Employee Engagement

Knowledge Check!Recently this topic was raised in a town hall style meeting, and the comments from the leadership raised several concerns.  It appears that employee engagement is attempting to become a “buzzword” instead of an action item, and this bothers me greatly.  Worse, many people lead teams with vague ideas about what employee engagement means and then shape their own biases into the employee engagement program, making a pogrom of inanity and suffering out of a tool for benefiting and improving employee relations.

When discussing employee engagement, we must first begin with a fundamental truth; employees do not work for a company, do not work for a brand; they work for a manager.  An employee might like a company; they might enjoy having their professional brand aligned with a known branded organization. The employee might feel pride in associating with other employees under that brand.  When the road gets difficult at the end of the day, an employee works for a manager.  The relationship between a manager and an employee is one of trust operationalized and honed through shared experiences.

Employee Engagement – Defined

ProblemsAccording to several online sources, the definition of employee engagement is, “Employee engagement is a fundamental concept in the effort to understand and describe, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the nature of the relationship between an organization and its employees.”  If you believe this definition, you will miss the forest for the bark you are fixated upon!  Employee engagement is fundamental; it is not a concept, a theory, or a buzzword.  Employee engagement is a relationship between organizational leaders and the employees, but employee engagement is not about collecting qualitative or quantitative data for decision-making policy-based relationship guidance.  At the most basic level, employee engagement is the impetus an employee chooses to onboard because of the motivational actions of the manager they report to.

Employees must choose to engage; when they choose not to engage, there is no enthusiasm in the employee, and this can be heard in every action taken by the employees on the company’s behalf.  Is this clear; employee engagement is an individual action, where impetus leads to motivated and enthused action.  While organizational leaders can and do influence motivation, they cannot force the employee to engage!  Thus, revealing another aspect of why the definition found online is NOT acceptable for use in any employee engagement effort!Leadership Cartoon

Employee engagement is the actions an employee is willing to take, indicating their motivation to perform their duties and extra-duties for a manager they like.  Employee engagement is the epitome of operational trust realized in daily attitudes, behaviors, and mannerisms of employees who choose to be engaged in solving problems for their employer.  While incentive programs can improve employee engagement, if the employee does not first choose to enjoy the incentive, the incentive program is wasted leadership efforts.  The same can be said for every single “employee benefit.”  If an employee cannot afford the employer’s benefits, those benefits are wasted money the employer needs elsewhere.  Hence, the final point in defining employee engagement is the individualization of incentives and the individual relationship between managers and employees.  Stop the one-size-fits-most offerings, and let’s get back to talking to people.Anton Ego 4

Reflective Listening

Listening has four distinct levels; currently, these are:

      • Inactive listening – Hearing words, seeing written communication, zero impact mentally. Mainly because your internal voices drown out the possibility of communication.
      • Selective listening – Hearing only that which confirms your own voices, opinions, and biases. While others are speaking, you are already forming your response.
      • Active listening – Show the other person you are paying attention to, engage with meaning in a reply. You are focused on removing barriers to get your point across.
      • Reflective listening – Paying attention to intent and content, reducing emotion, two-directional as both parties are engaged in achieving mutual understanding.

Chinese CrisisInactive and selective listening can be heard through phone lines, instant messaging, text messaging, and easily observed during face-to-face communication.  Worse, active listening launches trust, and when faked, destroys credibility, ruining relationships.  Reflective listening can only achieve mutual understanding when both parties are choosing to listen intently and with the purpose of reaching mutual understanding.  The most powerful tool in an organizational leader’s toolbox for quickly rectifying employee engagement is reflectively listening.

Communication occurs in two different modalities, verbal and non-verbal.  Good communicators adapt their message to the audience using reflective listening and careful observation.  Adapting the message requires first choosing, determining who the primary and secondary audience is, and then focusing the message on the primary audience.  Next, adaptation requires prior planning, which includes mental preparation, practice, and channels for feedback.  Finally, adaptation requires listening to achieve mutual understanding, careful observation, asking questions designed to lead to mutual understanding, and clarifying what is being said to achieve mutual understanding.  The pattern described can be the tool that begins employee engagement but is not an end-all solution all by itself.Anton Ego

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that what a business organization needs, they already have enough of, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tell leaders who want to know and change their organization and how and where to begin.  Appreciative inquiry-based leadership is 6-continuous steps that start small and cycle to more significant problems as momentum for excellence permeates through an organization.  But the first step, just like in defeating a disabling addiction, is admitting there is a problem.

Here are the six operational steps for appreciative inquiry:

      1. Admit there is a problem and commit to change.
      2. Define the problem.
      3. Discover the variables and stay focused on the positive.
      4. Dream BIG!
      5. Design the future and outline the steps to that future.
      6. Destiny, create the destination you desire.

Bait & SwitchFollow the instructions on a shampoo bottle, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.”  The appreciative inquiry model can be scaled, repeated, implemented into small or large teams, and produce motivated members who become the force to create change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

Of all the steps in appreciative inquiry, it must be stressed that focusing on the positive is the only way to improve people.  Even if you must make careful observations to catch people doing good, do it!  Focusing on the positive provides the proper culture for engaging as many people as possible.  Criticism, negativity, aspersions, and insults all feed a culture of “Not my problem,” and when the employee claims, “not my problem,” they will never engage until the culture changes.

