Previously we explored why people are NOT your greatest asset. Simply put many leaders don’t ‘walk the talk’. But getting real value from people is easier than many think.
Gallup’s research suggesting just 13% of employees globally are actively engaged is a damning (if flawed) statistic. It has launched a thousand HR initiatives, but unfortunately many miss the point: employee engagement is not a target, it’s a starting point.
Big data - Little action …
On scale of 1-5 answer one of Gallup’s 12 key questions - is your opinion valued at work?
Your answer will probably be ‘it depends’ - sometimes your opinion is valued, sometimes not, sometimes it should be, sometimes it shouldn’t. So, how do you summarise a range of experiences over a year into a single, meaningful, number?
The answer is you don’t, not objectively. Human brains are not computational machines. We’re very poor at weighing multiple experiences over time, designating each a score and producing an accurate average. While the engagement scores presented to leaders may appear objective they are in fact deeply misleading.
Humans evolved socially - in tribes and clans to families and organisations today. When making decisions we automatically consider the social context of our responses. If challenged to provide abstract opinions (e.g. a score) we respond instead with answers that place social considerations to the fore.
The ‘objective’ data coming out of employee engagement surveys therefore are biased by responses that gift the answers people think are wanted, or game them to reflect well on themselves (or poorly on others). So much for the objectivity of numbers alone.
Employee engagement today is often assessed by interrogating staff on the issues management deem important. Instead of building fast feedback loops between the frontline and decision-makers (to communicate real opportunities or needs that leaders can respond to by directing appropriate resources) we have a process that employees feel is a waste of time and leaders a waste of money.
This deeply unsatisfying situation makes everyone in the organisation reluctant to put themselves through it more than once a year. It is disengagement by design.
Start with Engagement…
Gallup’s research may indicate a wider engagement problem, yet unverifiable opinions and arbitrary numbers is not a call to action for leaders. Organisations therefore must learn how to engage staff more naturally for, like the result of patience being patience, the reward of engagement will be engagement.
Taking the Employee Perspective™ powered by SenseMaker® is an innovative but reliable approach to engagement that lets employees freely share the daily experiences that matter most to them, whenever they happen. Anonymous responses are self-tagged to build meaningful ‘meta-data’ which is fed through to leadership for action.
While it’s unrealistic to respond to every issue, leaders want to understand what’s really happening in the organisation and why, so they can act. Taking the Employee Perspective™ allows leaders to see patterns in the meta-data in real-time and respond to the important ones - making them more responsive to both opportunities and needs.
And it is this that lies at the core of employee engagement in organisation: do your people feel they are valued members of a winning team on an inspiring mission? Getting real value from people starts with really valuing people - listening intently to them is the next step your organisation should make today.
For more information visit narrativeinsights.com today.
It’s a compelling statement - ‘our people are our greatest asset’ - but simply not true.
Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report suggests that worldwide only 13% of employees are engaged at work. If your car engine was just 13% efficient at turning fuel into performance you’d probably get rid of it, not laud its worth from the rooftops.
While the Gallup survey method is flawed (a topic for another post) it raises two critical questions:
Why are employees disengaged globally?
At first, employees believe their bosses when they say ‘people are our greatest asset’: they network, have interesting conversations, do further reading, think about things more deeply, and develop fresh ideas. They then bring this new knowledge back to their boss and then .… nothing.
On rare occasions a new idea is a perfect fit - an obviously-right solution solving a clearly-defined problem. It's instantly implemented and the employee is promoted both as a reward and a barrier to prevent talent leaving. But the history of innovation teaches us such perfect moments are rare. So, what happens when employees bring messier ideas for looser problems that, nonetheless, may also later prove to be game-changers?
The answer is usually nothing.
‘Of course we want to be innovative’ your boss says. But s/he is really thinking ‘will my head be on the chopping block if this goes wrong?’ So, instead of trial-ing an idea to test it’s value, s/he instead asks you, ‘where has this been done before?’ Because everyone says they want to be innovative, but no-one wants to go first.
As organisations creak under the strain of external pressures employees are surfing wider and deeper knowledge flows than those running through single organisations and can see the organisation’s threats and weaknesses. While a communal sense of belonging exists they will seek to fix problems. When they are ignored they disengage and the good ones leave.
Leaders must become aware that defensive decision-making sparks an exodus of talent, or a drying up of the knowledge flows essential to the organisation's success. Which is why leaders - 87% disengagement of ‘your greatest asset’ is the greatest business problem you face today.
Part two of this blog will look at ‘what can be done?’.
For more background and insights about this issue visit narrativeinsights.com
A short test, answer quickly: which is the odd one out? Cow, chicken, or grass.
You've heard the expression ‘the whole is more than the sum of its parts’. But this commonly-used phrase contains the breakthrough answer many organisations seek.
Neuroscientists can describe brain neurones in great detail. Ultimately, they are no more complicated than other cells. But put 100 billion of them together and consciousness emerges; an understanding of which still escapes us to this day.
