Engagement Steady through the Recession

In my last post, I looked at the recent findings of The Conference Board on dramatically falling job satisfaction rates as compared to 20 years ago. But several other reports also show employee engagement rates remaining stable or even increasing during this recession. How is that possible?

This highlights the fundamental difference between satisfaction and engagement. Satisfaction only measures, quite literally, how satisfied people are with the conditions of their work agreement – pay, environment, management, etc. Engagement, however, attempts to measure how involved in their work and organization people are such that they understand the greater goals and objectives and are willing to give additional discretionary effort to achieve those ends. “I’m happy with the amount I get paid to do X.” vs. “I’m excited about seeing X get done and will make that happen.”

Look at excerpts from these three reports:

Gallup: “Gallup has tracked the engagement levels of the U.S. working population for the past decade. Its most recent employee engagement research shows that 28% of American workers are engaged, 54% are not engaged, and 18% are actively disengaged. Throughout the decade, the percentage of engaged employees ranged from 26% to 30%, while the percentage of actively disengaged employees ranged from 15% to 20%.”

Modern Survey: “Modern Survey’s measurement of the U.S. workforce shows that employee engagement has risen steadily during the last twelve months. The level of employee engagement recorded in late August is now back to where it was in August of 2007 (before the recession became apparent), following a precipitous decline from August 2007 to August 2008.”

Hewitt Associate: (Study of best companies to work for members): “The study also revealed that average employee engagement across all study participants is higher than it was a year ago - 69% versus 65%.”

An important caveat of the above findings is the acknowledgment that, as the economy improves, employees who express engagement now may still look for greener pastures when opportunities increase. Those companies who have a reputation as “best to work for” will have a better chance of retaining employees.

A final point from the Gallup study: while many indicators of their Q12 were found to drop, one factor did increase significantly: recognition and praise. As the report says: “If a company’s financial situation precludes things like development training or job role changes, managers can still perform a crucial function: recognition and praising employees for hard work and quality productivity.”

Yes, indeed.

Decreasing Employee Satisfaction & What to Do about It

Employee satisfaction is dramatically down, per The Conference Board.

Clearly, employees are growing less satisfied in their work, which lays to rest that ridiculous claim that people should be grateful to just HAVE jobs. While that is in some part true, leadership has worked diligently in the last couple of years to ruthlessly kill off that gratitude by working remaining employees harder with no additional appreciation or recognition of effort. It takes only a few moments of time to sincerely, specifically and authentically appreciate someone for what they're doing.

In the last couple of weeks since the report first came out, many have reported on the findings. One aspect that doesn’t seem to be getting much play, but intrigued me was:
“No age or income group is immune to the downward satisfaction trend: all age and income groups showed shrinking shares of workers reporting satisfaction with their jobs. Workers earning in excess of $50,000 remain the most satisfied, their overall level of satisfaction has declined 20%. Those making between $25,000 and $35,000 per year had the lowest satisfaction rate (33.9 percent).”

Employee satisfaction gets worse and is frankly miserable at the lowest income levels. I question if new Talent Management practices - while making many positive advancements - really abandoned those at the bottom of the income pyramid? In many companies, these people will often be the majority and are the ones who bring the business to life each day. When analyzing the data in our recognition programs, it becomes clear that those who earn pay in the lower end of the scale are often power players in the organization in that they are the “go-to” people to get the work done.

If you want people to engage in their work and be genuinely happy about doing it, then give them a reason to be. Tell them how and why their efforts are important to the success of the company. Tell them you appreciate their efforts. Let people do this for their peers at any level as well as managers to employees. And do this frequently. Based on our best practices, strategic recognition, requiring an investment of just 1% of total pay-roll, is a very modest budget to put in place to acknowledge the exceptional efforts of everyone at every level of pay.

There is nothing like simple but specific acknowledgment of your hard work to encourage satisfaction and engagement on the job. Together with recognition strategy aligned with your company values and strategic objectives and a new cultural approach, think what a difference this could make!

