Over the last week or so I have seen three different discussions from colleagues that I really respect that cause me to believe that much of our society and especially the business sector are still chasing what I fervently believe to be the wrong paradigm.

In the first instance a colleague posed the question of whether or not an organization should focus on its fiscal health, i.e. profitability or acting in a more socially responsible way. We see similar questions posed daily about whether employee satisfaction or employee satisfaction (engagement) should be the higher priority.

Because I know my colleague I knew that he was posing the question rhetorically, but my concern is that the vast majority of executives and leaders you would pose that question to wouldn’t see it that way. They still continue to see it as either or.

The second instance a question was posed as to whether the leader of an organization should be capable of both creating the vision and crafting the implementation of the strategy to insure its execution.

Again I may be in the minority, but I am not a big believer in what I facetiously refer to as the cape and tights model of leadership. Some heroic leader singularly crafts a vision and strategy and then impels a group of awe struck followers to successfully implement it. Don’t get me wrong, I believe highly in effective leadership. I think people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz, and others are/were gifted and compelling leaders. I also believe they were gifted enough to recognize where their own capabilities need to be supplemented by others. They sponsor and role model the vision, but they don’t retain exclusive ownership.

In fact the infallible leader in my mind is a dangerous myth. I tell leaders “if you look behind you and nobody is following you are not a leader, you are a boss. If you have to impose your vision rather than impel people to it you are not a leader”.

I see a leader as a facilitator, coach, and guide. I love heroic figures like Caesar (Julius), Arthur, and others. When I read their histories they created a contract based on mutual trust and respect between themselves and their followers. Could they be ruthless in their decision making and execution, absolutely, but fear was not their primary tool.

The third instance was a colleague who shared the latest data (2012) from Forbes and Gallup on employee engagement. As this is my primary focus I wasn’t surprised by the numbers. I am not going to regurgitate the whole article for you, but here are some of the high points -

  • Of employees surveyed 23% of non- management employees (less than 1 in 4) described themselves as engaged or highly engaged
  • 65% of those employees evaluating themselves as non-engaged indicated they would change employers for a pay increase of 5%
  • 80% of employees who have issues or don’t feel supported by their immediate supervisor describe themselves as disengaged
  • 39% of those surveyed do not have trust and confidence in senior management in their organization

I guess you could say so what, but I have seen and written about what those numbers mean in terms of costs to our economy-

  • $200 billion annually in lost opportunity from presenteeism
  • $5 trillion annually attributable to employee turnover
  • Direct correlation between employee dissatisfaction/disengagement to absenteeism, health plan utilization, accidents and injuries, etc.

On the other hand there is a clear relationship between employee engagement and business results- per capita productivity, employee and customer retention, profitability, etc. We aren’t talking small numbers. In some cases the variance between highly engaged and non-engaged is 100%. This isn’t soft science.

Google identified and tracked the characteristics of their most effective managers and identified eight key indicators that were represented in each case. They then created training and coaching programs that specifically addressed those eight factors. The result was a significant increase in the performance and effectiveness of 75% of their lowest performing managers and units.

I would submit if you look at Google’s stock performance you might conclude they have experienced a degree of success.

This is an example of blowing up a couple of myths -

  • Effective managers/leaders are born not trained or created
  • Effective human resource management is a soft science

There are a lot of reasons that organizations haven’t embraced engagement. A big one is definition.

As recently as today I saw another discussion on whether employee engagement and employee happiness or morale are the same thing; I would submit they are not. An employee can be happy or content at work for a lot of reasons. 

  • They have a short commute
  • They like their coworkers
  • The work environment is fun

The reality is that happy employees aren’t necessarily the most productive. In my mind engagement is about alignment

* employees see a direct correlation between the organizations goals and their own goals.
*  they have clear expectations
*  they feel like they are valued and contributing
*  they feel like they are mastering and acquiring skills that have value to them
* They feel like their personal values and the values of the organization are in alignment
* They respect and feel respected by their supervisor and their colleagues

What is wrong with our current paradigm is that we still ask questions about whether being a contributing societal member or being profitable is more important.

That we ask whether subordinating the interests of shareholders over stakeholders is the right business strategy.

That we refer to skills like effective communication, establishing expectations, coaching, taking appropriate corrective action when expectations aren’t being met and others are soft skills and we usually don’t begin training our front line leaders in these skills until mid-career if ever.

That in most organizations leadership is an elective; we promote and reward technical skills rather than the skills to manage people.

That we refer to our employees collectively as human capital or human resources rather than people.

And finally that when I see my former colleagues in Human Resources pursuing more credibility and influence the majority are pursuing systematic rather than systemic solutions focusing on technology and metrics to the exclusion of relationships and seeking certifications rather than creating capacity and responsibility to manage talent and people.

So I think we need a new paradigm. What do you think….?


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