This recent article in the business section of the New Zealand Herald cites research conducted by a firm of recruitment consultants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they have a vested interest in interpreting the results in any particular way, but they interpret the results in a particular way… that says employers aren’t recruiting effectively. (If only there was someone around who could help them?)
Sarcastic and cynical as I am, I’m not disputing the results of the survey – just their narrow interpretation of the cause. There’s never ONE cause. Maybe poor recruitment contributes. I bet it does.
The Hudson survey “paints a bleak picture for employers”, saying: “Of every 10 employees: four are not good hires, eight aren’t engaged in their work and six are actively seeking other employment.” Ouch! This is born out by other research I’ve been reading over years and around the world. There’s a bit of variation, mostly by industry, but this survey isn’t that surprising and New Zealand isn’t that bad. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.
Apart from the recruitment tools being used which the recruitment company focuses on, the primary cause of the problem implied is that employers are recruiting almost entirely for skills – technical skills. It’s that old mindset of, “I’ve got a vacancy, I’d better fill it because it’s costing me money” without doing the correlating maths on how much it costs to fill that vacancy and get it wrong – to fill it with someone technically competent (and that’s even assuming they get that bit right) but quickly disengaged or a misfit in several other ways.
Bad luck? Like most games, you make your own luck in the recruiting game. I was meeting recently with a manager who hadn’t had a single instance of negative turnover for nine years. Yes, people had moved on but for the right reasons such as internal promotion. He used the usual suite of tools to find a pool of potential applicants, whittled them down through CV checking, interviews, reference checks and even the occasional behaviourial profile. But he added another step. Shortlisted applicants all got to sit in on some actual work with some people who, if their application was successful, would be their co-workers. Those co-workers got a right of veto. I used this myself in the past with some success in a call centre that wasn’t a typical call centre. It gave applicants a dose of what their potential working reality could be. Sometimes they got put off by us and our work; sometimes we got put off by them. Either way, it’s better for both parties that be known early and up front so neither employer or employee have to suffer the consequences of misfitting. And those are greater than the costs of vacancies.
Another means of increasing your odds is to encourage referral of potential applicants from existing employees. Some firms even offer a commission for this. BUT if you do that, ponder how this might affect behaviour and what exactly it is you’re wanting to incentify and provide commission on. Any commission should be for a successful applicant who is still there after a predetermined period and performing well. Not just for putting someone with a pulse into a vacancy. Rather than just advertising to the great untargetted masses for your specific vacancy, wouldn’t it increase the chances of success if you sought via an informed gene pool – the people who are already aware of what it takes to do the job and who is likely to prosper there?
Wringing the final life out of my luck metaphor, when it comes to those few shortlisted candidates who are demonstrably technically competent but you’re not absolutely certain that they’ll fit and be engaged, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Often it’s better to walk away and play another day. Cheaper in the long run even if baby needs a new pair of shoes.
Re-blog from Nov 2011 & my most read post ever
Here’s a recent podcast of mine about the Dunning Kruger Effect. It’s a useful phenomenon to be aware of when leading different types of people, especially when needing to give performance feedback of any kind. There are two sub-groups of people who are least accurate at assessing their own levels of performance: the very excellent and the very non-excellent. Most people are average or either side of it and their self-assessments are ‘there or thereabouts.’ The high performers become high performers because they underestimate how good they are (or should / could be) and try harder and smarter as a result. AND they continue to improve through deliberate and focused practice built on feedback.
The best illustration of the other end of the scale where poor performers never improve because they either never receive feedback (or effective feedback) or they are closed to it are the auditioners for any of those Idol-type shows where security has to escort them off the premises. They characterise perfectly the Dunning Kruger Effect. They simply cannot believe they’re being told “No” and that they’re not the next Mariah. Their dramatic OTT response is great for these shows and symptomatic of why they’re never going to get any better without a substantial external intervention in their lives. Or never. How many of these people have you worked with over your career? Here’s John Cleese’s interpretation.
All sweeping generalisations but an interesting lens through which to look at your team.
In my career, I once managed teams in various locations and teams who also worked around the clock. It wasn’t far but it was far enough. This geographic and chronological distribution is quite a challenge to manage. Technology both offers some solutions and causes some problems. The management from a distance, be it time or space, requires planning and purposeful effort. This post has a neat list of 12 ideas about promoting employee engagement with remote employees that are well worth considering and / or trialling depending on your own long-distance situation.
Gossip is a disease. This article makes several sensible correlations between the spread and effects of behind-backs-chitchat and that of actual disease. In both cases, it is better to catch it and cure it early. I’ll add my own 2-cents’ worth to the imagery – it’s far better to immunize beforehand than ever have to cure anything at all. Prevention better than cure said someone’s grandmother, I’m sure.
WikiHow has its 8-steps to solving office gossip, including such classics as “Know what gossip is” and “don’t participate in it yourself.”
This Forbes article does suggest that it’s really only ‘negative gossip’ you should crack down on while actively encouraging ‘positive gossip.’
The simplest solution would be not to employ people at all. If an organisation has 3 people, it’s going to have (at least) 3 separate gossip streams going at any one time. Best to employ robots. They don’t gossip and can be programmed to take the blame if things go south.