This demonstrates that value is not in objects (e.g. neurones) but in the relationships between them. Multiple interactions between parts amplifies the entire value of a system: the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.
So, what should this mean for organisations today? Let’s start with your answer to the question above:
(Interestingly for me, Russians nearly always answer chicken - perhaps deciding the age-old question whether Russians are European or Asian?).
As the world we live in is more volatile, uncertain and complex, having an object-centric, mechanistic worldview (categorising people as managers, staff, customers, suppliers etc.) rather than a relationship-centric one (what's happening and why) will make you slower to adapt to external pressures. How do you mitigate risks of disenfranchised staff with sensitive knowledge, or annoyed customers with massive networks at their fingertips if neither appear any different on the surface, until they act? By which time it’s too late or costly to recover.
Mapping how things inter-connect - through the fragmented stories people naturally share to make sense of their world - quickly reveals repeating patterns that can be acted on. You may not be able to change people (we’ve all tried), while processes can be equally stubborn, but patterns of interactions in a living system are constantly evolving: we need only map them to be able to start nudging them in positive directions.
Mapping rather than measuring (e.g. KPIs), requires qualitative approaches. Soft steps rather than hard, quantitive marches may prove more challenging to (male) westerners, steeped in the dogma of the scientific method. But while the 20th century was widely designated the American one, with success coming from imitating the scientific American business model, we’re now entering the Asian century. The key lesson may be that a predisposition to focus on the relationships between things - rather than the things themselves - will be the competitive ability of the 21st century.
The need to adapt is great, but the tools and approaches for doing this exist - what is required are the leaders with the vision to start doing this.
For more information on mapping critical relationships and knowledge flows in your organisation contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit narrativeinsights.com
The dominant paradigm - or thoroughly assimilated worldview - of senior managers is that business is best driven and measured by key performance indicators. ‘Fine-tuning’ KPIs - like pistons in an engine - can ramp up growth, streamline costs, improve customer satisfaction or help turn the organisation into an employer of choice. One need only sufficiently reward (or punish) people for hitting their KPI ‘targets’ (or not) to make it happen. Yet treating the organisation as a dumb machine - and its people like children with gold stars for good performance - undermines effectiveness and is killing businesses today.
The over-reliance on quantitative methods in modern management - calls made per hour, minutes per customer interaction, customer satisfaction scores etc. - ignores the complex nature of the wider world the firm operates in and the real (qualitative) nature of its challenges. The following is a real example from a large retail bank:
A woman, pushing a baby in a pram, was about to leave the bank after completing her transaction when a customer service rep approached her. He politely asked (he was well-trained) whether she could spare a few minutes to answer some questions about her banking experience today. Like most people do when asked nicely the woman agreed. She answered the questions on his list and he ticked off all the boxes. When they had finished he asked her if she had any questions for him - she said no, so he thanked her and walked off. The woman called him back and asked, amazed, why he hadn’t opened the door for her, especially as she had just helped him with his customer feedback questions. “Let’s fill that questionnaire in again” she demanded.
The rep failed to do what would have come naturally to him had he not been working - opening the door to let a mother with a pram out. Instead, he acted according to his KPI - be an efficient (polite) cog in the machine. As his humanity is not rewarded he learns to leave it at the door when he comes to work. Multiply this interaction by the millions your staff have with customers (and each other) every day and you get some sense of the limitations of running your business by KPIs alone.
By taking an exclusively internal view KPIs become poor drivers of effectiveness. They cut the business off from wider economic realities, ignore the changing nature of customers needs and rely on unscientific ideas as to what really motivates staff. At best they help senior management map out possible budget scenarios (‘if everyone does x then the result will be z’), but at worst they become explicit targets (ceasing to be measures of performance) that reward those adept at winning competitions, often at the expense of the collaboration, creativity, responsiveness and adaptability staff need to meet emerging business challenges.
KPIs rarely help organisations navigate the volatile and uncertain worlds they operate in - being little more than extensions of last year's results with a % increase/decrease included to 'boost' performance. They have outlived their usefulness as the key tool for managing a business.
Senior managers must be careful not to take the variability (and resilience) out of their business. Managing by rigid processes and conformance rewards merely turns resourceful humans into human resources. This adds direct costs to the business in management control, re-hiring and re-training (as staff leave) and represents a MASSIVE opportunity cost as recently outlined by Gallup, who suggested that most companies are maximising only 5% of their workforce.
Only when business start building operations around the way people really are, rather than the way they want them to be, can they start to exploit the real opportunities and resist the clear threats in today’s economies. The lesson to learn is that human behaviour can’t be modelled mathematically and quantitive approaches, like KPIs, will ALWAYS blow up spectacularly, eventually. Recognising this represents a HUGE huge competitive opportunity for the organisations that adapt first.
Contact www.narrativeinsights.com today if you’d like a free presentation on how to organise your business for success in a more challenging world.
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