The Employee Engagement Discussion

For the last ten years, businesses have focused on employee engagement and its cost to businesses. Pretty much any report or study on engagement points out that about 70% of employees in the U.S. are not engaged at work and it is costing businesses approximately $500 billion a year.

Unfortunately, this employee-focused issue has not changed since before the 1950s when the emphasis was on employee satisfaction.  In the 1980s, the emphasis turned to organizational commitment.  The business issue; however, has not changed since researchers started studying and quantifying the situation more than 70 years ago.

There are a few major companies out there that have found some success in this arena and have become the poster childs for how they treat their employees.  Like in everything else, many companies think if they simply do the same visible things that they will be successful and their survey results will go up.

Speaking of survey results; when it comes to this topic, this is another important aspect. The purpose of surveying employees on their engagement (or whatever employee-focused thing) is to quantify how employees feel about the organization. Many companies do not even measure this, which tells someone a lot about how much they care about the issue. A good deal others use the survey results to target specific things in the organization to raise the score. This is a failed approach to employee improvement.  Surveys are for the purpose of providing a gauge of how engaged your employees are, not specifically a roadmap to improvement.

When you look at this issue from the business’ point of view, they do not really care if the employee is satisfied or engaged at work. They just know that if the employee is not, they are not operating as well as they should. What organizations want is employees committed to the organization–organizational commitment.

Employees, on the other hand, do not care about being committed. What they want is to be satisfied with their job–employee satisfaction.

The concept of “being engaged” is a deeper subject that most companies and employees simply do not understand. Employee satisfaction represents how employees feel about the things they can measure in their job. Organizational commitment is a result of satisfied and engaged employees and is measured from the business’ point of view.  But engagement is something entirely different.

Each of these three terms: satisfaction, commitment, and engagement, work together in business. Each one is important and should be the focus of employee and organizational wellbeing.

From a satisfaction point of view, employees are focused on the tangible things that they can measure at work.  Things such as the security of their position, comusurate pay and benefits with their role in comparison to others, recognition and rewards, opportunity for advancement, the company dress code, etc.

From an organizational commitment perspective, there are three factors that exist: employee, leadership, and organization. Employees must be present and they must be dedicated to work. If the company does not have any employees, then who will be committed to the organization? If the employees are lazy and not interested in working hard–just want to get paid–then they will not be committed. If there is no effective leadership to provide a vision and goals, or reward and recognize employees, then commitment cannot occur. The organization might have people in leadership positions, but they might not be leaders. Lastly, the organization must not just exist, but it needs to be an organization worth being committed to. If your organization does not have a strong purpose, vision, and culture, employees find difficulty being committed to it.

Engagement is the term that confuses managers the most. The reason is, because it is really based on how employees feel about their job.  This is difficult for companies to manage to, so most resort to single items scored low on a survey. Employee satisfaction was easy to manage to because, like the employee, the company could see, touch, and measure it. What confuses engagement even further is that many of the surveys out there include questions related to commitment and satisfaction as part of the engagement equation.

Employees are engaged by three things at work. These three things are communication, development, and quality. These things are not obvious to organizations and usually are some of the major problem areas many companies have. Open and honest communication builds relationships and trust with leadership and between employees. Most organizations stuggle with communication (internal and external).  Development is more than having classes available or a training budget that no one uses. Development is about actively challenging employees to grow and helping them with the challenge. It is about assisting them to become something better and stronger then they were when they started with the company. Quality is a recognition of doing good work, that employees around you are doing good work, and that the management focuses on quality work.  If the company does not care, cuts corners, and puts out a shoddy product just to make more money, the employees will be the first to know it.

So, the discussion needs to turn from one of engagement to one of organizational and employee wellbeing. All things, satisfaction, commitment, and engagement should be evaluated to establish a baseline and then to measure effective improvement. For each category, the right things need to occur versus focusing only on statements and scores on a survey. Only then will wellbeing occur.

Bad Leadership is Becoming an Epidemic

It might be me, but the more I look around, the more I am finding bad leadership. Specifically leadership apathy and leaders that lack accountability. “It’s good enough” leaders and leaders who are “just getting by.”

“Why are we seeing this,” I ask myself?

Bad leaders hire and promote bad people. Bad Leadership isn’t just destroying corporate America, but they are doing it at a record pace and doing it way into the future.

These leadership charlatans are building armies of apathy to follow in their footsteps. If you are someone that gets things done, you are kept in a position to get things done because bad leaders don’t want you–you threaten them.

No wonder more than 70% of employees are disengaged at work. Who wouldn’t be with such a sorry leadership outlook.

Often, we talk about the qualities and actions of good leadership, but I think it is important that we learn to spot bad leadership. Here are the top ten results of bad leadership:

1. The realm under the leader has little if no strategy or plan to inspire and drive people. Literally there is no vision, the purpose of the business is primarily focused on making money, becoming bigger, and taking care of itself. Any goals are developed to ensure each subordinate leader can justify their position in the strategic plan and do little to overcome barriers to a future vision. Any vision and goals are such low targets that they in most cases have already been attained.