Organization

Andragogy - LEARNEmployee engagement requires structural changes to the organizational design.  Employee engagement is going to bring immediate change to the organization.  If the leaders, directors, managers, supervisors, team leaders, etc., are not prepared for and willing to change, employee engagement will die as an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.  As a business consultant, I have witnessed the death of employee engagement, and the death is long, protracted, and disastrous to the entire business.  Worse, individuals refusing to change stand out like red dots on a white cloth as employee engagement dies.

Thus, the first step in employee engagement belongs not to the employee, but the employer, who must answer this question: “Are we a learning organization willing to change, or are we a knowing organization who does not need to change?”  How the leadership answers this question will speak volumes to the employees closely observing and making their decisions accordingly.  Depending upon how that question is answered will depend upon whether the business can move onto the second step or remain stuck on the first step.

Andragogy - The PuzzleThe second step in employee engagement is training the organization to accept change and failure as tools for learning, growing, and developing.  A toddler learning to walk will fall more than they stay up before they can run.  The same is true when initiating employee engagement.  Guess what; you are going to fail; can you as an organizational leader accept failing?  Are you willing to admit you failed, made a mistake, and publicly acknowledge the blame and consequences?  Are you willing to allow others to accept the praise for doing the right thing?  Will you as an organizational leader accept change?  How you answer these questions also speaks volumes to the employees you are trying to engage.  Depending upon how you individually and collectively as a team answer these leadership questions will decide if you fall back to step one or advance to step three.

The third step in organizing employee engagement is total commitment.  Are you onboard?  Are all the leaders onboard?  Being onboard means 100% commitment to the organization dreamed in the operational steps to appreciative inquiry.  If not, do not launch an employee engagement program, for it will fail spectacularly!  Never forget the cartoons where a character has one foot on a boat leaving the pier and one foot on the dock; they get wet and left behind!

Have FUN!

Semper GumbyEngaging with employees should be fun, it should be an enjoyable experience, and it should bring out the best in you!  All because you want to see others engage, grow professionally, learn, develop, and become.  Your efforts to teach engagement lead you to learn how to engage better.  Seize these learning opportunities, choose to grow, but never forget to have fun.  My best tool for engaging with employees, dad jokes!  Really, really, really, bad dad jokes!  For example, when Forrest Gump came to Amazon, what was his computer password?

1F@rr3st1

When you get that joke, laugh; but wait for others to get it as well!  Employee engagement is fun, exciting, and can be the best job you ever had as a professional.  Just believe in yourself, believe in and invest the time in appreciative inquiry, organize yourself and your business, and always reflectively listen.Never Give Up!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Distant Learning – Adult Education Strategies for the Call Center (Part 1 of 2)

Chinese CrisisThe reality of Adult Education in the majority of call centers can be described as desperate, at best!  Why, because the model has been Bloom’s Taxonomy, mix in some ADDIE, add a sprinkle of desperation, and a load of “This is how it’s done here,” and you have the template for many corporate training programs.  Then remote training was forced upon the call centers due to COVID-19 related government mandates, and the model that barely worked before is fully inadequate to the present and future.  Yet, this unyielding model, is being forced into the new reality, like a square plug into a star shaped hole.  Stuffing this model into the new reality creates two things, waste, and confusion.  When we the call center leaders admit and face this reality head on, innovative solutions to the training problems can be derived.

Let’s admit this reality as well, Bloom’s Taxonomy does not work!  I am not advocating throwing it completely out the window, but Bloom’s Taxonomy hardly works in academia to barely describe a small subset of the population.  This is a reality that never seems to be communicated to people looking for training assistance.

ADDIE (Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate) as a learning model is useless.  This is another reality that must be acknowledged.  The most dedicated ADDIE enthusiasts add their own additional levels to the Basic ADDIE Model, to produce an “ADDIE inspired training program.”  The problem with adapting the ADDIE model to a single training environment, is the ever-changing student in adult education.  The model cannot adapt, does not have a basic return and report, and frankly, fails when students change from training group to training group.

Experience teaches that a standard training model built upon the basic four steps becomes the eventual template for training in the call center:

  1. Gathering Information
  2. Design
  3. Build Content
  4. Evaluation

Not that this is the best method, but because it is a method that is inexpensive, quick, and by hammering these four items success can be observed, provided standards for education are set very low.  Setting standards low serves nobody, but this is the fallback position when ADDIE and Bloom’s Taxonomy fail, which in reality they will always fail, but the very select few in any given population.

GearsSome call centers will occasionally find success using Merrill’s Principles of Instruction, and if your call center is a series of tasks that are called “customer service” then your call center can find success using Merrill’s Principles:

          1. Task-Centered
          2. Activation
          3. Demonstration
          4. Application
          5. Integration

Important to understanding, Merrill’s Principles of Instruction are scalable, flexible, holistic, but are limited to one specific type of learning task-centered.  Merrill’s principles of instruction can be attached to any other adult education theory, including Bloom’s Taxonomy and improve the performance of training, if that training is to learn by route memory a task that must be performed.

