The ability to envision your company’s future is important to formulating business strategy. Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
It’s also important for employee engagement. Employees want to know two things about their organizations:
- First, that their leadership is clear about where the organization is going and how it will get there,
- Second, that their work is an important part of the strategy — that each employee plays a part in achieving that future vision.
So, if you want your people to exercise all their discretionary efforts, one of the best things you can do is to give them something to believe in — a compelling vision and a leadership team that clearly knows what they want to accomplish and how they plan to get there.
This isn’t just leadership, it’s also internal marketing.
When launching a new strategy or change, the last thing you want to do is announce it to the full organization. That’s why major capital fund-raising campaigns aren’t announced publicly until major donors are already on-board. And union organizing campaigns do not become public until they have secured privately the support of as much of the population as possible. You need to do the same—don’t go after the entire population with a big presentation, instead focus first on getting the buy-in of key leaders and showing them how they will benefit personally from the change. Those leaders include: Managers whose areas will be most affected by the change, managers of front-line employees, union leaders, and other respected people, opinion leaders, and experts in the organization. You have to have these groups actively engaged before implementation. So take the time to align these groups before rushing to launch. They will determine whether the change is successful or not, and if they are neutral, it’s just as bad as being negative.
This is so important to implementing a new strategy. It’s simply not enough to have an action plan for the senior group–if you’re going to redirect the organization, or change the culture, or implement a major change such as a new ERP system. For example, during the Adelphia Communications bankruptcy, the fundamental task was to keep the organization running efficiently and to retain five million customers, but first we needed to enlist the support of the 100 or so key managers and professionals before addressing the 14,000 employees. That work was incredibly important to managing through and emerging from bankruptcy. Similarly, the first step in improving a strategy and culture change in a 500 employee manufacturing company was to hold a series of workshops with management groups over a six-month period to set the direction, establish the milestones, and generate the needed energy and buy-in to make it successful–leading to 600% revenue growth in three years. The fact is, you need to develop a critical mass of support to be positive about the change.
When I was a kid we would play ‘horse’ with a basketball. One strategy was to take shots we knew we could make (“lay-ups”)and to outlast an opponent with consistency. A second strategy was to take low-percentage shots (“long shots”) on the theory that, if you do make the shot, it will be very difficult for your opponent to also make it. Setting goals is a bit of a horse game too. Some people take the first approach and set easy goals. There are two problems with that: First, easy goals at one level of the organization get rolled-up into easy goals higher in the organization, and before you know it the whole organization is doing easy layups and declaring victory. But the biggest problem with easy goals is that the organization will never find out just how good it is.
The second approach is to set truly difficult goals—some call them “Dream” goals. The key is not to treat them as dreams at all, because unlike a low-percentage basketball shot, a dream goal is accomplished over a time period and can be achieved through skill and determination. And that’s how organizations get better at what they do.
Setting goals should not be the same as playing horse. It’s not about lay-ups and long-shots, it’s about organization growth and leadership resolve.
One doesn’t drive a car by looking in the rearview mirror, so why do that with performance reviews? When a manager emphasizes mistakes, shortfall, weaknesses, and problems, it does not cause an improvement in employee performance. What it does cause is damage to the relationship and bad feelings all around. Many managers know this, so instead they provide unwarranted positives, rating everyone better than average. But that doesn’t help performance either. If you want better performance, and that should be the number one reason for doing performance reviews, then you need to look ahead. Instead of dwelling on the negative past, provide ideas for improving performance in the future. Only by putting the focus on improvements going forward will you see better results. This takes a mindset shift often requiring training and practice. But it leads to immediate and significant benefits for the organization.
© Bob Legge 2013 All rights reserved
If you want more employee engagement, here are key points:
- It is relatively easy to get acceptable performance through fear or incentives. But you won’t get better than acceptable performance. An ‘engaged’ employee will choose to do more because of internal motivation, not external motivation. There are a bazillion studies and books supporting this.
- The key to engagement is providing meaning an purpose to the work. It’s why a powerful mission and vivid vision description is important. Example: Apple’s compensation is no better than similar companies, but they have a mission to improve people’s lives and their employees are always working on the next big thing. Yes, they also attract great people and have a demanding culture, but the difference is meaning, purpose, involvement, and the sense of satisfaction from doing work that makes a difference.
- Pizza parties, t-shirts, workout facilities, and awards help make people happier with their work places. But they don’t engage people to perform at high levels. It’s like cleaning the windshield of your car—it’s nice to do, but it won’t improve performance.
I have worked with clients who have had outstanding results improving engagement of manufacturing operators, social workers, teachers, call center representatives, banking employees, among others. In every case, we were able to improve performance, job satisfaction, and customer service without increasing compensation levels. The key is to focus on the job and outputs, not incentives.
The world is full of people who will tell you that you cannot do something. It’s a trait of bureaucracy. But can also be a trait of HR, customer service, purchasing, and other areas in your business. While there may be perfectly good reasons for saying no, it’s not helpful. How refreshing it is then, when the response is “You can’t do that, but let’s figure out how you can get the result you want.” It’s a difference in attitude, but it’s also a difference in how the person regards his or her job and their depth of knowledge.
Bob Legge works with companies to improve individual and organizational performance. His clients have included Fortune 500 companies, mid-size companies, non-profits, education and government. To find out more, contact Bob at email@example.com or call him at (585) 305-7853. Bob’s website is http://www.boblegge.com.
We are likely to see a lot of job changing when the economy finally recovers. All the signs are there including a high percentage of employees who have ‘checked-out’ on the job, or are actively negative about their work, their workplaces, and their leaders. The best talent want to work where they are respected, stimulated, and challenged to be their best, not just pressured to meet deadlines. Of particular concern are those professional, technical, and management employees whose work drives the most value. How do you know if they are getting the leadership and respect they deserve throughout your organization? What are you doing to really understand the current state of your organization and to put in place the key elements that create a high-performance and high-commitment workplace?