I recognize that this statement in and of itself is not particularly profound. Indeed it represents the essence of the total quality movement. Good processes properly understood and practiced will consistently yield better results.
What I still struggle with after over 30 years as an executive, manager, and consultant is why we still don’t seem to universally understand this also applies to our relationships with people including our employees, customers, and other stakeholders.
Study after study has made it excruciatingly clear that when employees are engaged and aligned with you and your organizational objectives they perform at a higher rate and contribute significantly more. In fact the impact of engagement crosses every key performance indicator from stock price to revenue per employee.
So with that as a framework I would like to share three short vignettes with you about the relationship between process and results. All these are real experiences that I was involved with either directly or peripherally.
The top of the social media iceberg is represented by Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google Plus, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, WordPress, and Flipboard. With dozens more, how do you choose which site to dive into? Which site creates the most memorable digital footprint? All of the key sites may be useful, but if you’re a leader, which site helps to build an individual’s leadership brand?
I was having a great conversation the other evening with a friend who is also my resident cynic. Growing up in the Midwest in a Latvian community (if you are unfamiliar with Latvia it is/was an Eastern European country dominated by the USSR among others) she has a natural distrust for conventional authority, corporate leaders anything else reeking of capricious (as defined by her) authority.
We were discussing as we often do the concepts of organizational structure, power dynamics, and the relationship between employers and employed.
We both agree that most of what we refer to as leadership today isn’t and that most of the models don’t reinforce an appropriate balance between shareholder and stakeholder interests.
What took me a bit off guard was when she expressed the idea that human resources professionals are the protectors of the faith, charged with maintaining the current models.
A colleague of mine had a chance to attend the healthiest employers of Oregon awards program last week and he was intrigued and excited to share the ideas of the event with me.
Like him I was very pleased to see organizations focusing on this area and recognizing the importance of managing health rather than health care.
I would be less than candid however if I didn’t acknowledge that there were only a total of 57 organizations represented in the survey.
The U.S. spends more dollars per capita than any other industrialized country, and not a small margin. In 2012 we spent 17% of our Gross Domestic Product on health care expenditures; the next highest spending was 12%.
The other really disappointing thing is even given our spending our outcomes are in the middle of the pack.
Who are your stakeholders? Does your business provide products or services directly to consumers? Or does your business fall into the B2B category? It really doesn't matter when it comes to answering the stakeholder question because, bottom line, all of your employees are representatives of your brand - and they need to provide service to all of your stakeholders, whether those stakeholders are internal or external.
It is always interesting to me that when I see or read about what performance metrics executives should have on their dashboard there is often about a discussion about whether they should be tracking employee engagement or KPI’s (key performance indicators. As both a former human resources and operational executive my reaction is that employee engagement IS a key performance indicator.
There is certainly enough qualitative and quantitative date available to definitively determine that there is both a direct and indirect correlation between employee engagement and organizational performance.
The top performing and most admired companies recognize that which is why over 90% of them have developed and maintain an explicit employment branding strategy.
The Gallup organization has come out and stated that employee engagement is one of if not the most accurate predictors of long term organizational sustainability. In the UK it has been acknowledged to the point where there is actually a national initiative to address it.
So what keeps most organizations from developing and implementing an engagement strategy?
While job creation is the buzz in Washington, the economy continues to suffer around the country. Since the recession began in 2009, employees have experienced downsizing, rightsizing, smartsizing, or whatever you want to call it when employees are unceremoniously given five minutes to gather their belongings, be escorted to the exit, and in the process, go from employed to unemployed in complete disbelief.
Maybe it is just the phase of the moon, but there seems to be a proliferation of situations that indicate people are struggling with understanding and respecting boundaries.
A story that has gone viral is about a reporter who was terminated for comments she shared on her personal blog. Apparently initially she had taken the comments down, but decided to repost them to be true to her values.
Among her comments she shared personal opinions about people she interviewed and topics, the fact there were times that she was poorly prepared and other little tidbits. Somehow it seems she lost track of the fact that she was a public personality and her comments crossed over into areas that reflected poorly upon her and her employer. The fact that she initially took the comments down upon her employers request indicated she wasn’t totally unaware of this.
I don’t know about you, but I have found that one of the longest journeys I have ever taken is that journey of introspection when I have faced significant milestones in my career and life and had to determine which path to take as I approached the crossroad.
As a child who was often ill I got the opportunity to spend a lot of time in my own company, much of it in hospitals and a good deal of the time away from pediatric wards. For much of my adolescence the effects of my health conditions followed me. I didn’t get the opportunity to enjoy some of the normal activities that kids do like little league, pee wee football, etc until much later. Even then I wasn’t terribly athletically gifted or inclined.
I did become very good at observing people. When you are a child late at night in a hospital you become part of the surrounding infrastructure. People carry on conversations and interactions as if you weren’t there. They aren’t being rude; they just kind of forget you are there.
"Companies have a hard time distinguishing between the cost of paying people and the value of investing in them"
-Thomas A Stewart
I think this quote from Thomas Stewart captures one of the most significant issues that organizations still face almost 200 years after the Industrial Revolution, the idea that it is the acquisition and deployment of talent that typically determines the long term success and sustainability of organizations.
I have spent more than three decades directly and indirectly involved in the profession we call Human Resources and I have the say the progress has been underwhelming.
