Who’s Responsible for Your Engagement?

Who is responsible for employee engagement? Knee-jerk reaction – HR. But what happens when the HR person responsible for engagement is no longer engaged? In this sad post, Venting HR Guy says:
I'm mentally done. I'm burned out. I'm crispy. Stick a monster-sized fork in me and call it a day. What do you do to cure burn out? And who's failing who here? But whose job is it to engage the guy who's in charge of engagement. … I don't care anymore, because I feel like no one cares about me. The Boss doesn't make speeches or explain what the company is doing (even an email); it's just loose talk where the problem is hinted at, no solutions, no plan, no leadership (though it is desperately needed). … So who's failing who? Am I not failing the company because I've put a massive postage stamp on Summer 2009, and mailed it in? Is the company not failing me because they've done nothing to inspire engagement or interest or even... hope?

I also like how Bret Simmons expresses this:
Here is my concern: if we send our employees the message that their engagement is our responsibility, we create the conditions for dependent relationship. Employees assume the posture of waiting to be engaged because our rhetoric and systems teach them this is what we expect. I think we should send the message that self-engagement is everyone’s responsibility. Employees and managers share the responsibility to partner with each other to continuously improve processes and conditions necessary for peak performance to flourish.

This is an important question to understand if you intend to influence employee engagement in your company at any level. I believe the company (management, leadership, HR, everyone) is responsible for creating an environment in which employees want to engage – one in which employees know what is expected of them, understand how those expectations help the company succeed, and are encouraged to recognize and appreciate achievement of their peers and subordinates in delivering those expectations.

That’s certainly an environment in which I’m engaged to give of my best. How about you?

Engaging "Hamsters & Honeymooners"

A final post on recent industry research on engagement comes from BlessingWhite’s recent advice to “Align Your Hamsters & Honeymooners.” Adding to Aberdeen’s definition of engagement, BlessingWhite offers:
“Full engagement represents an alignment of maximum job satisfaction (“I like my work and do it well”) with maximum job contribution (“I help achieve the goals of my organization”). Engaged employees are not just committed. They are not just passionate or proud. They have a line-of-sight on their own future and on the organization’s mission and goals. They are enthused and in gear, using their talents and discretionary effort to make a difference in their employer’s quest for sustainable business success.”

BlessingWhite’s definition hits the key points of discretionary effort focused on the company’s mission and goals. And their explanation of “Hamsters and Honeymooners” in the organization neatly describes the difference between those who are satisfied in their work, versus those who are truly engaged. These groups are those who have “relatively high levels of job satisfaction, but low levels of contribution.” Hamsters are those spinning their wheels: “working enthusiastically – but on the wrong things so they don’t deliver the results you need.” Honeymooners are “new either to the organization or their role. They’re excited about this new stage of their career and about making a difference in your organization, but they aren’t fully productive.”

So the question becomes, how do you advance your Hamsters and Honeymooners from Satisfaction to true Engagement? BlessingWhite offers four steps to communicate, translate, drive accountability, and leverage managers.

What other ways are there to engage Hamsters and Honeymooners? What methods have you used?

Achieving an Engaged Workplace * Aberdeen Reports

Continuing our look at recent industry research Aberdeen Group just issued “Beyond Satisfaction: Engaging Employees to Retain Customers.” A few interesting tidbits from the report:

Following up on my comments in Monday’s post that there is no single definition for engagement, Aberdeen offers this one:
“Engagement is all about aligning individuals with the mission and priorities of the organization in order to deliver business results. Engagement only really matters if it is driving business results. In fact, this is what differentiates employee engagement from employee satisfaction (that personal needs are being met).”

I would argue true engagement goes a step further such that employees give additional discretionary effort. This additional effort, in alignment with the strategic objectives of the organization, is what delivers those needed business results.

Aberdeen goes on to identify three attributes of an engaged workplace – meaningful work, aligned goals/values, and strong leadership. These three are best summarized in the report with this statement:
“Organizations seeing the most impressive business impact from engagement strategies are those that are focusing time and attention on helping leaders and managers continually communicate the mission and priorities of the organization, setting individual goals around those priorities, and providing frequent feedback and check-ins on progress toward those goals.”

