Employee engagement is a by-product of organisational performance – not the other way round

July 30, 2014

Do you remember that McGraw-Hill ad with the scowling, bald-headed man with the bow tie staring at you from his executive chair saying?:

  • “I don’t know who you are.”
  • “I don’t know your company”
  • “I don’t know your company’s products”
  • “I don’t know what your company stands for”
  • “I don’t know your company’s customers”
  • “I don’t know your company’s record”
  • “I don’t know your company’s reputation”
  • “Now what was it you wanted to sell me”

I get a little exasperated sometimes when I read yet another article on how to motivate your employees because my experience is that employee engagement is the ultimate dependent variable. So to illustrate this, I’ve rewritten the McGraw ad.

“I don’t know what our company stands for”

“I don’t know our company’s goal”

“I don’t know why no one asks me for my opinion”

“I don’t know how my job contributes to customer satisfaction”

“I don’t know how the company is travelling”

“I don’t know whether my performance is up to expectations”

“I don’t see much evidence of teamwork despite the talk”

“Now what was it about employee engagement you wanted to ask me?”

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What leaders do (and non-leaders don’t)

May 1, 2014

In 1984, the late Robert Townsend, CEO of Avis published his second book “Further up the organisation”. The sub-title read – “how groups of people working together for a common purpose ought to conduct themselves for fun and profit”. Among the many words of wisdom – and common sense – was a table in which he contrasted leaders and non-leaders on 50 separate points of behaviour. He ended his list by adding that the reader “now knows more about leaders and leadership than all the combined graduate business schools in America.”

I agree with him.

There is no room here to reproduce the complete list but I’ve selected just 10 which can be practiced by anyone who manages others at whatever level in whatever organisation.

tableI’m going to pick just one from above – “does dog-work when necessary”.dog_working

Heard about a NUM (Nursing Unit Manager) recently. She’s old school – she refers to her nurses as “my girls” and helps out with the bed making if they are short staffed.

Then there’s Ray Creen, head of the NSW Ambulance Service. A paramedic himself, he still rosters himself on one shift a month. “Creen is well aware his staff respect him. He knows exactly what he’s doing when he puts on their uniform and goes out on their jobs. He’s not only practising the profession he loves, he’s nurturing the roots of his authority” wrote journalist Mark Dapin. The NSW ambos are so impressed they have built a Facebook page around him – Ray Creen – Ambo Legend. Morale in the service has risen to unheard of heights since he took the reins in March of last year.

I’ll finish with Rob Fyfe, legendary CEO of Air New Zealand from 2005 to 2012. Fyfe’s unshakable belief was that people were more important than planes. “By understanding our customers better, …. we could win by attracting more customers to fly (Air New Zealand) and ensure we had fuller aircraft rather than trying to win through having a lower cost base, or some other miraculous way (of increasing) our revenue”. A highly motivated community of people working cohesively towards a common goal with a shared sense of purpose …. will almost always outperform an opposition focused primarily on the bottom line, on financial ratios and technical superiority”. During Fyfe’s tenure, he practiced as a flight attendant and as a baggage handler. As a graduate engineer, he was not averse to doing a night shift at the airline’s maintenance hanger at Nelson, nor did he shirk responsibility for answering personally any complaint emailed directly to him.

Has his style of leadership worked? You betcha – Air Transport World voted Air New Zealand “Airline of the Year” in 2012; its profit last year was $182 million and climbing; 56,000 people applied for jobs last year at what is New Zealand’s most admired company.

What’s the real lesson from these examples? It’s that when you behave towards your staff as you would like your staff to behave towards you and you set the example by MBWA and a willingness to do “dog work”, you will tap into the constants of human nature that cut across gender, cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries and job roles and status. As Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson would say – how hard can it be ….?


Searching for the Magic Bullet

July 8, 2013

In 1995, Eileen Shapiro published her book – “Fad Surfing in the Boardroom”.  The sub-title was “Reclaiming the Courage to Manage in the Age of Instant Answers”.  She defines “fad surfing” as “the practice of ridingConnecting The Plan With The Current Reality the crest of the latest management panacea and then paddling out again just in time to ride the next one; always absorbing for managers and lucrative for consultants; frequently disastrous for organisations.”

