Tuesday, April 30, 2013

We don’t need no stinkin’ bosses.

You’re about to have an interaction with your boss.  Here are your choices:
  1. The boss praises and recognizes your work.
  2. The boss tells you how to do your job.
  3. The boss scolds you.

Which do you choose?  

This is the question that leads to the proposition that if you want to engage employees you must give them praise and recognition.  But sometimes we leave out the most revealing alternative:  “Is the glass half full or half empty?”  The alternative view might be: “perhaps the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.”

In the question above, perhaps the real alternative is D. "I don’t need no stinkin’ boss".  Perhaps we don't really seek praise and recognition from the boss, it's just the best of three pretty bad choices.  Perhaps we choose A. only because we don’t see the D. alternative.  

The psychology of identity would suggest that D.might be the better choice, that we don’t want to be put in the Child role as implied in A., B., or C..  It is a huge problem in running a business.  In some very real sense, if you’re the CEO, your biggest liability is the people you hire as bosses.  In the book Behave! How to get 100% of your workers fully engaged we talk about how to solve this problem.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

“What drives employee engagement?” Asks the wrong question.

Seeking the answer to the wrong question is a pathway to futility.

We keep asking the wrong question “What drives employee engagement?” That is why we continue to struggle with workforce populations where only a small percent of workers are fully engaged. Instead we should turn the question on it’s ear.  “What causes employees to become disengaged?”  Whatever that is, let’s stop doing it.

Here is a consequence of asking the wrong question.  We see a study that says that there is a correlation between low levels of ‘senior management taking a genuine interest in me’ with low employee engagement.  From that (ignoring the fallacy of correlation implying causation), we draw the conclusion that this lack of interest causes employees to become unengaged.  Then, in trying to answer the question “What drives employee engagement” we see someone flip that on it head “The No. 1 driver of employee engagement is when senior management takes a genuine interest in me as an individual.  

When the lack of something causes disengagement, the presence of that something does not necessarily cause engagement.  The lack of oxygen causes a candle to go out.  The presence of oxygen does not light the candle.

What spurred this post was a discussion on LinkedIn which stated that a 2011 Maritz survey of more than 90,000 employees worldwide said that only seven percent of employees say they trust their senior leaders to look out for their best interests, and thus, the no. 1 driver of employee engagement was “when senior management takes a genuine interest in me as an individual." (Actually, I could not find that the Maritz survey said this at all.)

Lets assume that the 7% group consisted entirely of fully engaged employees.  Thus, employees who feel that senior management takes a genuine interest in them as individuals are all fully engaged.  Of course other studies identify the proportion of fully engaged employees to be between 25% and 45% of the workforce.  Lets assume the percent of employees who are fully engaged is 28%.  Therefore a quarter of fully engaged workers trust that senior management takes a genuine interest in them.  That leaves three quarters of full engaged employees, still being fully engaged, but not trusting that senior management takes a genuine interest in them. This would suggest that it probably isn't all that relevant to engagement and almost certainly not the #1 driver.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Put on your CEO hat and make some money!

WEBINAR: Thur. April 25, 2013 from Noon to 1:00PM

Put on your CEO hat for a moment.  Let’s suppose you had an operating margin of 10% and that about 20% of your employees are highly engaged (this is the norm for many larger companies).  An expert tells you that if you lift the percent of highly engaged workers from where it is now up to 50% (not easily attained with today’s techniques) you’d expect to see an impact on your operating margin.

How would you estimate that impact?  Highly engaged workers are likely to treat customers better, so that would reduce complaints and costs associated with those complaints.  Highly engaged workers tend to deliver higher quality output, and that too should have a positive impact on gross margin.  Highly engaged workers take less time off than other employees, and they tend to stick around.  And highly engaged workers give you their discretionary effort.

A Towers Watson study of more than 50 global companies demonstrated a correlation between operating margin and employee engagement. They discovered that companies with high employee engagement had a 17.5% richer operating margin as compared to companies with low engagement.  Gallup’s data also supports this.

