Tag Archives: Employee Engagement

Everyone is a Genius…

13 Feb

Source: luxefinds.com via LuxeFinds.com on Pinterest

Yes, we all have a genius hiding inside. Sadly, the world-of-work often does a very poor job of helping people discover and develop their talents, their genius. In an employee engagement survey we often conduct we find too many people who disagree with the statement “my job allows me to utilize my strengths”. In one company we surveyed late last year almost forty percent of employees disagreed. Right now millions of people are just like the fish who is trying to climb a tree– truly a fish out of water.

What a waste of natural talent. Of genius.

One company we profiled in Re-Engage had all their employees update their resumes, and in doing so found that many of their employees had experience and talents in areas that were untapped. They were able to fill some critical jobs and retain talented employees who may have gone to the competition.

Tapping into the genius, that’s what they did.

For some folks, that genius may be more difficult to discern.

Like the disabled, for example. We often see the disability, but we don’t see ability. That’s a damn shame, because if we took a bit more time to learn and understand and appreciate we might see more genius inside.

Let’s go help someone tap into their genius, help them stop trying to climb trees if that’s not their gift.

Let’s discover some genius.

The Wisdom of Sergeant Esterhaus

1 Jul

“And hey, let’s be careful out there.”

For fans of television’s Hill Street Blues, this is the admonition that Sergeant Phil Esterhaus proffers at the end of roll call to his fellow police officers as they head out to face the dangers that unfolded each week on the 1980’s Steven Bochco drama. It turns out companies who are recognized as “Best-Places-to-Work” have leaders much like Sergeant Esterhaus, who are effectively managing employees in a way that creates a more productive and safe work environment. Consider the following comments from employees who work at highly engaged workplaces:

“I have worked in this industry my entire career and have never come across an employer more concerned about safety than our company. Nobody gets placed on a job here until they have completed an intense safety training course. And continuing education is not an option. We will shut down a job before we proceed any further if the safety issues aren’t 100% in order. There are no exceptions. Everybody comes home at night.”

“We have a great, safe office!  We have gone more than 7 years being incident-free and injury-free and were recently given an award by the president of the company personally at a celebration.  Our office is used as the bar in most other offices globally.  The atmosphere here is much different in our office due to our camaraderie and caring for one another.”

The leaders at these companies have taken approaches that are making a significant difference. Several independent studies support the idea that a more engaged workforce is a safer workforce. One such study showed that after factory floor workers were given the training and freedom to make repairs to their own equipment rather than having to call a supervisor every time they had a problem, they reported fewer occupational injuries and increased job satisfaction.

Contrast that with the employers we see reflected in the comments of their disaffected employees, for whom the idea of engagement is no more real than the dramas we see on our television screens:

“Most people are job-scared– too much negative reinforcement.  Management is more concerned about the Pay-For-Performance than the safety of the workers. They are so busy cutting costs that they don’t care about the safety factors involved in maintaining our heavy equipment and cranes.  Managers speak out the side of their mouths.”

“I have been an OR nurse for over 20 years and this is by far the worst surgery department I have ever worked in.  Management does not treat employees with respect, nor do employees feel as if they are valued members of a team.  Managers are also unprofessional and condescending.  If you asked the Registered Nurses why they remain at the hospital, the overwhelming response would be because of the money.    In addition, patient safety is often compromised and nothing is done to rectify the problems.” 

“I work between shifts and the manager for the second half of my shift is a total loser. She can get the schedule correct and just does not know to manage. They have put into effect practices with total disregard for the safety of the employees. With constant standing, many employees, me included, are having leg, knee, leg, and back problems.”

According to the U.S. government an injured worker spends an average of eight days away from work. A bit of sage advice applies here: “prepare and prevent, don’t repair and repent”.  More employers should take a Sergeant Esterhaus approach to safety and employee engagement.

As we think about the steps we should take to create and maintain a great workplace, let’s be careful out there.  It all starts with caring enough to take action.