Call Center Agent - MaleDuring my youth, I worked for a call center, a national brand, winner of generous amounts of accolades and industry awards.  Their model of approaching customer service was to give the customer what they wanted.  Providing a soft-spoken voice to the customer and giving the customer what they wanted.  The company was bought before the 2000 business shift, and is not remembered, because they did not supply the customer service the customer found valuable.  But this organization makes an excellent example of Merrill’s Principles of Instruction for task-centered adult education.  Teach the new hire how to give a bill credit.  Teach the new hire how to speak softly during confrontational situations.  Teach the new hire how to approach a customer to sell upgrades, new services, or plan improvements.  Never teach the new hire anything more than tasks that need completed.  Never allow the new hire to exceed the bounds of tasks and call this excellence in customer service.  Eventually losing the company to your competition!

The glaring holes in adult education, found in call centers currently, originate from three core areas:

  1. Failing to decide what type of company is desired.
  2. Failing to set high standards for learners.
  3. Failing to understand adult education.

In addressing what type of company is desired, Myron Tribus asked, “What type of company do we aspire to be?”  Tribus claimed there are only two answers for this question, a money tap, or a learning organization.  If your call center is simply a front for a money tap organization, continue using Bloom’s Taxonomy and ADDIE, change nothing, and you can cease reading at this point.  Your competition wishes you the best of luck!

Andragogy - The PuzzleIf, your company is a “learning organization,” please allow me to aid you in discovering a better way to educate your adult learners.  Adult education, also known academically as Andragogy, is specifically designed for the adult learner to discover new content.  Important to understand, adults learn through events, not through hierarchical learning, which separates pedagogy from andragogy.  The events an adult learns from will include the environment the learning was delivered in, include feelings and emotions, and will be understood through the lens of earlier experiences, including previous success and failures in formal education, as well as attitudes, and socially accepted behaviors.  In Europe pedagogy (child learning) and andragogy (adult learning) are often confused and without a clear distinction.  For this article, training adults (post-secondary school aged people) is andragogy, and the training is a formal event in a new hire’s schedule; the best thing a business can do for adults in formal learning environments is to set high levels of performance.

If your organization is going to set exacting standards of performance, and expect those standards to be met, then your first job is to improve who instructs, and how they instruct.  How are your trainers and mentors trained?  What are their standards of performance?  Who trained them?  Formal and informal education has value, who set the standards for the trainers to meet?  Where can an aspiring trainer find the standards to be met to earn the title “trainer” or “mentor?”

Which is where an adult educational model that works, is needed, and applied, “Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction.”  Interestingly, with minimal wording changes, the same nine events of adult education are applicable as a standard for face-to-face, online real-time, and online student led delivery modalities.  Here are the basic nine events as established by Gagné.

  1. Gain Attention
  2. Inform Objectives
  3. Stimulate Recall
  4. Present New Materials
  5. Provide Guidance
  6. Elicit Performance
  7. Provide Feedback
  8. Assess Performance
  9. Enhance Retention to Transfer to the Job.

These events represent episodes, or steps, for powering adult education and adapted for both task-centered and non-task-centered educational events.  More importantly, these nine events of instruction open the door to declare the standards desired, how those standards are met, and how the adoption of those high standards are evaluated.  Evaluation should not be a single faceted event, such as a written test; but should be reflected in the changed behaviors, attitudes, and mental functioning of the individuals.  Except to evaluate in this manner, the objectives must specifically identify what a successful candidate of that learning event shall reflect.

Stated more simply, does the trainer know what a successfully trained candidate looks like, and are they modelling that successful candidate in every student interaction?  If the answer is no, how do you the business leader know that successful training can occur?  Training is evaluated for the following reasons, to validate training, justify costs, improve design of training, and improve selection of training methods.  Thus, the importance of evaluating training programs. The five levels of measurement are (in order) reactions (Happy Sheets; where an emotion measures the training program), learning (new or improved skills which are observed), application (behavior changes which can be observed), business results (behavior changes leading to improved results), and return on investment (ROI; monetary return over a specified time, after training occurs.  Yet, a simple truth prevails in training, even without formal training improvements can occur in behavior, unless the evaluation of training is an event and retention of knowledge as transferred to the job is measured instead of all the other training evaluation methods.

Andragogy - Trainer FailureTraining in the call center must change, adapt, and be understood through Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction, and Gagnè’s Instructional Design model, which helps to take strategic goals and tactical actions, blended together in the training events, and observed through ROI improvements.  If training does not lead to a changed individual, why spend the money to train?  If the trainer is not exemplifying the behaviors of a successfully trained person, how can any other employee be held accountable for not learning?  It is imperative that how training is evaluated changes as the current models do not measure training, do not explain the resources invested, and does not justify what training is or what a trainer does.

Part 2 more fully explores Gagné’s Instructional Design Model and the Nine Events of Instruction in more detail.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein. The pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.
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