Read an interesting post today from Bruce Kasanoff recommending we step away from the old adage of “teaching people to fish” when they are truly hungry.

He points out that when people are truly hungry they need nourishment, not wisdom

That really shouldn’t be news to any of us since Maslow created his hierarchy of needs decades ago, but it seems like we still struggle with it on both sides of the employment equation.

I am a really big fan of employee engagement. I believe, and the statistics bear me out, that organizations with high employee engagement outperform their lesser engaged counterparts in every key performance category. 

So you might ask - Why wouldn’t every organization be investing in employee engagement strategies?

The answer is that creating and more important sustaining an engaged environment is hard work. You don’t accomplish it by administering a survey or creating a project team, or making the human resources department accountable for it.

You also never arrive; sustained employee engagement is a moving target. People’s needs and expectations evolve.

The other thing is that employee engagement is not a management initiative, but rather a partnership. Employees have as much responsibility for engagement as management does. It is something we do with people not to them.

A few years ago I published my first book, Managing Whole People, with some of this in mind. We don’t just manage two dimensional people so if we are going to create and sustain the relationships that lead to true engagement we have to manage the whole person, not just the employee.

We also need to take into consideration where the organization is and where people are and make our matches pretty carefully.

Two dimensional hiring is based on all the stuff that compliance has taught us about being very careful to describe the skills and knowledge and tasks we want performed. Many HR practitioners get very nervous when we talk about things like attitudes and attributes because they are less precise to quantify, but the reality is these characteristics play a huge role in how successful an employee is in any given environment.

Bruce’s comment caused we to think about two of the most common and often unsuccessful initiatives I see organizations embark on a regular basis -

  • Training
  • Change Management

As a consultant it is not uncommon that I receive a request to develop and implement a training program or initiative for an organization.

When I ask why they want training they usually respond – we aren’t getting the behavior or performance we are seeking.

When I respond – Why training? – They often get annoyed. My point to them is that training provides a skills base or model. If what is preventing the performance is attitudinal or other factors training won’t fix it…

Similar with change management, we usually try to do change to people rather than with them. In short we don’t meet them where they are.

That doesn’t mean that we have no right to expect people to modify their performance or behavior it just means understanding what the real impediments are is critically important.
Employee Engagement is a higher level state of performance. It requires some fundamental infrastructure to succeed.

Things like trust, respect, clear expectations, constructive feedback, line of sight, and a host of others.

You can’t achieve engagement without mastering these and we still refer to many of these skills as soft in our management theories and discussions.

Worse yet there are many who have adapted the organizational brilliance that emotional intelligence and empathy are gender based and that women are inherently better equipped to succeed in those skills. 

Please, for me that rates right up there with the stereotypes we used to attribute to racial or cultural groups.

We have the opportunity to return to the old social contract that the Founding Fathers conceived of when they included personal competency to balance personal property.
Over the years of industrialization and embracing the theory of scientific management, which created the concept of white collar versus blue collar, we lost a lot of the personal competency.

I believe as I covered in my book Plan B- An Alternative to Obamacare, this is a big part of the issue with our health care delivery system. We abdicated personal responsibility for managing our personal health and a very complex system grew up to manage it for us.
Now we have the responsibility back, but little education or information about how to navigate it.

As those of you who are familiar with me and my work know I am deeply committed to a few key concepts. Among them I include building your organization on a foundation of commitment rather than compliance and the concept of personal competency.
There are a lot of other things that inherently embedded in those ideas, but they really represent the foundational pieces.

In the first is the idea that when people come together with a shared set of values and clarity about our purpose proactively and willingly the amount of energy they will bring to that effort increases exponentially.

The second is the idea that people are whole. They perform best when we give them both an opportunity and an expectation of being present. My colleague Reut Hebron Schwartz describes it in part as Kind Excellence. She would tell you there is not true kindness in letting someone meander through their life or career working at 70 or 80 percent of their capacity. Neither can you achieve excellence by simply providing someone with a template and punishing them if they do it wrong.

Social gravity is the emerging concept of describing your value proposition in such a clear way and operating with such consistency that your stakeholders including customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, and communities are drawn to you. There is a community of interests that is clear and compelling.

Social gravity doesn’t look the same in every organization. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution we have really developed an infatuation with best practices to the point we want to use them almost like recipes.

When I see surveys that conclude that most leadership failures occur because of organizational fit, interpersonal dynamics and relayed human factors I have to say I find the perplexity of failure of technology to guarantee sustained success ironically amusing. The answer is right there. It isn’t about processes it is about relationships. Processes can facilitate communications and tasks, but they can’t create relationships. That is a uniquely human dimension.

So I would suggest once again let’s endeavor to manage whole people and to do that we have to meet them where they are….


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