Per the report, achieving engagement requires executive sponsorship (“Best-in-Class organizations are far more likely to have a senior business leader, the CEO or President of the company, championing engagement efforts.”), measurement (“Employee engagement efforts must be managed and measured in terms of business impact. Best-in-Class organizations are 29% more likely than Industry Average organizations to have a standard process to measure engagement.), and a system to recognize the right behaviors (“When individuals are recognized for exhibiting the right behaviors and achieving business goals is reward visibly, it has a positive impact on that individual and serves as an example for others in the organization.’)

Would your organization be considered “Best in Class” according to Aberdeen’s criteria of meaningful work, alignment of goals and values and strong leadership? Do you have executive sponsorship of engagement efforts, a consistent measurement structure, and a tool to recognize the right behaviors? Where do you need help or improvement?

How Do You Define Employee Engagement?

This week I’ll be looking at some recent research in the employee engagement and strategic recognition space.

The MacLeod employee engagement report (official title – “Engaging for Success: Enhancing Performance through Employee Engagement”) came out last month. While there was a quick burst of news articles and blogger response to the report, I wanted to sit back, fully digest the report and reaction to it. Common themes from comments include: (1) there’s nothing new here; (2) there are not enough concrete examples of how to build engagement in organizations.

While there may be merit in these themes, one of the main problems with the concept and adoption of employee engagement is that there is no single, common accepted definition of what it is, how you measure it, and when you know you’ve achieved it. As the report asks, “Is it an attitude, a behavior or an outcome?” Some are saying that the answer – “Yes, to all three” – does little to alleviate the confusion. I disagree.

Employee engagement is a complex concept that must not be taken lightly. Too many give up on the effort because they don’t want to go to the time or trouble of convincing their executives of the importance and value of engagement (another key problem of engagement) or believe they have attempted employee engagement initiatives but not seen the impact they desire. Driving employee engagement is not a one-time project. It is something that must be pursued – relentlessly and endlessly – to achieve the results you want. However, you must also clearly define what you do want to achieve, how you will measure it, and what behaviors you will reward in employees who are helping to achieve your engagement goals.

So what definition does the report give for engagement? “A workplace approach designed to ensure that employees are committed to their organization’s goals and values, motivated to contribute to organizational success, and are able at the same time to enhance their own sense of well-being.”

Boil that down to – commitment, understanding, motivation, satisfaction. Are your employees committed to your company’s success? Do they even know how that success is defined, e.g., your goals and values? Are they motivated to deliver that? Are they happy in their work and satisfied to be with your organization?

If you can’t answer yes to all of these questions, you need to work on your engagement strategy and the tools you will need to achieve it. Need tips for how to do this? Check out these best practices.

Success in a Recession * What NOT to Do

Shaun Rein recently shared a powerful lesson in a Forbes article, “United Airlines Shows How Not to Run Your Business.” In the article, he shares several stories of customer service gone wrong, destroying customer loyalty in the process. He notes also that employee morale is “in the gutter” contributing to the “terrible customer service.”

Rein posted a reply from United management, which cited customer service and employee incentive payouts. While I appreciate United's reply, reliance on such metrics can be blinding. Their employees are clearly speaking their reality, but management is not listening.

This is the same story we've seen play out across numerous companies, but the end is not inevitable. What shouts from the story and the many comments are disenfranchised employees, some willing to work hard and give there all even though they see no appreciation for it from HQ, their bosses or customers (as seen in a comment from a dedicated Denver-based baggage handler), and others who simply do not care and are even sabotaging the organization (as seen in the article itself and throughout the comments such as the "barking" flight attendant mentioned in another comment).

Why not try rewarding behavior you DO want to see -- excellent customer service from all? Why not let employees themselves notice, appreciate and reward that behavior in their colleagues? From United's reply, we see they are making incentive payouts. But it doesn't seem to be working. Cash in the hand is fine as far as it goes (which isn’t very far, indeed), but have they bothered to sincerely, directly and personally thank individual employees for specific behaviors that the company so clearly needs? Have they empowered employees at any level to show such appreciation in a meaningful way?

The power of appreciation, based on company values, can and has changed or reinforced company cultures as positive, customer-oriented places to work. What would such an approach mean in your organization?

Productivity Increases and I Get a … Lapel Pin?!

