Some radical new research shows what creates “employee engagement” (don’t worry, this is the latest fad amongst management thinkers) in the workforce.
Most of the above I would suggest is blindingly obvious, but then why do so many organisations and managers get it wrong. It would seem that some kind of metamorphosis takes place when people become managers resulting in personality and behavioural changes, often to the detriment of those they are managing.
My favourite definition of management is “applying common sense to uncommon situations” which sounds easy in theory but is very hard to put into practice.
Going back to the table above, I note that there is one fundamental motivational element missing i.e. being paid a decent salary! But let us not dirty our hands by mentioning “filthy lucre”.
They produced 20% less per hour than other members of the G7 countries (advanced economies) and had the worst results since records began in 1991 according to the National Statistics Office (NSO).
The Governor of the Bank of England describes productivity as “the ultimate determinant of people’s incomes and with it the capacity of our economy to support health, wealth, and happiness”
Britain has fallen behind since the financial crisis with Germany, France and the USA all producing a third more last year. Italy produced 10% more and Canada 4% more. Only Japan produced less.
The TUC is worried that “Without a step change in productive growth, the UK economy will struggle to deliver secure jobs and higher living standards”
There are signs that productivity is slowly increasing and unemployment here is lower than some EU countries. What the report doesn’t mention is the grey economy which our neighbours across the channel say is what attracts immigrants to our shores. If that work was factored in would it make a difference?
Hard to tell but with stress on the increase again and employee engagement figures well below 50% it’s hard to see how companies can encourage employees to work harder. After all that’s what productivity is; getting more out of workers for the same or fewer hours worked.
In the Sunday Times business section this weekend Luke Johnson, Chairman of Risk Capital Partners and the Centre for Entrepreneurs, set out his list of the most important characteristics that a managing director should possess.
In brief these were:
The ability to motivate. The boss who can enthuse a workforce will generally do better than one who rules by fear.
Domain Knowledge. They must have sufficient technical understanding to gain the respect of their team.
The ability to listen. The best bosses don’t dominate debates but encourage feedback and leave their doors open. They listen to the shop floor by going there in person.
Decisiveness. Ultimately companies cannot function as pure democracies and someone has to make decisions rather than procrastinate. Employees need a sense of direction.
Financial literacy. Must be able to interpret financial statements and analyse accouts.
A sense of humour. Life is too short not to enjoy going to work .
Reliability in a crisis. Someone who doesn’t panic in the face of adversity and gets down to work in a diligent and professional way without histrionics.
Frugality. Having a thrifty approach to business. Extravagant CEOs set a bad example especially if they live beyond their means. A lean operation is the only way.
Delegation. The only way for start-ups to become large companies is for the proprietor/managers to learn to identify, promote, trust, and empower talent.
Adaptability. Modern companies need to be flexible and intelligent leaders thrive on change and are constantly learning.
Bravery. Outstanding leaders need the courage to make unpopular decisions. Those who fail to speak out on controversial issues and follow the consensus are followers not leaders.
That’s Luke Johnsons’ list and I can’t say I disagree with any of them. An interesting mixture of personality traits e.g. adaptability (being open to experience) and learned skills e.g. financial knowledge.
I’ve yet to meet anyone who meets all those criteria however! And when it comes to frugality it’s hard to say it abounds. When the average pay at the top of organisations is 130 times pay at the bottom and CEOs get rewarded for failure e.g. the Barclays CEO walking away with £28 million it’s hard to believe it exists at the very top of organisations.
If you want to comment or add to the list contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- A place where you can be yourself
- Where you’re told what’s really going on
- Where your strengths are magnified
- The company stands for something meaningful
- Where your daily work is rewarding
- Where stupid rules don’t exist
These findings are based on asking hundreds of executives over 3 years about their ideal organisation.
They all said they wanted to work for an authentic leader but to do that they had to work for an authentic organisation.
The six common imperatives they found are those listed above.
Do yourself a favour and read the entire article in the May 2013 issue of the HBR
Motivating staff is not the easiest thing to do. In fact is it possible to motivate someone else to do something at all?