Living In Fear At Work Is No Way To Live

18 May

I spoke with a friend of mine who is looking to leave her current employer. She is an outstanding employee– hard working, highly skilled in her functional area, considerate and helpful to her coworkers, and passionate about serving others.  Her direct supervisor loves her; in fact, when her supervisor learned she was being wooed by another company a couple of years ago she was persuaded to stay.

Why would someone leave a job they like with a supervisor who wants to keep them? A senior leadership team that uses fear and intimidation as their modus operandi, that’s why. Here’s what she told me:

Most people here are walking on egg shells around the CEO, who is a tyrrant. We are all scared of her irrational behavior. There are times when she intimidates people, thinking this somehow will motivate them. It does just the opposite. My boss tries to shield me from this, but the fear people feel in the office can be cut with a knife. I love what I do, but life is too short to put up with this crap.

I feel badly for my friend. She is a good employee stuck in a company run by a leader who should be supervising a Cold War Soviet gulag instead of a twenty-first century company.  Sadly, her lament is something we hear far too often from employees who weigh in via employee engagement surveys collected by our research partner Quantum Workplace. Here’s an employee offering a similar sentiment:

There is too much fear in the organization. It prevents us from making quick and decisive decisions. Form over substance is the primary guide for certain management. Heavy politics prevents success.

What a shame. What a waste of time and talent. The philosopher Sophocles said “To him who is in fear everything rustles”. Too many employees are in environments where they “rustle”, where their hearts and heads cannot be put fully to the task at hand for fear of the despot leader.

Of course, people don’t have to be managed by fear and intimidation. The companies with highly engaged employees we studied and who are profiled in Re-Engage actually work hard to minimize fear, knowing that this approach brings little long-term value to the enterprise. Contrast these feelings with the following employee, who lauds his employer for allaying fear in the midst of these more difficult economic times:

In these uncertain times the leadership of the office has gone out of its way to hold staff-wide meetings to keep us informed of how the firm is doing and what it is doing, short of layoffs, to hold down expenses, and to try, generally, to assuage the fear that is naturally going on right now.    Trusts its employees to do their respective jobs without undue interference or micromanagement.

Here’s another employee, who has chosen to stay with her employer, in part because of a leader she can trust:

I have had opportunities to leave the organization, but have chosen to stay because of the leadership of our operation and the opportunities that are afforded me and my fellow employees.  I believe leadership is honest and provide crucial information about the current state of our industry in light of the economic down turn.  This transparency has kept me here.

Bravo.

Employees don’t have to be motivated by “do-this-or-else”. Leaders who feel a need to manage by fear and intimidation are, in my view, broken. In this case of my friend, the CEO has a Napoleon complex that serves no one. It’s pathetic, really.

We’ve found employees can be motivated in so many more productive ways, such as desire to contribute to something important, a need to feel part of a productive team, or an opportunity build one’s skills and talents.  What leaders need to do is help employees find the best within them to bring out that talent.

Want to engage and re-engage employees? Stop leading with fear.

(Photo from by stuant6 on Flickr)

On Employee Engagement and the C-Suite, by Leigh Branham

10 Mar

I hope you enjoy this post, written by my colleague and good friend Leigh Branham:

I encourage anyone interested in employee engagement to read a report recently released by The The Economist (co-sponsored by The Hay Group), titled “Re-engaging with engagement: Views from the boardroom on employee engagement” .  The report is based on a survey of 331 C-suite executives or senior directors from 19 industries in Europe and the Middle East.  I would be interested in hearing from readers in the U.S. (and internationally) about whether you believe the findings also apply to senior executives in your country, or in your company.

The Survey Findings:

The most disturbing findings were these:

  • 84% of survey respondents say that “disengaged employees” are one of the three biggest threats facing their business.  Yet, only 12% report that their companies “regularly and often” confront staff with “continually low engagement.”  C-suite executives themselves admit that employee engagement is discussed “occasionally”, “rarely,” or “never” at board level in 43% of companies.
  • More than one in five in the C-suite believe that employees are “much more engaged” than those in rival firms, compared with only 7% of respondents outside the C-suite.
  • 47% of C-suite executives believe that they themselves “have determined the levels of employee engagement” in their companies, a view shared by only 16% of senior directors outside the C-suite.  Only 13% of C-suite executives believe that line managers and middle managers are “chiefly responsible” for staff engagement.

