Archive for employee engagement

The Dangers of Disengagement—and Its Likely Cause

Have you ever felt yourself slipping into an apathetic haze at work, too bored, uninspired or beaten down to bother?

According to Gallup, nearly a quarter of employees around the globe are actively disengaged. That translates to bottom-line losses in the trillions. Not only are companies paying for sagging productivity by disengaged employees, but they’re also missing out on the benefits of having highly engaged powerhouses on their team.

What Causes Employee Disengagement?

What is one of the top causes of employee disengagement? You can probably guess. Whether you call them incompetent, narcissistic, psychopathic or straight-up evil, bad bosses shoulder much of the blame.

A recent Gallup article titled The Damage Inflicted by Poor Managers explores the consequences of lousy leadership—a subject we have examined in past articles (see sidebar).

Coauthors Marco Nink and Jennifer Robison note that in comparison with disengaged teams, engaged teams are 17% more productive and 21% more profitable; suffer 41% less absenteeism and 70% fewer accidents; and experience up to 59% less turnover, 28% less waste and 10% higher scores from customers.

At 24%, disengaged employees practically double the number of engaged employees (13%). That’s like having a bunch of anchors attached to a handful of balloons. It’s tough for an organization to achieve performance goals with that kind of ballast weighing it down.

The answer isn’t axing the disengaged employees, though. If the cause is bad leadership, the replacement hires will simply become the next crop of disengaged employees, creating a perpetual and costly cycle of turnover.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Bad Leaders?

When the problem starts at the top, that’s where we need to focus our attention. In another Gallup article, Nink and Robison ask, Can Bad Managers Be Saved?

Falling into a management role without proper preparation can transform decent folks into petty tyrants as they attempt to compensate for insecurity about their lack of leadership skills. Or they may be perfectly nice individuals engaging in poor management habits without realizing it. They might even have untapped leadership talents that simply haven’t been identified or developed.

As Steve Keating discusses in his piece Managing Stuff, Leading People, people often get promoted to management positions because they excelled in their previous roles—often having nothing to do with leadership. Just because a software engineer is brilliant at designing algorithms doesn’t mean she’s strong at leading a software development team—in fact, it’s frequently the opposite.

Not all bad bosses are beyond redemption. It takes astute judgment to determine which managers have the potential for growth and which ones will continue to flail. In our next article, we’ll examine some strategies companies can adopt to ensure their leaders are motivating engagement rather than provoking disengagement.

Need Some Advice?

Whether your organization is struggling with disengagement, ineffectual leadership or low performance, Chris Cook can help. Email her at chris@capiche.us or call 541.601.0114 to find out how.

Millennial Mindset: What Gen Y Wants out of Work and Life

When it comes to work, do you value purpose over salary? Growth over comfort? Do you want your leaders to empower rather than instruct you? Are you more comfortable with casual check-in conversations than a formal annual performance evaluation? Do you prefer to focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses? Does your life take precedence over your career?

Then you might be a Millennial—or at least you’re attuned to the same values identified as characteristic of Generation Y in a recent Gallup report titled “How Millennials Want to Work and Live.”

According to William Strauss and Neil Howe—the authors credited with coining the term “Millennials”—the generation born roughly between 1980 and 2000 is globally conscious and civic-minded. They care more about community than personal advancement. This concern for larger causes has also earned them the sobriquet Echo Boomers.

Generation Me author Jean Twenge and other critics question the altruistic traits Strauss and Howe associate with Millennials in Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069, finding them instead to exhibit a greater sense of entitlement and narcissism.

Wherever you fall on the debate, there’s no denying Millennials are seeking something deeper from their work, and that is why employers that offer meaningful roles are more likely to secure the loyalty of job-hopping Gen Yers.

There’s no denying Millennials are seeking something deeper from their work. Click To Tweet

Whereas past generations aimed to land a good-paying job where they could climb the corporate ladder over the course of their career, Millennials are likelier to switch jobs in search of more gratifying opportunities. The Gallup report reveals that 6 out of 10 Millennials express a willingness to change jobs, and as many as 21 percent have changed jobs within the past year—triple the number reported by other generations.

Generation Y job-hopping costs the US economy an estimated $30.5 billion. That fact combined with their lower workplace engagement—only 29% are engaged, Gallup says—make it imperative for organizations to find ways of appealing to Millennials.

Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton identifies six cultural shifts organizations can make to engage and retain Gen Yers:

  1. Prioritize purpose over pay. Fair compensation is important, but meaning matters more. Gen Yers would rather work at a job that pays less but makes them feel they are contributing to a good cause and helping the larger world. Unless your Millennial employees feel inspired by the mission of the organization, connected to the culture and creatively challenged by their responsibilities, they’re going to seek out more fulfilling jobs.
  2. Offer development opportunities. Millennials want to grow both personally and professionally. They’re less interested in perks like pool tables and espresso machines than in learning new skills and acquiring knowledge.
  3. Be a coach—not a boss. This shift from an autocratic leadership style to a collegial, empowering one benefits not only Millennials but all employees. People automatically become more engaged when leaders recognize and develop their strengths, making them feel more valued while helping them become better individuals.
  4. Converse rather than assess. Reared on social media, Generation Y takes a more casual approach to communication. They don’t want to wait a year to get feedback during a formal annual review—they desire ongoing discussions so they constantly know where they stand and how they can improve.
  5. Focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. Rather than dwelling on weaknesses, discover your employees’ strengths and cultivate those talents. Gallup notes, “weaknesses never develop into strengths, while strengths develop infinitely.” That’s not to say organizations should pretend the weaknesses don’t exist. A leader who understands their employees’ abilities and flaws can redefine individual roles to minimize weaknesses and maximize strengths across the collective whole.
  6. Create jobs they love. More than previous generations, Millennials identify their work with their lives. They want to know they are spending their hours wisely and doing fulfilling work at a company that appreciates them as human beings.

By understanding the work and life goals of Gen Yers, you can attract the brightest young stars to your organization—and keep them there. Unattached, connected, unconstrained, and idealistic, Millennials will flourish in a culture that treasures their strengths, gives them a sense of purpose and drives them to be their best selves.

Blue Ocean Leadership: 4 Steps to Boosting Employee Engagement

Surfer on a Blue Ocean Wave
There are half a trillion reasons why every American should care about employee disengagement. They’re called dollar bills, and that’s how many the US economy loses annually because of the 20% of discontented employees who undermine workplace productivity, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report.

That counterproductive 20% is abetted by the 50% of apathetic employees who simply punch the clock and then count the minutes until they can punch out.

What about the remaining 30%? Those are the lonely few who are dedicated to doing the best job they can.

And why do you think one-fifth of the American workforce is so discontented? You guessed it. Poor leadership.

Blue Ocean Strategy

INSEAD professors of strategy and management; codirectors of the Blue Ocean Strategy Institute in France; and Blue Ocean Strategy authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne offer some fresh ideas about how to reinvigorate the dispassionate 70%. They wrote about their findings in the May 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review.

Originally designed as a marketing model aimed at converting noncustomers into customers, Blue Ocean Strategy translates surprisingly well to the workplace. Viewing leadership from this new perspective, Kim and Mauborgne realized the fifth of disengaged employees represent the leaders’ noncustomers. That’s when they decided to apply their marketing strategy to building employee engagement—with stellar results.

Think about leadership as a service employees either buy or don’t buy. What can turn those non-buyers into loyal customers?

3 Leadership Approaches

According to the authors’ hundreds of interviews with managers and employees over the past decade, the following leadership approaches can help trigger the conversion.

1) Focus on acts and activities.

Instead of worrying about what kinds of people leaders should be, concentrate on what actions they can take to boost employee motivation and productivity. Actions are not only easier to change than personality traits, but they are also more measurable.

2) Tap into market realities.

Translated to the workplace, this means asking employees what leaders are doing wrong as well as what they could start doing to inspire employees to thrive.

3) Distribute leadership across all management levels.

Often organizations focus on executive leadership, but it’s the middle and frontline managers who tend to know employees better. By distributing leadership responsibilities across the top, middle, and frontline managers, organizations can access a deep well of often-untapped talent, thus enhancing engagement across the organization.

4 Steps to Stronger Leaders and More Engaged Employees

1) Recognize your leadership reality.

You have to understand where your leadership stands before you can plot a strategy for improvement. By using analytic visuals called As-Is Leadership Canvases, organizations can assess employees’ perceptions of how the top, middle, and frontline managers spend their time and energy. A cross-section of 12–15 respected managers leads this companywide conversation, with three subteams each focused on a different level of leadership. The team then compiles Leadership Profiles after a month to six weeks’ worth of interviews. These profiles identify the 10–15 dominant leadership acts and activities at each level based on how frequently they were mentioned during the interview process. The As-Is canvas charts these factors on the horizontal axis of the grid, while the degree to which leaders practice them is registered on the vertical axis. Typically, 20 to 40% of the acts managers tend to practice offer little value to employees, while on the flipside, 20 to 40% of the acts employees consider valuable are underpracticed by managers.

2) Develop alternative leadership profiles.

Once the team understands what managers are doing poorly as well as what they could be doing better, they can visualize positive alternative profiles. The team looks for cold spots (time-consuming acts that yield few benefits) and hot spots (actions not currently being taken that have the potential to energize employees). A second round of interviews is conducted to create the Blue Ocean Leadership Grid featuring these four areas:

a) Eliminate wasteful acts and activities.
b) Reduce not terribly beneficial acts and activities.
c) Raise existing beneficial acts and activities.
d) Create new beneficial acts and activities.

This grid is used to draft two to four possible To-Be Leadership Profiles.

3) Pick To-Be Leadership Profiles.