Last Chance to Register for FREE Dan Pink/Globoforce Webinar

I'm excited to be hosting a free webinar on Thursday, 28 January, with Daniel Pink, author of several best-selling books about the changing world of work, including his most recent: Drive, the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.

The webinar, “Desired Behaviors Using Proper Motivation and Recognition,” will begin at 11:30-12:30 p.m. Eastern Time (4:30 GMT). We'll offer HR professionals and business leaders a fresh look at how companies can boost employee engagement through non-traditional yet effective strategic recognition efforts.

Dan will present the three core elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose. He will follow this with smart, surprising, and actionable techniques to put these principles into motion at work. I'll be discussing how applying strategic recognition programs year round can stimulate and sustain high-work performance and employee engagement and satisfaction. I will also share best practices for how to implement successful programs on a global scale.

Be sure to register for the live webinar today!

Definitions of DISengagement * “Resigning Inwardly”

I blog repeatedly on the topic of employee engagement, and I’ll be spending the rest of this week looking at seemingly conflicting reports on the status of engagement currently and the general effect of the recession on employee engagement. But first, I wanted to discuss disengagement.

In a Gallup report on the high levels of disengagement in Germany (only 13% engaged), Gallup consultant Marco Nink assigns blame for this to “a poor corporate culture that discourages personnel.”

But the statement that truly intrigued me in the report was a comment by Marco of the process of disengagement:
“Many employees are highly motivated when joining a company but then become increasingly disillusioned. And when continuously neglected, they will switch off at some point. They will resign inwardly, so to speak. This doesn't happen overnight, but occurs rather as a process, due to experiences during the routine workday.”

“Resign inwardly” – what an excellent definition of disengagement. I’ve seen more “official” definitions of engagement than I can count (and have written on several of them here, here, and here), but this is the first concise definition of DISengagement that gets to the heart of the issue.

Think about people in your organization who have given their two weeks’ notice prior to leaving for a new job. Sure, many are conscientious and wrap up loose ends for you, but most are just clearing their desks. They are already out the door in their minds. But the good news is you know this person is leaving.

With the disengaged, these people are still coming to work every day, but there is no end point in sight for them. They aren’t bringing any creativity, inspiration or excitement to their work. They are just continually tying up loose ends, if that.

What would be your definition of disengagement or a disengaged employee? What level of effort do you go to in re-engaging the disengaged? Is this level of effort even appropriate?

Peer-to-Peer Recognition * The Value of Empowerment

An article (membership required) in last month’s issue of HR Magazine (the publication of the Society for Human Resource Management or SHRM) discussed “Peer to Peer Recognition Good, but Not Enough.”

I have to admit the title caught my eye – not because it was controversial, but because it wasn’t. Of course peer-to-peer recognition is not enough. Every employee needs to know that their manager notices and appreciates their efforts in the classic manager-to-employee model of recognition. But that does not negate the importance of peer-to-peer recognition and the value in empowering any employee to notice, pause and formally recognize their peers for behaviors that reflect the company values and help achieve strategic objectives.

Think about it. Your goal should not just be encouraging employees to repeat behaviors they are already doing. It should also be to notice those (and other) positive behaviors in others. If you want to bring your company values to life, then you better make the demonstration, appreciation and recognition of those values real at every level.

Some level of formal process is necessary – not in the sense of an every watchful eye, but more to track who is not only being recognized, but who is also being diligent about actively participating in a culture of recognition. A well managed strategic recognition program provides you with this methodology that also allows you to begin to manage your company culture as well.

Do you allow peer-to-peer recognition? How do you structure it? Formally, informally, ad-hoc? Or do you, sadly, fall into the “any appreciation from anyone would be welcome as it’s so rare?”

What Are Your Three Rules?

Think about your training program for new managers (or, if you don’t have such a program and wish you did, think about what you would want to do). What are the ideas, actions, methods, processes you would convey to them that they would need to do, accomplish or follow in order to succeed as a manager in your organization?

