What Causes Employees to Engage?
BY JOHN M. BERNARD
PART FOUR OF FOUR-PART SERIES ON APPROACHES TO EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
For a long time I avoided using the words employee engagement. Even in my book, Business at the Speed of Now, I barely allowed the phrase to appear on its pages. That’s because few people understand what it is and even fewer people know how to deliver on its promise.
In the past few posts to this blog I shared the three most common approaches to engagement and made clear the fatal flaw(s) of each.
Engagement by exhortation (words) never works because campaigns and talk don’t create sustainable changes in behavior. Telling employees to “go make changes” can’t work because the reality is not only is that not sufficient to drive smart changes, but the reality is the leaders will never allow the ideas to be implemented anyway.
Engagement through performance management doesn’t work either. This approach assumes that if everyone were accountable to do his or her part, the organization will be successful as a whole. The flaw in this approach is it assumes management can plan without error exactly what each person must accomplish, and that each individual has control over every bit of the work they do. Business processes just don’t function that way.
Engagement by tools and techniques shows great promise because efforts such as lean projects actually do engage employees in that they rely on the knowledge of those we do the work. While this “events” approach does engage employees, events do not morph into daily standard practice.
So what does work?
What causes employees to engage is a management system that expects them to take action, fix broken processes, and respond to customer requests. A management system is the set of routines and processes used to run the business and cause it to adapt actions at every level in order to achieve the goals.
How do you cause engagement? You design the management system to expect it.
Here’s an example of expected engagement:
• Employees are given ownership for the process or processes they work in and are accountable for its performance.
• Measures are in place and categorize performance as red, yellow, or green.
• Every quarter the department and company conduct Quarterly Business Reviews and every process that is in red or yellow will have time on the agenda.
• Employees know once a process is in red or yellow they are expected to take corrective action using a structured problem solving process; they also know progress on the corrective action is expected to be reported at the business review.
The 10 Elements of Full Engagement
To fully engage, an employee needs:
1. Understanding of the business goals and business aspirations
2. Understanding of how the goals connect to their work
3. Understanding of their specific accountabilities
4. To feel sufficiently safe to be transparent about problems
5. Understanding of the language of the business well enough to speak it
6. Sufficient knowledge/skills/resources/tools to do their job competently
7. To have the skills to solve problems effectively
8. To have the authority to solve the problems encountered
9. To have the skills and information to make good decisions
10. To have the authority to make decisions
Engagement is not magical. It is the natural response of employees to the system of management leaders use to run their organizations.
The Failings of Performance Management
BY JOHN M. BERNARD
PART TWO OF A FOUR-PART SERIES ON APPROACHES TO EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT
In the world of management, employee engagement is the Holy Grail. Extensive research shows a compelling positive correlation between the level of engagement and customer satisfaction, product quality and profitability. In fact, organizations in the top quartile of employee engagement out earn their competitive peers by 22-28 percent.
In my last blog I wrote about attempts at workforce engagement through exhortation (words, talks, campaigns, encouragement, and rewards). The fatal flaw in that approach is that enthusiasm doesn’t solve underlying problems, and believing that if we just “pump” people up we’ll get sustainable improvement is naive.
A very popular and common approach to engagement is performance management, often the modern-day equivalent of management by objective. It’s underlying assumption is that if management organizes the work, and everyone is accountable for his or her part, the organization will achieve extraordinary results. Underneath this approach is a belief that it is all about individual accountability – and if we write it down and hold people to their piece of the puzzle, the business is bound to succeed. And sometimes they do succeed although it is usually only with small incremental improvements that do not move the needle forward enough.
Performance management isn’t a bad notion, but it has some fundamental flaws. First of all it holds people accountable for things they usually only have some control over. Also, in the absence of relevant concrete measures it often has many “measures” that are based on opinion rather than fact. Second, a performance management goal measured only by a task due date, and does not include a measure for the quality of the completed task because it is viewed as too subjective, is a very weak goal.
Third, if employees are not solving problems using data-driven root cause analysis, no amount of performance management mechanics will improve the customer experience or achieve financial goals.
And the reality is if performance management is used as a hammer, then everyone ends up scrambling to meet their targets even if doing so has an unintended negative consequence to the team or the organization. In the real world things change and sometimes walking away from certain objectives becomes clearly the right thing to do. But changing plans can have a consequence during that dreaded annual performance review.
Performance management can easily lead to an every-man/woman for himself/herself environment. That annual review must go well.
There are exceptions to every rule, but most performance management systems have the hollow ring of an empty metal barrel.
Dr. W. Edwards Deming, one of the most influential management thinkers of the past century, called performance reviews one of the “7 Deadly Sins” of western management. He said that the system people work within and its impact on co-worker and customer interactions determines 90 to 95 percent of performance – not the individual.
Deming and others (me included) believe that performance management does far more to engender individualism, self-protection and fear than it does to serve the need every organization has for innovation.
Learn more by reading Business at the Speed of Now.
In modern organizational life, invention is the engine of competitiveness. Multi-year on-going Research by The Gallup Organization and Towers Perrin proves that organizations that effectively engage their employees out-earn their competitive peers by 20-28 percent. Some research has shown the numbers can be even higher. These organizations out- earn their peers because they out -invent them. IT IS THAT SIMPLE.
The employees are creating value by delivering superior products relative to price, and the quality of the product and the cost to deliver it are all driven by micro inventions–little bitty improvements. Therefore, he who drives the most micro improvements wins over time. This seems so obvious. Yet few leaders capitalize on this approach. Why is this the case? Do you agree?
What Do We Need A Management System For?
An effective management system is designed to help organizations take conscious control of the reins of their organization. A sound system designed to engage employees is the first step in creating extraordinary performance. It also forms the essential architecture needed to engage employees by providing a direct line-of-sight between the organization’s goals and the individual’s contribution. The process of creating the map facilitates agreement by an organization’s management team as to exactly how they will run their business. (more…)
If You Can See It!
Leaders need innovative and powerful tools to overcome the complex challenges that limit or prevent them from moving their organizations forward on multiple fronts. In addition, today’s business environment requires problem-solving across the enterprise. Visual business solutions meet these needs by providing leaders with proven methods for accelerating their organizations in multiple areas. (more…)
Leaders Thrive On The Use Of Fear
The vast majority of leaders use fear to run their organizations, yet they would never admit it. You can fool yourself by saying that fear is not in your heart, but that does not mean your people don’t perform for you primarily because of fear. Fear is a natural outcome of traditional management systems. And fear is costly because it kills innovation and blocks micro improvements.