This observation by Eileen Shapiro reminded me of a comment by the GM of a $billion division of a major public company.  “We have invested close to $250,000 in an in-house leadership program and I’m not sure that I’m getting my money’s worth”.  Actually, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t.

I receive a fairly constant stream of fliers promoting all manner of training courses and programs on a variety of topics, each proclaiming to be the one to take your organisation to new heights of performance.  Many of them relate to aspects of execution – communication skills, teamwork, change management and of course, seven ways to engage your employees and encourage them to greater discretionary effort.

Such programs are not without merit but they ignore two very significant factors.  The first is that no program by itself can raise organisational performance.  Second, great execution is a process – while some steps in the process can be tackled concurrently, others must be tackled sequentially.  So in order to optimise the benefits of the next program you are tempted to sign up to, it pays to understand the process of execution.

The Execution Process

There are six requirements for great execution, five of which address specific topics with the sixth being Communication, the catalyst for making everything happen.  The first five are as follows:

■          Organisational Alignment

■          Management of Change

■          Leadership – at all levels

■          Teams & Teamwork

■          Employee Engagement

Each of these requirements is dependent on the ones that precede it.  Thus Employee Engagement is the most dependent – which begs the question – what’s Organisational Alignment dependent on?

Organisational Alignment

Organisational Alignment is dependent on the quality of the plan – and the quality of the planning process.  The quality of the plan relates to its “technical” merits.  Does it align the current and future capabilities and resources of the organisation to the environment in which it operates now and in the future?  But, just as important, does the process used to develop the plan involve all those who will be charged with overseeing its implementation.  By the time the plan is ready for execution and the initial Action Plan has been agreed, a) everyone in the organisation should understand where the organisation is now, b) everyone should understand the overall goal and the broad strategies to achieve it, and c) everyone should understand their role and its relationship to the achievement of the goal.  That’s Organisational Alignment and that’s why it’s the fundamental requirement for great execution.

Management of Change

How can you manage change if you don’t know what changes are required?  These changes should have been outlined in the plan, together with the rationale behind them.  I’m not suggesting for one moment that managing change isn’t hard but it’s a damn sight harder if those on the receiving end do not appreciate the reasons for it.  As Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote in her book – “The Change Masters” – “change is disturbing when done to us, exhilarating when done by us”.

Leadership at all levels

The position of Leadership in the number three spot always provokes the most debate.  Many argue that it should come before Organisational Alignment.  But I’m not referring to Leadership at the very top of the organisation, I’m focusing on those senior, middle and lower order staff who have a direct, operational role to play in the plan’s execution.  The basic requirement for leadership is a goal.  Leadership and goals have a symbiotic relationship – one cannot exist without the other.  If clear goals do not exist, Leadership will mirror –

The Grand Old Duke of York, he had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill, and he marched them down again

And when they were up, they were up; and when they were down, they were down

And when they were only half way up, they were neither up nor down.

 This was the problem facing the GM referred to at the start of this blog.

Teams & Teamwork

When Teams & Teamwork is the subject of a stand alone training program, my observation is that the focus tends to be on interpersonal relationships, building team culture etc.  Teams and Teamwork are regarded as ends in themselves.  Whereas they should be regarded as a means to an end so the starting point for team development is a purpose that is aligned to the purpose of the organisation and a goal that is similarly aligned.  As Katzenback & Smith wrote in “The Wisdom of Teams” the catalyst for their formation should be a “significant performance challenge”.  Organisational Alignment, Management of Change and Leadership are all prerequisites for truly effective Teams and Teamwork.

Employee Engagement

I spent four years of my working life as a member of a high performing team.  They were easily the most satisfying years of my career prior to establishing my own consulting practice.  If one accepts the definition of employee engagement as “the employee’s emotional connection to an organisation that inspires greater discretionary effort”, then our team had discretionary effort in spades.  We were engaged in the execution of one of the company’s key growth strategies; we determined the direction of the changes required and implemented them; leadership was shared by the team members and teamwork was essential as we each contributed specialist knowledge – and deadlines were tight.  We grew to respect and trust each other but it wasn’t all hard yakka.  There was plenty of laughter as well.  We had no formal training in teamwork and the phrase “employee engagement” had yet to be invented.  But were we engaged?  You bet we were!