In an interesting development, the productivity of workers in the U.S. has actually increased during this recession. Typically, productivity falls in a downturn, as it did in the recession of the early 1980s and in the 1990-91 downturn. But look at these productivity numbers in the second quarter:

• Productivity rose 6.4% (the biggest gains since 2003)
• Hours worked dropped 7.6%
• Unit labor costs fell 5.8%
• Unemployment was at 8.6%

It’s easy to see what those numbers mean. Employers are getting a lot more work per hour out of many fewer employees and are paying those remaining employees less for it.

What thanks are employees getting for this hard work – beyond keeping their job I mean? One article that hit my screen this week suggests lapel pins – yes, lapel pins! – are the way to go. Let’s pause for a moment and consider how many working professionals actually wear clothing with lapels on a regular basis. Bankers and lawyers, yes. Some doctors, but not all. Executives and senior leaders, perhaps, in some more “corporate” environments. But generally speaking, the vast majority of rank and file employees do not wear lapels to the office on anything like a regular basis. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not sticking a company-logo pin into the lapel of my best suit at the next wedding or funeral I attend.

While I don’t want to lend credence to this idea, I feel I must share how this author thought lapel pins could be rewarding to employees:
“Employee recognition has become a very important part of every company's HR strategy. Boost your employee's morale by gifting custom made pins for employee recognition. These lapel pins will not only make the winner happy, they will also act as a constant source of encouragement to others in the organization.”

Please. A colleague tells me her husband believes he’d get more value out of his three company-issued lapel pins if he could melt them down for the gold (if they are indeed real gold). The last time he wore a suit or jacket was at their wedding.

If you truly want to reward employees who have gone the extra mile for less pay to deliver your strategic objectives, then give them the Gift of Choice and let them choose what would be a personally meaningful and culturally relevant reward, anywhere in the world.

What do you think? Are lapel pins or other company-logo tchotchkes a key part of your reward strategy? How effective are these rewards in reinforcing your company values and showing your employees how much you truly appreciate them and their efforts? What other forms of reward do you offer?

New Pocasts * Measuring Recognition & Voice of the Employee

I’m thrilled to say we have two new podcasts available for those who prefer to keep up on their employee recognition strategy via their MP3 player of choice or online. Both are available via iTunes subscription or download through the links below.

The first podcast is Measuring Recognition, which tells you how to build the business case for a strategic recognition program by showing the program’s value and success through clear measurement and reporting against needed business results. Subscribe in iTunes | Download Now

The second podcast is Voice of the Employee, the results of our recent market research on the perspectives and desires of HR leaders and employees during this recession. You’ll learn the employee perceptions and reactions to layoffs, salary freezes and benefit cuts and what you need to do to motivate and inspire those who are left behind. Also discussed are the surprising disparities between employee reality and HR assumptions and what employees want you to do to increase their morale and productivity. Subscribe in iTunes | Download Now

Once you’ve had a chance to listen to the podcasts, let me know what you think in comments.

Keep Your Greatest Competitive Advantage * Your People

In the many blogs I follow, especially the HR-focused ones, there is a recurring debate over referring to employees as “capital” or “assets.” While I agree to an extent that these terms can be dehumanizing, especially when employees are crying out to be seen and valued in this recession, I have no problem with defining employees as competitive advantage.

Some may argue that their latest widget or technological innovation or software “differentiator” is their greatest competitive advantage. To those people I would say, “Where did the ideas behind those items come from? Who was involved in dreaming it up, bringing it to fruition, marketing it, selling it, ensuring customers understood it, loved it, and wanted more?”

Without your people you have nothing. They are truly your greatest competitive advantage. Yet survey after survey, article after article, shows the majority of employees are planning to jump ship as soon as they safely can – largely because of the way they have been treated during the recession. Stephanie Lloyd writes well on this topic in her post: Why Taking Advantage of Your New Hires is a Really, Really Bad Idea.

The major research firms are finding the same – As reported in this Forbes article, Deloitte reports 65% of internationally distributed senior executives polled in May are highly or very highly concerned that high-potential talent and leadership plan to leave when the economy turns. More than one in four of these executives report this is already happening as they are seeing an increase in turnover of high-potentials during the March-May time period. Ipsos Reid found 22% of Canadian employees are expressing decreased loyalty to their employer. CIPD found 34% of employees would change jobs within the next year in an ideal world.

