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
Russia is in the grip of a brain-drain. The smartest, wealthiest and most entrepreneurial are leaving. Russia has surged up the World Bank’s ease of ‘Doing Business’ rankings but decisions are made on substance, not style. Russia is certainly at the centre of an international political whirlwind sabotaging business confidence, but its chief problems are entirely self-inflicted.
Since emerging from the Soviet Union’s chaotic implosion into the free market Russian business culture has been plagued by a destructive double-headed eagle. The first ravenous beast has been short-termism. Making a killing and exiting before the famine sets back in might be understandable following the events of 1991, 1998, 2001 and 2008 but its no less corrosive for it. It seems there are few who see themselves in Russia long-term and it shows in their business decision making.
The second pestilence is defensive decision-making. Initiative may have been punished in Soviet times but modern Russian business is as equally unforgiving of failure. Business people will buy old and inferior as long as everyone else has bought it, for ‘no-one ever got fired for buying IBM’ is being taken to Kafka-esque level in Russia. Innovation may have been the country's buzzword since the crisis but faced with the novel business buyers (even senior ones) need to know others have risked it first - for not making a mistake is the front of the mind response. This destroys innovative capacity, meaning Russian business is always playing catch up.
Clearly, new paths through the quagmire of Russia’s current macro and micro uncertainty need to be found - for the current situation will be Russia's new normal for the foreseeable future. Business must adapt and respond and silver bullets don’t exist. The latest ‘guru’ is just peddling the same old snake oil in a different bottle. Yet the business response this year has been to batten down the hatches: no budgets, no room for mistakes, no future beyond the immediate.
Unless the flow of the departing becomes an reversible torrent Russian business must become serious about innovation. This does not mean building a Russian iPhone or an electric car, but is about unleashing the knowledge workers. It's time to let a million ideas flourish today and amplify the viable ones rather than sticking a plaster on a gaping wound and hoping it’ll be better in the morning.
The biggest challenge to doing this is re-setting business culture in Russia (expats as well as locals). Senior management can and must create space for people to learn from - not fear the consequences of - failure. Designing a safe-to-fail experimental process is simple and will protect the organisation from inevitable failure that occurs when people push the boundary of what’s possible but also kick start a genuine search for the new breakthroughs that can revolutionise a company or an industry.
In a culture and time when some ‘jam today’ to stave off immediate hunger is acutely felt, it's a potentially fatal paradox that organisations are not activating their biggest sunken resource - the knowledge of one of the most highly-educated and resourceful workforces in the world. Whilst successfully activating this brings the promise of unexpected rewards, continued negligence of it will only accelerate the brain drain and death spiral of Russian businesses and erode the country's ability to bounce back in future.
Current business conditions in Russia are highly uncertain. Will things get better, or significantly worse first? Answers are hard to find, but they do exist - if you know where to look. For, in the same way blood flows through veins and oil through pipelines, critical knowledge flows through organisations. Tapping into these flows can make known what is currently unknown.
Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.
If you knew what every person connected to your organisation knew (management, staff, customers, suppliers) in one moment, you would have a rich and accurate picture of the current reality. And like a chess grandmaster you could see the truth of your current position; enabling you to strengthen where you are weakest and capitalise where you are strongest. Such knowledge is created and transmitted daily through tightly coupled human networks. The mechanism is the act of conversation, or the sharing of thousands of open-ended narratives (micro-stories without a beginning, middle or an end). For we humans evolved socially, learning from each other networks - clans, tribes, communities and now organisations - making us hard-wired to create and share 'critical to survival knowledge' on a daily basis.
Narratives are vehicles for sharing what we know and having our assumptions or insights confirmed, challenged or augmented. This is the process by which new knowledge is created and then transmitted. We do this not to populate the knowledge management systems our organisations have invested in (!) but as part of an on-going, natural process to make sense of the uncertain world around us so we can act better in it. Narratives take many forms: from the fairy tales we share with our children to educate them about the world, to the fragmented micro-stories we share with each other around the water-cooler, coffee machine or in break-out rooms at conferences that reveal and confirm what we must do round here to survive and thrive. If you want to learn about an organisation, listen to the stories being told.
The value of narratives is they reveal the context of what is happening. Multiple narratives, properly presented, can describe the world as it currently is; with all its various opportunities and threats. So, can organisational leaders who tap into these knowledge flows find powerful, (sunken-cost) assets to navigate the uncertain environments their organisations operate in?
Making sense of the uncertain
Today's business environment is uncertain because the world is changing rapidly in unpredictable ways. We know that building on shifting sands creates a fragile structure, but it should also be self-evident that ‘engineering’ idealised outcomes in an uncertain world increases organisational fragility when the future doesn't play out the way you hoped.
Nature evolves through 'listening' intently to the signals of change, however weak, and adapting. And it is far better for leaders to manage emerging beneficial patterns in their organisations rather than attempting to engineer idealistic outcomes. This requires decision makers ‘see the world’ through the eyes of their customers, staff, or citizens to build a picture of certainty - what's happening right now - rather than what might happen - and acting on those insights. Listening intently to the narratives may be the only way leaders - especially in Russia today - can navigate uncertainty, protect against emerging threats and discover the opportunities inherent in our uncertain world.