The point is this.

Employee engagement is the most dependent of the five requirements for great execution.  So there is no point in undertaking an engagement program unless the prerequisites for engagement are in place and these go right back to the planning process itself.  And if they are, you might find that a stand alone engagement program is no longer necessary.  Similarly, unless the organisation is aligned, programs on managing change, leadership, etc will not yield the hoped for benefits.

Communication

Communication is not referred to as “the good oil” for nothing.  It is the essential lubricant for keeping the wheels of execution rolling with the minimum of resistance.  I was careful to write “rolling” not “spinning”.  There are many who think that the Holy Grail is a harmonious organisation that tolerates everyone’s point of view and which abhors conflict.  Trouble is, that kind of organisation – if one ever existed  – doesn’t actually go anywhere.  It just spins its wheels.  Friction is needed for forward progress, and in an organisation that means keeping everyone informed, promoting, not stifling debate and listening to the staff at the customer interface of your operation.  Good communication results in a contest of ideas; poor communication in a contest of personalities.  And always remember that the most powerful form of communication – for good or evil – is not what you write, nor what you say but what you do.

Graham Haines is the principal of Plans to Reality, a consultancy that specialises in the effective execution of business and strategic plans.  Identifying and linking every stage in the execution process has led to the development of The Wagon Wheel Way Enterprise Operating System, the world’s first management framework that covers the complete operational cycle. He explores the whole issue of execution in his book – “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen”.  See http://www.executiontodiefor.com  He can be contacted via his web site ghaines@planstoreality.com.au   

 


Teams ain’t what they used to be!

June 27, 2013

I don’t think anyone questions the value of teams and teamwork.  Whether it’s a political party, a sporting team or a workgroup at your place of work, everyone knows that small groups of people working together can achieve much more than the same number of people working independently of one another.

But let me ask you a question – would you regard your workgroup as a high performing team?

If you do, you are very fortunate because the majority never experience the satisfaction and enjoyment that comes from being a member of a close-knit band that work together to achieve a common goal.  The reality is that, despite all the advantages of teamwork, our work environment actually discourages the development of teams.  I know this to be a fact because my consultancy has a survey instrument that measures how effectively team members work together.

Actually we do not use the word “team” except in very special circumstances.  The collective noun we use is “workgroups” and we have identified six levels of workgroup effectiveness.  Starting at the bottom with “a Group of Individuals”, the next level up is “Embryonic Workgroup”, followed by “Developing Workgroup”, “Established Workgroup” and “High Performing Workgroup” in that order.  The last and ultimate workgroup rates as a “High Performing Team”.

The fundamentals are changeing

One of the many reasons why team development so often founders is that management sees Teams and Teamwork as an end it itself, rather than as a means to an end.  In fact the whole rationale behind teams has changed significantly over the last 30 years or so as this table demonstrates[1].

                        Workgroups (Teams)

Emphasis from ……… Emphasis to ………..

Rationale

Rationale

As an end in themselves As a means to an end
Quality of working life Organisational performance

Focus

Focus

Operational Strategic & Operational

Purpose

Purpose

To get along better To improve workgroup performance
Employee engagement Organisational alignment

Structure

Structure

Functional Cross-functional

Usage

Usage

Outside main organisational structure Main building block of organisational structures

Measure of effectiveness

Measure of effectiveness

How do we all feel? Have we achieved our goals?

Training

Training

Team building groups, interpersonal skills Team skills, quality tools, problem solving tools, personal growth tools, communication skills, process skills

Performance appraisals

Performance appraisals

Individual Workgroup & individual

Lifespan

Lifespan

Temporary Permanent

Culture

Culture

Elitest The way we do things around here

Taken as a whole, this table signals a very significant change in emphasis.  When organisational teams became the focus of research after the end of the Second World War, the primary purpose in their formation was to benefit the work life of the individual members.  The spin-off was enhanced organisational performance.  Today, it’s the other way around.  The primary benefit of teams is seen as enhanced organisational performance with the spin-off being quality of individual work life.  I’m not sure that consultants and trainers have caught up with these changes.