William D. Green, chairman and CEO of Accenture, told the story of such a three-day training session in his company in a recent article in the New York Times. Mr. Green relates that he counted 68 things his managers were told they needed to do to be successful. He continues:
“And I got up to close the session, and I’m thinking about how it isn’t possible for these people to remember all this. So I said there are three things that matter. The first is competence. The second one is confidence. The third thing is caring. Nothing today is about one individual. This is all about the team, and in the end, this is about giving a damn about your customers, your company, the people around you, and recognizing that the people around you are the ones who make you look good.”

While I agree these are three critical rules for managers – especially caring – Mr. Green’s comments started me thinking about what my “three things that matter” would be that I would want to be sure to convey to new managers (indeed, to all employees). My three:

1) Recognize Sincerely – When you tell someone “thanks,” mean it. Don’t use positive recognition as a means to convey negative feedback in a “compliment sandwich”. Pause in the moment and sincerely and clearly express your appreciation.

2) Acknowledge Specifically – When you stop to acknowledge someone’s effort, don’t leave it at “good job.” Give them specifics about what they did, why those actions/behaviors mattered, and how you’d like them to continue.

3) Reward Meaningfully – Don’t toss of the latest company logo item or assume an employee in India will appreciate the same reward as an employee in Mexico. Either care enough to learn what is meaningful to the individual or give them the opportunity to choose a personally meaningfully gift themselves from limitless options.

What are your three “things that matter” that you would want to be sure new employees know are necessary to succeed in your organization?

Join Dan Pink & Globoforce for Free Webinar 1/28

I'm excited to be hosting a free webinar on Thursday, 28 January, with Daniel Pink, author of several best-selling books about the changing world of work, including his most recent: Drive, the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.

The webinar, “Desired Behaviors Using Proper Motivation and Recognition,” will begin at 11:30-12:30 p.m. Eastern Time (4:30 GMT). We'll offer HR professionals and business leaders a fresh look at how companies can boost employee engagement through non-traditional yet effective strategic recognition efforts.

Dan will present the three core elements of true motivation—autonomy, mastery, and purpose. He will follow this with smart, surprising, and actionable techniques to put these principles into motion at work. I'll be discussing how applying strategic recognition programs year round can stimulate and sustain high-work performance and employee engagement and satisfaction. I will also share best practices for how to implement successful programs on a global scale.

Be sure to register for the live webinar today!

Are You Encouraging Your Stars to Quit?

In a very interesting article in Human Resources Executive Online, MBA professor Peter Cappelli discusses the change he’s seen in the last 20 years in these high performers and in their answers to the exam question: “Write about your last job, explain how you were managed, point out the successes and failures.”
“Most everyone, regardless of their sector reports working like dogs -- at least 60 hours a week and 80 hours or more was common -- and they are much more likely to be given the opportunity to work up to their potential. Here's the obvious point about these high performers. They all quit their last job. You might imagine that they planned to quit at some point, and no doubt that's true for many of them. But what the exams this year show is how many people quit because they were unhappy.

“And what's interesting is why they were unhappy. It wasn't the usual ‘I hate my boss’ or even ‘I don't fit.’ It was about questions of fairness. Virtually all the people reporting on the reason they left their last jobs said it was because of some injustice concerning rewards and recognition.”

Some injustice concerning rewards and recognition. Top performers – as described in this article, engaged employees – willingly giving discretionary effort, working up to their potential. All quit. Because of “injustice” in rewards and recognition.

While we strongly advocate opening the opportunity for recognition to all, when such a structure is managed strategically the top performers automatically rise to the top as the most recognized and rewarded through the system as they are the ones who most often display the behaviors worthy of recognition. In this way, strategic recognition encourages all employees to perform at their best, in alignment with your values and focused on your objectives, but it also ensures those who really are the elite are continually recognized as such.

Cappelli concludes the article:
“What's interesting about this is what it says about modern organizations. We have created an operating model that allows and may even need superstar individual contributors. But the organizations themselves are still social entities based around teams and collaboration.

“And in those social entities, norms of fairness develop that aren't the same as simply paying for individual performance. So we create stars and then frustrate them.”

Why not encourage more stars and praise them instead? How are you treating your top performers?

