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.

 

Shifting The Employment Paradigm – Or, Hastening The Trend to Stop Knowledge Loss

Several mainstream academic and corporate researchers are reporting a trend in employment, shifting from an employer-employee relationship with fixed costs to a non-traditional or contractor based workforce, where costs rise and fall as needed to fill business needs.  American Express recently announced a huge layoff; other business organizations are also scaling back employee hours or executing mass layoffs.  Since the New Year (2013), several business organizations have announced reductions, under Federal Government pressure, making full-time employees become part-time employees with less than 20 hours a week scheduled.  Before implementing mass layoffs and the inherent drain of knowledge resulting from those layoffs, business leaders would do well to research shifting from employees to knowledge-based contractors, which has proven profitable and unencumbering to the ebb and flow of transition and to the uninterrupted, well-ordered processes of success as well as solving the unintentional consequences of unresolved patterns of cost escalating loss.

Consider the costs, not simply dollars and cents, but intellectual cost, productivity costs, time lost, and more that is now draining the resources of these organizations.  The fixed employee costs are too egregious to be borne, but the need for the work of the employee remains.  The fix to the problem continues to lie in disconnecting the employee and connecting that same worker to the organizational brand as an independent contractor.

For example, Company A employs 200 people.  Federal Government Regulations declare that the new fixed income costs have risen to $10,000 per employee, totaling $2 million annually.  Company B is a direct competitor to Company A and employs the same number of people, but 175 of these employees are contractors with various length contracts for specific work projects, hour of the day specified, and wages.  Company B, according to the IRS, employs only 25 employees at the same cost per employee of $10,000 totaling $250,000.  The advantages are obvious, realistic examples abound, and the process is slowly advancing.  It is past time to hasten this work.

Consider the loss of intellectual power during a mass layoff.  This is a potential (Blue) cost and the impact is measured in final (Green) cost outlays.  John Q. Worker, has been with Company A for three years and has moved from production labor to supervisor, mainly by his competency in keeping production running smoothly.  John and his senior team members have been groomed as subject matter experts and are recognized for their professionalism and work knowledge.  John’s team is laid off along with several lower ranking members of other teams.  The knowledge drain in production creates a debt into which training, time, and other company resources must be poured to recover the loss of knowledge when John and his team were laid off.  In a down economy, how does Company A recoup the loss of knowledge?  What happens if John and his senior team members, who all work well together, approach Company B and offer their knowledge for sale?

This single cost reflects a vast amount of organizational resources that will require double the cost outlay to replace.  How is the investment doubled? John was just one person; however, the doubling of the investment comes from the immediate lack of knowledge coupled with the need to train a replacement on the job.  Layoffs only work in boosting short-term profit margins but remain a permanent lose-lose situation for the business organizations due to the intellectual drain, the doubling of costs to replace and restructure, and the need for business to continue.  Needs of business do not go away when employees are laid off.  Yet, how many of these now doubled costs would be an issue if John was changed simply from an employee to an intellectual worker, in fact, all those who were laid off.  John and his team would remain in their current roles performing their skills and talents with freedom and independence, and the company would gain a powerful resource for improving production as well as taking a straight loss and turning it into a permanent gain.

This is the power of the independent contractor model.  Layoffs are straight loss scenarios: employers lose, employees lose, communities lose, states lose, and ultimately the entire society loses.  Jobs lost in New York make for tougher times in California.  Collins (2001) wrote, in his book ‘Good to Great,’ about this cycle of layoffs and the destruction caused.  If American Business cannot or will not choose a different model to embrace, other than employee/employer, the American Experiment is doomed to fail; doomed because the same problems inherent in ‘Right to Control’ are the root causes to runaway government power grabs, compensatory spending problems, and theft of public resources for personal gain.

Other thoughts from Collins (2001) include the following gems for consideration, regardless of your level of leadership.

“Mergers and acquisitions play virtually no role in igniting transformation…”  This means that changing organizations through merger or acquisition does not correct the core problems in an organization.

“Technology … has virtually nothing to do with igniting transformation…”  Adopting new technology does not change core problems.

“Greatness is not a function of circumstance.  Greatness … is largely a matter of CONSCIOUS CHOICE.”  [Emphasis mine]

The final quote from Collins (2001) is the perfect thought:  choose greatness, free the employee to become an independent contractor.  This brings about the final conclusion discovered by Collins (2001): “… Good to great companies paid scant attention to managing change, motivating people, or creating alignment…”  Collins (2001) declares this is possible because the workers were empowered with the dual culture of entrepreneurship and discipline.  Other authors and business researchers are drawing the same conclusions.  When the employee is empowered, truly empowered, the organizational leaders are free to drive the company because the people problem is solved and the freedom to use their skills and talents as a contractor perfects the processes and procedures.

Shift the paradigm, free the employee, and watch the business become great.

How does Company B from our example manage all the contracts?  The HR team contracts two-contract lawyers for contract design.  One full-time IT person engineers the contract website where the prospective contractor creates a contract using options personally motivating to the contractor.  Upon legal endorsement of the validity of the newly created contract, the head of the HR Team, working in concert with the head of the department, makes operational changes to meet essential requirements, which are presented to the potential new contractor for negotiation and agreement.  Upon reaching an initial agreement, the document goes back to HR Legal Team for final review and approval.  Once completed, the new contractor signs with the department head and work begins.

