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Don’t Believe The Hype (How to demotivate employees if you really want to)

hype

This article with video from ‘Good To Great’ author Jim Collins identifies three primary employee demotivators. Actually, he doesn’t limit them to employees but rightly says they are inflicted on people in many forums. Parents especially are noted as perpetrators. Those three demotivators are:

  • hype
  • futurism and
  • false democracy.

There may be others but these three are good ways to put out the fires that might be burning inside people you have who are already inherently motivated. Crazy. You’d think that employers would want to not do that, yet I see an awful lot of hype, futurism and false democracy in a lot of workplaces. All of it is well-intentioned. In one of my previous management roles where I was a significant agent of change, I had a little personal catchphrase, “No fireworks, no bugles.” What I was trying to reinforce to myself and to others was my own anti-hype position. I really did not want to overpromise. I’d learned from being on the receiving end of too many projects or ideas that were going to magically transform everything into a wonderland of worker amenity and prosperity. Never quite panned out quite as wonderlandy as they painted it. Few things do. Honestly, I’m not anti-hype. It has its place. Used in short bursts at appropriate times, it can generate heat, energy, attention, focus and movement. My problem is that, often, the hype is all there is. Fireworks are fabulous but i wouldn’t want to work for one. In fact, isn’t that the meaning most of us apply when we see, hear or use the word? Too much hype. Nothing but hype. Over-hyped. Don’t believe the hype. What must follow hype to avoid demotivation is prompt and positive change of meaningful substance.

Workplace examples of death by overhyping I’ve seen have included introductions of performance management systems and departmental restructures. That said, I’ve also been involved in introductions of performance management systems and departmental restructures that were highly successful, well received and used hype, to some extent, very well. So, I’d disagree with Collins if he means that all hype is bad. I suspect he doesn’t mean that. I believe he means the hyperbole that isn’t followed up with action of substance. Far better to, as he says in the video, “…to confront the brutal facts.”

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What’s the best bang for buck for leaders wanting to fire up their team? The answer may surprise you so I’ll tell you now – it’s ‘Business As UnUsual’

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Yesterday I was leading a time management workshop with a dairy technology company. We were talking about structured problem solving and the conversation scampered across onto the topic of employee engagement and motivation. Specifically, someone raised their annual employee engagement survey. If electricity could be generated by the power of a group of people rolling their eyes, then I would have discovered a truly sustainable source of energy. To paint their view of the survey as cynical would be an understatement.

It was not my place nor was it the time (in a time management workshop) to address this but I do try and have my default point of view in such situations be curiousity. ABC is my motto – always be curious. So, instead of piling onto survey-bashing, I asked questions. And my intent was to draw focus away from the negative perceptions of the survey so my questions weren’t ones like, “What was wrong with the survey,” or “What didn’t you like about the survey”? I asked them when they thought the best period of engagement was at the company and what was going on then to make it so great?

Turns out there was general agreement that there had been a six month period about six years ago of great optimism and energy. A new CEO had arrived who’d communicated well and had gotten many (though not all) staff involved in cross-functional, multi-level teams tasked with solving several key problems that had been identified by one of the first such teams. There was a sense of, not just optimism, but demonstrable progress. The initial rash of killer problems did indeed get solved. War stories still get told.

But after that, no more teams, no more deliberate and systemic cross-functionality, and if there was progress, it was incremental and almost imperceptible.

Inherent in this example might be the answer to the question posed in the title of this article. What’s the biggest bang for buck for leaders wanting their people to feel engaged? Slight efforts at improving BAU (Business As Usual) just won’t do it. War stories get told about wars where big efforts against the odds are required. I’m not suggesting team leaders start wars or create artificial conflicts or faux problems. Enough political leaders do that already. But BAU doesn’t engage most people most of the time. It doesn’t excite or scare people into discretionary effort. It doesn’t figuratively set their safe platform on fire forcing people to not stand still. What leaders need to influence groups into change or significant steps up is BAUU – Business As UnUsual.

Sometimes BAUU just happens – a new CEO or an external threat emerges such as proposed law changes or the emergence of an Amazon-sized competitive threat to your market. In the absence of those genuine threats, how can you safely generate a positive one of your own?

