Dunbar’s Number, Surveys and Engagement
Bad processes yield bad results.
I make that statement as I look at the shouts across the blogosphere that performance appraisal has failed, employee engagement is bullshit, and a number of other sweeping generalizations.
When I examine those things I come up with a pretty consistent conclusion; if your process is designed and executed poorly you are likely to yield poor results.
Let’s look at hiring and selection. It is generally a mess. Most organizations still rely heavily on the interview as their primary selection tool, even though results have said that unstructured interviews by themselves are basically a crap shoot.
Then we add technology to it through automated systems to sift applications and determine the most qualified candidates. That way we can dumb the process down and turn recruitment into an entry level role in HR, because the system does the work. That is typically an epic fail.
If your performance management system consists of an annual trip to the woodshed between manager and employee to communicate why you won’t be getting the raise you anticipated, it is an epic fail.
Employees representing every generation have been clear from the start of the Industrial Revolution that they desire clear performance expectations, appropriate and constructive feedback, and equitable compensation. And for the most part we still suck at it. That doesn't mean we should abandon it, it means we need to do it better!
Most compensation delivery and performance management systems are designed by HR people for HR people. We want to streamline and increase efficiency and consistency. Those are code words for routinizing it. Creating alignment (the appropriate goal of engagement) is not routine, it is personal. It takes work and commitment and it lives at the front line where employees live and work.
A recent Gallup study indicates that employees are much less engaged than senior management thinks they are as a rule. No surprise. How often do senior managers interact with line employees?
Dunbar’s number is the concept that most of us mere mortals can’t maintain meaningful connected relationships with more than 150 people. As organizations get larger those relationships get strained.
We live in a fantasy world today where people have thousands of Facebook friends and LinkedIn connections. Do you really want to go out on a limb and say those are meaningful relationships? I can’t and I will admit to being in four figures for LinkedIn connections.
Stephen MR Covey tells us that the most important level of trust is identity based, which is based on shared values and experiences and the recent literature indicates every generation, especially the Millennials see this as a baseline element of healthy relationships with their employer.
That requires investment and personalization, you know that soft skill stuff.
Today I read a post that says doing surveys is dumb because good companies already know how their people feel about key issues and how aligned they are with their work and the company.
Really? So is the definition of a good company one that is led by one of those prodigies that can maintain those identity based relationships with hundreds of employees rather than those of us who can only maintain 150?
I will concede that if the only way you are creating and maintaining alignment is with an annual or semiannual survey you are likely falling short of your objective. It’s a tool not a solution.
If you are only having performance management and feedback conversations annually you are failing epically.
If your hiring process consists of hitting the panic button and pushing a bunch of people though an interview process without looking at the totality of the role and multiple tough points like congruency and fit you probably have both hiring and retention issues, not to mention shitty engagement.
I saw a great quote the other day that said if a plant isn’t growing properly you change its environment, not the plant. If your processes aren't working then refine them, don’t throw them out.
Get rid of language like human capital and hire whole people.
Don’t promote anyone into a management or leadership position that doesn’t have decent emotional and social intelligence skills and who has demonstrated competencies in things including: setting clear expectations, giving and receiving constructive feedback, taking corrective action, and coaching. I consider these a baseline.
If you have to retrofit your leadership team through training and/or reassignment, then bite the bullet and do it. Hold everyone accountable to walk the talk.
Remember that your leadership culture is defined by the worst behavior you are willing to tolerate from either management or employees!
It is okay to manage performance, communicate your compensation delivery strategy and align it to organizational goals and performance.
It is also okay to occasionally survey your employees and ask them how we are doing as an organization since you might not have an intimate, identity based relationship with all of them. If you do that listen to what they tell you and act on that feedback.
If you need the survey to identify your poorest performers and most disgruntled employees, you have severe weaknesses in your management infrastructure. Identify those and fix them.
The tough news is you have to all of this not just some of it because half assed solutions or incomplete systems don’t yield complete outcomes ever……