Some thoughts about employee engagement

Photo by Audin

I was reading Interaction Associates’ Fully Engaged e-book yesterday. In the e-book they describe the top five drivers of employee engagement, as cited in the 2008 Global Workforce Study by Towers Perrin.

1. Senior management is sincerely interested in my well-being.

2. My skills or capabilities improved the last year.

3. I respect my organization’s reputation for social responsibility.

4. I have input into decision making in my department.

5. My organization quickly resolves customer concerns.

Although I haven’t read the entire study and my thoughts are based on my gut feeling only, I decided to jot down a few comments:

1. Driver number one is an interesting one. I must admit that in the past I have participated in a number of discussions about “the people upstairs” and their misalignment with the “little employee down here”. I also truly believe that senior management should be actively involved and interested in people management in the organization. I must, however, raise a question – is the problem the interest portrayed by senior management itself or the way it is communicated? I think the way your direct manager acts as a transmitter between the employees and senior management (and the communication should flow both ways) will be an important predictor of the success a company will have regarding this driver.

2. Driver number two is a bigger mystery to me. How exactly employees expect to improve their skills or capabilities? If it by improving their weaknesses, then it might prove to be something to be worried about. If it is by finding ways to use their strength and their weaknesses, then that is an important demand. We know from other research that the level of employees’ engagement is higher when mangers focus on employees’ strengths, but the question remains whether that is what employees’ expect?

3. Driver number four is something I believe many managers are a little scared of. “I have the responsibility, shouldn’t I have the decision making power as well?”  they think to themselves. However, we need to understand that there is a difference between taking an input for the decision and making the decision itself. Most people can accept a decision with a different outcome then what they were hoping for as long as they know they had a say and the process was fair. As David Silverman nicely put it:

More to the point, I should not feel comfortable sitting in the CEOs chair, putting my feet on his desk, and thumbing through his or her Rolodex — and I don’t want to. I want strong leadership making the tough decisions. Do I want input? Of course, but without a leader making the call, and taking the responsibility to insist all the other managers and employees come into line, nothing would get done at my, or any other, company

4. Finally, these drivers (as well as the comments above) prove to me once again that the direct manager of an employee has a tremendous effect on his success, motivation and level of engagement.



White space time

Photo by Cillian Storm

On the HBR Editors’ Blog Bronwyn Fryer writes a post called: Manage Your Time Like Jim Collins:

When he says he uses a stopwatch, he means that he tracks his time to make sure he gets the most from his waking hours. He divides his life into blocks — 50% creative time, 30% teaching time, and 20% other stuff (“random things that just need to get done”).

Jim took out a piece of paper and drew a picture of four blocks stacked atop each other. Pointing at the top block, he said, “I block out the morning from 8 am to noon to think, read and write. ” He unplugs everything electronic, including his Internet connection. Although he has a reputation for reclusiveness, when asked about this, he replies: “I’m not reclusive. But I need to be in the cave to work.”

Collins calls this white space time:

For Collins, high-quality work requires long stretches of high-quality thinking. “White space,” as he calls it, is the prerequisite for fresh, creative thought. It’s the time that he spends with nothing scheduled, so that he can empty his mind, like the proverbial teacup, and refill it with new thought.

Well, it certainly is a compliment to have similar ideas to someone like Jim Collins. Here are two short paragraphs from one of the posts I wrote about what I call thinking time:

When I give workshops about personal vision building I talk about setting aside “thinking time” as one of the fundamental skills good leaders acquire for themselves and as a way to updated personal vision constantly. I always point out that I am not talking about thinking during the shower, but as an integral part of your day, preferably, in your office. At this point, people usually nod and agree. But if you ask them a few months later, how many times since the workshop did they take a break during their work day to just stop and think, they usually answer – zero.

There are some truths that people will always agree to, but are reluctant to implement. This is something I know for myself. This piece of advice is easier to preach about than practice. So what is the solution? I think the best one is to outsource the responsibility for setting “thinking time” to somebody else.

I think this kind of thinking is again another manifestation of the idea that sometimes what is missing is more important than what is there. Sometimes, what is not there, improves on what is there.

How do you treat the empty slots in your schedule?  Do you actively create them?



