in laws would be rendered unnecessary if management had only embraced the following one word guidance.

If more of those sitting behind a desk and interfacing with their employee on the other side of the desk would only ask themselves 'If this was being done to me - rather than me doing it - would I like it or would I consider it fair?' If the answer is 'yes' - it is probably OK to proceed but if the answer is 'no' - it begs the question why are you doing it? The one work guidance - and the lesson for them - is