This article reports on ‘wearable technology’ that can monitor micro aspects of worker performance. They seem well-intentioned, making comparisons to the bands and such that fitness trainers give their clients to monitor their steps and sleep. I suspect the potential to use the devices for evil is pretty high. I used to work with call centres and thought that was one particular job where human discretion was significantly limited (or limit-able) by measurement and monitoring technology. This takes the premis to the extreme and there isn’t even the need for the human in question to be tethered to any computer by a cable or headset
To be honest, I’d probably be OK if a bell went ‘ding’ if my posture went off target. It’s in my own interest and the firm’s that I maintain a healthy posture. I’ll be healthier and happier and look taller and more confident. Plus for the boss, there’s probably a long term link to health, wellbeing and productivity or at least less absenteeism if my posture is good. Customers might think I have a better attitude. If there’s a GPS component like sports teams use to see which player covers the most ground and that they’re where they’re supposed to be, that’s probably an integrity tool that some bosses might find themselves needing if the whole ‘trusting people’ thing hasn’t been panning out but it isn’t for everyone all the time. Wristbands that measure and encourage you to take 10000 steps a day have been around for ages and no one is up in arms about those.
“Philip L. Gordon and R. Brian Dixon, attorneys from management law firm Littler Mendelson, told Bloomberg BNA May 15 that employee consent to wear the technology is critical.”
These new gadgets porport to measure brain activity. I am curious as to what my optimum brain activity is in any given work day or if it there is any when I’m watching TV but I’m not sure I want big brother buzzing me every time I glaze over a bit. That said, if I’m a truck driver maybe that’s a really good idea for safety?
Here’s a tale of yet another software system that gamifies the workplace with the justification that it enhances employee engagement. Actually, it sounds pretty cool and may well be worth its costs with whatever benefits it may or may not generate versus the distractions it definitely will generate. I’ve yet to personally witness or directly connect with a significant workplace that has done this for a significant amount of time and publicly raves about the tangible, measured and proven results. Alfie Kohn might be controversial but his research does not reinforce the use of what he would term ‘bribes’. And that is what ‘points for prizes’ are.
Genuine engagement comes from an internal motivation. If the gamified points-for-prizes were removed, would the desired behaviours continue? Nope. And you’ve thoroughly reinforced the position that they shouldn’t. Plus, the incidental stuff that isn’t directly being bribed via points-for-prizes suffers. “Is this going to be in the test?”
“…money affects our attention as shown by Alfie Kohn’s experiment where participants are given cash for remembering words on cards, but they are almost unable to remember any of the word cards’ colours. That wasn’t what they were focused on so their incidental learning was minimal. The same goes for our incidental attention.” – From my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’
Of course, that is assuming there is a culture of support already in existence for people’s internal motivation. Given the generally terrible levels of engagement everywhere, this clearly isn’t the case. If motivation levels are starting from a baseline of terrible, I guess the games can’t make things any worse. But is, “Can’t make it any worse” really a sound tick in any cost / benefit analysis for a software investment or intrusive engagement project?
Carol Dweck might argue that the problem isn’t that we reward, but what and how we reward.
“Dweck’s famous finding from this and other studies was that people tended to fall into one of two groups. There are those who believe that their talents are a fixed trait. They believe they are or they aren’t fast, strong, smart, etc. This is the fixed mindset group. Then there are those who believe that talent is something that can be developed. This is the growth mindset group. You can tell them apart by their behaviour towards work and mistakes. If you have a fixed mindset and believe you are what you are then why would you work hard and why would you attempt something new or challenging that could lead you to making mistakes and being judged on them? Growth mindset people do the work and see mistakes as a pathway to learning. They use the word “yet” a lot. They say, “I did” versus “I am”. For them, becoming is better than being.” – From my book ‘The Brain-Based Boss’
So, by all means, play your silly games and see how it goes. True ongoing engagement that drives productivity comes from a working environment supportive of people’s need for autonomy, development and a sense of meaning in what they do, and a pay level sufficient to remove money as a worry. If points-for-prizes are offered as a short-term attention campaign, I can see it working in a focused way in an area with a definite problem. A health and safety campaign or a wellness campaign for example are, in themselves, good things and might contribute to an overall enhancement of engagement.
I’m trying not to be a hater here on the points and games, but all the info I see on them right now seem to come from those selling systems. Once I hear some credible and independent success stories, I tend to be a lot more generous of spirit.
Here’s a kiwi snapshot on employee engagement with some illustrative case studies. Similar surveys have numbers fluctuating in similar proportions. They do vary from year to year, location to location and from industry to industry. The ratios are similar too in other nations. There always seems to be a small group of highly engaged, a small group of highly disengaged and a large chunk of people who show up and do what they have to and no more. What would be more useful to you than averaged figures across New Zealand as a whole would be information specific to your workplace. And even more useful would be some analysis and understanding on what you need versus what you’ve got. Having an army of 100% engaged people sounds like it would be a great idea until they discover the only work you have is routine and repetitive. Maybe, just maybe, having half to two-thirds of your people neutrally engaged is OK? Maybe it only takes a few hyper-engaged superstars to generate the productivity and the revenue and the profits? Where and upon whom do you focus your limited attention? (Maybe I should have used the word “finite” instead of “limited” in that last sentence?)