2.  Program accountability is slowly eroding and nothing is done about it (i.e., deadlines are missed, people not qualified are in positions, reports are misleading, etc.). Expectation barely exists in the organization because targets, rules, and requirements are ignored. Organizations like audit, risk, and compliance are seen as the enemy and kept away from the organization. When there is a finding from one of these organizations, the leaders spends all resources to make it go away and cover it up, but does little to nothing to solve the root causes that created the issue in the first place.

3.  There is a complete lack of organizational performance and process management and accountability. No one knows deeper than monthly what they are doing from a measurement perspective and there is a complete lack of process focus. Everyone simply does their own thing and what little process documentation is lodged tightly in the heads of the employees and passed down like tribal knowledge. Knowledge systems are busting at the seems with senseless information without any organization. Variance across processes run rampant and unchecked.

4.  There is a significant lack of communication both internally and externally. What communication that is occuring lacks any direction or strategic intent. The leadership doesn’t even know who their stakeholders are to communicate to. The term customer is used, but they are a faceless entity that nothing is really known about. Specifications for work are all internally created and bear no resemblance to competition or what customers actually want. In some cases, the customer is seen and portrayed as the enemy.

5.  The organizational structure looks like a Christmas tree and is broken into functional and operational departments that are so siloed that the company looks like an island chain. There is little communication and less cooperation across departments. Each silo is only focused on what they do for themselves, they see everyone else as a competitor for money and manpower, and they simply throw work over the wall versus work in an end-to-end process.

6.  Education and training opportunities might exist, but there is no plan or strategy to develop employees and leaders. The activity, if it happens at all, is chaotic and clearly broken. Employees mainly spend resources to gain skill through training so they can leave the company.

7.  Operational effectiveness, based in things like defect counting, process timing, first pass yield, on time delivery, customer satisfaction, etc. is barely looked at (if at all) and nothing of substance is done about it.

8.  Leaders across the organization focus on tactical operations, ignore problems, lack methodical problem solving, micromanage work, and have little vision at work.

9.  Good, hard working employees are consistently overlooked for promotion opportunities and are kept “getting the work done.”  The great employees have either turned apathetic in the workplace, are looking for other opportunities, or have already left.

10.  Almost all the leadership and management below a bad leader looks the same. The problems above spread to every corner what that leader controls. Bad leaders conspire with other bad leaders to corrupt the entire organization because this eliminates the need for accountability. Soon, the disease has spread to the highest level executives and even possibly the president or CEO. The leadership ranks become bloated with high-paid executives who do little and hold no one accountable to organizational values.

These companies are like the undead. The disease has corrupted the body so badly that it doesn’t even realize it’s dead. It just keeps operating and destroying everything in its path. This mindless company lumber on making money in spite of itself and it decays and starts to collapse. Yet, the bad leadership are so unaware of the situation that they can’t even fathom there is a problem.

Bad leadership is running rampant in corporate America and the undead companies are lumbering across the landscape. Is there nothing that can be done?

When You Need A Swiss Army Knife in Business

Lately I have met several organizations that are at a crossroads in their own evolution. Many companies realize the importance of things like strategy, change management, process improvement, strategic communication, and employee engagement. However, these organizations are making tactical decisions on the direction of these areas versus truly looking at this from a strategic perspectives.

Instead of hiring several different individuals or creating separate teams all focused on doing the same thing, companies today should should focus on bringing all their Operational Excellence activities under one team working directly for the CEO or President of the company.  This group should be led by a senior leader that sits at the same table as the companies other leaders.

This Swiss Army Knife professional–SVP/VP, Operational Excellence–should manage things like:
– Strategy development, execution, and change
– Performance optimization through process, product, and functional continuous improvement
– Strategic communication inside and outside the organization
– Strategic human capital management to include education, training, and development and employee satisfaction, commitment, and engagement
– Information and innovation engagement

This team does not need to be big…depending on an organization’s size, it could be as small as three or four people.  However, it should leverage other support areas throughout the organization, like Human Resources, Finance, IT, etc. These organizations would not report to the position, but work with the position.

Today, some organizations have some or all of these activities occuring, but they are scattered across the organization and have very little singular direction. By bringing the functions together into a small effective team, an organization is equipped to deal with the challenges of today and the future.

Of course, the leaders of these types of organizations have to have a solid understanding of all these functions at strategic, operatiomal, and tactical levels and not focused on creating some massive sandbox of people with various skills. They need to be highly skilled with a focus on lean and mean.

Are TV Shows Destroying Our Ability to Trust?

television-0829f2bf70If anyone knows me, you probably know that I don’t watch television.  I find that TV is a time waster.  However, I do tend to watch movies on Cable and Netflix and recently, in a need to decompress, my wife and I have been watching a few different TV shows.  Last night my wife made a very interesting revelation.  She said, “After watching these shows, I think I’m growing to not trust anyone anymore.”