How to Foster and Manage a Powerful, Positive Company Culture

In my last post, I mentioned some wisdom from Roy Vallee, CEO of Avnet, on motivating, and creating a motivating environment for, employees. Today, I’d like to emphasize equally powerful advice from the same source on creating a strong, good company culture:
“One thing we've done is we developed a set of core values for the company, and actually the initiative to do that was employee-led. … Then building off of those core values, we have actually embellished on Avnet's overall culture, which we have labeled a performance- and values-based culture of excellence. We talk about that a lot, and what we passionately believe is that good people want to work for good companies; and good companies have good cultures. Good people do not want to work in a corrupt environment.”

Avnet took the critical step of not only defining its company values, but also directly involving its employees in that process. A Globoforce customer, Avnet also follows our best practice of using their company values as reasons for recognition in their strategic employee recognition program. This positively reinforces for employees how they can demonstrate those values in their everyday tasks.

But it’s the second part of Roy’s message – “a performance and values-based culture” – that is so important for long-term success. By involving employees in defining the values, Avnet also involved the employees in creating their company culture, which helps ensure that positive culture is real and influential across the company. Roy continues later in the interview:
“Any time you want a group of people -- whether it's all employees, a specific segment, a management team -- to buy into a new concept or an action item, if you give them the opportunity to participate in development of the item itself, or what action is going to be taken, then you have a lot of buy-in going forward. Any time the ideas are cultivated in a dark room, especially in the corporate office so to speak, and then you try to sell, it's going to take longer to get implementation.”

Why is this so important? Keith Allen explained it well in a post on the Engagement Factor Blog, discussing why he left his company (twice), and not his manager – because the culture was so poor.
“Every company has politics, cliques, bad executives and its share of troubles – and folks work in them for years and are ‘relatively’ happy. These are fine companies, no better or worse than many others, but they are a good example of the effect that culture and senior leadership, over and above the effect of one’s immediate supervisor, can have on an employee. Their cultures were not the main reasons I left, but there was not enough pull from the culture of these companies to keep me from moving to other situations.”

What are you doing to build the culture you need in your organization and then manage it appropriately for ultimate success?

Want to Motivate? Provide Clarity and Remove Obstacles.

Continuing on the topic of alignment and 2010 business plans, a couple of people I respect had some interesting insights recently. Blogger, author and coach Jason Seiden made these observations about motivation and retention in his predictions for 2010:
“As the economy begins to recover and employment mobility returns, organizations that have been practicing cram-down HR—forcing people to conform to corporate’s plans rather than leveraging corporate to support people—as well as organizations that have ignored talent development, created opaque decision-making processes, or allowed their legal departments to write HR’s notices will watch their best talent stream out the door.

“Meanwhile, organizations who have been treating their people like grown-ups—that is, organizations that realize that the way in which something is said often has a significantly greater impact than what gets said, and put energy and focus into getting the communications/human element aspect of their business right—will see their futures brighten even in the face of a tough economic climate.”

And Roy Vallee, CEO of Avnet, noted about his role in motivating employees:
“I do think that the vast majority of employees want to do a good job. I think people want to come in and do what's right for their companies. I think that as long as they are being appropriately recognized and rewarded and have opportunities for career growth -- the opportunity to achieve what it is they want out of their career -- they will be motivated over a long period of time.

“What I figured out was that it wasn't my job to install a fire in their belly, so to speak. In fact, most of them already had that fire in the belly. What they needed from me was two things: one, clarity of the work that I wanted them to do, or what it is I wanted them to accomplish; and two, they wanted me to remove the obstacles that were beyond their personal control.”

I think both Jason and Roy highlight a common fallacy of motivation pundits – the belief that employees have to be motivated to do the right thing, as if the majority are just slackers who want to laze around at your expense. In fact, as Jason and Roy point out, employees want to do the right thing. Too often management, however, either beats that desire out them by ignoring them and their needs or by not creating an environment in which they can succeed to their highest ability. Such an environment – one in which employees want to engage – is itself motivating.

What are you doing in 2010 to remove obstacles to high performance, to eliminate barriers to success, to create an environment in which employees can and will deliver what you need?

