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.

The proof is in the pudding

Two years ago, the organization I work for set about on a journey of developing a culture of continuous improvement…what I now have come to realize is a culture of operational excellence.

The first primary ingredient was the right leader…yes, they clearly make all the difference in the world.

Second was having the right bus, as Good to Great would tell you. Every manager and director in the organization is motivated and ready to do the right thing. Like many organizations, getting people off the bus is easier said than done, so Don’t Fire Em, Fire Em Up, right?

The journey was clear in my mind, I just didn’t know how long it would take…since we’re still on it, it takes more than two years. However, it’s like many efforts that I’ve seen in nonprofit turnarounds, once it gets going, it’s like a snowball.

This last month has been one of, “Careful what you wish for,” type activity and I think that 2014 is going to prove to be a whole year of that.

Step one: Evaluate the current situation. Non-union, manufacturing-like, heavy reliance on strategic partnerships, excessive redundancy in non-operational processes taking up leaders time, and core process that provides the most value to the overall mission not well understood or controlled.

Step two: Fix the core process–completely map (four phases), provide a full narrative, develop templates and tracking tools, establish formal governance around process, and pilot–pilot big! First pilot returned 16 FTEs worth of man hours back to the supported business for reinvestment!

Step three: Reorganize to support key process. Demonstrated to everyone the redundancy in administrative processes that were sucking up vital time of everyone and all being done differently. Leadership discussed and reorganized to deliver on key process–eliminated siloed operations and redundant processes. Result: leaders in operations were back in the shop and the important, yet administrative processes operate perfectly now for the last two years!

Step three: Engagement! As a whole, engagement is high across the company–very high. However, engagement was not as high in this organization and it was dropping. Engagement score was 4.22 out of 5. Participation in engagement survey was 70%. Developed and implemented “Engagement Program.” Didn’t focus on the score–focused on communications, development, and quality. Next year, participation was 100% and score jumped to 4.61–even with a reorganization. Gallup interviewed my boss. We are still on our engagement journey and always will be.

Step five: Build continuous improvement discipline. Looked end-to-end at the process we were part of. Took ownership of the end-to-end problems and applied a disciplined approach to solving the problems associated with the process–given five FTEs by leadership to work on it. Focused on process excellence in work centers–all managers, most directors, and some other employees Green Belt trained. Top three strategic partners established trained and certified Green and Black Belts to drive process improvement. Held monthly lunch and learns for large portion of exempt staff. Now instituting 5S and Visual Controls. Developing operational daily metrics that provide leading forecasting insight. Looking at ways to automate and improve now. Developed a recognition program that recognizes all improvements, no matter the size, equally.

Step six: Share the bigger plan. I am moving onto another project for at least three months. I laid out the 2014 plan that was in my head for my boss. Press forward with that plan and this journey will continue.

It’s exciting times!

Engaging anyone

Engagement is the buzzword of the day; employee engagement, leadership engagement, stakeholder engagement…the list goes on.

So, what is the secret to “engagement?” How do you become successful at engaging anyone?

Engage, the root of the word, can essentially be done by someone or done to someone. If you are soliciting someone’s engagement it starts with you and ends with them. So let’s look at what it means to engage someone:

Engage: to occupy, attract, or involve (someone’s interest or attention).

If you want someone’s interest or attention, what is the first and most important thing you have to do? Let’s try communication.

Have you ever gone to a party and stood in the corner or sat in a chair all alone? How many people come up to you to talk to you? You can walk into a room full of people and mentally think to yourself, “Ok people, engage me, I dare you,” but that seldom works.

Yea, perhaps the extremely extroverted might come over to bang you out of your shell, and they might already be wearing the lamp shade for the evening, but in most cases you’ll probably go home disappointed. You’ll consider the party an entire waste of time and probably would think twice about going again.

The number, based on the first stratified random sample by the Myers-Briggs organization in 1998, showed Introverts 50.7% and Extroverts 49.3% of the United States of America.

If 50% or more of the population–half of the room–isn’t the engaging type, the. It’s up to us to make the first move. Even if you are an introvert.

If you desire engagement, then you probably are going to have to initiate and continue to initiate the conversation. Your leadership staff, your employees, your stakeholders, your audience, your customers, etc. all need to be engaged in conversation constantly to feel engaged. Otherwise they’ll leave your little party possibly vowing never to go back again.

So, engagement of anyone starts with communication. Small talk it is…

That won’t work…it has to be engaging conversation…”How’s the weather Bill,” isn’t going to work!

The rules of engaging conversation are simple:

1. It has to be purposeful–you are communicating for the purpose of engaging the audience.
2. It has to be consistent–one and done or fire and forget styles of communication (very prevalent in our email age) do not work. The message must be the same and repeated often (but not like repeating a phone number three times on a radio ad–that’s annoying)
3. The message must be understood. This means a lot of things. You must communicate clearly and this includes the channel you use. Kids today tend toward text message talk over long conversation. Speak to the differently than they like to receive, the message isn’t as clear. The language and jargon you use is just as important. Talk to your audience in a manner that they understand otherwise you’ll sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. That’s an example of a message that only some of you will get.
4. Mean it. Be sincere when you communicate. Honest and open communication is a key to engagement. If it’s a one way conversation that you’re doing based on some checklist mentality that tells you that you have to communicate at 9 am every morning, then it isn’t real. Yes, you can plan communication, but don’t let your plan dictate when you will communicate.