Note that employees often understand why company leadership had to reduce headcount, cut costs, freeze pay, and other actions. It’s the lack of respect and recognition for what the remaining employees were able to do that is behind this mass desire to “find someplace where I’m appreciated.” What are you doing to show you appreciate your employees today and value their contribution over the long term?

Using Money to Motivate the RIGHT Way

A (well-deserved) media darling of late is Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, a company and ethos I’ve written about before. Inc. magazine recently published a terrific article that gets to the heart of Zappos’ culture and how Tony inspired his employees to create, nurture and keep that culture dear.

Most people who know of Zappos know of the company’s policy of giving all employees four weeks of intensive training on the company history, culture and job role. And then all are offered $2,000 to quit. This tactic weeds out employees motivated by the wrong reason – money – to retain those who will be committed to living out and adding to the company culture.

These highlights from the article illustrate well Hsieh’s focus:

“What he really cares about is making Zappos’ employees and customers feel really, really good because he has decided that his entire business revolves around one thing: happiness. Everything at Zappos serves that end.

“Zappos’ 1,300 employees talk about the place with a religious fervor. The phrase core values can prompt emotional soliloquies, and the CEO is held with a regard typically afforded rock stars and cult leaders.”
Can your employees even recite your core values, much less discuss them rapturously? What are you doing to make your values real? A Zappos value is “personal growth.” To that end, the company offers advanced courses in business and marketing as well as stocking a library with books that are expected to be taken by employees for their own use.

Bringing company values to life is a core tenet of our strategic recognition programs. Every time an employee is recognized, that action or behavior must be linked to a company value. This takes the values off the wall plaque or the office entry badge and makes them real in every employee’s every day actions.

Debunking Motivation Myths

Earlier this summer Suzanne Bates, author of Motivate Like a CEO”, and David Javitch, CEO of management and leadership consulting firm Javitch Associates, both published their (very similar) lists of top 5 employee motivation myths. My own list of motivation myths below reflects elements of theirs. I bet your own personal list of motivation myths would be similar as well.

1) Cash Is King – Money doesn’t motivate. It compensates. Each element of your total rewards package must have its own “currency.” Money is the currency of compensation, not motivation or recognition. A simple “thank you” and sincere appreciation of effort will motivate far better than cash that only becomes an expectation and entitlement.

2) Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Keeping employees in the dark about office, company, industry and economic realities is the “ostrich” approach to motivation – bury your head in the sand and hope the bad stuff goes away. Employees are generally smart people. They see what’s going on around them. Instead, share the reality along with the plan for success (your strategic objectives) and how each employee can contribute to achieving them. Then recognize them for their efforts when they do so.

3) Having a Job Is Motivation Enough – It’s easy to be deluded by this misconception during a recession, but survey results show a majority of employees are planning to look for a new job when the upturn comes. For company leaders, that’s the same as sitting back and watching your top talent walk out your door to join your competitors. To maintain and even competitive advantage, be sure you are acknowledging the value your employees bring every day.

4) Motivation Isn’t for Everyone – Everyone is motivated – by something. Your challenge is motivating them to achieve your objectives in a way that reflects your values. Strategic recognition plays a powerful role in this through praise and appreciation that calls out every action or behavior that reflects those values and contributes to those objectives. This also flows into the next myth...

5) One Size Fits All – Motivating employees is as much about the personal benefit as the business outcome. If an employee works long nights and weekends to finish a project on deadline, they achieved your objective. But the motivation may lie in knowing their efforts will be recognized and they can choose to share the rewards with family through a vacation, perhaps, or other reward that is personally meaningful to their situation. Another logo shirt or lapel pin certainly won’t motivate.

What have I left off? What other motivation myths have you encountered?

Employee Motivation * What It Is and How to Get It

In much of the research and blogs I read, I’ve heard several times now the argument that employees cannot be motivated, but only demotivated. I disagree. I believe many influences – both in the workplace and in their private lives – motivate employees to some extent. The level of influence that company leadership may have over those motivators, however, varies greatly employee by employee.

Harvard Business Review issued an excellent study last year on this: “Employee Motivation: A Powerful New Model.” The study authors examined cross-disciplinary research from the fields of neuroscience, biology and evolutionary psychology to synthesize an understanding of our four basic emotional needs or drivers: acquire, bond, comprehend and defend.