My Take:

I was not surprised by the first two findings.  My experience has led me to agree with the report’s conclusion that “a sizeable discrepancy exists between what companies say about the perils of disengagement and how far they will actually go to confront the problem.”  This describes most companies, but not the minority whose CEOs are committed to building best-place-to-work cultures–CEOs like Jim Sinegal at Costco, Kip Tindell at The Container Store, Vineet Nayar of HCL Technologies, Tony Hsieh at Zappos.com, Howard Schultz at Starbucks, Dr. Kim Hoogeveen at Quality Living, Inc., or Graham Weston at Rackspace Hosting (these last two are profiled in our new book, Re-Engage: How America’s Best Places to Work Inspire Extra Effort in Extraordinary Times, co-authored with Mark Hirschfeld).  The business success of these companies speaks for itself that employee engagement works.

Now that “employee engagement” has reached true fad/buzzword status, many CEOs have pretended to embrace it by jumping on the engagement survey bandwagon.  But alas, many have not followed through by acting on employee ideas and feedback.  I think most CEOs no longer need convincing that employee engagement is vital to business success, though some, incredibly, still express doubt. The main reason most CEOs don’t aggressively tackle the employee disengagement issue, I believe, is that it appears “soft” and overwhelmingly difficult (soft = hard) to do so.  After all, in many cases it would mean a complete overhauling of the culture.  Most CEOs, especially at public companies, would much rather, in their boardroom discussions, deal with the nearer-term topic of how to increase quarterly profits.  The irony is, of course, that the surest way to increase profits is to build a culture where engaged employees consistently exceed customer expectations.

The finding that many CEOs are more optimistic than their subordinates about how engaged their employees are compared to rival firms is not surprising considering that most CEOs are generally optimistic and take seriously their role as cheerleader.  The cause for concern lies in the fact that they may be isolated from the reality that those one level down can see more clearly.

Good News, Bad News

What I did not expect to see in the survey was the degree of responsibility that CEOs take for controlling levels of employee engagement in their companies.  This should be good news.  But, if almost half of CEOs believe they are the prime mover of employee engagement in their companies, why are so many not doing more to drive it?  Our analysis of 2.1 million employee engagement surveys from 10,000 employers (in partnership with Quantum Workplace) does indeed show that senior leaders influence employee engagement slightly more than direct managers in that they do set the tone, embody the values, and convey the culture.  But it would be a mistake for CEOs not to hold middle managers equally responsible for driving up levels of employee engagement, just as it would be a mistake to not hold all employees responsible for keeping themselves engaged.  The fact that only 16% of those who report to CEOs agree that CEOs are the primary drivers of engagement suggests that lower-level leaders are more than ready to share the responsibility.

“People Leave Managers, Not Companies”…Up to a Point

I  have facilitated too many post-survey action planning sessions in which middle managers, after identifying the corrective steps they can and must take, come to the inevitable point where they say “we can only do so much.”  Some things, they correctly point out, only CEOs, their boards, and more senior leaders control and decide–things like clarification of company direction, overall staffing/workload levels, work/life policies, general pay/benefits, recognition budgets, and many other vital levers of employee engagement.  It’s up to those of us in HR-related roles to help them see the connections and trust us to advise them on the truest path to engaging leadership.

So, What Do You Think?

I welcome your responses to these questions:

  • Who truly influences levels of employee engagement more in your company–senior leaders or direct managers?
  • What actions should HR leaders take to help C-suite leaders sort out which employee engagement initiatives to take?

A Defense (of a sort) of Metrics

21 Feb

Written by Mark Hirschfeld and Leigh Branham

This post was originally published as a guest post by our friends Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt at Talent Anarchy. Do check out their web site for the entire chain of discussion on this important topic.