Nearly 75% Don’t Know What You Need from Them to Succeed

As we launch 2010, I’m sure your strategic objectives for the year are top of mind for you, as they are for me. Let me ask you, have you clearly communicated those objectives to your employees? Are you sure? If pressed, could they tell you what those objectives are? I don’t mean can they repeat verbatim the top three to five objectives for the company. I mean, can they tell you how they, personally, in their individual jobs, will contribute to achieving those objectives?

If you cannot answer a strong “yes” to these questions, then you have an alignment problem. I would hazard that alignment is the most pressing challenge for business leadership today. A UK survey, conducted by YouGov, would agree:
“Employers are failing to communicate their business plans properly to their staff and are missing out on engagement as a result. … Only 24 per cent said that their employer had clearly articulated their 2010 objectives to the workforce, while a third (32 per cent) even doubted there was a plan for their business at all. Perhaps as a result of this, only 27 per cent of people said they were fully prepared for the challenges they would face at work in the year ahead.

“Said David MacLeod: ‘This is just one example of how poor employee engagement can put the brakes on improved business performance. If leaders don't explain where the business is going and what it's seeking to achieve, how can people be motivated or know what they're meant to contribute? Clear goals are a key ingredient for achieving performance and productivity - but worryingly this research suggests many employers haven't yet grasped this for 2010.’”

32% doubt there is even a plan for their business? 27% know how to face the challenges of 2010? At your next meeting, look around – immediately discount 75% of the people in the room. Look at the remaining 25% -- that’s all you have to work with to achieve your objectives in 2010. Do you think you’ll make it?

One of the strongest, most positive, and most effective ways of communicating your objectives to all employees is through the work. What do I mean? Sure, you need to tell your employees what your objectives are, but to get real alignment, you must go a deeper. You must reinforce for employees in their daily tasks when they help achieve your strategic objectives while demonstrating your company values. Achieving this level of alignment must rely on senior leadership at the officer level. HR is a partner in delivering the plan, but the impetus for alignment must come from the top.

What are you doing to communicate your business strategies and create alignment at all levels in your organization?

What Matters Now – to You?

Blogger, author, speaker Seth Godin published last month a terrific assemblage of 200 word essays from several dozen industry and thought leaders on the one subject, one word, that matters right now to them. Some of my favorites:

Jacqueline Novogratz on Dignity: “Dignity is more important than wealth. …And in a world where everything is connected, the most important thing we can do is treat our fellows with Dignity.”

Michael Hyatt on Vision: “In a down economy…decisions become pragmatic. But after a while this wears on people. They don’t know why their efforts matter. They cannot connect their actions to a larger story… This is where great leadership makes all the difference…reminding people of what it is we are trying to build – and why it matters. … When times are tough, vision is the first casualty. Before conditions improve, it is the first thing we must recover.”

Marti Barletta on Strengths: “Forget about working on your weaknesses … Focus on supporting your strengths. I worked on my weaknesses for 40 years to little avail. But my strengths – ah, I love my strengths. I’ll work on them till the purple cows come home. When we love what we do, we do more and more, and pretty soon we’re pretty good at it.”

Tony Hsieh on Poker (but really on what he learned about business Culture from poker): “Be nice and make friends. It’s a small community. Have fun. The game is a lot more enjoyable when you’re trying to do more than just make money.”

Gary Vaynerchuck on Thnx: “I believe the thank you economy will become the norm in 2010 and beyond, and brands that fail to adjust will be left in the cold.”

Tim Sanders on Confidence: “Exercise your gratitude muscle. Gratefulness is a muscle, not a feeling. You need to work it out daily.”

I could write an entire post on each of these. (In fact, I have. Visit the links above.) But let me summarize with my one word, one subject, that matters most to me: Appreciation. If we focus on appreciating those around us – visibly, loudly, often – we give dignity, we create vision, we focus on strengths, we build culture, we say thnx, we increase confidence.

What’s your one word, one subject, that matters most to you?

Are You Teaching Employees to Care Less?

If you subscribe to the belief – “My employees get paid for the work they do. That and just having a job in this economy should be appreciation enough.” – then you are training your employees to care less about their work, to want to invest less of themselves into the quality of the work delivered.

