Dov Seidman’s recent post says that most management efforts at employee engagement have been ‘out to lunch.’ As in, taking employees out to lunch, as if that kind of reward or team-bonding activity had some effective influence on the engagement behaviours of employees. Lunching isn’t inherently a bad thing (depending on how healthy you’re eating I suppose, or if you let anyone drink alcohol) but there’s no proven cause-and-effect relationship with employee engagement. I like this one of Dov’s key points:
“The frequency of lunches, performance reviews, volunteer program outings and team-building exercises does not produce higher levels of employee engagement. Employee engagement is determined by the quality and meaningfulness of these interactions, and the journey managers are enlisting their employees to engage in.”
He makes an excellent point about engaged employees – that “…they exhibit many more specific “engagement traits” – including a willingness to put in a great deal of extra effort, increased loyalty, a greater willingness to recommend their company as an employer of choice, efforts to inspire others in the company through concrete comments and actions, and similar outcomes – compared to other employees.” It doesn’t matter if they think they’re engaged or not, or if they tick a box on a survey saying they’re a 4 or a 7 on an engagement scale of 1-10 as those abstract measurements are devoid of applicable usefulness. Engagement is observable behaviour.
And please do tip your waiting staff. I’m pretty sure an engaged server wouldn’t spit in your soup.
My family and I have just moved to a 5 acre property just north of Auckland that, by my standards, could be classified as ‘rural.’ I’m definitely a city slicker but I now own a barn so that’s something. Next to the barn was a chicken run and coop. It didn’t take much nudging to set out to get in some chickens and to choose to do so by taking in some rescue hens. And by ‘rescue hens’, I mean hens that have been rescued, not a team of superhero chickens that go around performing rescues. (It’s early days, give them time.)
Everyone has been sharing their chicken stories and advice and given the misinformation about roosters, I welcome the stories but not the advice for the most part.
I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty intense job interviews in the past but none were as impressive as the hen-rescuing lady who interviewed me for my suitability to adopt 6 of her ‘girls.’ I passed muster, sent photos of my coop and signed a contract.
My next few blog posts are going to draw on the chicken and egg metaphorical comparison to people and productivity. I’ll start with the contract. People have been aghast that I was asked to sign a contract when they perceived that I was doing the rescuers and the hens a favour by showing up at all. While I was initially surprised at the formality, I get it. Commitment. Absolute clarity of understanding of expectations. If the chickens stop producing, I’ve signed on that I’ll keep ‘em on regardless. I might not like it but I’ve committed to it. I didn’t have to. I could’ve walked away. (I would’ve driven not walked. It’s rural for goodness sake!)
Here’s an impassioned LinkedIn post from a medical professional who is worried about people recording video in surgical theatres. Supposedly one of Joan Rivers’ surgical team took a selfie with her under anaesthetic and that prompted the post. (Rivers was under anaesthetic, not the selfie taker. They must have been on some other kind of drug because that is reprehensible.) She had other very valid concerns about video takers interrupting the surgeon.
This made me think about the impact in workplaces generally of the actual or potential arrival of video cameras, be it formally and officially by the powers-that-be or from everyone else carrying smartphones with cameras. One of the reasons so much great footage was taken of the meteors crashing into Russia last year was because so many Russians have videos mounted in their cars because they distrust the police and their fellow citizens so much. Any evidence is good evidence. Flipping that mentality, several police jurisdictions around the world have been trialling cops with permanently active mini-cameras “about their person.” Apparently complaints from both sides have dropped massively. If we think we’re being filmed, our behaviour really does change. Not because anyone seems to want to do the right thing or follow the rules but out of fear of being caught.
On top of all this, my country and many others in the post-Snowden world have been debating the pros and cons of surveillance from the actual powers-that-be. Intrusion, privacy invasion in the name of protecting freedom. How much is too much?
Security cameras in public areas of workplaces are probably a good idea. Anything that can lessen the chance of violence is a good thing. Plenty of retail outlets already have hidden cameras for the purpose of preventing theft – by customers, break-ins and staff. The latter euphemistically called ‘shrinkage’ by accountants. That just makes me think of the Seinfeld episode qwhe they go to the beach. George: “I’ve been swimming!!”
I’m not saying we should but how might you act differently conducting your next performance chat with a team member if you thought it was being filmed? And edited by someone you didn’t know?
It’s too hairy an issue for me to truly analyse in one of my flippant blog posts but to me, it’s a good provocateur of 2 points:
- Dance like no one is watching but, on the job, act like you’re being filmed by an independent documentary maker all the time,
- Anything that damages trust in the workplace, regardless of the best intentions or logical justifications, will negatively impact employee engagement
I’m off to swim, then dance like no one’s watching but they probably are.
