What Next for Employees?

July 27, 2010

The Towers Watson 2010 Global Workforce Survey provides some interesting insights that should be taken into account by all Leaders when planning for the future of their organisations.  Based on 20,00 workers in 22 countries, some of the key points in the survey include:

  • Employees see security as a fast disappearing part of the employment relationship although 76% want a secure position above all else
  • Only 38% of employees think that their leaders have a sincere interest in their well-being while less than half think that their leaders inspire and engage them
  • Almost 40% of employees are either disenchanted or fully disengaged
  • 42% of staff think they have to go elsewhere to advance

As many organisations are finding out, it is one thing to keep employees when they have no other options but, when the upturn does come around – and for some companies, it already has – these employees will start to question how they have been treated during the downturn. The best of these employees will have the earliest options to move to what they consider to be a better job.

Now is the time for Leaders to begin reengaging with employees through, for example, challenging work design, growth opportunities and, putting in place recognition programmes.


Is it the situation not the person?

June 15, 2010

A very interesting article in Fast Company by Dan Heath (author of Made to Stick) looks at the impact that the Fundamental Attribution Error can have on how we assess behaviours.  Fundamental Attribution Error occurs when we attribute the behaviour of an individual in a specific context to being part of their core character.

A typical example is how we all can sometimes behave when in rush hour traffic.  Most of us have committed acts when driving that, while not life threatening,  are not always nice!  Do these acts reflect our real personality?  Do we react in a similar fashion in other contexts when under stress – probably not.

Sometimes we need to take a step back when assessing an unusual behaviour, especially one that is out of character,  and ask the question: is this behaviour a result of the situation or is it the person?


Coaching V Mentoring V Consulting

March 11, 2010

I am spending an increasing amount of time coaching executives – reflective of the exciting business world. One challenge that I face is that the coachee wants a solution and, quite often, wants it now.  This can be based on a misunderstanding of the nature of coaching and mixing it up with mentoring – an experienced person sharing wisdom – or a consultant – an experienced person brought into to provide a solution. Coaching is about allowing the coachee to find their own solution.  Getting these distinctions across at the beginning of a coaching assignment is crucial.

I came across a great summary in Excellence in Coaching edited by Jonathon Passmore:

  • A therapist will explore what is stopping you driving the car
  • A counsellor will listen to your anxieties about the car
  • A mentor will share tips from their own experience of driving cars
  • A consultant will advise you on how to drive the car
  • A coach will encourage and support you in driving the car

The Motivational Power of Body Language

January 6, 2010

I was in a retail store recently – an outlet of a major international brand based in a large shopping centre.  While browsing, I engaged in a favourite past-time – people watching. The store manager was instructing a staff member to rearrange several displays.  While I cannot comment on any previous interactions between the two, this one was enlightening in the use and impact of the manager’s body language as was the  employee’s reaction.

The words used by the manager were both polite and clear. His tone and body language (especially facial expressions),however, told a different story. This was a manager who was impatient and determined to show the employee who was in charge.  The impact upon the employee was worth observing.  She was doing her best to maintain as much distance from her manager as possible given the circumstances.  Her facial expressions were obviously neutral and her responses were mono-tonal.  This was someone who was very much aware of the power dynamic at play and was not exactly happy with it.

The manager – as is often the case – was totally unaware of the impact he was having on one of his team.  Relying on the power of his position, he expected the employee to carry out his instructions.  However, the carrying out of those instructions would be all that he would receive.  I would imagine that any additional or discretionary performance would not be forthcoming.  Any situation that falls outside his instructions would likely require further interventions from the manager – taking up his time and effort.  A simple realisation of how body language can change the manager/staff dynamic would have transformed this routine engagement.

Every interaction that we have with those that we work with has an impact.  The question managers need to ask themselves is: what impact am I having and is that impact positive or negative to our the working relationship?


Behaviour change requires consequences

November 4, 2009

Performance, to a large extent, is driven by behaviours.  As I outlined in an earlier post, there is a difference between those who are willing and those who are able.  Ability is what I am capable of doing. Willingness is based on my motivation, satisfaction and my engagement.  Once, I have the ability, if I am not performing, it is usually down to my willingness.  And my willingness drives my behaviours.  This could manifest itself as my willingness to engage, my attitude to my colleagues or clients or, simply, my time and attendance.

For there to be a change in behaviours, there must be consequences – and these must outweigh the desire to continue the behaviour.  For many managers, there is a desire to bury their head in the sand rather than tackle the issue at the earliest possible opportunity.   By challenging the behaviour, the consequence does not have to be dramatic or final.  By ignoring the behaviour until it becomes a problem, the consequence must be severe in order to lead to a change.


What comes first – Satisfaction or Performance?

October 11, 2009

A very interesting article was published  recently on the TheStreet.com –  “Satisfaction Does Not Boost Performance”.  The article outlines the outcomes from a number of studies that overwhelmingly show that satisfaction programs will not only help business performance, they may not even improve satisfaction.  Some key points from the article:

  • In 1976, “The Handbook of Industrial/Organizational Psychology,” summarized 3,300 job satisfaction studies dating back to 1955 and found, “… negligible relationships between satisfaction and level of performance or productivity.
  • In 2009, Ed Lawler of the University of Southern California and author of “Talent,” said definitively: “Satisfaction does not lead to performance; it is caused by it.”
  • In a 2009 CFO Magazine article, Richard Beatty of Rutgers University, stated that “HR people try to perpetuate the idea that job satisfaction is critical, but there is no evidence that engaging employees impacts financial returns.”