Graham Haines

Graham Haines is the principal of Plans to Reality, a consultancy that specialises in the effective execution of business and strategic plans.  Teams and Teamwork is one of five requirements for really effective implementation, the others being Organisational alignment, Management of Change, Leadership – at all levels – and Employee Engagement.    He explores the whole issue of execution in his unique book – “Execution to Die For – the Manager’s Guide to Making It Happen”.  He can be contacted via his web site ghaines@planstoreality.com.au   

[1] The above table builds on one taken from “Managing Teams” by Lawrence Holpp


Which Dog Would You Choose As Your Manager?

August 22, 2012

Which Dog Would You Choose As Your ManagerIt is often said that owners resemble their dogs so being handsome, incredibly good natured and someone who likes their food, it will come as no surprise to you to learn that my wife and I have been the proud owners of an equally handsome and good natured Labrador.  This train of thought left me wondering what breed of dog I would choose if I had a canine boss.

I’ve decided that it depends at what level of the organisation one is considering but at the lower to middle management level, managers that display Labrador characteristics would be a decided asset.  Is your boss enthusiastic?  Can you trust your boss and does your boss trust you?  If you had to dig a hole, would your boss stand around and watch or would he or she help with the digging?  Does your boss appreciate what you do and offer praise when deserved?  Does your boss take the time to keep you “in” on things or does he or she just issue instructions on a need to know basis?  If I had a boss that displayed all of these characteristics, I might even overlook the lick when I arrived for work each morning.

But I don’t see a Labrador as a top executive – developing the strategy, taking the hard decisions – they are just too laid back.  They would want to avoid conflict; they wouldn’t want to upset anyone.  No – a top dog would be a Collie or a German Shepherd – highly intelligent, courageous, never satisfied with the status quo – always seeking a better way.  They are masters of organisational alignment – they instinctively know how to get everyone in the organisation moving in the same direction and are quite prepared to nip the heels of those who get out of line.

In the 20th century the top dog might have been a St Bernard, a member of the old boy network, spending too much time at the club with a brandy at hand.

So how would you characterise your boss – as a Labrador or a collie or a German Shepherd?  Or does your boss display the traits of a Rottweiler, or a miniature poodle or an American Pit Bull terrier?  Does your boss yap at the slightest provocation or growl at you after the slightest of misdemeanours?

Now I’m going to suggest a radical alternative to all Gen Y’s who spend every coffee and lunch break silently engrossed in their smart phones.  How about having a conversation?  The topic is – if my boss were a dog, what breed would he or she be?


Resisting Change – The Managed Or The Managers?

June 1, 2012

Resisting Change - Who’s Responsible?  Conventional wisdom has it that those for change come from the ranks of senior management and those against it are the ones on the receiving end of management’s plans for reform.

This is over simplistic and in many cases simply not true.  Cultural change is a case in point.

Over the past ten to fifteen years or so, employee surveys, cultural surveys, climate surveys – call them what you will – have become increasingly prevalent as organisations have felt the need to measure their employees’ mood and morale, and their understanding and commitment to their employer’s purpose and strategies. Among the many factors measured, the degree of employee engagement looms high on the list.

The employee’s engagement is usually measured by his or her response to a number of statements concerning the employee’s degree of satisfaction with the organisation for whom he or she works.  Is the employee proud to tell others about their employer?  How often does he or she think about leaving for another organisation etc.

Although naturally results vary widely, there has been some research in recent years, principally by the Gallup Corporation, that shows that employee engagement is at a low ebb. Gallup identified three types of employees.

Engaged – employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to the company.  They drive innovation and move the company forward

Not engaged – employees are essentially “checked-out”.  They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time – but not energy and passion – into their work

Actively disengaged – employees aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness.  Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish

Just 29% of respondents fell into the first category.  The reasons for low engagement levels were given as lack of appreciation for work well done; lack of clear goals and objectives, little sense of community and of feeling “in” on the big picture and last, but by no means least, reluctance of management to communicate, listen and learn.  Does it matter?  It certainly does.  Your staff are your most important asset and my client feedback surveys consistently show that it’s the staff in the lower ranks of the organisation who are very largely responsible for customer satisfaction levels.