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This message begins with a disclosure: We earn a great deal of our living helping collect, analyze and create metrics for employers across the United States.

We’re data guys.

You could call us data nerds or data geeks or data commandos and our feelings wouldn’t be hurt one bit. You are certainly welcome to keep this in mind as we respond to the remarks of Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen and their recent tête-à-tête at Talent Anarchy.

Jason and Joe have offered us a refreshingly candid discussion around a very important question, that being the use of metrics in the effort to build great workplaces. We’re grateful for the opportunity to weigh in on this topic.

Over 110 years ago a German physicist, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, brought radiography, or what we more commonly call x-rays, into practical use. The technology, as it was initially designed, had major flaws. For one, in the case of its use as a diagnostic tool in medicine, it creates a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object. Because of this weakness there are times when the radiographic picture is inaccurate. There is distortion. The image on a flat x-ray cannot accurately represent the length and width and girth of our body. Early applications of x-rays hurt patients, as well-intended medical researchers slowly lurched the technology forward.

Mark once read that what we know about predicting human behavior is roughly equivalent to medicine in the Middle Ages. That might be a bit dramatic, but it makes an important point—our ways of measuring things like employee engagement are still in their infancy. How we go about measuring human-related “stuff” isn’t as good as it should be right now.

But we’ll get better at it, and we think it’s worth the effort.

There are some crappy metrics out there and metrics being used in the wrong way. Profit, for example, may not always be seen by all as the most worthy goal, though it is highly measurable.  What is more worthy is creating something of value that employees feel good about, and feeling engaged in the creation of it.  The irony is that by initiating and tracking progress on the people metrics, the mystery of how to increase profits is often revealed.  Too many leaders just don’t get it that engagement, for example, is not a program or gold watch or “billion-business-book-of-the-month-club”. It is a leading indicator of customer service, profitability, and value creation…and that the building blocks of employee engagement can be measured in several ways.  Progress doesn’t have to mean “always more,” but it can mean “always better”.

In our travels we’ve met those who use metrics as a sledge hammer, seemingly thinking that employee engagement is about getting one more morsel of flesh out of employees. They may get their pound of flesh, but they’ll never get the sustainable business results for which they pine. One of our favorite horror stories is about an executive who heard that a “great workplace” used green M&M’s as a way of celebrating with employees when the company had a success. This executive decided to bring green M&M’s into his company as a way of creating a more engaged workplace. He was bitterly disappointed that a year later his employees still didn’t think it was good place to work. This ignoramus didn’t understand that the green M&M’s at this company he had read about were a symbol behind which there was significant substance, most importantly a remarkable culture that had been built and nurtured over many years. The best metrics in the world won’t save this dope from himself, nor his company from languishing.

We also have some folks out there, in some cases well-intended, who don’t understand how to use human capital metrics properly and, as a result, make a general mess of things. We often do a horrible job of helping leaders understand how to use tools and resources available to help them be more effective serving and supporting the workplaces they have the privilege to lead.

There are some things we may not ever be able to measure. We may not be able to measure honesty, compassion, and courage, but we can measure the results that those traits produce–lower voluntary turnover, lower quit rates, fewer grievances filed, more internal job progressions allowed, more customers returning more frequently and referring their friends, more managers coaching (often confronting), recognizing (more often) and giving constructive feedback, more new employees being hired through referrals from happier, more engaged employees–all measures of not just more, but of better places to work that do indeed serve as measures of progress toward becoming a remarkable workplace. 

Many of us dream of a world of work that is different than what most now experience. We hope for a workplace where leaders actually give a damn about the people in their employ. Wouldn’t it be great:

  • If a CEO was notified by employees that a new product offering “embarrassed them”, that the CEO took those concerns seriously and immediately changed the product because he always wanted his employees to take pride in their work and their company?
  • A company, in the midst of difficult times, encouraged and helped their employees find new jobs if they couldn’t get them enough hours in their current job?
  • Terminated employees who were a poor fit for a job would feel so positive about their work experience that they would refer family and friends to their former employer?
  • An employer would have such a strong, caring, engaging culture, that when they were forced to have layoffs that all their former employees willingly returned when the economy turned around?
  • An executive team would freely give up their employer funded 401(k) match so that money could be distributed to entry-level employees who participated in the company retirement program?