 

Check out some other ideas around influencing the people you lead with my online learning videos at BrainBasedBoss.com

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Workplace Culture: One Size Does Not Fit All

 

russiandolls

Which company culture is best for productivity and getting the best out of your people – blind obedience, informed acquiescence or self-governance? Are those really the only choices? Sounds a bit loaded to me, like, “What do you want for Christmas – a piece of coal, a pair of socks or a pony?” Coal and socks might seem old-fashioned but they’re functional and damn handy in the right circumstances. A pony might seem like the obvious choice but ponies aren’t for everyone, they require ongoing investment and often they’ll give you another gift for which you’ll require a shovel.

A recent article in The Economist about corporate culture contrasted the view from the top versus the view from the bottom. Bosses disproportionately perceive their organisations to be self-governing, awash with inspiration and driven by values rather than profits. The study was commissioned by Dov Seidman, author of the book ‘How.’ The basic thrust of this book and surrounding consulting empire is that it’s not what you do these days, it’s how you do it on which you’ll be judged. (I cannot prevent myself at this point stressing that the foreword to the book is by one President Bill Clinton which, albeit in an unintentionally ironic way, goes a long way to proving that it really isn’t what you do these days, it’s how you do it on which you’ll be judged.)

Seidman talks about the different categories of company culture – from the command-and-control military style of ‘Blind Obedience’ to the less-bad ‘Informed Acquiescence’ with its rules and carrots and sticks to the sleek and shiny ‘Values-Based Self Governance’ resplendent with missions and inspiration. I see his argument visually as that classic ‘Evolution Of Man’ poster with Neanderthals evolving to the modern whatever we are. (Hint: Command-and-control leaders are supposed to be the Neanderthals in this picture.)

Of those surveyed, 43% felt their company was in the ‘Blind Obedience’ category, 54% felt their company was in the ‘Informed Acquiescence’ category and a mere 3% had achieved the supposed ‘Self Governance’ nirvana. I did the maths. That adds up to 100% which means those surveyed were only given three mutually exclusive choices. Are they really mutually exclusive? Wouldn’t it be more useful and realistic if they could co-exist in a managed way?

I’m always a bit wary of surveys that end up in articles. Time Magazine reported one recently declaring that 78% of burglars regularly use social media to choose and / or plan their crimes. So when you ‘check-in’ via FaceBook to that out-of-town resort hotel, you’re declaring to the world that you’re not home and your high definition everythings are unattended. Who are these burglars that they’re surveying!? And even if it did satisfy all the criteria supposedly reputable survey companies say are necessary, maybe the burglars being surveyed have their own motives other than the noble truth? Maybe employees might too? (85% of my friends think I’m being cynical about surveys.)

Are these cultures really mutually exclusive and is one better than the others? The answers are, “No” and, “It depends.”

In his book ‘Drive’, Dan Pink writes about the uses and limitations of extrinsic motivations (carrots and sticks.) He says that they have their place and can be very effective in simple, mechanical, programmed or scripted task-oriented roles. Studies repeatedly show positive correlation in those type of activities between incentives and improved performance. You reinforce the behaviours that you think you want and you get more of them but that is not a universal truth. If a task calls for “even rudimentary cognitive skill”, larger rewards lead to poorer performance. Thinking tasks require thinking people and they are internally motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose. Carrots and sticks don’t work for those people in those roles.

We need to nurture a culture for these people that allows a range of self-direction, develops them beyond their immediate work itself and plays to people’s inherent need to feel like they’re part of something bigger. Chances are, you have people like this in your workplace as well as those with routine task-oriented roles. The same culture won’t work for both groups. So it seems company cultures are like pants – one size does not fit all and you really can’t operate professionally without them.

Different people in different situations requiring different results at different times need different approaches. Crazy stuff but doesn’t it match your experience of reality in managing people? Fitting the right aspects of culture to the right person at the right time is a major driver of employee engagement.

