Category Archives: Influence
I’m writing a new book – this time about adding ten years to our lives. Part of that is having to pay for the extra years. Not that working is just about earning but wine doesn’t pay for itself. (Note to self: invent self-paying wine.) Engaged employees – engaged people – live longer, better lives.
So, for income, a sense of purpose and simply something to do, we’d like to keep working. You and me anyway – on our terms. I’ve been reading some interesting research on how those of us trucking on into our seventies and onwards in the workforce can’t rely on being perceived as hire-able in the traditional sense. Even now, over half the ‘workers’ above 65 are self employed. There are lots of reasons for that. Some reasonable reasons and some not so much.
Being self employed is tough and challenging and has no guarantees. You either dig that scene or you don’t. I do. I never thought I would.
To better tool ourselves up for a future with options, we need to bulk up the quantity and quality of our social and professional connections. That’s good for health, longevity and business. We could also prep for our potential launch into self employment by having a Brain-Based Boss who allowed, even encouraged, Intrapreneurship. ENtrepreneurs are those idealised risk-taking arse-kicking people who take new ideas and energy and try and implement and monetise them. The minority who survive are lauded as wealth and job creators for others. This is true although it is a gruesome attrition. So, INtrapreneurs would, in theory, take that same attitude and apply it in a job inside an existing company.
It’s a thing. There’s even a conference about it.
The poster child for Intrapreneurs is the inventor of post-it notes who was working for 3M at the time and they took the idea. Although, that guy, whose name I cannot remember, was just trying to keep his place in his choir’s hymnbooks. He was using company time and resources to do it. 3M might be cool and programme such time and efforts into their people’s jobs, not just allowing it after the fact but encouraging it hoping for that 1-in-a-1000 hit.
Employee engagement is helped significantly where there is an alignment between an employee’s personal goals and the goals of the organisation. (Not just saying that they do.)
A recent study conducted by Macquarie Graduate School of Management showed that Corporate volunteering improves employee satisfaction, retention and engagement.
Corporate volunteers were very satisfied with their volunteering experience (83% satisfied), very likely to continue (87%), and very likely to recommend it to their friends (75%). The most common barriers were ‘not being asked’ (38%), ‘being too busy (36%), preferring to volunteer privately (31%), and preferring to donate money than to volunteer (21%).
I presume “I don’t care” and “I can’t be bothered” weren’t provided as options. Therein lies yet another failing of surveys and prompted responses.
Here’s a post from Forbes where the author picks a fight with Gallup on the validity of the claims of their latest surveys shrieking that 70% of employees are either unengaged or disengaged. The author reckons from his own surveys and simple personal observation that the number cannot be right.
Stepping to the sidelines and shouting on to both sides of the debate, it might be because of differing definitions of what employee engagement is. I reckon that I don’t care what anybody’s survey says if the survey is getting people to self declare, anonymously or otherwise, how they feel about their job or how they think they feel about anything at all. To me, employee engagement is a quite specific and observable set of behaviours. Quite apart from what people SAY, I think it matters what they DO. And we can observe that.
Employee engagement is people doing more than they have to because they choose to – discretionary effort. We can delve into the whys and the drivers of their choices later but the actual existence and extent of the engagement needs no survey.
If people say they’re thrilled with their jobs, that is not necessarily an engaged employee. There’s plenty of instances where unhappy employees bust their hump and do apply discretionary effort and plenty of instances where delighted employees coast. People’s feelings of delight or disgruntlement are neither here nor there. It is behaviour that matters.
And, ultimately, who cares what the national average engagement levels are? You need to watch and gauge your business’s levels and their trend. Work alongside, observe, interact – you know – people stuff. Not emailing them a link to an online assessment – if that’s all you do. As part of a planned programme, I can live with surveys, but often, surveys are the start and finish of employers’ efforts.
So, I disagree with the blogger about his disagreement with Gallup in that sense. It makes sense for a company to shriek a number like 70% if you’re a company that also sells solutions to that problem. Me, I just sell cynicism.
But I do think his latter point has merit – about survey results colouring management’s perception of, and therefore behaviour towards, their people. Like Eliza Doolittle in ‘My Fair Lady’ / Pygmalion, if people saw her as an impoverished common seller of matchsticks, they treated her as such, but if they saw her as a refined lady, their reactions altered. If bosses think their staff are disengaged (regardless of whether they are or not) and treat them as such, maybe it does become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Maybe bosses should treat people as individuals, make decisions based on their own specific and direct data and have a healthy cynicism towards any data coming from people with something to sell?