These aren’t dreams or hopes. Each of these is true.

They come from employers we have had the pleasure of learning about through our research. There may not be many of these places, but they do exist. We wish there were more, and one goal in writing Re-Engage was to inspire other employers that creating and maintaining an engaging workplace can be achieved and that the sometimes arduous, frequently challenging journey is worth it.

There are remarkable leaders out there like the ones we profile, who are doing remarkable things in the world of work. They care deeply. They have compassion and love in their hearts. And along with their hearts, they also have a passion for making sure they’re measuring how well they’re doing in their efforts to create and maintain a great place to work.  

To them this is not an either-or, false-choice proposition— either they care about folks or they care about metrics. With every fiber that is in them they embrace this paradox and care about both.

To them, engagement survey results or other metrics are just like the x-ray. They are crude two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional living organism called an employer. These leaders use metrics as a way to start a discussion with employees, not as the final answer. They use metrics to support having an honest conversation with a supervisor who isn’t captivating and inspiring her/his employees. They use metrics to inform their gut instinct, not replace it. They use metrics as a guide in making important decisions, not the final word.

One company we’ve worked with achieved a significant year-over-year increase in the results of the employee engagement survey we conduct. The increases were in areas like breaking down unnecessary silos that got in the way of employees working together and having managers who were perceived as more open and honest in their communication with employees. Employees felt more appreciated when they contributed to the success of the business, and perceptions that senior leadership truly cared about building a great workplace were on the rise. These survey results came from efforts on the part of a leadership team that has devoted themselves for over two years to build a more engaging workplace.

They also had one of their best years financially in a long time.

To them, and us, their financial success is not coincidental. These leaders did not achieve this by luck or chance. By thoughtfully and patiently building a great workplace their financial success was, in our view, an inevitable, even natural, result.

No metric we can create or conceive can turn a poor leader from wreaking pain, havoc and agony with every step they take to the employees who fall in their path. But the right metrics used in the right way in the hands of caring leaders can achieve much.

(pic courtesy http://www.sxc.hu/photo/565371)

Webinar on Re-Engage

24 Jan

I recently conducted a webinar with Quantum Workplace on some of the main elements of our research into employee engagement. I talk about some important trends we see that you need to pay attention to and manage:

  • Employee engagement in difficult times,
  • The impact of generational diversity on employee engagement,
  • How organizational size impacts employee engagement,
  • Whether senior leaders can influence engagement, and
  • The changing role of employee benefits in creating a great workplace.

Celebrating Best Places to Work, Phoenix Style

23 Dec

A wonderful video from the 2010 Best Places to Work in Phoenix event. Goes to show that just because you take your work seriously that you don’t always have to take yourself seriously!

Two Very Different Ways to Feel Lucky, by Leigh Branham

13 Nov

A post from my colleague and co-author Leigh Branham:

Surveys that have tracked levels of employee engagement since the recession started continue to confirm Quantum Workplace’s findings that employee engagement levels have declined in most companies.  Quantum’s results, based on a comparison of surveys completed in September, 2008, when the economy imploded, and just three months later, revealed that two-thirds of employers saw engagement scores go down, while the other third’s scores actually went up (for insights into how these employers actually increased engagement during tough times, see Chapter Two of Re-Engage).

Both Watson-Wyatt and Hewitt have released surveys showing significant drops in employee engagement over the last two years.  Hewitt’s research reported that 46% of organizations experienced a decline in engagement levels the quarter ending June, 2010, while just 30% saw an improvement.