This is the startup engaging anyone. Also, this is the number one thing that people don’t do. If you’re A boss, make a point to get up from your desk once a week–plan it, don’t let the plan tell you–and talk to people. Encourage open and honest communication in the office and in your staff meetings. Make communication your number one goal for the year for your organization.

It all starts there.

Breaking the traditional approach to process improvement

Two years ago I started a journey with my new job and with my boss as his strategic business advisor. Recently I’ve been reading Start With Why; it’s one of my resolutions to read one business book a month, and I had already started this one in December. The book talks about how you need a Why and a How person to be really effective.

Well, I’ve been the How guy to his Why for the past two years. See, he was looking for organizational effectiveness and he was used to the normal approach to hire someone to provide it through process improvement. The thing is there never is enough of one person to go around, so you end up prioritizing your process prove kent to a point where it’s not effective.

Breaking that approach, we instead focused on building process improvement skills in the employees starting with his leadership. Now we’re driving those skills deeper to the employees.

We’ve done many things like reorganize to match the process, create the key process on how we do work, focus on employee engagement daily, work on constant development, and reinforce the culture.

In two years, the effort has been very successful and I think the model is exactly what organizations need over large process improvement teams “doing process improvement” and prioritizing projects.

High Performing Organizations

I’ve been working in some way or fashion in the field of quality consulting since about 1990 when I attended one of my first Total Quality Management courses at Carswell AFB in Ft Worth TX. Since then I have worked in the areas of strategic planning, strategic communication, performance management, process management, human capital planning, resource management, and education and training. I’ve been in the lowest tactical to the highest CEO positions of military, non-profits, and companies and seen many things both doing and consulting in these areas.

So what?

Over the last several years I’ve been really thinking about what makes companies successful. My upcoming book, Overcoming Organizational Myopia is based on a lot of that thought. What I see too much of is organizations looking for that silver bullet. I was in a recent meeting, where a leader said he was looking for that one single metric that when tugged upon it unravelled everything else going on in the organization. My answer would be really simple, that doesn’t exist. Being a top performing (you fill in the blank) takes a lot of work and it’s constant work.

The group I work for now has been extremely successful over the last two years. My boss is even going to be interviewed by Gallup because of their employee engagement success in their last UCount survey. One of the managers in the team commented that now we have to sustain it. My response was, no, now we have to make it better next year. In today’s day and age, sustaining is the death of a company. You have to get better. When I started with them in January of 2012, they had just won The Keepers of Quality award for their major organization. That was great, but there was a lot more they could do. This month, we share part of our two-year continuous improvement story with that sMe audience to discuss how we are building and encouraging an environment of continuous improvement–quality.

What is all this mean?

High performing organizations don’t just “happen.” It takes. Lot of hard work and it’s a constant journey. If you read business books like I do, you probably heard many ways to become that high performing organization. They tell you what it is, they tell you what you should do, and they tell you why. They fill your head with fantastic stores of Apple and Dell, turn arounds like IBM and Harley Davidson, etc. trust me, I have read them all–well a lot of them. The thing they don’t tell you is HOW.

Funny, there are so many How To and Self Help books on the shelf, but none give away the secrets to becoming a great organization. How To books sell too–my speech writing instructor and mentor, Joan Detz taught me that in 2005.

So, how does an organization really improve? That’s the thoughts that have been on my mind of late. My soon to be released book focuses on part of the story, overcoming the “silo effect” that plagues every business in the world. You know what I’m talking about…sand boxes, camps, teams…the way we organize and the way we group as human beings lead us to form silos–we become myopic in business. They problem is that it will ALWAYS happen–you can’t avoid it. Leaders and managers alike might recognize it and try to break it down, but it happens to all of us. Overcoming Organizational Myopia is a true how to book focused on the nine things that suffer in siloed organizations and how to overcome it–not solve it, but to overcome it.

But the key, I think is the “Golden Egg,” as James Farhat would say. That is how does any organization that wants to be high performing make it happen? If they were a car, how do they get their engine firing on all cylinders? That is my journey this year. My effort in 2014 is to not only define it, but to lay out the roadmap and provide holistic training to all, at whatever level they are at, to help them become better and grow.

A guy I worked with in Booz Allen used to comment about how the different teams in our office would fight over the pieces of the “pie.” He was talking about this perceived limited amount of money that was available to all of Booz Allen that we would fight to get a piece of. He believed that believing that the pie was a certain size was limiting our ability to go for more and this we had to take more of someone else’s pie to grow our own silo–back to the myopia view again.

In America today, I think many business look at the perceived pie and think they have to take from others to get a bigger share. That leads us to disruptive innovation, aggressive marketing, and like tactics to win over the market share pie. What if I told you that the pie doesn’t exist. The better you are as a high performing organization, the more people will buy your whatever? I believe that doing good work gets more work–it’s not about pies, but about becoming the best at what you do. This is true both of an organization and as an individual.

So, I leave you with these thoughts on this Tuesday morning. Myopia, pies, and high performing organizations. Let me know what you think. Tell me it can’t be done…that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I look forward to the debate.

For those interested, what does a high performing organization mean to you?

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