Creating Engagement Within The Work Family


There is a tremendous amount of literature available today that addresses employee or worker engagement, and organizations such as Gallup have spent large amounts of money, time, and other resources to identify components and impacts of engagement.  It’s so important that organizations such as retail giant Best Buy and bottling and drink company MolsonCoors, Inc. have reported impacts to their respective businesses due to an increased focus on and measured increase in employee engagement.  It can be quite confusing to read through all the available information without some guidance about what it all means, or what theory is correct.  Unfortunately, the answer is slightly more difficult than a simple “this or that”.  In a recent edition of the Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research (2011), there is an excellent article that discusses these myriad theories of employee engagement.  The title of the article is “Leadership Strategies for an Engaged Workforce” and it covers some really important topics.  Most importantly the authors, Shawn Serrano and Rebecca Reichard, add some definition to the definition of employee engagement.  So let’s start with that here.

The two components that seem to overlap no matter which theory is used are energy and involvement.  As Serrano and Reichard (2011) so eloquently put it, “energy is displayed as individuals fully deploy their physical, cognitive and emotional resources into a work role or task,” and “involvement occurs as individuals display competence and a positive attached response to the job, thus resulting in remarkable dedication and intense absorption in the task at hand.”  So now we have a relatively clear idea of what represents employee engagement, but how do we achieve this?

Again, Serrano and Reichard (2011) have some excellent suggestions; ultimately, leaders are tasked with:

  • Designing Meaningful and Motivating Work
  • Supporting and Coaching Employees
  • Enhancing Employee’s Personal Resources
  • Facilitating Rewarding and Supportive Coworker Relations

Most of us would agree that if  these things were in our workplace, we would feel more engaged.  I think there is a really good reason for this, going back to when we were very young.  The role of parents, our leaders through childhood, provided many of these things for us to get us where we are today.  Most parents provide activities and tasks for children to do and accomplish that will help them feel good about what they have accomplished, and will support and coach them along the way.  Even if the task is challenging parents are there to help them, but not necessarily complete the task for them.  Organizational leaders serve the same role.  Ensuring that children have the necessary components to succeed in their daily tasks, school projects, sports endeavors, or other activities is truly crucial as most children can not achieve these things on their own.  Again, organizational leaders must provide that same type of support to their workforce.  In many cases, workers do not have the ability to get the necessary resources on their own.  It doesn’t mean giving someone everything that they ask for, but rather providing them with what they need to accomplish what they are working on and striving for.

The last component, Facilitating Rewarding and Supportive Coworker Relations, is very similar to the act of parents facilitating “play dates” or other social activities for their children to become more socialized.  Ultimately, parents are responsible for assisting their children in achieving this development, and organizational leaders have much of the same responsibility.  This teaches people to communicate and interact successfully, which can help across many facets of business.

This isn’t to say that business leaders need to treat employees like children, but we need to have the same type of compassion for one another as we would for children and leaders especially need to understand the great responsibility that they have for their employees.  When thinking about what the workforce needs, ask if they have the components above and if you are helping them to grow and develop, or if perhaps you are viewing them as simply a part in a process.  How are you engaging your workforce family, and how are you being engaged?

References

Serrano, S.A., & Reichard, R.J. (2011). Leadership Strategies for an Engaged Workforce. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 63(3), 176-189. doi: 10.1037/a0025621

Advertisements

Agility in efficiency makes the difference!


One of the easiest things to lose sight of in the business world is where we want our business, group, or team to be or what goals we want to achieve.  This concept may seem quite obvious, but whether your perspective is as a supervisor or as a direct report you should be asking the question, “What are we measuring against?”  As a direct report, you should know what you are being measured against to know what you should be doing every day to achieve, and to help your colleagues and supervisor achieve, those goals.  As a supervisor or manager you should certainly be asking yourself, and your leader, what you should be measuring your people against and understand how those things impact the overall organizational goals.  Having this information impacts much more than awareness.  It essentially feeds every other performance impacting systemic component in the macro-system of the organization.