As CEO you want to take advantage of this.  But years of data shows that all the traditional approaches to engagement (having a communication plan; articulating a intrinsically good vision; establishing your core values and hiring, firing, promoting based on those values; building trust up, down and sideways; having a robust rewards and recognition program; doing career planning and training; using S.M.A.R.T. goals; having a well being program for employee health; and empowering employees) have not lifted the bar significantly when it comes to having highly engaged employees.  Getting up to that 50% highly engaged level is rare.  Something’s missing.

What’s missing is getting to the root cause of why employees start out highly engaged their first day on the job, and somehow lose that in the weeks and months that follow.  The data tells us that the primary cause of employees becoming unengaged is management.  First we need to dig to find out what is really going on to cause this bad outcome.  And second, we have to fix the problem. 

THNK has produced the breakthroughs, which answer these two challenges.  We now know what causes this breakdown of employee engagement, and we know how to fix it.  That makes getting 50% of your employees highly engaged much easier, in fact, it enables you to go all the way to getting 100% of your workers fully engaged.  Even if Towers Watson was only half right, it is still a huge difference in margin, and at least worth having a conversation over.  Join the discussion in the webinar.  http://thnk2013apr.eventbrite.com

Bill Burnett

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Power of Meaning

In our book "Behave! How to get 100% of your workers fully engaged"  We talk about two very powerful and sustainable motivators.  One of those is Meaning.  Meaning is about behavior that has value to us personally.  It includes accomplishment, self-creation, problem solving, the sense of mastery, and doing good.  Whatever it is, it matters to us personally.

I use the example of my wife using Method cleaning products.  Method’s products are all environmentally friendly, no negative impact on the environment.  The packaging is all either fully biodegradable or recyclable.  And the product is effective.  The product makes meaning for my wife because it allows her to have a clean kitchen, bathroom, laundry while having no negative impact on the local landfill and no negative impact on the environment.  Personally she gets satisfaction from using method products.

Here Dan Ariely talks about Meaning an motivation/demotivation:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Key to Employee Engagement is Self-Management

The key to employee engagement is self-management.  Like motivation where the only real motivation is self-motivation, the only real management is self-management.  The more successful a company is in implementing self-management the more successful the company will be.  

Institutionalizing self-management is challenging.  Paul Zak suggest that it first depends upon trust which depends upon our bodies’ use of oxytocin.  Things that inhibit the production of oxytocin include hierarchy where we are forced to play the child role, high stress, and fear.  Eliminate those and you are well on your way to self-management.  How to do that?  To answer that question we wrote the book Behave! How to get 100% of your workers fully engaged.

Paul Zak on Trust, Morality -- and Oxytocin

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Big "F" in Employee Engagement

In the prior blog I laid out the surprisingly high value of employee engagement.  Clearly a company is better off if all employees are highly engaged (giving you their discretionary effort and discretionary thinking).   Over the past 10 years companies around the world, recognizing the financial impact of high employee engagement, have implemented employee engagement programs.  These programs typically include these components:

  • Share Leadership Vision 
  • Shared values and guiding principles 
  • Recognition and reward system 
  • An effective communication plan
  • Accountability around SMART goals
  • Demonstrated respect, trust
  • Frequent feedback
  • Leaders who Listen
  • Clear expectations

These all sound like the right things to be doing.   The goal isn’t to go from 25% of employees fully engaged to 32% of employees fully engaged.  That would be a solid failing grade.  An effective program should get you into the hight 90 percentile. So how are we doing?  From time to time, companies that perform employee engagement surveys for their clients accumulate the data and report the results.  So how are we doing?

Clearly we’re not getting to that 90% range.  In fact, we are earning a solid "F".   All these things we are doing like Reward and Recognize, Set SMART goals, Demonstrate Respect, etc., feel like the right things to be doing.  But the data would suggest that something is missing.  We have not delivered the right strategy to get to high levels of employee engagement.  However, we know a handful of companies achieve that.  They have close to 100% of their employees fully engaged.  Perhaps we should think about what they do differently, and what is missing in our employee engagement programs.