After almost four decades as a human resources professional, c level executive, and management consultant I remain convinced that changing the way we attract, retain, and align people remains the most significant competitive advantage we have available to us, and we continue to squander that opportunity.
Employee Engagement isn’t a new concept anymore and although there are many detractors that say it is merely another “program” there is a lot of evidence to the contrary that suggest the problem isn’t the concept, it is about execution.
The percentage of engaged or highly engaged employees has pegged at about 30% with the number of actively engaged employees actually creeping up from 17% a few years back to over 20%. The costs of that lack of engagement are in the billions annually.
In my experience engagement must be approached as a culture rather than a program and there are some very bright people out there who agree with me.
One of those people is Josh Bersin, principal and CEO of Bersin by Deloitte who shared his research from 6000 companies and over 2 million employees that concluded that the most important element in high performing employment brands is culture and values, followed by career opportunities and confidence and leadership.
Their research concluded that in terms of a positive employment brand these factors were 4.9, 4.5, and 4 times more important than compensation and benefits. Interestingly the “work-life” balance we hear about so much was rated as less than half as important.
Millennials rate career opportunities in the first position, but other than that their responses are the same as preceding generations.
For those of you not familiar with the concept of employment brand, your employment brand is how both current and potential employees perceive you as a career choice. Organizations with strong employment brand have a huge competitive advantage in the war for talent because people seek them out. Think organizations like Google, Amazon, Starbucks, and Zappo’s.
So how do we keep shooting ourselves in the foot? Well some recent data from the Workplace Institute gives us a clue, (thanks to Michael Stewart of WorkEffects for sharing).
They conducted a survey of a little over 1800 people broken down as a third human resources professionals, a third line managers and a third employees on who “owns” culture and to me the results were a little scary.
· Over 30% of the HR respondents felt the HR leadership is responsible, however 90% of managers and 97% of employees surveyed disagreed.
· 26% of managers surveyed felt that it is the executive team, but 89% of HR professionals and 91% of employees disagreed with that assumption.
· 29% of employees surveyed say employees drive culture (and 40% of Millennial’s) with 91% of HR practitioners and 87% of line managers disagreeing.
It gets better, there was no overlap between what employees and either managers or HR considered the three most important drivers of culture either!
The three groups also disagreed on what either kills or impedes culture as well with employees citing employees felt that “not having enough staff to support goals,” “unhappy/disengaged workers who poison the well,” and “poor employee/manager relationships” were the major obstacles to maintaining a positive workplace culture.
So what does this tell us?
As Dustin McKissen pointed out Fred Taylor’s adage of telling employees what they need is still alive and well!
Here are a couple of other problems-
A multi-year study by international consulting firm Development Dimensions International yielded some interesting information (at least to me)-
• The highest quality leaders are 13 times more likely to outperform the competition
• Only 38% of those surveyed (12,000 line executives and 1900 HR executives) rated their leadership of leadership development as high or very high.
• 60% of those who applied for leadership roles indicated their primary motivation was economic- they wanted to make more money!
Our leadership models are based on compliance, not commitment or engagement!
Here are some other issues-
· If you ask most HR executives what the most important contribution they make to the organization they support 7 out of 10 will tell you compliance with state and Federal regulations. That doesn’t sound like culture!
· The art and science of recruiting has been dumbed down. I happen to believe that highly effective recruiters whether they are on your staff or hired specialists have enormous value in helping you identify the attributes and skills of top performers in both current employees and applicants. The new systems in many cases believe, I have an app for that! We just load a formula into the computer and it does that pesky work of screening. Therefore, the role of recruiting can be delegated to more junior people who manage the process.
· Recruitment and selection has become much more impersonal. I have a client who is seriously walking away from an organization she feels could be a great fit and who has demonstrated an interest in her because a glitch in their system continues to demand she complete a supplemental questionnaire she has already completed…twice. You can’t pick up a publication without reading about an applicant’s experience with a hiring organization where they applied, were interviewed or both and never heard from the organization again. Current applicants are often potential future hires, customers, or know a great hire, but we turn them off.
As you might suspect this isn’t good for your employment brand!
As to the fact that employees are the only group that identified unhappy/disengaged employees and less than competent management as being major impediments to creating or sustaining culture as a change agent I don’t know whether to weep or cheer!
Employees get it, why don’t we?
So what do I propose?
• Be proactive in developing, implementing, and reinforcing your culture.
• Recognize that the foundation of your organization and success are based on understanding and embracing the three levels of trust, not just deterrence and competency.
• Ensure that you understand the implications of congruency and you either build it in or retrofit your organizational models to embrace it and reinforce it.
• Only hire and promote leadership candidates with both the appropriate attributes and the right skills.
I also see a clear meaningful role for the Human Resources function and I can assure you it isn’t owning culture!
When I look at the opportunity costs represented by more effective recruitment and retention, re-designing health care to include health management and address issues like social literacy and individual responsibility and the creating of meaningful employee engagement strategies on our society I have to admit I am puzzled about why more organizations don’t “get it”.
I understand that it is hard work. I understand that in some cases the ability and necessity to do things like create trust based relationships, establish clear performance expectations, provide meaningful feedback, and take appropriate corrective actions necessary to align performance with organizational goals is still in many organizations considered a soft skill, but the data is becoming more and more available and compelling.
I don’t believe that becoming certified as a HR professional, or gaining your black belt, or Six Sigma will necessarily make you a better leader or manager.
I believe the role fits into three distinct buckets.
• Technical skills -The proliferation of rules and regulations has indeed made the profession more complex as has the application of technology, phenomenon like social media, outsourcing and global workforces, and related challenges. We need to be technically proficient, not only in our craft, but to understand the businesses and organizations we serve.
• Project Management- Similar to the Total Quality Management movement I believe human resource competency in core areas needs to be deployed broadly and deeply rather than be seen as a departmental competency. It is fundamental to the management/leadership role.
• Facilitation - We need to help our client organizations recognize that by building relationships with individuals as people first and resources second we can create enormous gains in sustainability, productivity, and profitability through alignment of organizational and individual goals.
Some of the more recent studies on employee engagement criticize many organizations approach because they look at employees as a passive participant rather than an active stakeholder.
The good news is that employees are telling us in growing numbers (especially the group that makes up 25% of the workforce) that they see themselves as participants in defining organizational culture which is the foundation for engagement.
We have everything to gain here with nothing to lose except an artificial sense of control that we don’t have in the real world.
Let’s fix this!