Check this out for another perspective of the same idea.

Shorts: Bill Taylor on Office Hours

In the Harvard Business Review Blog Bill Taylor writes:

Lately, my rule of three convinced me to check out the rise of “office hours” in business and finance. And it looks like a pretty sound idea. If you, as a busy and stressed-out leader, want to stay in touch with your colleagues and stay connected to the market, then clear your calendar for an hour or two each week, invite colleagues and customers to stop by your office, and answer their questions. What could be simpler — or, in this era of information anxiety, more effective?

Three comments:

  1. Is this really a new trend/Idea? As Taylor mentions himself, the idea has been around in universities (and other organizations) for a long time. To me, it just seems like common sense. Not having open office hours is a trend we should report and be worried about.
  2. Is it enough. Office hours are a passive activity. We stay in our office, waiting for our employees or customers to come or call. Shouldn’t we be proactive? Make sure that we spend time with our employees even if they don’t come on knocking?
  3. While being available in your office is important there are great opportunities in doing the “open office” in your employees’ or customers’ natural habitat. There are some things that you can understand only if you see it from the other side.


Shorts: William D. Green from Accenture on to make the most out of people

Adam Bryant from the New-York times interviewed William D. Green, chairman and C.E.O. of Accenture. This is one of his comments about leadership:

I was not a good student. I took what they call today a gap year, but back then it was called “finding yourself.” I did one of those, and I finally found my way into a two-year college. I went from an underperformer to a solid performer, with a little inspiration from some professors. That had a profound effect on me, to realize how much raw talent there is out there for us to exploit, leverage, take advantage of, and how much talent there is that people can give that organizations don’t mine, they don’t harvest, they don’t get the best of, because of structure, because of strategy, because of rules.

I am a big believer in processes. However, I ask Mr. Green, in the story you just described, what made your talent available to exploit? Structure, strategy and rules? I don’t think so. I think it is the inspiration from the professors.

People are more important than processes. People will have the most important effect on motivation and performance. Processes need to help people yet it is people who will make the difference.


Shorts: Incentive Intelligence on not telling people what to do

Paul Hebert from Incentive Intelligence writes a post called The Secret Motivation Program Your Manager Doesn’t Want You To Know About:

I’m guessing 90% of the failure to engage teams is about managers telling people how to do things instead of focusing on the why.  In most cases people can figure something out if they know why it’s important.  Managers typically spend more time telling people how instead of why.  Tell your folks why they do what they do and then get out of the way.

Totally agree. Outcome management, not giving answers and taking hurdles out of the way, are to competencies managers need to master. Urgently.


Understanding the other side

Photo by Scarleth White

Seth Godin writes today about watching the money:

Money is more than a transfer of value. It’s a statement of belief. An ad agency that won’t buy ads, a consultant who won’t buy consulting, and a waiter who doesn’t tip big—it’s a sign, and not a good one.

The idea – in order to really sell something, you have to understand it completely, to live it form the other side. And I completely agree. There is something about putting your own money, from your own pocket, that transmits a signal about your beliefs (and in an unrelated note it might be better than executive bonuses).

The same logic could be used to everyday people management. If you want your employees to do something, you have to do it yourself. Not only because, as Godin says, it sends a signal to your employees, but also, and this is the important part of Godin’s post, it leads to better understanding of the feelings and experiences of the employees. Simple MBWA.

It is quite clear (or is it?) that if we want to understand our customers, we need to act like customers – try to acquire a service or a product from our own company. However, the same could be said about you as a manager. Can you put yourself in your employees’ shoes and try to “acquire” feedback, recognition or just time with you.

Yes, I know, the comparison is not complete and you cannot disguise yourself as a mystery shopper in order to obtain feedback from… well, you. This line of thinking might only manifest itself as a mental exercise. But, if you think about it carefully, I am sure that you can come up with ways to actually try to acquire management services from yourself (start by examining you schedule and how much of it is dedicated to being with your employees, and which ones).

However, what is more important is the frame of mind. The understanding that as managers, we are there for our people and to help them excel, we need to try and see things from their perspective.

So, when is the last time you saw yourself from your employees’ eyes? And how? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.