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Why Engagement Isn’t Just About Soft Stuff

Employee Engagement

If you’re serious about improving performance and driving growth, focus on how happy and engaged your people are. That may seem mamby pamby, but there is growing evidence that it’s not such soft stuff.

Here are a couple of Gallup statistics to consider:

  • Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line.  Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.
  • Engaged work groups show higher productivity, fewer safety incidents, lower absenteeism and are more profitable than disengaged work groups.  Their research shows that engaged organizations have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in the same industry. (Gallop statistics)

Now the question is. “What really drives engagement?” Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor, and Steven Kramer researched that question. What they determined is that of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important is simply making progress doing meaningful work. In a September 4, 2011, New York Times article, Amabile and Kramer note, “As long as workers experience their labor as meaningful, progress is often followed by joy and excitement about work.” Interestingly, this positive “’inner work life“ (as the researchers call it) has a profound impact on creativity, productivity, commitment, and collegiality.

The leader’s role, then, is to help people make progress — remove obstacles, provide support, recognize progress, and provide feedback on what’s not working. Unfortunately, almost all managers don’t see making progress as a compelling motivator. When Amabile and Kramer asked 669 managers from around the world to rank five employee motivators, they ranked “supporting progress” dead last. Ninety-five percent of these leaders failed to recognize that progress in meaningful work is a far more important motivator than raises and bonuses.

When was the last time you talked about any of this with your people? Probably not recently. Conversations with our teams are usually about financial results, how many deals are about to close, or where someone is in a project.

Next time you are trying to create motivating environment, don’t automatically think about traditional rewards. Think about whether your people feel like they are moving up the trail or if they feel like their pushing a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down on them.

Then ask yourself how you can bring more of of a sense of progress to the work and the workplace.

Creating a Powerhouse Culture

Company CultureThe powerhouse employee is highly capable in the work he does, motivated, and engaged.  Capability is something you can either hire for or develop.  An investment in skill-building is never wasted unless those skills become obsolete very soon after the investment.  Most people come to anew job full of motivation and engagement.  They are ready to go, excited to be there, and committed to success.  The ironic thing is that, after a period of time in the job or with the company, commitment can take a bid dive.

As a leader, spend time this week thinking about where your team’s capability, motivation, and engagement levels are.  How are you increasing them or decreasing them?  As you do this week’s thinking, take money out of the motivation and engagement equation.  Money is the cheap and easy way to try to create commitment and one that really doesn’t work for anything but short bursts.  Over and over again, research shows that long-term motivation and engagement at work come from being able to make progress and feel competent in doing something that is meaningful.  Many things, such as those listed below, can get in the way of generating long-term motivation and engagement.  Have you been guilty of any of these?

  • Assuming that making a profit is motivating enough for anyone to inspire performance
  • Giving someone a project, allowing them to move forward with it, and just before it’s completed telling them priorities have changed.
  • Consistently setting goals that are so much of a stretch they are viewed as unrealistic in any time frame.
  • Shifting priorities again and again and again.
  • Promoting people or moving them into new roles while providing little to no direction regarding your expectations for them.
  • Telling someone they own the project, then advising them in a way that makes them feel yo are controlling every aspect.

Take Action!  Real Change Accelerator

Examine your efforts with your team, then answer this question.
What are you really doing, really putting effort into, that’s building a powerhouse team?

Perils of Competition

winning culture

 

I heard a thought provoking talk by Margaret Heffernan recently. She is a business thinker and advisor to CEO’s whose TED talk has had 2 million views. The topic was about the often unintended negative consequences of businesses and a country obsessed with competition and winning.

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:

 

  • “The only thing that matters is getting results.”
  • “I need to make a name for myself in the company. That doesn’t happen by helping someone else.”
  • “We use forced rankings for our performance reviews.”
  • “We have an employee of the month.”

Those all reflect how we create high performance and achieve our goals, right? From the research Heffernan has done and, quite honestly, from our own experiences, that is often not true. What are some of the real consequences of the thinking reflected in these statements? Let’s take a look:

When the only thing that matters is getting results, how you get those results can promote very bad behavior. Look at the cheating scandals at universities. Think about the decisions financial institutions made that led to the financial crisis. Think about some of the people you’ve known who will do anything to win. It’s not pretty.

When career success hinges on how I and I alone make a name for myself, I won’t share information or expertise. I will maximize my performance and in the process sub-optimize the performance of others.