Many companies see satisfaction as an input to performance not recognizing that it is an output. By aiming to seek performance from satisfied employees (rather than realizing that high performing employees tend to be satisfied) most such programmes leave performance to chance.  It is based on flawed logic seeking the simple solution.  Organisations that try to create one size fits all engagement programmes often end up with very happy employees that may have no desire to perform.

The final line from the article sums it up. “Find the right people, put them in roles that use their talents and give them support to be successful. Happiness will take care of itself.”


Motivating After Change

October 9, 2009

We are living in a time of unparalleled change – at least the latest period of unparalleled change.  Organisations are having to radically rethink how they operate, manage, service their customers and are staffed in order to survive.   However, as I have written previously, how organisations manage this change with their employees is key to its success.  An additional factor, however, that organisations need to take into account is how to motivate those that remain in the organisation once the latest change programme is completed.

Much has been written about the impact on redundancies on those left behind.  ‘Survivor Syndrome’ recognises that there is a physical and psychological impact upon those employees who have not lost their jobs.  These staff feel guilty for keeping their jobs when their colleagues and friends have lost theirs.  This in turn can impact upon performance.  A recent survey, reported in Personnel Today (Note 1), showed that, in organisations that had experienced at least one redundancy programme, 67% reported lower staff morale, 65% noted an increase in absenteeism and 17% found that retention of key staff was a problem.  In addition a significant number (19%) noted problems with productivity.

What can organisations do to manage this impact? The first step is to to minimise the impact of redundancies on the remaining workforce.  This can include briefings about the changes (before they happen), explaining not just the what but the why of change and outlining the impact that this will have on both the staff who are leaving and those remaining.   The next step is to have a strategy to reengage with the remaining workforce.  This includes, above all, open and visible leadership.  Without the direct and repeated involvement of the leaders of the organisation, trust cannot be maintained or rebuilt as appropriate.  With trust, the leadership can ensure that the change becomes embedded and that the organisation can not just survive but thrive. The organisation can then move beyond the change phase and begin operating as a normal business again.

Note 1: Survivor Syndrome among staff is hindering employers, Nadine Williams, PersonnelToday.com


Assumptions about Managing People

October 7, 2009

Bob Sutton writes a blog about the  links between managerial knowledge and organizational action.  He has a very interesting and challenging post based on a closing discussion at the Singapore Human Capital Summit. As Bob said, his aim was to challenge the assumptions of the audience rather than come up with a definitive list.

Bob Sutton’s Top 10 List of Flawed Assumption About Managing People

1.  HR ought to be all about spotting, hiring, and breeding individual talent (HR could pack a bigger wallop by focusing on teams and networks more).

2.  HR should focus on finding, hiring, and developing the very best people (Bad is stronger than good – about 5 times stronger  — so screening-out, reforming, expelling the very worst people is more crucial to collective performance).

3. Find some great superstars and pay them whatever is necessary to keep them happy… and certainly a lot more than everyone else (The best organizations pay higher than competitors, but have more compressed pay).

4. Competition makes people, teams, and companies stronger (Unless people and teams are rewarded for undermining one another rather than helping each other… dysfunctional internal competition is one of the most pervasive problems in American firms).

5. Harmony and having a shared vision are crucial to success (Perhaps for routine work; but creativity depends on battling over ideas. Part of HR’s job should be to teach people how to “fight as if they are right and listen as if the are wrong”).

6.  The key to success is copying practices used by the best companies. (The best companies may be succeeding despite rather than because of their HR practices).

7.  Every company needs a great performance review system. (Are they really worth the time and effort? Do they do more harm than good?).

8. Taking a leadership position brings out the best in people. (This is a dangerous half-truth.  Giving people power over others turns them into  self-centred jerks).

9.  The most important thing HR can do is to find and develop great senior leaders (Having an organization with a high proportion of good bosses is probably more important).

10.  The best organizations have the best people, “the people make the place.” (There are huge differences in talent, but the best organizations typically have the best system and not necessarily the best raw talent).


Employee Engagement; improving the bottom line

September 29, 2009

A common (and often correct) criticism of the Human Resources (HR) function and HR initiatives is that they are not business minded.  Other functions (such as Finance or Operations) criticise that HR gets in the way of running the business.  While this is not always correct, HR needs to ensure that it presents these initiatives in a business manner with a view to how they will impact upon the ability of the organisation to achieve their strategic objectives.

There are opportunities for HR to improve organisational performance through focussing on systems and interventions that improve employee engagement.  Research by Gallup has shown that, in world-class companies, the ratio of engaged employees to disengaged employees is 8:1.  In average organisations, the ratio is only 1.5:1.  The research also shows that engaged organizations have 2.6 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in their same industry. (Note 1)

Similar research shows from Watson Wyatt determined that companies with the most effective employee communications programs had an average total shareholder return of 29.5 percent while those with least effective programs had a negative 15 percent return. (Note 2)

Engagement programmes are not an end in themselves.  However, they are a starting point where HR can make a direct impact in the business.  Talking in the language of the rest of the business will improve how HR is viewed and will lead to an increase in support for other HR intiatives.

Note 1: Employee Engagement: What is your engagement ratio? Gallup Consulting, 2008

Note 2: Watson Wyatt, Effective Communication: A Leading Indicator of Financial Performance – 2005/2006 Communication ROI Study