Defining motivation based on four workplace motivation indicators (engagement, satisfaction, commitment, and intention to quit), the authors found:
“About 60% of employees’ variance on motivational indicators (previous models have explained about 30%). We also found that certain drives influence some motivational indicators more than others. Fulfilling the drive to bond has the greatest effect on employee commitment, for example, whereas meeting the drive to comprehend is most closely linked with employee engagement. But a company can best improve overall motivational scores by satisfying all four drives in concert. The whole is more than the sum of its parts; a poor showing on one drive substantially diminishes the impact of high scores on the other three. … To fully motivate your employees, you must address all four drives.”
What does all this mean to employees?
“Although employees look to different elements of their organization to satisfy different drives, they expect their managers to do their best to address all four within the constraints that the institution imposes. In short, they are realistic about what managers cannot do, but also about what managers should be able to do in meeting all the basic needs of their subordinates.”
There is a great deal more valuable insight in this article, and I encourage you to read it. But my bottom line is this – your managers are the driving force in motivating your employees to succeed. HR leaders out there: How are you equipping them to meet the employee needs they clearly expect their managers to fulfill? What are you doing to ensure that managers meet these goals and expectations? Managers chime in: are you being equipped in this way? What more do you wish would be offered to you to help you in this area?

Reading between the Lines * What Survey Results REALLY Mean

SHRM (the US version of CIPD) released its 2009 Employee Job Satisfaction Survey earlier this summer. Keep in mind, this is a satisfaction survey (measuring, per SHRM, satisfaction with career development, relationship with management, compensation and benefits, and work environment), not an engagement survey (measuring employee commitment to the company, understanding of where the company is going and how the employee can help it get there, and willingness to give discretionary effort to make it happen). Some of SHRM’s findings:
“According to this survey, 86% of employees indicated overall satisfaction with their current position, with 41% of employees reporting they were very satisfied. What’s more, majority of employees (58%) reported that the current economic climate has not made any difference in their level of satisfaction—and this is good news for employers, especially during the economically challenging time.”
I question, is this really “stiff upper lip” syndrome at work? Another study reported in CNN Money found:
• 54% of employed Americans plan to look for a new job once the economy rebounds
• Of those aged 18-29, 71% say they are likely to look for work once the economy turns

I do agree with (and our own research supports) how important SHRM reports communication and recognition are to both managers and employees:
• 97% of managers report management recognition of employee job performance to be important or very important and 91% of employees agree
• 98% of managers report communication between employees and senior management to be important or very important and 92% of employees agree

My take is this: Many employees are “satisfied” with their jobs right now because they have one and know the market is tough, but they are not deeply engaged with their companies or their work and will look elsewhere as soon as they see a reasonable chance. How do leaders counteract this? By communicating clearly and frequently with employees and sincerely recognizing their efforts.

What do you think? Does satisfaction equally a desire to stay or are employees just grinning and bearing it right now?

Ask Derek * Inspiring Employees to Do More With Less

I received an important question via the “Ask Derek” section of the Globoblog today. “Ncedisa” asks:
“In a global recession, companies are facing layoffs, frozen salaries and other benefits cuts. How do you motivate and inspire your employees to do more with less?”
Strategic employee recognition programs are a powerful tool to accomplish exactly this by boosting morale and productivity while cutting costs and helping companies gain competitive advantage.

** By communicating to allay rumors and reiterate strategic objectives, showing employees how much you value their efforts and contributions, and measuring areas of improvement and where improvement may still be needed, you boost morale and productivity.

** By eliminating cash-based recognition programs, consolidating usually dozens of ad-hoc recognition initiatives, and drastically reducing or eliminating shipping and handling fees, you cut program costs by 50-70% or more.

** By ensuring you have the right people in the right jobs with the right attitudes, keeping them away from your competitors and building networks of success, you gain competitive advantage.

I’ve blogged on this topic regularly, and the posts can be found in the Recognition in an Ailing Economy section of the blog. But to highlight a few key posts:

Motivating Employees When Merit Increases Are Cut offers tips on what to with budgets under pressure and efforts to do anything to cut costs before turning to layoffs. This post also shares how strategic recognition accomplishes other critical goals such as making the rate of reward equivalent to the rate of effort, offering a “360° review” performance mechanism, and more.