David Lee told this well in a post on Ere.net, describing the result of a boss never expressing appreciation to an employee who consistently goes the extra distance:
“Think what a motivation killer that was. Even though you still worked hard and did a great job because of your work ethic and professional pride, your heart was just a little less into your work. You probably cared just a little bit less.”

Not only are you teaching employees to care less about their work, you are also missing an opportunity to reinforce desired behaviors, another point David highlights:
“This is one of the under-recognized benefits of showing appreciation and recognition: when you acknowledge – with specificity – the good work that you notice, you reinforce it.”

These are the two greatest benefits of strategic employee recognition: reinforcing those behaviors you most desire in employees to achieve your strategic objectives and doing so in a way that encourages and enhances their own engagement in the work. With such powerful benefits so easily and economically available, why would you be so miserly with a simple but sincere and specific “thank you?”

Critics of employee engagement use this to their advantage. A recent Workforce Management article highlighted the lack of credibility of employee engagement surveys that result in numeric scores:
“Too many companies conduct the survey, and then struggle to improve the metric, without any idea of whether their more ‘engaged employees’ are behaving in ways that foster or promote better customer service or higher productivity.”

That's precisely the definition of engaged vs. satisfied. And also precisely why you must have a tool in place that can measure and report on employee behaviors reflective of company values in achievement of strategic objectives. What’s the best tool for this? Strategic recognition that links positive and frequent praise directly with a behavior or action that reflects values and objectives. Now you can chart growth as well as areas of low performance for targeted intervention. With such a tool in place, you can train employees – through their work and in the most positive of ways – to care more, not less, about the behaviors and actions you most need to succeed.

Symantec’s Strategic Recognition Story

I’m thrilled to share with you excerpts from the cover story of the November issue of Incentive magazine. In “Global Engagement,” Tom Aurelio, vice president of human resources, and Jennifer Reimert, senior director of global compensation, for Symantec discuss their Applause global strategic employee recognition program.
These days, business has no borders. Expanding across continents presents organizations with advantages, but it also poses challenges, such as how to keep far-flung employees engaged, especially during this time of economic tumult. Software giant Symantec Corp., headquartered in Mountain View, CA, near San Jose, has experienced this firsthand, as the company’s rapid global expansion spurred a revamp of its employee recognition strategy. Centralizing program administration while localizing the awards, the company is now able to reach more employees and more effectively encourage the right kinds of behaviors—all the while cutting out the costs associated with running multiple programs.

The need for one comprehensive program that offered global reach and the technology that would make an expansive program function effectively led Symantec to Globoforce, the provider of employee recognition programs based in Dublin and Southborough, MA. Globoforce specializes in assisting multinational, multicultural organizations with employee engagement challenges.

As Symantec began working with Globoforce to build the new engagement program, it determined to focus on driving the four values that the company leadership set out years before: action, customer-driven, innovation, and trust. It wanted the program to “refresh” those values—support, uphold, and breathe new life into them—and ensure that, around the globe, all employees were working toward the same core company goals. While the four values had played a role in employee performance reviews, this was the first time they were incorporated into a company reward and recognition program. With the global platform of the Applause program, Symantec is able to measure award usage, the values that are being recognized, and the distribution and reach of the awards.

The Applause program, with the goals of building a culture of appreciation and recognition, fostering employee engagement, and achieving global economies of scale, is run on one central platform across all of the company’s divisions, and allows all employees to award their teams or peers Applause certificates, valued from $25 to $1,000 (though always in the recipient’s local currency). Since recipients can redeem their awards from a worldwide network of merchants, winners have a world of options that fit their cultures and tastes.

The company sees Applause as a happy streamlining of two goals made more pressing in the current economic climate: keeping employee morale up and suppressing costs. Symantec has found that its new global approach to recognition has greatly improved efficiencies and reduced company-wide costs, so despite the poor economy, it has never considered cost-cutting that might reduce the program’s effectiveness in boosting employee engagement and performance.

I encourage you to read the entire article for more details about the benefits of applying strategic employee recognition in a global organization.