Wouldn’t that be luvverly?
Successful organisms and groups in nature rely on diversity as a defence mechanism and to provide tools to deal with a wide range of situations – business is no different. Here’s the rest of that thought, expressed in my lead article from the Careers section of The NZ Herald on 20th July 2013. To save me re-typing it, here it is in image form with a link back to the Herald’s original online article.
This Harvard Business Review blog post is a great encapsulation on what to do about disengaged employees. So many bosses try and attract pre-engaged employees without putting much effort into the latent and potential talent they already have. Or might have. Trying to buy engagement from outside may not necessarily be a bad idea but engagement tends to be contextual. Just because someone is engaged at a point in time in a particular place doesn’t mean that they are perpetually engaged anywhere and everywhere. Throw Superman into a negative enough environment, even he will become increasingly negative. (Terry makes mental note to himself to draft a graphic novel using this premis…)
Hiring ‘A’ players, those transitory and mercenary talents, is a zero-sum game. If they come to you because you dangle more money (if that’s all you do) you will merely attract those people that will be equally attracted away by someone dangling a bigger carrot and there’s always a bigger carrot. Just like lowering your products’ prices, it may work today and solve a problem in the short term, but someone else can do the same or better and you’ll lose that game even if you win it.
The numbers vary and I prefer to use three categories rather than ‘engaged’ and disengaged.’ I have a middle group I call ‘present.’ The engaged do more than they have to because they choose to. The disengaged are toxic, stealing time and resources, badmouthing you while they use your PC to look for work elsewhere. The ‘present’ show up, clock on, do their jobs and no more, consume oxygen and clock off. Contractually there isn’t a problem but neither you nor they are optimising potential here. This group offers the greatest opportunity for enhancing the overall engagement and thus productivity of your team. Love the engaged and lose the disengaged.
Here’s what the blog post says about what to do about the others – the ‘present’:
- Understand the basics of positive psychology and engagement research
- Find out what engages your employees, not someone else’s
- Encourage grassroots engagement
- Recognize engagement as a moving target, and check back often
That’s enough blogging today. I’m off to work on my ‘Negative Superman’ graphic novel. Or maybe screenplay?! Does anyone have Zach Snyder’s phone number or know how to spell his name?
No potential superstar employee is going to reject the trappings of success you offer but will the free petrol, subsidised healthcare or at-desk massages actually improve their engagement and performance. Some perks do and some perks don’t and it depends. This post citing some recent Gallup research is revealing.
“Gallup found that access to flexible work time, which is considered a more mainstream workplace perk, is related to increased employee engagement.”
“…remote workers are slightly more engaged than onsite workers…”
One of the usual drivers of motivation and engagement is autonomy – a sense of control or, at least influence, over if not what we do, at least how we do it. That’s tough to create or allow in many jobs, especially routine or entry-level ones but if you can generate it to a degree, it can positively influence engagement and thus drive the associated productivity benefits. Something like flexi-time is a good compromise, where it is do-able, in generating this sense of influence / autonomy. Gallup does warn though of the “diminishing returns” which is worthy of note.
“…an engaged management team and a positive work environment are more beneficial than housecleaning and bowling alleys.”
Don’t deny already engaged employees their perks if you wish to provide them and it makes you feel good but clearly many are not drivers of engagement or motivators. Far more effective are the low-cost but disturbingly rare ‘perks’ of positive feedback and non-tolerance of poor performance. Perks, by definition, are extras and these two I just mentioned shouldn’t be extras, yet the behaviour of many workplace leaders makes it seem like they are. It’s easier to throw trinkets but far less effective.
Although, if the trinket you’re throwing is a bowling ball in the company lanes, that’s almost certainly a health and safety issue.
This ‘Psychology Today’ article is grrrrrr8. Not just because it declares the obvious – that most employees are disengaged. Your first question should be, Why?” The answer is:
“The number one factor the study cited influencing engagement and disengagement was ‘relationship with immediate supervisor.’”
The article also addresses the second question that doesn’t get asked that often – WHAT’S WRONG WITH THESE IMMEDIATE SUPERVISORS?!