Engaged employees shine out like diamonds. Karen was one such diamond. I met Karen at the supermarket where she worked as a checkout operator. It wasn’t my usual store but I was running a workshop nearby and popped in afterwards to buy some ingredients for dinner. I plonked them on the conveyor as Karen cheerfully greeted me. She looked at me, looked at my choice of groceries and asked, “Chilli for dinner tonight is it sir?” Before I had time to feel judged that chilli was all she felt I was capable of making, she added, “I always add cloves to mine.” It wasn’t busy so I explained to Karen who I was, what I did and asked her about her choice of conversation topic. She wasn’t on commission from the multinational clove corporations. She didn’t have a command-and-control manager dictating that she must try and upsell cloves. (“Do you want cloves with that?”) In a role that has precious little opportunity for discretion, she exercised discretion and was encouraged to do so. For her, it made the day go faster and amped up ever-so-slightly her job satisfaction. That radiated through to my perception of improved customer service. And, in a little but repeated way, she improved the quality of my life. (Try cloves in your chilli. Seriously, try it.)

I was speaking at a conference of dairy farmers about motivation. (Motivating their people not their cows, although, in this country, if I can develop that methodology, I’ll make a fortune!) Afterwards, one farmer came up to me (let’s call him ‘Barry’) to talk about one particular employee of his. The employee wasn’t a non-performer as such but frustrated Barry due to not improving and not making any effort to move towards achieving the potential Barry felt he had. It may or may not be relevant but the employee’s nickname was ‘Sleepy.’ We discussed the various ideas Barry had tried to little or short-term effect. Barry did say that carrots had worked but the impact had worn off. ‘Self Governance’ wasn’t going to work with a ‘Sleepy’ either, at least not by itself. What then? Perhaps a combination.

The group with the best perspective when talking about views from the top and bottom are those in the middle. I’m currently running a year-long development programme for a group of supervisors who are straddling that middle ground. They occupy that dynamic ‘meat-in-the-sandwich’ zone. I asked this group on their views. They’re a diverse bunch culturally and demographically with a range of supervisory experience (including zero.) Their responses were almost entirely questions – requests for more information. Who is this person we’re talking about? What’s the situation? What are our objectives right now and in the future? Smart people ask good questions. If I had to sum up their responses, I’d say, “It depends.”

I recently MC’d a health and safety conference. One of the speakers was Dr Rod Gutierrez, Principal Psychologist at DuPont. He told me about some research that had been conducted on people entering elevators. (He didn’t tell me why they conducted the research. I regret not asking.) People were covertly filmed entering a standard elevator, not one of those double-doored hospital elevators. Like most people I imagine, when you enter an elevator, you turn, press the button for your floor then stay facing the door you entered through. This proved true of all people – if the elevator was empty. They tested two other scenarios – one with a single occupant already there facing the back of the elevator and one with two occupants already there facing the back of the elevator. With the single weirdo facing the wrong way, most people regarded them strangely and faced the usual way. BUT with two weirdos facing the wrong way, over 80% of elevator entrants joined them in facing the wrong way.

Humans are social norming creatures and it’s likely many of your employees are human. The way things are done around here are the way things are done around here. If you’re a leader in a company that sells goods and services, no doubt you’ve got a marketing person or department that knows all about the value of ‘social proof’ in convincing and influencing customers out there in the market. Social Proof is evidence that others like us (or those we would like to be like) have already taken the road or bought the steak knives we’re considering, including the increasingly pervasive online video testimonials and LinkedIn ‘recommendations.’ The same principles apply to convincing and influencing inside the organisation. My advice to my farmer friend is going to be to try some social proof – to find someone who has been in Sleepy’s slippers, gone on to success, and to buddy them up with Sleepy. Let’s see what happens in combination with some of those carrots that worked in the past. Just don’t pick anyone nicknamed Grumpy…

 

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Do You Have A ‘Best Friend’ At Work’?

waffles-friends-work

I sometimes flash the Gallup (and others) engagement questions as a prompt in workshop activities. One question that always raises a few eyebrows (and rolls a few eyes) is, “Do you have a best friend at work?’ While I get the vibe they’re trying to tap into in terms of workplace culture, is that really the best indicator and really the best question? This article suggests an alternative that I quite like: Do you have many strong working relationships at your job? You don’t have to donate them a kidney or go to their barbeque but positive and constructive connectivity is crucial. Even then, they don’t all have to be positive in the sense of friendliness – an argument can be positive.