These aspirational leadership profiles are then presented at a “Leadership Fair” by the subteams. Participants include top, middle, and frontline managers as well as board members. The original senior team presents the As-Is canvases, establishing the need for change. This is followed by the subteams’ presentation of the To-Be profiles for each management group. The attendees vote on their favorite leadership profile, and the senior executives then ask attendees what prompted their votes.

4) Institutionalize new leadership practices.

The selected To-Be profiles are distributed to the top, middle, and frontline leaders, and meetings are held to discuss the actions that should be eliminated, reduced, raised, and created. Monthly follow-up meetings document employees’ feedback on their managers’ progress toward the new profiles. This routine check-in reinforces the desired changes and encourages accountability.

Fair Process

The principles of fair process—engagement, explanation, and expectation clarity—govern the four steps of Blue Ocean Leadership. Employees and managers at all levels feel ownership in the process, thus overcoming resistance to change and creating a sense of buy-in. Crucially, fair process fosters trust across the organization.

Get Started

Are you ready to try out Blue Ocean Leadership at your organization? Contact me at 541-601-0114 or chris@capiche.us to start the conversation today.

See the Blue Ocean Leadership website for more details.

Speaking of Happiness: How to Have Your Cake—And Eat It, Too

Little Girl about to Chomp Down on Big Chocolate Cake

There’s a lot of buzz about the significance of employee engagement—Forbes, Gallup Business Journal, and Harvard Business Review have all published articles on engagement just in the last three months. I, too, have examined the topic—most recently reporting on the Hay Group findings that highly engaged employees can quadruple a company’s revenue growth and generate 89% greater customer satisfaction.

There’s no denying employee engagement matters, but it’s only one tessellating piece of a bigger jigsaw. Myopically focusing on engagement can obscure our view of the most reliable predictor of performance—you guessed it, happiness. As I explained in “Why Employee Engagement Trumps Employee Engagement and Job Satisfaction,” it’s possible for an employee to be highly engaged, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy (and when they’re not happy, they are most likely looking for a new job). On the flip side, however, happy employees always rank high on both engagement and job satisfaction.

When companies shift their focus from engagement to happiness, they get to have their cake and eat it, too.

Engagement is a good first step, and I believe in the importance of what’s measured in Gallup’s well-revered “Q12” engagement survey. In the recent “Five Questions You Must Ask Your Team,” Stosh Walsh explains how organizations can boost engagement using Gallup’s Q12 engagement survey results.

The Q12 action planning process requires the team to:

1) Define each of the Q12 items

2) Articulate what the ideal looks like for each item

3) Identify the difference between their reality and their ideal

4) Select which items have the greatest impact on the company’s culture or performance

5) Determine what each team member will do to increase engagement

But why limit ourselves to one tree in the forest? If we strengthen the ecosystem, the tree will follow suit. Happiness is the secret to enhancing not just engagement but also satisfaction, health, loyalty, and innovation—not to mention performance and productivity.

Let’s instead consider what questions we can ask to help spread happiness at work. Fortunately, some really smart people like those at Delivering Happiness have already put tremendous thought and research into this question. Based on the New Economics Foundation’s dynamic model of well-being, their Happiness at Work survey is designed to do precisely that.

New Economics Foundation Dynamic Model of Well-Being

The dynamic model of well-being measures four primary areas of happiness at work, each with its own matrix of four intersecting components: 1) experience of work, 2) functioning at work, 3) organizational system, and 4) personal resources. The survey assesses 40 factors to determine the organization’s and individual employees’ levels of happiness.

Here are 16 sample questions posed by the survey:

Experience of Work

1) To what extent do you feel proud to work for your company? (positive feelings)

2) How much of the time you spend at work do you feel frustrated? (negative feelings)

3) How much of the time you spend at work are you absorbed in what you are doing? (engaging work)

4) Thinking about the job you do, in general would you say that the job you do is worthwhile? (worthwhile work)

Functioning at Work

The Hidden Costs of Disengagement1) To what extent do you get the chance to be creative in your job? (self-expression)

2) To what extent can you influence decisions that are important for your work? (sense of control)

3) To what extent do you like the people within your team? (work relationships)

4) To what extent have you been able to learn new skills at work? (sense of progress)

Organizational System

1) To what extent do you worry you might lose your job in the next six months? (job design)

2) To what extent do you feel trusted by your manager? (management system)

3) To what extent is it safe to speak up and challenge the way things are done within the company? (work environment)

4) In general would you say that the job you do is beneficial to society in general? (social value)

Personal Resources

1) To what extent do you feel full of energy in life? (vitality)

2) Taking all things together how happy would you say you are? (happiness)

3) In general would you say you find it easy or difficult to deal with important problems that come up in your life? (confidence)

4) How satisfied are you with the balance between the time you spend on your work and the time you spend on other aspects of your life? (work-life balance)

How would you answer these questions? Take the free Happiness at Work survey to find out how happy you are in your work. Do you feel the results are accurate? I will be interested to hear your experience of the process!