Now, here’s the point.  Improving employee engagement is the task of management, not the employees themselves.

It’s poor management that led to unengaged employees, not poor employees.  So it’s management that needs to change and that change starts at the top.

Employee engagement is a highly dependent variable.  It’s last of my list of the five requirements for effective execution, coming after

  1. Organisational alignment,
  2. Management of change,
  3. Leadership and
  4. Teams and teamwork

The first on the list – organisational alignment is defined as follows.

  • Everyone knows where the organisation is now
  • Everyone knows the destination and the journey
  • Everyone knows their role in getting there

The only way in which everyone will know these things is to involve them in the process of determining them.  And that might involve fundamental changes in the management style of senior executives – changes that many executives find extremely hard to make.

The reality is that you cannot expect your employees to change in the absence of clear evidence that senior management is prepared to change as well.  Frankly, what management writes or what management says is of little consequence.  The only thing that really matters is what management do.

So get out of the office, spend a day a month on the frontline of your organisation, engage with your workforce, talk little and ask a lot.  It’s not the whole solution but at least you will learn where the resistance to change lies.


Employee Engagement – Or Is It?

November 4, 2011

Employee Engagement - or is it?The definition that I use for Employee Engagement is that “it’s the employee’s emotional connection to an organisation that inspires greater discretionary effort”.  The significance of this definition is twofold. The first is that we are not talking about employees that just do their jobs, however efficiently.  We are talking about employees that go beyond the call of duty.  Secondly they do this out of loyalty to and appreciation of the quality of work life that their organisation provides.  So let me start by giving you an example of classic Employee Engagement.

Recently, I’ve become very conscious of the amazing come-back of Air New Zealand.  In 2002, Air New Zealand was on its knees after the Ansett debacle and few gave much hope for its survival as an independent airline.  In 2010, it was voted Airline of the Year.  It has one of the highest load factors of any airline in the world at 83.3% and in a market that is heavily dependent on tourism – and one would have thought low fares –  Air New Zealand’s Boeing 777 – 300ER’s have more premium seats than any other aircraft including A380’s.  Despite the natural disasters in New Zealand and Japan, the company’s net profit declined by 1%.

This remarkable turnaround has been led by their CEO Rob Fife.  Air New Zealand enjoys very high levels of Employee Engagement because it has clear goals and strategies to achieve them, excellent communication between all levels of management and staff and provides a fulfilling and fun place to work. Rob Fife relates this incident of Employee Engagement at work.

“I had an email from a mother of two young children.  She wrote:  “We were running late for a flight. The plane was fully boarded and our names had been called.  I was struggling with an eight month old and a three year old (plus luggage).  I ran down towards the check-in at the gate and was met by a gentle, smiling man who told me to relax and pass the baby and the bag to him.  He then led me down the aerobridge, chatting and asking about my day.  He didn’t stop at the door (I thought he was ground staff) – he took me and my girls onto the plane.  I said are you on this flight too?  And he told me he was actually the pilot.  His name is Brendan.  He had seen us running and me struggling with the girls and got out of his seat in the cockpit and walked out to meet me.  I was so touched.  He demonstrated what makes Air New Zealand so special. Go well and thank you again.  Kiri’

This is the real McCoy of Employee Engagement but my work with customer and employee surveys suggest that the display of discretionary effort may be due, not to the employee’s emotional connection to the organisation but to the customer or to self.  Let’s take emotional connection to the customer first.  Where people have a long term and close business relationship with a customer who clearly appreciates when they go the extra mile on their behalf, it is this relationship that inspires greater discretionary effort.

Other employees are driven in their desire to give 110% because they are ambitious or competitive or because it’s part of their genetic make-up.  One might question whether it matters, given that the benefit to the employer remains regardless of the motive.  I don’t buy that argument.

If the employer does not provide a work environment that encourages discretionary effort, it will ultimately lose its best and brightest employees to other
employers that do.


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