This review first ran in the Sept. 25 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
St. Martins Press
Survey says we’re having ice cream socials every Friday afternoon.
It’s an employee suggestion from your latest engagement survey. Free ice cream seems like a quick and easy way to buy some love and shore up engagement scores.
But a deluge of emotional waste will hit your managers starting Monday morning. They’ll be silently screaming about ice cream.
Monday morning is when they’ll start hearing from employees who can’t get make it to Friday socials even though senior management is well aware of this fact, obviously doesn’t care and is out to get them yet again.
Managers will be told to run a more inclusive event for employees who don’t like ice cream, are lactose intolerant, have sensitive teeth or prefer healthy options.
Managers will get requests to leave work a half-hour early from employees who don’t spend 30 minutes eating ice cream in the cafeteria.
Managers will get sermons on why locally sourced organic ice cream is the better, more sustainable option along with calls for employees to be consulted on whether vanilla and chocolate ice cream should be the only choices.
Managers will get complaints about the skimpy selection of toppings and how the absence of whipped cream and cherries is just one more way that senior management nickel and dimes employees.
Managers will hear about preferences for waffle bowls over plastic cups.
And someone will rat out Andy from accounting who’s rumoured to get extra scoops of ice cream because, as everyone knows, Andy is a suck-up who may, or may not, be dating the CEO’s daughter.
You can spare your managers the drama by putting an accountability filter on your next engagement survey, says Cy Wakeman, author of No Ego, consultant and founder of Reality-Based Leadership,
Ask survey questions that will differentiate responses from high and low-accountable employees.
Focus on what high-accountable employees are telling you. These are the resilient, self-aware, change-ready high performers who take full responsibility for their own optimism, energy and enthusiasm. They consistently give their best effort and continually look for ways to improve. They’ll use the engagement survey to highlight ways to better serve your clients, customers, patients or students. Free ice cream for employees likely isn’t on their list.
Low-accountable employees wear victimhood like a well-worn housecoat, says Wakeman. They blame everyone and everything for their lacklustre work, blown deadlines and sour disposition. They’ll use the survey to emotionally blackmail you into making their lives easier.
Trying to drive up engagement scores among low-accountable employees is a fool’s errand. And if you could actually pull this off, would you want an organization full of highly satisfied low-accountable employees?
“If we really want our engagement surveys to drive workplace results, then we need to be honest,” says Wakeman. “Not all employees contribute equally, and the feedback they offer isn’t equal either. Treating all feedback equally is crazy.”
Engagement without accountability leads to entitlement, warns Wakeman. That sense of entitlement causes time-wasting and productivity-killing drama and emotional waste.
Smart organizations and great leaders aren’t preoccupied with creating a workplace where everyone’s happy and comfortable. They’re not shielding employees from change, sugar-coating reality or trying to get buy-in through appeasement.
They don’t coddle, cajole or get themselves into codependent relationships.
Instead, they focus on building business readiness and instilling an organization-wide accountability mindset. They value action over opinions. They ask employees for their full commitment in exchange for full paycheques. The uncommitted get a clear choice: come up with a plan to get on the bus or find yourself another bus to ride.
“The role of leaders is to help people get clear on the fact that if they want to play on the team, buy-in is a prerequisite,” says Wakeman. “If you’re going to get great results, there can’t be an option that allows people to stay and sabotage or to stay and hate. Why would any organization tolerate an option that allows people to generate endless emotional waste?”
This may seem like tough love given the conventional wisdom around how managers should engage and inspire employees and manage change to minimize pain and disruption. Yet Wakeman makes a compelling argument for putting accountability ahead of engagement. Hold employees to a higher standard and they’ll do great work, step up to challenges, take pride in what they achieve together and become fully engaged in ways that free ice cream can’t buy.
@jayrobb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College, has reviewed business books since 1999 and lives in Hamilton.