People engagement: a cause and effect debate

by Cristina Mihai, Organisational & People Development Expert, www.crimih.wordpress.com

 

If there is one thing organisations - be they tiny or transatlantic - are dreaming of these days, this is certain to have “100% people engagement. Acres of trees and layers of ozone have been lost forever in an attempt to checklist, tip and construct people engagement “systems” and “solutions”. In all honesty, many of them actually work … for almost five minutes!! So let us use another five debating around the sustainability of the concept, shall we?

Try to relate back to a moment / period in your professional life when you could not make the difference between work and hobby, between being paid to do something and being grateful to be part of something. …Are we there yet?…Ok, now breathe three times and think what was the single most important thing that enabled that experience. Right. …Now think about how that episode ended, and why…
Whatever your specific answer to the last question is, something must have changed in your motivation to engage into serving the purpose of the business. Something clicked inside of you and you decided to “take care of number one” ...and let the business take care of “itself”. And I don’t mean you stopped doing your job; it’s just that you did not question things anymore, you stopped going the extra-mile, or you just felt to tired or fed up to “waste” your energy with persuading people to do things differently, better...

Psychologist Barry Schwarts* makes an impressive case on “moral skill and moral will” (as THE competencies that enable, facilitate and foster people engagement in organisations, and it’s really worth listening* to his extraordinary point and great examples. (http://blog.ted.com/2009/02/the_real_crisis.php).
Organisations and policy makers rule that people are supposed to be engaged in their jobs. Motivated to give 110%. One of my clients has an extraordinary cultural trait that translates in English by “self-sacrificing”. And then we have the Japanese “Gambarimasho!”.The fact of the matter is that people wake up in the morning and really want to do their best at work; then they get there and somehow this does not happen…their common sense, good intentions and job-related skills just don’t manifest to the fullest!

At a micro level, the chronic lack of trust is the cause of disengagement. The way organisations hire the best only to micromanage them into not fulfilling their potential is astonishing.
The signs are here: clients don’t tell the truth to their suppliers for fear the latter might use it against them (and many do find devious ways to do so!); staff don’t communicate essential things to managers for fear they might lose their jobs or be labeled as “negativists”; top managers don’t state their beliefs in the Boards for fear of being labeled as incompetent; Boards don’t communicate with their staff for fear they leak information that can hurt the stock price…All this results in groupthink at best, which directly leads to mediocrity, but in times like this the potential result is that companies cease to exist.

Examine the curve of engagement: people come into a group ready to contribute to their best, and 3-6 months later they are crushed by the procedures, slaps and frozen attitudes of the people already in. There is more bad news for organisations that bet on the hard economic times as a helping hand in holding their employees tight: the largest area for improvement (as reported by a recent research by Wiley & Kowske) is organisation’s future focus. As the most recent Gallup research on people engagement states, employee engagement is key to companies’ survival in these hard times, and managers’ attitudes are its makers or breakers (http://gmj.gallup.com)

If there is one counter-intuitive advice any business could use now, that would be KEEP YOUR STAFF HAPPY by building their trust as well! There is no recipe for this, but there are some best practices:
- Prevent and quickly cure fear, by maximizing transparency and reinforcing business’s dependence on staff (not the opposite!); if you demonstrate you genuinely care about them, they’re most likely to care about your business
- Help people develop & maintain a positive response to their work, by giving them the opportunity to do what they do best and acting on their valid suggestions
- Dramatically increase the use of feedback, which allows you to praise them for their successes and help them improve their capabilities at the same time
- Tune in your communication on listening instead of telling; even if you have to mix participative with declarative changes in the way you do business, even if you honestly and openly disagree with some of their ideas, they will appreciate being listened to and the behaviour of coming to you with more ideas will be reinforced
- Make sure you start and end the week on a positive note. Those “pipeline” meetings can either be reshaped to be constructive or moved to a neutral time, leaving place for future-oriented, positive team gatherings
You cannot control the environment. But you CAN control all of the above. And your staff DOES control your relationship with clients. Client satisfaction is a function of staff engagement, and only you hold the keys to that.

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