A recent poll of CEO’s regarding what they perceived as the key value provided by their human resource function resulted in a pretty disappointing number indicating they weren’t really sure, with another significant group responding the primary value was in compliance and protecting the organization from litigation.
Over the last weeks it has been interesting for me to see a number of discussions pop up on blog sites and social and business networking relationship sites that I belong to about the correlation between employee retention and employee satisfaction. The dialogue includes questions like:
- Is there a direct or indirect correlation between employee retention and employee satisfaction?
- Which is the more important measurement to employers; employee satisfaction or employee retention?
- What is employee engagement and should I be measuring it?
I will respond to those questions the same way I responded to them on the sites- assuming that there is a direct or indirect correlation between retention as measured by average tenure and satisfaction is potentially dangerous and misleading.
Employee retention at its most basic is a function of turnover. How many people join and how many people leave your organization over a given period of time. If you want to be more sophisticated you might measure “regretted turnover”, those you wanted to keep; versus “unregretted” turnover, those you didn’t mind seeing leave. I would concur that those can be very different.
A young protégé of mine recently began negotiations with a rather large financial services organization and as she shares her experiences I have to tell you that I remain disappointed and a little surprised at how poorly so many employers are handling this process!
On one hand she is very interested in the position, on the other she is more than a little put off on how much the process resembles a transaction rather than an invitation.
Most of our employment models are and have been based on an acquisition model. We create sets of rules or protocols for everyone; applicants, hiring managers, and human resources to follow. The model isn’t an invitation to join up, it is a transaction.
We aren’t facilitating a relationship with a whole person; we are acquiring a piece of human capital!
How we continue to hold on to those concepts was reinforced for me a couple of ways recently.
Everybody that knows me knows that I essentially see myself as being in the people business. The art and science of identifying the right people whose values are aligned with your organizational culture and values; and ensuring that over time they don’t lose that alignment.
Over the last several years I have written volumes about engagement, the “phenomena” of perfecting that alignment in your organization and nurturing it beginning with your employees and then building on that base with your customers, suppliers, and community.
Years ago I quoted an article that indicated 60% of new managers fail within their first 18 months because of their inability to build and sustain relationships. I don’t think we have improved our track record much. We still use leadership and management as interchangeable concepts and skill sets; they aren’t and never will be.
I read a comment recently on LinkedIn, a very popular business/social networking site, where the author felt the U.S economy would never regain its international leadership position again because of the “limited” productivity of American workers.
While we all see, read, and scan countless blog posts on a daily basis, how many stand out? And why does a certain post stand out? Recently, I read an excellent post on Google Plus (link provided at the end of this post), and not only the title but the message have remained with me.
Are your employees committed to achieving business results?
Imagine a company where employees come to work engaged, determined and committed to support the goals of the organization (physically, psychologically, and emotionally). 95% of the time this is the case when an employee starts working for you; before things get in the way of their enthusiastic engagement. What gets in the way?
- Unclear expectations
- A variance in what the employee is doing and what we want them to do
- Lack of appropriate preparation and/or training
- Poor management
- A lack of alignment between the employee’s personal values and goals, and the organization’s values and goals (real or perceived)
The list can go on and on. As employees disengage, their enthusiasm is muted under the weight of uncertainty, procedures and compliance. The important point is to understand that the desire to engage exists, but we as leaders and managers maintain a culture that disengages employees. The good news is that we are just as capable of creating a culture to reengage them, through respect, responsibility, information, rewards & loyalty. I refer to this transition from disengagement to engagement as moving from compliance to Commitment®.
Your culture can be positive, empowering, poisonous, passive-aggressive or anything in between.
Successful companies invest in building a purposeful culture where engagement is a daily priority and shared responsibility of individuals, managers, and executives!
© BlessingWhite 2012
A number of years ago I became concerned about what I saw as the opportunity costs of employees who were coming to work and either withholding or not being given an opportunity to fulfill their responsibilities at 100%.
Because by nature I am an optimist, I subscribe to the theory that better than 95% of employees show up at work, at least initially, wanting to do the right work and to do it well.
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.
As I have indicated before I like using analogies both for my own edification and as an illustration point for others in explaining a concept. It may be that I am the only one often that sees the connection, but I hope not.
The Broken Road, performed here by Rascal Flats http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-vZlrBYLSU&feature=fvsr, is a song I first heard back in the late 90’s. It really struck me then as not just about relationships, but a metaphor for the road of life if we choose to hear it.
The last week or so has been an interesting dense pack of a lot of things for me. A week ago Sunday my brother and I had the opportunity to join a couple in a round of golf. The introduction took me a little askance when the husband took me aside and asked me to be patient as his wife is suffering stage four brain cancer, essentially terminal and that it impaired her vision and he sometimes needed to get her set up correctly to make her shots; that four hours or so was a lesson in life and in golf. She was one of the most gracious and positive people I have met in a very long time. She also had a wonderful, consistent approach to her golf game, never overpowering the ball or her stroke. Unlike the other three of us she took a short cut and played exclusively the fairway and the greens on her way to the ball…
I read a recent blog post by author and leadership expert Erika Andersen. The title of the post was “Why It Feels So Terrible to Be Managed.” Andersen shared two recommendations but one has stayed with me: Be the manager you’d like to have.