Often shouted by bosses is the phrase, “Recruit attitude; Train skill.” That makes sense. BUT most don’t do it although they do say it. It’s even more true of recruiting frontline leaders – the ones whose relationships are the most critical for the business. And what should those attitude qualities being recruited look like. Psychology Today says:
“the qualities companies traditionally look for when selecting and developing managers and executives are often not conducive to building positive, productive, engaged employee relationships.”
The problem is that employers are recruiting for skill not attitude, despite many saying the opposite. They’re hiring or promoting people into leadership roles because “they’re good at their jobs” or “they deserve a promotion” and leadership roles are the only promotions available. Other options might be better for those people. They deserve something but not to be given a role for which they’re not suited. It doesn’t help them or those they end up leading poorly.
So, a primary focus for Brain-Based Bosses should be redesigning your recruitment processes to attract and snare frontline leaders who have a demonstrated track record of repeatedly being inherently good at building (and maintaining) positive, productive, engaged employee relationships. Then ensuring they’re developed as leaders as soon as practicable, with emphasis on those relationship skills. (Professional relationships – not relationships as Fonzie would have seen them. If you don’t know who Fonzie is, Google him…)
I recommend this blog post from Jessica Gross summarising a TED talk from Dan Ariely. It’s a succinct capture of his key points about internal motivation and how we can tap into that (or at least avoid conflicting with that.) There’s some evidence that cute internet kitten photos can actually enhance your sense of focus on a proximate task and I’m definitely going to try the hand-washing motivation technique with my family!
His key points were:
- Seeing the fruits of our labor may make us more productive
- The less appreciated we feel our work is, the more money we want to do it
- The harder a project is, the prouder we feel of it
- Knowing that our work helps others may increase our unconscious motivation
- The promise of helping others makes us more likely to follow rules
- Positive reinforcement about our abilities may increase performance
- Images that trigger positive emotions may actually help us focus
Here’s a blog post about the dangers of non-specific feedback. The blogger references the work of psychologist Carol Dweck who I also quote in my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ on the subject of fixed versus growth mindsets. Here’s an excerpt:
The work of psychologist Carol Dweck is germane here. What she’s found is that, when children are praised in abstract–”You’re so smart” or “You’re so creative”–rather than concretely about how they improved their performance–”You put in an enormous amount of work, and it paid off”–the feedback is diminished. How come? Because the child takes from the teacher or parent the idea that she is innately smart or creative, and that she doesn’t need to work at it–so she doesn’t.
On the other hand, very specific feedback–especially about something an individual can control–can work wonders.
Quite rightly, the blogger points out that general statements such as ‘Good job’ might make you feel better and make you think that you’re dishing out some positive feedback but it needs to be more than merely positive to be useful and conducive to enhanced productivity. That phrase would need to:
- be said at the time the specific action warranting praise occurred or as immediately afterwards as possible.
- be said to the specific individual performing and controlling the praiseworthy action that you’d like to see more of.
- contain a few more details and expectations than 2 words of generality (what exactly was the bit that was good?)
- some connection to a greater goal, the wider team or higher purpose.
So, here’s some specific feedback to several new Twitter followers I’ve gotten recently – If you’ve only got 17 Twitter followers yourself, best not describe yourself as a ‘social media guru.’
UnderArmour’s founder Kevin Plank’s got some views on what motivates employees. Here’s an article about them. I don’t agree with everything in it, especially the bit about “happiness,” but otherwise, with emphasis on autonomy and connecting business success to employee success, it’s very sound.
The articles key points are:
- Set a good example
- Focus on employee happiness* rather than employee motivation
- Make sure employees share in the company’s success
- Create a culture of autonomy and agency
- Encourage workers to voice complaints
- Take on fun volunteer assignments
- Get in touch with your inner start-up
* (I think they mean culture rather than happiness really. There’s no evidence linking happiness in its literal sense to productivity one way or the other. That said, I like happiness personally.)
There’s some ‘meat n potatoes’ engagement stuff in there but there’s some clever and original thinking too. I love the ‘anti-fan club’ concept to proactively create a medium in which beefs can be aired and sorted early. This links nicely with my ‘Go ugly early’ philosophy in my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’ being released next Thursday.
The ‘controlled chaos’ referred to in the article is engagement in action. Scary to conservative managers, it’s accepted and sought after by genuine leaders. And it’s coming up to Christmas where controlled chaos is, apparently, what we all want on the roads the shops and our homes.