Powering Employee Engagement

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.

You’ll Never Get Commitment Using Logic

In response to one of my recent emails concerning commitment, several clients asked, “So what are the leadership steps to getting commitment?”  Here’s one of the most important:  Don’t rely on logic; tap into emotion.

It’s what marketers do, and when you’re looking to build commitment, that’s exactly what you are doing too — marketing.  You’ve got to appeal to people’s rational self-interest and do it in a way that is both compelling and exciting.  For example, tell them why this is the most exciting time in the organization’s history.  Tell a story that conveys the reason your mission is important to them personally.  Whatever you do, don’t do a PowerPoint presentation full of business jargon.  As author Alan Weiss says, “Logic makes you think, but emotion makes you act.”

Consensus Is Not Commitment

Getting consensus is good — but commitment is essential.  I have seen leaders who spend all their time getting their team to reach consensus, but fail over and over again to get the commitment necessary to really move ahead.  They fool themselves into believing that having consensus is the same as having commitment.  Nothing is further from the truth.

My recommendation:  Go ahead and build consensus, but understand that you’ll have to do more than that to achieve commitment.  Learn the leadership steps that hone in on commitment–real commitment.

The Wisdom of Giving Thanks

This is Thanksgiving week in the United States.  It’s a time to give thanks to your coworkers, your employees, your customers, and vendors.  And especially to give thanks to your family and to yourself.
We often focus on what needs to be done, what must be corrected or improved.  It keeps us focused and moving ahead.  But the most powerful source of motivation (and satisfaction,) is regularly stopping to be thankful for what we have.
Whether you are in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, or overseas, take the time to have a good Thanksgiving, and a grateful thank you to all of you who are my clients and my friends.

On performance, motivation and engagement

People improve their own performance.  It’s an individual accountability.  Leaders can provide the ways and the means for people to do that, but leaders cannot do it for them.
Similarly, people motivate themselves.  Leaders cannot motivate individuals.  People can be forced to do something by fear, peer pressure, or incentive, but that’s not motivation — it’s control.  It’s what Harvard professor Herzberg decades ago called a “KITA” (kick in the ass.)  KITAs are effective at getting movement, but not high-level and sustained performance.
While many managers and companies continue to use KITAs, others are obsessed with employee “engagement”–a term that has made the rounds since the mid-1990’s.  Much of what passes for engagement is control in one form or another, or entitlements that may increase employee moods, but which don’t translate into better performance.
The best way to improve performance, motivation and engagement is to make the work itself meaningful, stimulating, challenging, and rewarding.

The Final Mile in Strategy Implementation

In the cable industry, the final mile is connecting the cable system to customers’ homes.  It is the most costly part of the entire system, and in many ways the most important.  When implementing a strategy, the ‘final mile’ is connecting the strategy to each individual’s objectives.  Corporate strategies, objectives, and outcomes are pointless unless people are actively working toward them.  Yet in many companies, little is done to make the connection.  Instead, the strategic plans get put in binders for senior managers and everyone else continues to do their jobs in ways that might support or conflict with the strategy.
To go the final mile, involves a few very practical steps.
  • First you need a strategy that is clear and cogent (many aren’t.)
  • Second, the strategy needs to be communicated (I know of three CEOs who think their strategies are  too confidential to tell their organizations.)
  • Third, you need managers who understand it, can articulate it, and have the skill and motivation to connect it to each individual’s objectives.
  • Finally, you need ongoing reinforcement and monitoring—not once a year, but at least monthly.  Successful companies make sure to connect the final mile because that’s where the power is.
What is your process for the final mile?

Having Your Head in the Game

With three minutes to go in the game, and his team leading by 30 points, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is studying and discussing game pictures on the sideline. He’s a professional, and he has his head in the game. Having one’s head in the game means planning, thinking, knowing what you intend to do when you go out on the field. But most of all it means being fully present and ready for whatever happens. How many of your people have their heads in the game? What are you doing to make sure they know the game plan and the next immediate objective?

If You Want More Employee Engagement

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.

Why Employee Engagement Fads Don’t Work–And What Does Work

Here’s what we know from decades of research:  You cannot motivate anyone; they must motivate themselves.  Extrinsic motivation (commands and incentives) is weak and fickle; only intrinsic motivation (coming from the individual’s needs and wants) is strong and sustainable.  Programs claiming to improve employee engagement by giving pizza parties,  t-shirts, coffee mugs, ice cream socials, prizes for behaviors, ropes courses, workout facilities, nap rooms, and even BMWs (remember that?) may make for a “great” place to work, and are very nice things to do, but they  will not increase employee engagement or motivation or performance.  If you want to make a difference in actual employee engagement, focus on the work itself—how to involve people in decisions, tap into their ideas, challenge them to find new solutions, stimulate their best performance, connect the work to a higher purpose, and so on.

How to Ensure the Success of Your Strategy

Whether you are politically for or against Obamacare, there can be no dispute about the implementation failure surrounding the $400 million website portal that was to be one-click access to the new health insurance system. Even the New York Times has documented the massive problems. I can’t think of a bigger and more public implementation failure than this one.

That’s not to say that the private sector has a great track record—estimates are that upwards of 90% of corporate strategies fail to realize their intended goals. Strong implementation means strong accountability, employees who act like owners, a collaborative leadership team, sufficient funding, crisp processes, the right talent, and especially leadership.  They all make a positive difference.

Implementation is the non-sexy part of strategy, yet most organizations spend far too little time ensuring that strategies will be successful. It doesn’t have to be that way. For a free copy of my Implementation Assessment Diagnostic, send me an email at boblegge@boblegge.com.