Forced rankings promote mediocrity. If only a small percentage can ever be ‘superstars’ then it doesn’t really matter if I work really hard because I probably won’t join them. The odds are not in my favor. On top of that, if I become part of that group, the game becomes too costly for me if I fail.

By having any recognition system that only rewards one person or a very small number of people, like employee of the month, the vast majority of your people are demotivated. Again, if only one of us can win, the odds are that I won’t be one of them.

Heffernan suggests that promoting collaborative behavior will lead to far greater success. Her research shows that companies that have long-term success not only measure and reward results, but put an equal emphasis on how one got results. They have cultural norms that promote people spending time in conversation and congregation with each other. She told the story of one company that did not allow coffee mugs on desks. It was not because they didn’t like how coffee mugs looked or feared a spill. They wanted people to get away from their desks and congregate around the coffee maker so the would begin to have conversations with each other and share ideas about their work and where the company was going.

What’s the norm at your company — collaboration or competition?

Their Meetings are a Waste of Time Too

Executive Meeting
When working with a group of global executives from a wide variety of companies the other day, the conversation turned to their executive team meetings. Specifically, they were talking about their weekly executive team meetings being a waste of time.

Any executive knows it’s important to get their team together for regular meetings. The problem is that, like many of the meetings we’ve all attended, what is happening in those meetings is a poor use of that precious time together. If we want things to change, we have to change how we spend our time.

See if this sounds familiar. The team holds a 2-3 hour meeting every week. The vast majority of the time — 70%, 80%, maybe 90% — is spent focusing on status updates about what has already happened and on operational data that could just as easily be posted and read in a report. Often, many people have already heard the information in other meetings and this is being done for the CEO, VP or whomever the senior person in the room is. Or, the meeting is a mix of agenda items that were pulled together when the executive assistant sent out the weekly request for topics for the meeting. The topics are often pet projects someone wants to share or something the individual wants ‘some input on’.

Any discussion or problem-solving is focused on narrowly focused issues that may have short-term impact but in the grand scheme of things, really did not need everyone in the room’s input or perspective. A couple of people could have talked about it and made the decision what to do. The resulting decision could then be communicated to the larger group, if necessary.

Invariably, the agenda doesn’t get fully covered because the team ends up in a deep debate about one of the topics or gets into a drawn out discussion about implementation details that are best left to those whose job it is to implement.  How can we get out of this meeting hell and use this very expensive time for effectively?

1.  Focus on strategy. Establish separate meetings to deal with operational issues. Otherwise, operational issues will always dominate the meeting.

2.  Focus on decisions not discussion. Any discussion should lead to a decision. Background information that is needed for the decision should be sent and read before the meeting.

3.  Prioritize based on value and importance not just urgency. Sometimes an urgent issue needs to be addressed. If everything is on the agenda because of urgency, you’ve got a problem.

4.  Create an agenda that drives the focus on strategy and decisions. Trash the ‘who has something for the agenda approach?’

5.  Ask, ‘why should we be talking about this?’ about any topic that creeps onto the agenda. If it’s purely information sharing, write a report or create a dashboard. If it’s a decision better made elsewhere, get it off your agenda.

For tips from Fast Company on how to stay productive during days of endless meetings, click here.

This Could Actually be a Valuable Meeting

Business Meeting

Last week’s blog post focused on using the IDEA model to make your meetings productive and arenas for getting work done rather than getting in the way of getting things accomplished.

Here’s an idea for how to put the model to use in the next two weeks. Have a meeting with your team to review the year to date and decide how to get some great things done over the next three months. The plans from that meeting will create the momentum for a highly productive 2nd half of 2015. Here’s your agenda:

        • Focus on Issues or Initiatives: What issues have arisen that have kept you from achieving your goals this year? What initiatives were put on the back burner because of lack of resources or maybe it just wasn’t the right time? What issues do you need to get a jump on as soon as the new year starts? What initiative will be high priority and needs to start on August 1st?
        • Make Decisions: Which of these issues are critical to address in the next three months? Which initiatives do we want to move back to the front burner? Do we have budget we need to spend or earmark before the end of the year or we’ll lose it? What do we need to do to have everything ready to move on the new initiatives as soon as the holidays are over?
        • Establish Actions: What actions will we take to address the key issue(s) in the next three months? Establish an action plan identifying your key steps, resources and timing. If you previously had a project plan for those initiatives that had been on the back burner, revisit it and see how it needs to be updated. If you did not, create an action plan or project plan that takes you through at least the end of February. Identify any internal or external resources you need for the initiative or to attack the issue. Take action to get them engaged even if they don’t actively need to be involved for a few weeks.