Some other important components (although by no means all inclusive) in human performance improvement are things such as communications and feedback loops, coaching, learning events, information and resources, physical systems (hardware/software, technology, etc.), environment, and work processes.  Keeping in mind the concept of asking what we are measuring against, every single other component of human performance improvement is impacted directly by that.  Think of it as reverse engineering.  As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to get there?  Once you know what you are being measured against, and what you are measuring your team against you can adjust other performance management and performance improvement components to help reach that end goal.

When we look at what makes the concept of human performance improvement effective, an important focus is on making the small changes and correcting the small mistakes or finding solutions to even the smallest challenges.  Think about this: Employees find that a software program is cumbersome and slows them down in completing a particular function.  It is decided that the team can simply find ways to work around it and make it work, and that funds and time should be allocated to a different focus.  As the new focus begins to grow, more time is needed from the employees that currently work on the myriad things that they were before.  The software that was once a slight annoyance is still costing time, albeit potentially somewhat less, as it was before and makes it even more difficult for the team to provide the support for the shiny new product that has come out and is positioned to make the organization more revenue and to gain more market value.  Now because of the launch of the new product, it is decided that there is a change that needs to be made to the software to meet the demand and the software change becomes a priority.  However, now the team has become ingrained in the way they have adjusted their workflow to using the inefficient software which will require a serious behavioral change to the new way.  The workflow will potentially need to be redesigned, the software will need to be redesigned, the group will need to learn the change to the new software, and all of this while learning a new product and adjusting to the new responsibility of supporting the new revenue generating product that needs to be on the market and supported (and in most cases, that product and support was expected yesterday!).

What challenges do you see here?  How much more complicated is the process later down the line?  This is truly death by a thousand cuts.  To be a truly agile organization there needs to be a focus and attention to the small things that can be improved and the small problems that can be fixed before they become big things.  Awareness of issues in the present and focus on improving them as close to immediately when found creates an environment that drives to the future.  Throughout this process, focus needs to be maintained on the initially defined measurements which will create quantifiable evidence that all of the improvements being made are helping to move the organization toward the overall goals.

Not your average action plan


With the many challenges that face organizations and their leaders today, ensuring that learning events, seminars, and conferences provide a true value to the employee and overall organization is even more important than ever before.  The reason this is so important is the need to create an environment built for change and innovation, partnered with the need to attract and keep talent and the associated intellectual property.  People need more than the every day grind, and need to understand that the organization they work with believes they are important enough to invest in.  All of this together makes this a game with very high stakes.  So the question is how to accomplish this intricate intertwining?

In the past, the expectation was that if you were going to some type of learning or communication event, whether internal or external, you would gain whatever knowledge and information you could and hope to find ways to apply it in some way in your daily work once you returned.  That model is simply not effective and with the need for every dollar and minute spent to account for some type of return on investment, we need to find a better way.

Enter the action plan.  For most of us, the action plan may seem familiar.  In reality, most of us use it completely incorrectly and even fewer understand what it really is.  First, let’s talk about what it is not.  An action plan is not a directive from a manager or supervisor of what to do.  It is not a task list, nor is it a checklist.  An action plan is also not simply the “next steps”.  It is much more complex than these things, while encompassing many of the same components.

The best way that I have heard an action plan described is not just as the plan, but also as a living process.  It cannot be a static dumping ground, but must instead be a dynamic process leading up to an initial static document.  To accomplish this managers and supervisors need to schedule time with an employee before an event, and during this time discuss the program or event content, define the expected or desired takeaways are, and identify the expectations of the supervisor or manager after the event.  For the person attending the event, there needs to be a structured way of attending the event to obtain a solid comprehension of the learning.  Participants do this either with a printed form or through simply taking notes, but there are certain components needing identification throughout the program.  These include, for each lesson learned:

  • What did I learn? (This could be per day, week, month, module, book, speaker, etc.)
  • How can this help me do my job better?
  • What action steps, if any, can I take?
  • Start Date
  • Evaluation Date (Should be agreed upon either before the event, or in the post-conversation)
  • What resources will I need?
  • What barriers might I encounter?  Who can help me with these?

By using this process, the participant should have a clear picture of knowledge gains and the best use of those gains after the event.  Further, having this information available will be of great use when debriefing with the leadership afterwards, which is the next piece of the process.