After some thought and a review of what we’ve been watching, she’s right.  The four shows that we’ve absorbed are The Agents of Shield, Arrow, Continuum (she’s watched this, I haven’t), and Merlin.  In all of these television shows, there are lying and conniving characters right in your midst.  No one tells the truth and everyone is living out separate lives on the screen.

Now, I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I did, and many people do.  Think about this influence.  Are all TV shows the same–they live out a drama of a series of lies and deceits where the characters are all hiding something sinister from the rest of the characters?  Think about this influence in our youth…

This is what we’re taught.  Life is full of half truths and no one…not even yourself can be trusted.  Then they enter the work world, where everyone is lying…everyone is living a secret life.  Think about our ability as employees to trust when we grew up in this environment.  The constant digital bombardment of “this is the way it is” from television shows.  In work today, the need and importance for trust is paramount.  Authors and consultants make millions off the concept, yet all the while, our environment is destroying your ability to trust.

Are we fighting a war that we have already lost?  I trust that you’ll think about this.

What’s Your Response Rate — Survey Apathy


I am a bit of a survey expert…I used to manage the Air Force’s Quality of Life (QoL) Survey for Ramstein Air Base and then USAFE.  As a consultant with Booz Allen, I worked closely with employee and customer survey results.  Now that I am with USAA, I also work closely with our Q12 (UCount) from Gallup. member surveys, and internal customer surveys.

In regards to low survey response rates, I will tell you that the reason you have a low response rate is because leaders do not share the results of the survey, or take actions to improve anything (react) to the survey.  When people take surveys (especially a lot of them) and the people administering the survey do not visibly and openly share the results and respond to the issues, the people surveyed feel the survey was a waste of their time.

Imagine if someone came up to you and asked, “How are you today?”  You responded to them and they simply walked away.  The next day, they walk up to you and ask, “How are you feeling today?”  What response would you give…

The thoughts going through your head right now is survey apathy…why should you waste your time answering your questions when no one is doing anything with the information.

You might not be aware that the person that asked that question went back and changed things based on your responses and wanted to see if there was an impact the next day.  But, if you are not aware that any actions were taken as a result of the survey (even if you noticed the changes made), then you become jaded to answering not only that survey question, but any survey question.

Just a little survey-related tip that might help in your future survey activities.

Do you have an open door policy or an open door?

A lot of good leaders out there will tell you that they have an open door policy. They will share with you, when talking about communication in their organization, how they have instituted an open door policy to facilitate communication in their organization. “My door is always open,” they will say.

But is it really?

How many employees ‘walk through your open door’ to talk to you on a regular basis?

If your answer is a low number or none–aside from the senior leaders in your organization–then maybe you should ask yourself if you really have an open door?

Now an open door policy really is a misnomer, because the reason leaders have offices and others have cubicles is so that they can have closed door meetings. These are either discussions where they want to discuss things in private or they want to have a meeting without being bothered. This way, leaders can have a series of meetings without finding a conference room all the time. Makes sense.

But then their door really isn’t ‘open’ all the time, now is it? But an open door policy really doesn’t mean that your door is actually always open when you come by or that you are free to walk in at any time. An open door policy is really about how approachable you have made yourself.

Your open door policy is really about a level of trust and honesty you portray in your organization and a level of openness to talk freely to employees. It’s not about actually having an open door.

Some things to consider to promote more of an open door culture in your office is to get up from your desk on a regular basis and walk around talking to people that you normally would not.

Take the door to them so to speak.

Get to know people by name. Know if they are married and have kids, are they going to school or do they have hobbies, if they like sports or volunteering, ect. Basically, find out a little more about them that demonstrates that they are more like you than you or they realized.

Sure, probably, as the leader, you make more money, park closer to the front door, and probably live in a different part of town, but in many ways you are very much alike. I think that people forget this.

Everyone from the lowest level employee to the highest paid CEO are the exact same–a human. They’ve just had different experiences in life that have led them to where they are today and the CEO now has access to way more information than the other employee. If you treat everyone like a fellow human being and not an employee, you will promote an open door policy.

I work for a guy that loves coffee. He’s very good at management by walking around. He can often be seen, especially in the morning and late afternoon, around the office talking to people. But he made his actual door more approachable one simple way…

In the front office, he put in an instant coffee maker and keeps it full of different coffees, teas, creamers, and sweeteners. When his door is open, his desk faces straight at the coffee maker. The coffee is open and free to anyone in the office and people often come by to get some. If he’s not busy, the door is open, and he’s in the office, it is not uncommon that he say hi or even get up and come get a cup of coffee for himself. He even has a time blocked on Thursday, that he tries to keep open for people to come get a cup of coffee and sit down in his office and simply talk.

Think about the simplicity of an open door. It’s not about the policy, but how you promote open and honest communication and make yourself approachable.

Leaders set the environment for a culture of continuous improvement

Everyone always wants to blame the failure to set a culture, or a bad culture, on leadership.  Leaders are responsible for setting the culture, but it takes more than leadership.  That being said, learn how leader set the environment that allows for a continuous improvement culture.

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