We can coerce or threaten and, to use that horrible word, “incentivise” people but most people only really do things they want to unless in desperate straits. In other words motivation, for most people, is internally generated.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the idea of people seeking self-actualisation may be considered old hat now but you can still see evidence of that human potential philosophy in the field of positive psychology.
Similarly Herzberg’s two-factor theory distinguished between motivators – which were intrinsic to the job, and demotivators, or hygiene factors, which constantly need attention like money which motivates for a while but then loses its incentive value.
Dan Pink’s seminar on this topic is interesting and thought-provoking and you can watch it here.
He also has a presentation about his book “Drive”
First posted on Sganda
And leaders can contribute by encouraging helping behaviour. One of the hallmarks of a top-performing company is that people help each other to get the best performance.
Organisational psychologists call this “citizenship behaviour” without which companies, which are complex with competing demands for time, loyalty, and team input v individual effort, would not function as effectively as they might with strict boundaries and rules.
A design firm called IDEO was the subject of a case study in the Harvard Business Review last year. A key element of the culture there is “collaborative help“.
IDEO is an organisation of knowledge workers tackling complex problems and the authors of the study discovered a number of key elements including leadership conviction that collaborative help works. The CEO Tim Brown says “the more complex the problem the more help you need“.
But promoting helping is not enough. The other side of the coin is that workers sometimes need a sounding board for their ideas so they need to be okay about asking for help without seeming incompetent.
The culture of the organisation at IDEO embedded the helping idea. Research showed that 89% of employees showed up in the top 5 helpers for everyone in the organisation and almost every person was named as a helper by at least one other person.
These helper friendly organisations are more efficient even though they build slack into the system. This is to enable access to potential helpers.
People in one office were asked to name the 5 colleagues who had helped them most and rate them along with a randomly chosen non-helper on three attributes.
These were competence, trust, and accessibility and trust and accessibility were more important than competence in the helpfulness ratings.
To read the whole story check out “IDEO’s Culture of Helping” by Amabile, Fisher, and Pillemer in HBR January-February 2014.
He wonders why – in a world where top management talks about employee engagement and discretionary effort (i.e. getting something for nothing from your staff).
Companies are still using this kind of performance review where the bottom 10% are destined for the chop via a performance improvement plan (PIP) or by being “performance managed” – usually out of the company.
Apparently it’s not so common now in the USA because of legal challenges (Jack Welch would be unhappy about those) but is on the increase in the UK.
Yahoo talks about quarterly performance reviews, General Electric calls it the “vitality curve” (presumably if you’re not vital you’re out). The Civil Service call it “expected” or “guided distribution”.
The bottom line is that a manager can have a really high performing team but has to put 10% of them into “special measures” as Ofsted would say – even though they might all have exceeded their targets!
As Bevan says this approach is toxic. And generally performance review systems don’t work, and are based on faulty scientific thinking around distribution curves. Staff themselves aren’t happy with being rated average because they met the targets they were expected to.
We may not have decimation in its original sense viz 1 in 10 roman soldiers killed by their colleagues as a punishment for the whole cohort showing cowardice or disobeying orders, but we do have 360 feedback!
It doesn’t mean however that you will be seen as powerful.
The evidence suggests that it is the rude and arrogant person who is perceived as being a powerful decision-maker.
A paper published in Social Psychological & Personality Science (2011); “Breaking Rules to Rise to Power...” found that people rated rule-breakers as being more in control and leaderlike than conscientious types.
Researchers in Amsterdam wanted to see if the reverse were true. If you break the rules are you seen as more powerful? And the answer appears to be yes.
People in positions of power have more freedom to act and can ignore the rules. Research has shown that powerful people often ignore the social norms of he workplace for example by taking more than their share of the biscuits from the plate, eating with their mouths open and spreading crumbs.
In the Dutch experiments participants were given scenarios in which people violated the rules at work by stealing coffee and ignoring financial anomalies. A control group was given similar scenarios without the norm violations. Participants recognised the norm violations but also rated the culprits as more powerful.