Within the week immediately after the event, the participant and their leadership need to have time scheduled to discuss the event and the answers to the questions posed above.  At this point, the action plan in the sense of what we know it today begins to form, which will offer specific goals and timelines for check in and accomplishment as well as helping the leadership to find what learners need from them in terms of support and resources.  By following this method, the leader and employee share commitment to the action plan as both developed and designed it and both have stakes in it.  For the leadership, this is also an excellent addition to performance plans as a part of the performance management process.

References

Cowan, C.A., Goldman, E.F., & Hook, M. (2010). Flexible and inexpensive: Improving learning transfer and program evaluation through participant action plans. Performance Improvement, 49(5), 18-25. doi: 10.1002/pfi.20147

A “Complex and Adaptive” System


In any business, human capital is the underlying current of activity and success.  There are many challenges as organizations grow and shrink, and make decisions on the best way to proceed into the unknown as they change and develop.  An article that giving an interesting perspective on this was published in the professional journal Performance Improvement in March of 2010, titled “An Enlightened Look at a System View.”  The authors, Rosenzweig and Lochridge, look at how organizations must reassess what they are doing today and empower employees to make proper decisions and take the business into the future through an entrepreneurial spirit.

In the current turbulent environment, organizations are forced to find new ways of doing things, engage employees, offer better service, perform faster and more agile, and use the human capital that they have in multiple and diverse ways and roles.  With these thoughts in mind, the old way of doing things needs revisiting and reevaluation for effectiveness.  The old ways of thinking need challenging.  Does what worked even five years ago still stand true today, or is an entire re-vamp necessary?  For many on the “front-lines” of organizations, this is a no-brainer question.  As the saying goes, “what got us here will not (necessarily) get us there”.  In other words, some things are reusable, but many components can definitely benefit from change and evolution.

One such area involves viewing the business as a system, and understanding it as being complex with many moving parts.  This means understanding that, as Rosenzweig and Lochridge (2010) put it, “we need to acknowledge that some problems have a tipping point where the ability [to affect change] with a small team to affect change on a system becomes impossible.  There are too many moving parts, and too many emerging issues.  In these instance, the system must be viewed as being not just complex but as a complex adaptive system.”

So, what does a “complex adaptive” system mean?  It means there is a constant input of new data and changes to the system needing the ability to make decisions quickly and dynamically.  Further, these decisions are not necessarily by the leaders and senior leaders, but are by the human capital directly involved.  Although there is a structure of “plans, processes, and strategies” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010) agreed upon and slated as the guiding directives, the understanding is they are simply a guide on the path as changes constantly happen.  This agility and trust in the decision-making process creates engagement from those involved, and helps to create ownership of the business and decisions.  Everyone strives to do their best in contributing to the “larger purpose [of] what is needed to accomplish the tasks at hand, as well as the end goal.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge)

The organization has a mission, vision, values, strategy, etc.  The ability and desire of the individuals in support of those components is what makes them truly work.  One way that many organizations today are working in support of this is to work “less [toward] managing the people and more [toward] engaging them.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010)  This includes creating an environment where the individuals are more responsible for self, and find their own way to give 110% in support of the team, the organization, the business, and the customers every day.  It also includes running the business as a network, much in the way the Internet does, where everyone “[connects] to each other in an organic way.” (Rosenzweig & Lochridge, 2010) While this environment is often in small, entrepreneurial organizations, now a movement is gaining strength to keep this type of thinking and behavior alive and well within those organizations that have moved out of that category.  Instead of it being about a stage in an organizations life, it is a combination of mindset and actions, empowering and engaging each employee as an owner and creator of the business.

The face of business today is in many ways very different from how it was 50, 20, or even 5 years ago.  The expectations of customers are different and need a completely different approach in many cases.  Problems need more than a canned solution.  Working within regulations and standards is perhaps more strict now than in the last century, and our world is more technologically involved and complex in many ways than ever before, requiring a unique way of thinking and working.  Ensuring that the organization empowers and enables human capital in an organization  to meet the demands of today will differentiate any organization and place them in position to grow, change, and evolve to keep pace with what comes for tomorrow.

References

Rosenzweig, J., & Lochridge, S. (2010). An enlightened look at a system view. Performance Improvement, 49(3), 24-30. doi: 10.1002/pfi