I haven’t had a chance to more than scan this article yet but it’s on a subject close to my heart (and mind. And stomach.) It poses some modern parallels between adult workplace distractions and ill-disciplines and the classic self-discipline assessments and amusing video footage of the various Marshmallow experiments over the years, started out by Walter Mischel at Stanford back in the 60s.
I like the thinking behind the article so once I’ve ‘digested’ it a bit better, I’ll re-post some thoughts.
Marshmallows – 50% sugar; 50% gelatin, 100% evil.
It’s probably easier for a boss in a big organisation to wax lyrical about empowering their employees and allowing them discretion and autonomy than it is for bosses who actually own their businesses. The vast majority of employees work for organisations with ten or fewer employees. They’re run by owner-operators for the most part. For that kind of boss, letting go is more than just following the advice of some leadership book (or YouTube clip) they’ve seen. It’s way more personal and risky and impactful if it goes wrong. Nonetheless, there are a lot of advantages in granting greater freedom and autonomy to your frontline people to make decisions and guide their own workplace behaviours. IF (and it’s a big ‘if’) you’ve recruited the right people, if you’ve inducted them properly, if you’ve consistently and clearly clarified the non-negotiables, if you’ve got systems in place to measure and feedback, and if you’ve fenced off the areas where autonomy doesn’t apply – workplace safety and legal things for example. (I said ti was a big IF…)
The problem is that many bosses hear that autonomy is a driver of employee engagement so they just let people loose. That’s not autonomy; That’s abdication. Get the structures and disciplines in place first. Hire the right people who fit. Then try out and iteratively increase discretion. It can boost innovation, reciprocity and loyalty from your team. But there are those risks too and risks need to be managed. Here’s an article about it that I didn’t write.
It’s all too easy to keep loading work upon the seemingly endlessly broad shoulders of your top performers. This article covers off some great ideas on balancing the act of providing them with challenge and purpose, without grinding them down or leaving them feeling taken advantage of. Much of it is Employee Engagement 101:
Employees who feel a sense of purpose are:
- 3 times more likely to stay in their jobs
- 1.7 times higher to feel job satisfaction
- 1.4 times more engaged at work
Some simple and practical tips are provided:
- Empower employees to clearly communicate challenges they are facing through regularly scheduled meetings with managers.
- Create a formal mentoring program.
- Train managers to be aware of stress clues.
- Offer programs that specifically address tips to reduce or manage stress, from wellness coaching to onsite classes.
- Include questions about stress and the interconnected issues of sleep, resilience, health, and job satisfaction in employee surveys. Track results over time, by department, location, etc.
- Find small ways to change your environment, such as onsite fitness programs, which can be as simple as offering pedometers and a little friendly competition.
If at any stage any of your rock stars throw a TV into a hotel swimming pool, you’ve waited too long.
It’s a catchy headline. It’s not mine. It’s from this article. Virtuously, it quickly reveals that dark side: “The only reason that any of this employee engagement stuff happens, is because companies want you to make them money.” I’m not sure that is such a dark side, or that it would be much of a surprise. It also disregards the organisations that aren’t profit-driven like charities, volunteer groups and government agencies who also see value in employee engagement.
But then the article takes a great turn and focuses on ROI – return on investment. That’s a much better turn of phrase and I agree with the sentiment behind it. Any kind of organisational effort, including employee engagement programmes, need to have a point, a purpose, goals and objectives. And achievement of, and progress towards, those objectives need to be monitored and measured. How can we know if we’ve succeeded (or not) if we don’t know and agree what success is? Investment in employee engagement is often more than money – there’s time, effort, risk to reputation, the opportunity cost of other efforts you could have done instead that you chose not to do, and more.
Fessing up, the Star Wars imagery idea is mine. That article didn’t impose that. I’m pretty sure Darth Vader didn’t put much effort into employee engagement, although that bit where he used the force to telekinetically strangle a commander who failed to capture “the rebel scum” did seem very motivational in the short term.
What distinguishes a timeless classic piece of leadership thinking from a flash-in-the-pan, flavour-of-the-month, keep-a-consultant-employed piece of hype? Names and labels may come and go and employee engagement as a phrase might be a relatively new kid on the block but the principles seem pretty timeless to me. This article cites a few problems with the current enamour with whatever people think employee engagement might be: lack of definition, lack of valid measures, it’s not new, lack of evidence and over-hyped claims. These criticisms would be true of anyone claiming anything about anything. And they’re a great place to start in critiquing a piece of leadership thinking that you weren’t previously familiar with.
I’d agree with his sentiments in general, particularly the first one – lack of definition. I’ve been very strong on having a specific definition and distinguishing it from even more fuzzy concepts such as employee morale, satisfaction and happiness. I define it quite narrowly as the observation of discretionary effort – people doing more than they have to because they choose to. From that narrow and specific definition, it’s a lot easier to address the issues of measurement, evidence and hype.