This article offers alternatives:

BI Worldwide Rodd Wagner’s (new) key questions

  1. Do managers support each employee as a unique individual?
  2. Is pay fair, if not generous?
  3. Are leaders transparent?
  4. Is there a clear mission and do employees feel a strong connection to it?
  5. What paths do people have to advancement?
  6. Do more junior people sometimes get to take charge?
  7. Are employees well recognised?
  8. Is this a cool place to work?
  9. Do people feel energised or fearful?
  10. How well do colleagues work together?
  11. How often do people feel a sense of accomplishment?

A good friend will donate you a kidney. A great friend will donate you a kidney… that isn’t their own…

Employee Happiness? Who Cares?

VillaincI’m not suggesting that employees should be made to be miserable. Ultimately, that’s up to all of us individually. The point I’ve been trying to make for ages and this recent article captures nicely is that employee happiness and employee engagement are quite separate and different things. If you want to gift chocolate fish and back rubs (no non-consensual touching!) that’s up to you and your spare time and resources. Happy employees can be unproductive and unhappy ones can be productive. Engagement is about the observable application of discretionary effort at work that on average leads to greater productivity, revenue and profitability. Who knows how happy people are? (Including themselves.)

Here’s an extract. Note that happiness is cited as one of many components of engagement, so it’s not all doom and gloom. I don’t think they’re in order so don’t get excited that happiness is “number 1.” The article talks about a dashboard which also is an interesting idea. It’s all about trending.

Here are the 10 metrics that are proven to have the biggest impact on employee engagement:

  1. Happiness

    How happy are employees at work and at home?

  2. Wellness

    How much energy do employees have at work?

  3. Feedback

    Are employees getting feedback frequently enough?

  4. Recognition

    Are employees being recognized for their hard work?

  5. Career Satisfaction

    Are employees satisfied with their work environment?

  6. Relationships with Managers

    Do employees and their managers get along well?

  7. Relationships with Colleagues

    Do the employees get along with each other?

  8. Company Alignment

    Do employees’ values align with the company values?

  9. Ambassadorship

    Are employees proud of where they work?

  10. Personal Growth

    Do employees have opportunities for career growth?

 

How Can You Make Your Own Luck When It Comes To Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees?

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

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.

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Re-blog from Nov 2011 & my most read post ever

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Government Employee Engagement

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I’ve been hesitant to write specifically about Government employee engagement and not just because it’s an obvious joke that the phrase itself is an oxymoron. (My favourite oxymoron is when a certain New Zealand political party included a drug policy in its manifesto  labelled ‘Marijuana Initiative.’) But once I found this article with the photo above, I just had to post about it, if only for the combination of the photo and the headline. I haven’t even read the article yet!

The surveys do declare that on average Government employees are significantly less engaged than non-Government employees.  The article does make a great list of reasons why. It doesn’t tackle at all how to address it. I’d give it some thought myself but I’m pretty sure Government departments would be slammed by the media and general public if they spent any time or money addressing it, so they’re unlikely to reimburse me for my time and efforts. It’s not a catch 22 but it is a something – damned if they do, damned if they don’t. I’m now on the look-out for info on that public authority somewhere on earth that has a highly engaged workforce and shatters all the stereotypes. It’ll probably be in Iceland or Finland. I hate those happy, successful, innovative places so much. No wait, not hate, respect, curiousity. I always get those mixed up.

What I don’t get from the photo above though – who is the Government employee, the sheepdog or the sheep? Because if it’s the sheepdog, who are the sheep? (Clue – it’s us.)

And why do I keep spelling Government with a capital G?

Employee Engagement Statistics

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Free Lunch And Employee Engagement

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.

Engagement And Productivity: Which Came First – The Chicken Or The Egg?

Hen-with-eggs

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!)

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