I am probably dating myself a bit by borrowing that line from the classic Peter Seeger tune, but I find myself asking that question over and over again, and what I read almost daily from top executives about their search for talent the metaphor seems appropriate.
The they I am referring to are the leaders and managers who still don’t seem to get it. As most anyone who has read any of my stuff knows I have committed my career to building and reinforcing new models of how organizations and people work together.
You can call it an employment relationship, a social contract, or whatever you choose; but what I am referring to is the relationship between employers and employed.
Employee engagement, the level of alignment between individual employee efforts and goals and organizational goals and objectives remains without question one of the most powerful and significant opportunities to improve organizational performance across every key performance indicator.
I am not speaking speculatively; the correlation between those things has been well established by the Society for Human Resources Management, the Gallup organization, and numerous other academic research organizations and professional consulting firms. We still do it as a society fairly poorly, with the number of employees describing themselves as highly engaged ranging around thirty percent in the U.S.
Organizations in large part took a hiatus from focusing on improving employee engagement during the recentrecession because with relatively high unemployment they didn’t feel they needed to attend to it to attract or keep the talent they sought. Now that the economy is starting to pick up you hear employers whining again about the difficulty of finding and keeping the talent they seek.
Here is a tip – highly engaged organizations don’t have that issue. That is one of the myriad of reasons they outperform their competition.
I had a chance to re-read Joel Peterson’s blog posts with two installments on building a high trust culture and it still really resonated with me. Step two for Joel is investing in respect.
Joel is the Board Chair of JetBlue Airlines, a graduate of Harvard B school and a guest instructor at the Stanford B School so he has some street cred…
As he describes it - Respect is, in some sense, the currency of trust – the way it’s exchanged and circulated among people.
That idea particularly resonates with me.
A number of years ago I created my own model of creating and sustaining employee engagement; I call it moving from compliance to Commitment, or little c to Big C.
My model has five elements: Respect, Responsibility, Information, Rewards, and Loyalty
Somewhat self servingly you can see why Joel’s pillars speak to me. Respect is the most foundational of the elements to me. Without respect all of the others fail.
Every person that we interact with has an absolute entitlement for our respect for their personhood. It doesn’t mean we have to accept at face value their talents, abilities, or authority; but we owe them respect for their personhood.
I often tell both employees and new managers that you need to respect each person and in hierarchical organizations you need to at least initially respect the position or office.
In this way this is similar to the first level of trust, deterrence, the trust that comes with formal authority.
The second level of trust or respect is knowledge based, this is the trust we receive (or more importantly earn) based on things like education, qualifications, perceived competency.
The third and in my opinion highest level of trust is identity based. This trust comes from intimacy, credibility, and mutual investment. This trust and respect is highly personal and can only be earned and given. It doesn’t come from credentials or position.
We don’t talk much about trust and respect in this kind of language. I have met many managers and leaders who inappropriately assume an entitlement to the highest level of trust based on the first two.
I differentiate leaders because again in my opinion an organization can appoint you a manager, but leadership comes from others who voluntarily accept your guidance and agree to follow your direction.
I also believe passionately in the concept of personal competence as it relates to respect. Personal competence means that we each own the responsibility to engage, to provide our best efforts, and to contribute fully to the best of our ability.
In return our employers and colleagues have a responsibility to set clear expectations, give constructive feedback, and a clear line of sight between our own objectives and goals and that of the organization.
With respect comes personal accountability and responsibility. If you are given the right tools, the right direction, and the right feedback it is incumbent upon you to do the work.
If someone can’t or won’t do the work and meet expectations I find it disrespectful to continue to leave them in a role they are not performing.
The reason I ask whether we will ever learn is that the majority of human resource professionals and their internal clients would tell you that the most important role they perform is compliance.
That sounds a lot like deterrence to me. It is about the rules. It is about systems and procedures and policies, not about relationships and character and credibility and trust.
As a former human resources executive I remain a proponent of the concept of employment at will, which at its most simplistic form is the legal standard that says that either party to the employment relationship can choose to end it without jumping through a number of hoops.
I temper that with a sense of fairness, that says it is important to me that we balance that transactional concept with the relational guidelines of respect, fairness, clear expectations, constructive feedback, and corrective action.
If you read almost anything about leadership or organizational relationships you are very likely to encounter discussion about loyalty. Employers especially like to talk about their expectation of loyalty from their employees. To me loyalty is relational and mutual, not transactional.
Rigidly embracing the concept of employment at will is not a relational employment model, it is purely transactional. Not a basis for engagement.
I am a much bigger fan of an employment relationship based on Congruency which looks for alignment between employees and organizations on these levels:
• View of the activity
• View of my ability to do the activity
• The relationship between values and the activity
• Commitment to do the “work”
• Belief in the product or service
When you build things into your model you have a relationship, not a series of transactions.
I write this at this particular time because two very fine young people I know and care about both ended their relationship with their employers.
Those beginnings and endings happen, but both were handled so poorly that it was a reminder of how far we have to go.
So I leave you with this:
• Listen to Joel- respect really is the currency of trust.
• Goal for identity based trust. Yes it is more work, but 30+ years of experience assures me you will never have true engagement without it.
• Commitment is always better than compliance, period.
• Add congruency to your must haves when you hire, it is much easier to build it in than bolt it on.
• Never ever forget that respect for a person’s identity is an absolute entitlement. You may have to terminate the performance; you don’t have to take their dignity.
Hope you enjoy the clip