An excellent quote by Jeff Bezos in a recent blog post by Brian Wong took me back to my undergraduate days.
The quote “Focus on what won’t change” was a significant contributor to my decision to pursue a career in what was then called Personnel, much to the chagrin and disappointment of my academic advisor.
He told me, “You are really smart and focused, Personnel is kind of a dumping ground unless you are on the Labor Relations side”.
You have to remember that this was over three decades ago when organized labor was a powerful force and those employers who did not have a represented workforce were determined to stay that way.
My response to him was that in my brief career I had made two observations-
· At the end of the day people (or talent or whatever you want to use to describe the collective talents, skills, attributes, and efforts of the people you employ) are important no matter what sector, industry, or field you want to work in
· Most organizations don’t seem to “get” that and do it very well.
Even in the adolescence of my career it seemed that if you don’t want your employees to organize and have to negotiate with them collectively the best way to address that was to build relationships based on mutual trust and respect.
People smiled and patted me on the head about my naiveté, and wished me well.
My first job was at a place where we had pretty much done everything wrong. All of our employees were members of one of the eight unions and governed by one of the thirteen bargaining agreements in place and for good measure we had managed to get ourselves sued by the Federal government for systemic discrimination against two different minority groups so the government stepped in to give us “guidance” on the hiring of all our skilled crafts jobs.
My next job was with a more enlightened Fortune 100 whose philosophy was that we didn’t want any third party intervention between our employees and us. Third parties included unions, government agencies, special interest groups, and of course members of the legal profession. I thought that made much more sense.
I have to give that employer credit they were much more pro-employee and even when we went through the blood shed of the eighties with downsizing, rightsizing, and outsourcing we tried to maintain some sense of dignity on the part of the affected employees.
I also got a chance to be exposed to some “new” ideas like the total quality movement and a gainsharing experiment where we involved employees in redesigning processes and even took a radical step of involving them in discussions like rising health care and worker’s compensation related expenses and sharing the savings with employees both directly and indirectly.
My next gig was with a smaller medium tech employer who was interested in exploring socio-tech and self- directed work teams. My colleagues and I after serious resistance from senior management were able to put in place a model that demonstrated that when employees are committed rather than complying and aligned with organizational goals you can accomplish amazing things.
Then it was time for me to step into the abyss of self-employment and hang out my shingle as a management consultant trying to sell my services and ideas to employers regionally and nationally.
I called my model Compliance to Commitment.
In his 1991 book, Why This Horse Won’t Drink, Ken Matejka describes commitment: “Commitment is the act of being physically, psychologically, and emotionally impelled. It means that employees gladly give up other options.”
Employees choose you and your organization over any of their other available choices; you have become partners in your organizational mission! This creates a powerful image. If you are a CEO or a business owner, it almost sounds like a fantasy.
I like to think this was one of the early discussions and models of what we now refer to as employee engagement.
Roger Deprey created a model, the Human Resources Pyramid, a series of six questions that he believed every employee asks in a particular order. Deprey further stated that less than 15% of organizations in the world have their employees reaching the top of the pyramid and asking the final question: How can I help?
Maybe I am reaching, but I see more than a few parallels between Deprey’s six questions-
• What is my job?
• How am I doing?
• Does anyone really care?
• What is our function/mission/goal?
• How are we doing?
• How can I help?
and the more recent models espoused by thought leaders like Simon Sinek (Start with Why) and Patrick Lencioni’s Organizational Health models.
In my experience, corporations and organizations spend an enormous amount of time and money talking to employees, shareholders, and other stakeholders about mission, vision, culture, and values as abstract principles. Before employees can embrace your vision or mission, they need to understand where they personally fit in the organization and how you, as an executive, see them and their contributions.
There are five distinct elements to my model, and I believe each to be essential and directly correlated to Deprey’s questions. These are the elements:
I am not going to go into defining these in detail because I have done that ad naseum in other posts and publications.
Here are my recommended actions to drive compliance (little “c”) to Commitment (big “C”):
• Treat your employees with respect by providing clear expectations, meaningful feedback, and an opportunity to collaborate with you in achieving your goals and theirs.
• Treat them as intelligent adults by holding them accountable for performing their tasks independently and competently given clear direction and guidance. Provide clear boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and performance, and enforce them consistently.
• Provide them with the big picture and context of how their jobs, skills, and activities fit into the larger purpose of the organization- answer their question “What is my job?”
• Provide a clear “line of sight” between their performance and their compensation and rewards. If it takes you longer than 20 minutes to explain the basic structure of how you make decisions about employee compensation, it is too complicated. If you are afraid to explain the targets you use and how you make decisions, it is similarly flawed. Remember that human nature is to distrust what we do not understand.
• Do not expect more “loyalty” than you are willing to provide. I define loyalty as a mutual agreement that, while someone is my employee, they commit themselves to being engaged 100% and fulfill their responsibilities with our mutual respect. If they need additional clarity or information, they make me aware of that, and if they have an issue, they allow me to address it. Envision loyalty as an agreement between adults: we will continue in our relationship as long as it is mutually beneficial to both parties.
So you might ask what is in it for me as a leader?
• 84% of highly engaged employees feel that they can positively impact the quality of the organizations product or service versus 31% of disengaged employees.
• 72% of highly engaged employees feel they contribute directly to improved customer service versus 27% of disengaged employees
•68% of highly engaged employees feel they can directly impact costs versus 19% of their disengaged counterparts.
• An average total shareholder returns of 24% with organizations with a population of 60% or more of employees describing themselves as highly engaged. Where high engagement is between 40 to 60% of the population the TSR drops to 9.1% and when it drops below 25% the average TSR is negative.
• At Best Buy they were able to correlate a .1 percent increase in engagement on a five-point scale to a $100,000 annual profit increase per store.
• JC Penney found that stores in the top 25% engagement scores produced 36% higher per store operating revenues and 10% higher sales per square foot than their counterparts in the bottom 25%.
The bad news is that this is old news, we have known this for close to ten years yet many organizations have yet to embrace these models, in fact the number of disengaged employees has been increasing at a faster rate than engaged employees.
I didn’t have this data back in 1993, but the fact that we are still leaving this much opportunity on the cutting room floor is why I do it.
I still believe that having the right people, focused on the right things, who are committed rather than complying is the most important competitive advantage any organization has and that will never change!
So where do you go from here?
As you might suspect I have several suggestions:
• Define your culture. As leaders creating the culture and ensuring clarity is your key role.
• Hire hard- manage easy. My colleague Joseph Skursky uses this motto to describe his technique of investing the time to hire the right people, don’t try to “train” them to be right.
• Hire for congruency. The more alignment you have between the employee’s values and the elements described in Dr. Willingham’s model the more likely you will have alignment and engagement.
• Ensure managers have the “tool kit” and that they reinforce your values. Leadership and management are different skills, but there are an essential set of management competencies that all managers must have and be able to demonstrate. I would submit the closer to the frontline the more critical those skills become.
• Give employees a chance to commit rather than comply. The numbers speak for themselves. The model works.
• Be flexible about process and ruthless about principle. People who cannot or will not embrace your values will never be engaged. You owe it to them and yourself to “free up” their future.
If you are unfamiliar with some of the concepts I mention in this post just hit my blog or Google and do a key word search…..
People really are our most important asset ….