References

Collins, J. (2001). Good to great why some companies make the leap… and others don’t. (1st ed.). New York, New York: HarperCollins.

© 2013 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

Employee Organization – Or “A Referendum on Knowing Societ[ies]”

Tribus (n.d.) discusses organizational change, the need for education, and the power of learning.  In ‘Changing the Corporate Culture: Some Rules and Tools,’ a principle relating to unintended consequences is discussed herein.  The principle is the difference between a ‘Learning Society’ and a ‘Knowing Society’ as discussed by Tribus (n.d.).  With the ‘Right to Control’ firmly embedded in an employer’s pocket of control, the unintended consequence is that every employee becomes a heavily guarded fortress of knowledge as a means to survive in a corporate organization.  Every employee must ‘know’ his job or risk losing that job.  This mindset has lead to terms like, ‘Group Think,’ ‘Knowledge Management,’ etc., and creates the legal arguments and problems swirling around ‘Intellectual Property.’

One term not found in Tribus (n.d.) is that which I have labeled as ‘Keystone Mentality.’  A keystone is found in architecture when building an arch.  The keystone is the center stone in an arch that provides the balance upon which the entire arch hinges.  A ‘Keystone Mentality’ is found in every business in the world where a single employee hoards knowledge, considers hoarding knowledge appropriate to ensure job security, and never gets sick or takes vacation, as they (the Keystone Mentality) erroneously perceive that the business will suddenly stop if they take a break.  ‘Keystone Mentalities’ gossip, rumormonger, betray fellow employees, and generally take ‘any means necessary’ to protect their position from intruders.  The ‘Keystone Mentality’ is the hallmark of a ‘Knowing Society’ created through employee churn, developed in the fires of adversity, and held in positions of power by those who refuse to learn because there is a ‘Keystone Mentality’ to take the slack or rely upon.  Quid pro quo is the least of the unethical behavior allowed when managers rely upon a ‘Keystone Mentality.’

Another aspect of a ‘Knowing Society’ is nobody learns anything.  Since the expectation is that everyone already knows, why share knowledge.  Where is the incentive to not be a ‘Keystone Mentality?’  Where is the incentive that encourages a person to bend, to be humble, teachable, or to learn?  Learning requires humility, compassion, empathy, and leadership of people.  A consequence from many “Knowing Societ[ies]” not mentioned by Tribus (n.d.) is that ‘Knowing Societ[ies]’ build psychopaths, sycophants, and pathological liars.  ‘Knowing Societ[ies]’ are managed by people, who, if they do not know something, bluff, ‘fake it until they make it,’ and the cloning of Neanderthals becomes accepted practice, this is often referred to as, ‘good corporate politics.’

Young students are instructed to never stop learning.  Why do graduates of high school, college, advanced degrees in business choose to stop learning every facet of the organization to which they are employed; the answer lies in the ‘Right to Control’ and the demands for ‘Knowing Societ[ies] in the places of employment.  Corporate training for a new position mostly entails discovering whom to turn to for answers.  It becomes a game of who do you know, that I know, that they do not know, so we can look good for another boss, who is pulling the same game in the chess match of corporate politics.  The larger the organization, the more frustrating this problem becomes.  Small business and even some mid-size businesses have one or two people, who have been with the company since inception, know everybody, have their fingers in all the pies, and feel all the pulses. Gossip from these people can make and break careers.  Being anathema to change, ‘Keystone Mentalities’ will always act first from a position of corporate survival, then from a position of power to receive quid pro quo, and then, maybe, for the good of the company.  The issues caused by and demonstrated as a result of current principles utilized by ‘Knowing Societ[ies]’ are unquestionably clear.

‘Learning Societ[ies]’ require leaders who know people and are humble enough to teach and be taught.  Learning remains a two-way street with responsibility and accountability flowing from teacher to student and back to teacher in a never-ending circle.  Leaders in a ‘Learning Society’ will ask questions, employees will ask question, the answers come from other leaders and employees, knowledge is shared so everyone wins.  The organizational health is sacrosanct, and when everyone wins, everyone prospers.

Shifting the employment paradigm requires organizations to embrace learning, encourage experimenting, and demand accountability for new learning being applied.  Until the ‘Right to Control’ resides in the individual’s power and not in the organization’s, a true shift from a ‘Knowing Society’ cannot occur.  Some organizations provide lip service to learning being key and crucial to success.  The Federal Government does lip service to reduce spending with the same affect.  Until the individual is free, accountability and responsibility in the workplace, in a society of professionals, and in our communities will continue to diminish.  These principles are not new; Tribus (n.d.) speaks of them, talks about them, and has been insisting this is the path to tread.  Nothing changes until the basic equation shifts.

The time is now for business leaders to encourage employees to become knowledge workers, contractors, and freelance consultants.  The time is now to begin and to embrace the path outlined by Tribus (n.d.); shift the paradigm in employment; and change, lead, and re-discover the power of education.

© 2012 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

Additional Reading:

Tribus, M. (n.d.). Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools. Retrieved from: Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools Web site: http://deming.eng.clemson.edu/den/change_cult.pdf