It’s a good article and a great advert for Gallup with some genuine success stories. And I am a fan of the power of engaged people and workplaces. BUT….
…I disagree with what I think is a really critical point – their very definition of what employee engagement and disengagement are”
“the engaged…they’re excited about work, feel connected to their company and want to actively drive innovation and move the organisation forward.”
“the disengaged – their unhappiness infuses everything they do at work.”
Happiness and excitement per se have nothing to do with it. Hey, it might be a wonderful and amped up world if everyone was happy and excited all the time but that is not what engagement is. Engagement is someone choosing to do more than they have to because they want to. It is an observable behaviour. They may or not be happy or excited. We’re not psychic and even they may not know specifically why they do go above and beyond. It might be guilt or a sense of obligation.
It really confuses things for people who lead people at work to read an article espousing examples of drivers of engagement as:
“- free health checks for staff,
– nutritional seminars,
– subsidised gym memberships
– complimentary health insurance, including for employees’ children aged under 21
– funding for cervical smears for all female employees”
Again, I’m not knocking the article or the companies that provide the benefits above. If it’s affordable, then they’re no doubt an attractor to potential employees and of great benefit to existing ones. I’m self employed and I’d love those benefits. But the primary drivers of employee engagement, which is the very specific application of discretionery effort, are far more effortful practices that aren’t just throwing money at people in different form. Frankly, people might prefer more money and be left alone to look after their own nutrition, fitness and health. They probably wouldn’t admittedly and the employers may well benefit from a healthier and less absent workforce.
Employee engagement is about connecting to people’s minds not their muscles or digestive systems. Develop their skills, give them some influence and demonstrate that they’re part of something bigger than themselves and their effort (and extra effort) makes a real difference.
There are definite benefits to your bottom line in enhancing your employees’ engagement levels (whatever they are) and maybe a survey is a good starting point but if that’s all you’re doing, that’s like suspecting you need to get a hair cut and all you to do is buy a mirror.
This article is from a publication called BedTimes. That title piqued my curiousity as the article was about employee engagement. It transpired that BedTimes was a publication for the sleep products industry. I don’t know what else I thought it might be. And it was a very good article from an employer’s perspective, not a writer, journalist or expert, consultant, or commentator. Someone, as they say, with skin in the game. And that was kind of their point.
The phrase “skin in the game” has been attributed to Warren Buffett about having your own money in an investment, as opposed to just talking about it or investing for others. (It wasn’t Jimmy Buffett unless you count poker games as investments.) I’d kind of hoped it traced back to roman times and gladiators because then it would have something of a literal bent. But no. From an employee engagement perspective, it makes sense. People who actually own a company tend to work, as they say, like they own the company. It’s easy to offer glib advice to people wanting to work their way up corporate ladders to work like they own they company. I actually agree with the advice but it’s often just easy to say. You cannot make others feel like they have a genuine stake. But employers can set things up so that employees do have a genuine alignment between their own goals and that of the company. But it’s foundation stuff, not some ‘plaster over the cracks’ 2-month project.
For a start, Brain-Based Bosses can structure their recruitment processes to seek, hire and retain people who already have goals that align with the company’s. If the company succeeds, then they do. Part of that might be financial but not in isolation. There needs to be more. That’s a whole lot easier than changing people or changing goals or making other people change goals midstream. Those ways lead to a lot of pretending. And, you know, sometimes even that pretending leads to a short term uptick in engagement. ‘Fake it til you make it’ kind of thing. But it isn’t sustainable nor that much of an uptick.
I particularly liked this paragraph in the article about why, in many or most cases, such employee engagement improvement efforts do not work:
“Frankly, it’s because in many cases employees really don’t have a stake. Too many companies try to paste “engagement” initiatives on a foundation that’s fundamentally flawed. It won’t work. True engagement is a natural, organic extension of a company’s culture, and people can’t be cajoled, tricked or bribed into feeling it. There just aren’t any shortcuts.”
New Zealand’s gambling agency the TAB have a slogan, “It means more when you’ve got something on it.” That’s their version of having skin in the game. You can watch a sporting event and appreciate it. You can watch it and might even experience some vicarious emotions if you support the team that’s playing from your country, town, school or one you unilaterally and arbitrarily have chosen because you find their colours, mascot or swarthy south american star player aesthetically appealing. But nothing is quite like the effect on your biochemistry when the team’s loss causes you to lose something too. It might be the money you wagered. It might be you lose face at the pub or workplace the next day. But you lose or win something depending on the results.
It can’t just be the potential loss of a job or bonus if things go south. There needs to be potential wins too. Don’t underestimate the value of pride. When your employees are at parties (in their own time, of course) and others ask them what they do or where they work, what do they say? That’s actually quite a good indicator of pride and engagement, or the lack thereof.
How many employees feel that way about their workplace? Do yours? Does Jimmy Buffet? Of course, his lack of feeling might be due to other causes entirely…