For more information about how to tap the knowledge flows in your organisation contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Leaders have a unique challenge in the 21st century. The ecosystems (the countries, markets and industries) their organisations operate in are increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. And missing critical signals amongst the increased noise risks exacerbating existing fault lines in their organisation. What should leaders do?
Subject matter experts solve complicated issues at functional levels. But complex questions (e.g. top line growth, corporate culture, change or risk management) cut across specialised silos. Complexity therefore is always escalated up; making managing complexity the key strategic challenge for executives in the 21st century.
Yet complexity remains widely misunderstood; described as something ‘very complicated’ or confused with chaos theory. Complexity science itself ascribes distinct characteristics (non-linearity, emergence, unpredictability) that render traditional 'solutions' (e.g. best practice, ideal leadership styles) entirely context dependent.
To face a complex issue means to deal with a ‘brownfield’ context - never a ‘greenfield’. Complexity is located in the system (e.g. the organisation, market, population) and always has a history, yet is constantly evolving. And as we engage with it, it changes - often in unpredictable ways. This is why answers in a complex system often appear only in hindsight - though this doesn't lead to foresight (e.g. it seems obvious now that sub-prime mortgages were a bad idea, but likewise, today's Quantitative Easing is variously described as the only thing saving the global economy or creating an even bigger future crash. Only time will tell).
In a complex world context is king.
Idealised futures are an illusion - as are strategies based on certainties designed to get you there. The collapse of Michael Porter’s Monitor Group in 2012 showed that while rigorous strategic analysis can help explain how excess profits were created in the past, it's a poor predictor of how to generate them in the future. Even the best formal strategising can trap leaders into believing the future will be an extension of the past. But if the future fails to conform to expectations we are left naked and fragile, exposed to the elements.
Like King Canut ordering back the tide, we discover powerful natural forces defy command and control.
Yet, the natural world itself - of which man is a part - has adapted wonderfully to exploit complexity. Evolution works through a process of increasing variation (of options), basing selection on what works now, and replication (or starvation) of options based on hard evidence of suitability. Can leaders learn something from nature about adopting a rigorous external focus, increasing awareness of options through rapid trial and error, and creating mechanisms to amplify or dampen options in order to thrive?
Effective horizon scanning uncovers emerging signals that signal where and what to act on before its too costly or too late. Technology is a great enabler in this, if one caveat is kept in mind: technology without human interpretation is meaningless. Google may find anything you ask, but can’t tell you what to ask for. Uncoupled from humans technology merely increases the noise surrounding the signals. Data is dumb - to become meaningful information human knowledge must be applied.
Humans should be at the front and back end of technologically-aided decision-making - defining the issues to explore and discovering its real meaning. Technology therefore must be designed to fit the human - the way we are now, rather than the way we'd like us to be. It must augment our natural sense-making abilities, which have supported human evolution through millennia (a best practice case?).
Critical knowledge flows through organisations in human networks. Navigating these flows effectively can reveal the origins and dynamics of change. And as humans share such knowledge naturally, extrinsic rewards aren’t required to tap this. Humans naturally create and share knowledge in the form of narratives - ‘micro-stories’ - that are both universal (every culture has them) and democratic (no barriers exist to sharing). These are the 'water cooler’ stories that spread insights and enable other people to make sense of the world around them so they can act better in it. Harnessing these narratives is critical to making sense of and navigating complexity.
Critical knowledge can be leveraged at little extra cost.
Leaders must create the conditions for contextually-appropriate knowledge to emerge. Managing for serendipity (‘pleasant surprises’) means seeking fresh insights, rapidly field-testing coherent ideas and replicating success. But as genuine breakthroughs don’t come from established thinking patterns. Leaders must learn how to break through the hard-wired autonomic brain we rely on - which seeks first-fit, rather than best-fit, solutions - and instead become receptive to novel ideas. Strategic leadership is less about engineering future visions than it is about increasing awareness of the critical factors in our ecosystem, 'identifying the biggest challenges in them and devising coherent approaches to overcoming them'. Real strategy is about seeking the truth of the current position.
Navigating and exploiting complexity means leaders must take multiple perspectives to discover genuine insights. Going beyond objective numbers to understand the why. Rapidly testing coherent ideas as ‘safe-to-fail’ experiments. and feeding success, whilst starving failure of resources. No-one can ‘cut through’ or ‘simplify’ complexity - nor should we want to. Complexity contains rich opportunities in a changing world. Leaders employing naturalistic approaches can exploit complexity profitably.
SenseMaker® - an innovative technology first deployed by the Singapore government to detect weak signal terrorist threats - taps into mass organisational knowledge flows and helps join up disparate information from silos to form actionable knowledge. It presents whole network perspectives leaders can rapidly see and understand, helping unlock the organisation’s present evolutionary potential.
For more information about how to make sense of, navigate and exploit complexity for organisational success contact email@example.com
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