Let me know what plans you put in motion and whether this meeting was a productive use of your time.

Show Some Emotion – Part 1

Show Some EmotionsThere are a lot of people I know who work very hard not to show their emotions at work. They think that showing emotions is not part of ‘being professional’. Inc.com has a great article entitled Why Great Leaders Get Angry — and Show It. Reading it reminded me of the many companies I’ve worked for or with that could best be described as polite. In many conversations and meetings, topics that should have been hotly debated or, worse, probably didn’t deserve the time they were given, were politely discussed. Then, once the meeting was done, small groups huddled in offices to talk about how they really felt about the discussion, or worse, the decision.

As the Inc article points out, anger and, in fact, the entire range of emotions can be very productive and powerful when used and displayed effectively. As the author of the article, Jeff Haden points out, anger can be very focusing. It can create confidence. I believe it can spur creativity and new thinking. It can reinforce the importance of a topic. And, when someone gets angry and shares it appropriately, it can lead people to resolve a conflict or solve a problem. These are the types of interactions that build effective workplace relationships and lead to better performance. When we don’t or think we can’t share emotions in the workplace, we interact in a superficial way and are not able to tap into the strength of working collectively. Our companies stagnate. Our products lose their luster. People are physically at work but probably not engaging all their efforts. We aren’t able to innovate. We don’t benefit from different perspectives and great ideas.

I challenge you to give this some thought. How is being too polite hurting your company?

 

 

 

 

About Edith Onderick-Harvey

Edith Onderick-Harvey is a highly regarded consultant, leadership and talent expert, and speaker. Edith is frequently quoted in the media including The New York Times, CNN.com, HR Executive, and American Executive. As the President of Factor In Talent, Edith works with leaders to take performance — their own, their team’s and their organization’s — to the next level.

The Story Stays the Same

man loves his job 396 x 260Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report has just been released. Here’s the highlights:

  • 30% of employees are engaged and inspired at work — up from 28% in 2010
  • 18% are actively disengaged
  • 52% are showing up

What drives engagement?

  • Job satisfaction – having a great boss, room to grow and job tasks that are stimulating
  • Workplace culture, especially those that encourage people to voice their opinions and work together.

Before you think about providing free lunches and massages on site, look at how you’re doing on the fundamentals. “If you don’t have those fundamentals, the perks aren’t going to fix it,” says Randy Allen, the associate dean of Cornell University’s Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management.. “You may keep them for a while, but at some point they’re going to leave.”

Enough said?

Sandbox Rules and the $2B Conflict

JP Morgan Chase $2B ConflictBy now, we’ve all heard about the $2 billion (maybe $3 billion) loss at JP Morgan. An article in The New York Times shows how this loss was the result of long unresolved conflicts. It seems that when mom wasn’t as available, the kids started throwing sand at each other in the sandbox.

The Chief Investment Officer at JPMorgan, who had managed her unit brilliantly through the financial crisis, was less present in the office due to illness for several months starting in 2010. During this time tensions between her two deputies in London and New York came out into the open. The head of the London operation gained more and more latitude to build and expand trades from the desk in London and began to compete with his NY counterpart for supremacy. When the head of the New York office raised objections, shouting matches ensued and the tensions escalated. As one trader said, “The strife distracted everyone because no one could push back.”

Conflicts are a part of life and sometimes, a daily part of work life. When handled well, conflict can spur new ideas and results in stronger outcomes. However, as this case shows, unresolved conflict can cost real money.

When conflicts remain unresolved the nature of the conflict changes. When conflict starts the conversation is about you (your ego), me (my ego) and the conflict. If we aren’t able to resolve the conflict, my focus on the conflict changes. You fall out of the picture and I’m focused on the conflict and what I need to get out of it. If it still remains unresolved, I get to the point of not caring what the conflict is actually about, instead the focus is completely on me and making sure I get what I need, to make sure I win.

This seems to be what happened at JP Morgan. Something in the culture allowed the focus to go from coming up with the best decision and solution to winning at all costs. The inability to play nice in the sandbox just cost them $2 billion.

How’s your sandbox?