Then, in a real-life experiment in a waiting room, one of the confederates who arrived late and threw his bag on the table was perceived as the more powerful. In another video experiment they tested the hypothesis that powerful people react with anger rather than sadness to negative events, in this case treating a waiter brusquely and dropping cigarette ash on the floor.
The authors say; “as individuals gain power they experience increased freedom to violate prevailing norms. Paradoxically these norm violations may not undermine the actor’s power but instead augment it, thus fuelling a self-perpetuating cycle of power and immorality“.
Rudeness is a cross we have to bear in the workplace. Surveys show that the percentage of employees experiencing rudeness at work more than once a week doubled between 1998 and 2005 from 25% to 50%. In fact in 2005 25% of employees experienced rudeness every day.
This has a negative effect on the organisation as people lose focus, try to avoid the rude person, are less productive and think more about leaving. And you don’t have to be the object of the rudeness. According to American researchers, just witnessing it effects your cognitive ability in problem solving, flexibility, creativity, and helpfulness. Like stress the rude encounter makes us more stupid.
And it seems more than 9 out of 10 people get even with the rude person or the organisation in some way eg through vendettas. And rudeness seems to be contagious making us ruder and more aggressive than we would be normally. So not good for the organisation let alone customers and employees.
On the other hand research at the University of Michigan shows that virtuous behaviour has the opposite effect. The more people experience helpfulness, forgiveness, generosity, courage, and support – or even just witness it – the more they are likely to do the same.
So virtuous behaviours encourage flexibility, creativity and good team work and makes employees feel good at work, thus enhancing employee engagement.
But what of the rude and arrogant people themselves? A report in the Psychologist this year described the work of Russell Johnson and colleagues at Michigan State University who developed a Workplace Arrogance Scale (WARS) to use in their research. This measured behaviours such as “shoots down other people’s ideas in public“.
First they defined arrogance as “behaviours that exaggerate your importance and disparages others“. So first cousin to narcissism except that narcissism includes thoughts and attitudes that don’t effect others such as self-admiration.
Their research showed that arrogant individuals report fewer examples of organisational citizenship behaviours such as helping people and going the extra mile. So confirmation of other research in this field.
They then looked at how good arrogant employees were at their jobs. They used the WARS, measures of overall task performance and performance in specific areas such as customers, relationships, and development. Individuals rated themselves and were rated by nominated individuals in their organisation – a selective 360 degree survey.
They found that arrogant workers were rated as being weaker in almost every way by their raters. Some people who rated their managers as arrogant also rated them as poor across the board so there was possibly a horns (negative halo) effect or just some of the payback other researchers have found.
Perhaps surprisingly arrogant employees also rated themselves weaker at relationships and overall performance with both their supervisors and direct reports in agreement. In another study the arrogant individuals reported lower self-esteem and more job-related strain. They also seem to fixate on minimising mistakes rather than focussing on success.
As the research didn’t include objective measures such as sales figures, it might be that arrogant employees realise they are ostracised and because of their low self-esteem join with their critics and discount themselves about their perceived performance.
According to an earlier (2007) Towers Perrin worldwide survey, only 21% of employees were feeling fully engaged, compared to almost twice as many feeling disengaged. Is that still the case today?
Discretionary effort is still the holy grail for many companies but looking at some of the approaches being adopted to engage staff they seem to be as focussed on well-being as on motivation.
Not much mention of Stress, Quality of Working Life or Work-Life Balance any more but what’s in a name anyway.
Sony’s Energy Project, reported in the June 2010 Harvard Business Review: “The Productivity Paradox. How Sony pictures get more by demanding less” started by looking at employee burnout and employee performance 10 years previously. As in many organisations they found that once employees completed training sessions and went back into the work place they faced resistance from the organisation – the re-entry crisis – well-known to trainers and HR professionals.
They eventually realised that for organisational change to endure the top leaders had to be involved and fundamental shifts made in the way they managed people. First by stopping assuming people can operate like computers – continuously, at high speeds, and multi-tasking (See my earlier post: “Multi-tasking addiction makes you stupider than smoking pot“) and by recognising that employees work better when periods of intense activity are interspersed with opportunities for renewal.
Secondly by systematically meeting the employees’ 4 core needs so that they are refreshed and inspired to go to work each day.