There’s no longer any doubt that declining engagement among the workforce, triggered by layoffs, job insecurity, overwork of those remaining, reductions in benefits, and paltry pay increases, is having a longer-term detrimental effect.  When Mark and I speak with employees and audiences about engagement and retention initiatives in their companies, many still say that the message they keep hearing from managers is “You should feel lucky to have a job.” 

Of course, anyone with a job should feel lucky when one in ten are unemployed and another seven percent have given up looking for work.  An “attitude of gratitude” is psychologically healthy.  And it’s true that some employees have unrealistic expectations, exaggerated opinions about their own capabilities, and an excessive sense of entitlement.  These employees may need to be reminded to step back and consider their good fortune.  But what about the rest of the workforce?  When they hear those words, are they more motivated?  Apparently not, when most studies find that 60-75% of the U.S. workforce is not engaged.  What concerns me is that many managers seem to feel that telling employees how lucky they are seem to think so.  Even worse, they may even be thinking that saying those words is all they have to do.

It’s almost as if employers have been using the economic downturn as their primary retention strategy.  There is a price to be paid for this approach.  According to exhaustive workforce report released by Deloitte, about one half of the workforce are considering leaving their current jobs, and almost a third are actively looking for work elsewhere.  As the economy slowly recovers, a tipping point will be reached, and a new wave of employee turnover will begin.

In our analysis of “Best-Place-to-Work” winning employers during the last two years, we detected early on a very different message coming from the mouths of employees in these elite organizations.  That message–”I feel so lucky to work here,” reflects a different kind of gratitude.  Employees of companies with the highest engagement scores don’t just feel lucky to have a job, they feel lucky to work in a culture that truly values, respects, and develops them.

One of those winning workplaces is Winchester Hospital, in Winchester, Massachusetts, which built a great workplace by training their managers not to avoid difficult conversations by building their skills and confidence to have those conversations successfully.  They even used their HR staff as coaches, so when a manager needs to prepare for a difficult conversation, they  are available to “rehearse” the conversation with them.  The result–a culture of openness, honesty, and trust that has become the talk of nurses and hospital workers in the community.  Winchester ranks in the 90th percentile in the state in patient satisfaction, enjoys an 87% occupancy rate, an eight percent turnover rate, and an unheard of two percent nurse vacancy rate.  In spite of having to reduce patient volume during the recession, and having to reduce staff hours as a result, Winchester was named the Best Place to Work in Boston in its size category for the second year in a row.

Such practices are available to any employer, but it tales the right mindset to implement them.  At a time when many so employees at your competitors are feeling unlucky and despise where they work, what better time earn their loyalty and admiration?

Why Top Employers Are Talent Magnets

29 Oct

My co-author Leigh Branham contributed to a terrific article posted at Investors.com on the topic of how more engaged employers attract talented people to their workplaces. The companies profiled in the article build great cultures, an asset that helps them win in the marketplace. The article concludes:

The top five companies to work for stress “employee engagement and encourage (employees) to take initiative, not wait to be told something and not perform a job in a rote way,” Branham said. The upside is that involved employees boost bottom-line results and encourage customer loyalty.

Time CAN Fly

1 Oct

Can time really fly?

I’m not a physicist, so tackling such a weighty question is probably above my pay grade. But when you listen to employees who are engaged in their work, who have a passion for what they do and are supported by leaders who care for them and support their development, you begin to wonder if great workplaces begin to break the laws of physics.

I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop on self-engagement recently, and one participant talked about how time really does seem to fly for her:

I just love working here. There are days I get so engrossed in what I’m doing that I look up and can’t believe it’s five o’clock! Sure, there are times that get stressful, but most days time flies by.

I contrast that with other folks I’ve interviewed who are not engaged at work. For them time doesn’t fly. They say:

Work is so boring. It seems like it takes forever. Time just drags.

I know where I’d rather be, don’t you?

If time isn’t flying in your work, may you need to think about whether you’re really engaged. To give you a sense of your self engagement you can complete, at no cost, our Self-Engagement Survey.  You can also download a report that shows how engaged you are compared to employees at hundreds of other companies.

Want time to fly by at work? Get re-engaged.

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