Motivating and Recognizing More Employees with Less Budget Spend outlines how to audit the programs you have in place today to find efficiencies through consolidation. We’ve done this multiple times for clients, saving them 50-70% of their pre-existing investment in recognition while also helping them recognize far more employees for no extra budget spend.

Readers Speak * Trends in Employee Engagement, Recognition and Attitudes reports on the trends seen in nearly a year of informal polls on the Globoblog. For example, while managers think they are recognizing their staff, employees disagree. Communication and recognition is particularly lacking.

WEBINAR * Employees Tell How to Boost Productivity & Morale shares the results of market research we conducted in which employees told us their perceptions of layoffs, salary freezes and motivating those left behind. You can request the recorded webinar here.

Leadership Needed * Project Security and Hope to Motivate shares Gallup’s suggestions for keeping managers and workers focused engaged by offering a sense of security today and hope for the future.

Get Every Employee Working on Your Strategic Objectives shares my thoughts on to refocus, inspire and encourage employees in a way that helps achieve your strategic goals.

True leaders are conscientiously considering the question the world over. There are far more posts throughout the Globoblog on this topic. If motivating, inspiring and encouraging your employees to greater engagement and performance of your strategic objectives is important to you, I invite you to subscribe to the blog on the left or follow me on Twitter.

Employee Engagement * WHEN Should I Measure

In my last post, I shared more tips for what to measure to determine employee engagement levels and program success. Today, I want to talk a bit about when you should measure. The timing of measurement is critical because results can be so easily manipulated depending on when you establish metrics and then measure against them.

Jacqueline Kosecoff, chief executive of Prescription Solutions, a UnitedHealth Group company, expressed this well in a recent interview in the New York Times.
“Before I begin the execution phase of any project, I sit down with my team and we ask ourselves: ‘What are the metrics against which we’re going to measure our success?’ Another thing I learned was that when you’re involved in a large development project, projects often morph. And when people become advocates of their project, they change some of those metrics so that they can claim success when perhaps it’s not 100 percent legitimate to do so.”
And therein lies the rub – determining your metrics before execution begins, then faithfully measuring and reporting against those metrics, even if the outcome isn’t what was hoped. Negative results can be the most valuable as they show you the areas where you most need to improve. Creating a culture in which such failure is permitted is important to allowing the space for continual improvement.

But the bottom line is, if you don’t know what you're working towards before you begin, how will you know when you’ve arrived?

What has been your experience in establishing metrics for program measurement? Do you have specific targets for success (e.g., 5% improvement in X by the end of year)? Or do you simply ask for “improvement?” Such wishy-washy goals can easily be manipulated, keeping you from understanding the reality of your program and achieving the real results you need – increased employee commitment to the company and desire to contribute discretionary effort in the areas necessary for company success.

Employee Engagement * WHAT Do I Measure?

Two common questions when it comes to measuring employee engagement are what do you measure and when do you measure it. Today I’ll be addressing what to measure; my next post will speak to when.

I’ve blogged before on our best practices for what to measure and also have a white paper that dives more deeply into the topic. Today I’ll share insight from a couple other bloggers in this space.

First, Winning Workplaces, a small-business focused blog, offers these company-wide metrics commonly tracked in the companies that win their Top Small Workplaces competition:

1. Low annual turnover. Benchmark: 1-2%
2. Multi-year revenue growth, especially in a declining industry. Benchmark: 15% annually
3. Strong revenue per employee. Benchmark: $233,700
4. Better-than-industry-average employee tenure. Benchmark: 5 years
5. Long CEO tenure. Benchmark: 17 years
6. Good portion of open positions filled from within. Benchmark: 25%

At the individual employee level, Tim Wright, author of the Culture to Engage blog, recommends survey questions built on a Likert scale on:

• Job performance
• Job satisfaction
• Quality of peers' performance
• Quality of management
• Communication
• Clarity of company goals, mission, values
• Clarity of expectations
• Loyalty to company (likelihood of leaving)

Of course, Gallup’s Q12 is always a strong basis for an employee engagement survey, and also strong for measuring the role and success of a recognition program.

What tools do you use for measuring employee engagement? What do you benchmark yourself against?