The 4 needs are: physical health (nutrition, sleep, exercise, and day-time renewal); emotional well-being (through being appreciated and valued); mental clarity (the ability to focus intensely, think creatively, and prioritise); and spiritual significance (the feeling of serving a mission that goes beyond just making a profit).
Crucially Sony’s co-chairs agreed to look at their own leadership behaviours and the way they did things, and how that impacted upon staff. Two critical changes were that the introvert chair discovered people didn’t realise what he was feeling so he started calling and writing personal notes of appreciation to people, and that the other chair was conflict-averse which left uncertainty amongst her staff. Which is where rituals come into it.
Rituals are practices you carry out at certain times to do highly specific activities. In this way they eventually become automatic and don’t require conscious will or discipline. So to stop avoiding conflict th chair learned to ask herself; “what’s the right thing to do here for the company?”. Other rituals included taking a walk when people felt frustrated, self-talk, learning to pause and respond rather than react.
To help be more focussed one executive turned off e-mails at certain times, one committed to ignoring e-mails when on the phone, another spent 5 minutes every evening reflecting on his top 3 tasks for the following day and then set aside an uninterrupted 60-90 minutes the following day to deal with them.
They also introduced rituals to increase collaboration and open-ness but reduce groupthink. They also agreed to ban e-mails during meetings and when that meant people working on them in the evenings they banned that too outside an 0800-2000 time frame. Any urgent stuff had to be handled by a personal call instead.
Reading the case study some of these ideas seem obvious – but that’s always the case with hindsight. But there is nothing really new here. They are mixture of behavioural interventions, including assertiveness and active listening, time management, and common courtesy.
Some of the highlighted Dos and Don’ts were:
Do take a lunch break and encourage others to do the same
Do communicate your values by writing notes of appreciation
Do set aside an informal space to promote creative thinking and brainstorming
Do share your passion
Don’t avoid conflict. Enter difficult conversations with a spirit of openness and curiosity
Don’t try to multi-task. Give people your full attention and active listening
Don’t be self-absorbed. It’s not all about you. Serve the needs of people you lead.
Now a book by Tom Shwartz et al: “The way we’re working isn’t working: the four forgotten needs that energise great performance”, sets these out in more detail using Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as a structure for the book. Advice to sleep more, eat more healthily, only work in 90 minute bursts, and take regular exercise is complemented by case study examples from Sony, Ernst & Young, and Barclays Wealth.
Originally posted and updated on SGANDA in July 2010.
Having portable data can be useful when you are working off-site but these devices also blur the boundaries between home and work.
No wonder companies are happy to give staff the latest smartphone or tablet that they can take home with them. There is an expectation that they will use them “after hours” for work.
Researchers at the University of Surrey examined 65 large studies involving around 50,000 employees.
Few companies actually spell out what is expected of staff, Is there a cut-off time after which it’s not OK to ring someone on a work-related matter? What about during holiday?
“In the absence of a policy written down … employees tend to take guidance from their managers or colleagues. If managers send e-mails late at night, staff feel they are required to answer them” according to one of the researchers at Surrey.
Employees might be happy at first to receive a new piece of technology but they soon realise there is an expectation that they will always be available and it then becomes a burden. They lose a sense of self-control which can lead to being less able to cope with stress.
The researchers believe that having technology such as smartphones has led to white-collar workers working the equivalent of an extra day a week and two day for managers. In other words 24/7.
Family life suffered the most from these distractions as you might expect with not even weekends and holidays protected from digital intrusions.
So technology is contributing to longer working hours, worse work-life balance, and more stress.
We have to look to Germany, the powerhouse of Europe with a strong union involvement in companies, for examples of good practice. Volkswagen, BMW and Puma stop their servers sending out e-mails 30 minutes after the end of the working day and make it clear that employees are not expected to answer e-mails at weekends or when on holiday.
Daimler actually gives its employees the option of automatically deleting any e-mails sent to them when they are on holiday so they don;t come back to a bulging in-box.
And last year France banned interruptions after 1800 and before 0900.
Sadly in the UK we don’t seem so concerned about employees’ well-being,