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Posts tagged ‘employee engagement’

How leaders can engage employees (review of Alive at Work)

alive at workThis review first ran in the Nov. 10 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do

By Daniel Cable

Harvard Business Review Press

$39

Here’s a lesson for any leader who’s looking to leave a legacy.

Write down the names of your maternal and paternal grandparents. No checking Ancestry.com or calling your family’s resident genealogist.

Now write the names of your great-grandparents.

Don’t feel bad if you can’t name everyone. Lots of us draw blanks as we work our way down the family tree.

“And that’s the legacy for us: our own family isn’t going to remember our names in two generations,” says Daniel Cable, author of Alive at Work.

“Lots of leaders spend time thinking about their legacy but really all we have are the positive effects that we can have on each other today. As leaders, we have a chance to make life more meaningful, and more worth living, for the people we lead.”

engageSo how exactly do you make that happen? Focus on firing up the seeker system that’s hardwired into our brains, says Cable.  “Our seeking systems create the natural impulse to explore our worlds, learn about our environments, and extract meaning from our circumstances. When we follow the urges of our seeking system, it releases dopamine – a neurotransmitter linked to motivation and pleasure – and that makes us want to explore more.”

When our seeker system’s up and running, we’re excited. We’re learning new things. Our world feels like a better place to live. We’re more creative and productive. We perform better, we’re happier overall and we’re alive at work.

“Our evolutionary tendency to disengage from tedious activities isn’t a bug in our mental makeup – it’s a feature,” says Cable. “It’s our body’s way of telling us that were designed to do better things, to keep exploring and learning.”

Bad things happen when we’re locked into tedious work and unable to explore and learn. Our seeker system shuts down. Work turns into a grinding and frustrating commute to the weekend. As neuroscience pioneer Jaak Panksepp puts it, “when the seeking systems are not active, human aspirations remain frozen in an endless winter of discontent.”

That discontent is reflected in ugly Gallup poll results that show the majority of us are disengaged and not contributing to our fullest potential at work. The lack of employee engagement isn’t a motivational problem, says Cable. It’s biological.

Organizations are failing employees by smothering their seeker systems with policies, procedures and processes. The rituals of SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound) and the fixed distribution of performance ratings fire up our fear systems and distract us from learning, taking risks and solving problems with new approaches.  Fear is kryptonite to our seeking systems, says Cable.

“Even though we may say we want employee creativity and innovation, we place even greater value on exploiting existing ideas and processes that are tried and true.”

It takes humble leaders to restart our seeker systems, says Cable. We need more leaders who’ll express feelings of uncertainty and humility, share their own developmental journeys and spend more time observing, listening and actively encouraging their teams to play to their strengths, experiment, explore and rediscover a sense of purpose with their work.

Being humble won’t just benefit the people you lead. “Finding ways to trigger employees’ seeking systems will do more than increase the enthusiasm, motivation, and innovation capabilities of your team,”says Cable. “By improving people’s lives, your own work as a leader will become more meaningful, activating your own seeking system.”

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. 

5 questions for leaders who want to lead a purpose revolution at work

purposeA version of this review first ran in the June 23 edition of The Hamilton SpectatorThe Hamilton Spectator.

The Purpose Revolution: How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good

By John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen

Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

$25.95

I have the privilege of working with some pretty remarkable professors and instructors who never fail to impress.

They’ve challenged students to raise more than $160,000 for Food4Kids and deliver Christmas presents to every child at a North Hamilton primary school. They’ve coached and mentored students to sweep award categories at national and North American advertising competitions. They’ve put students to work renovating public housing units, a church, rec centre and community theatre. They’ve taught women how to renovate kitchens and bathrooms.

Teaching courses is their job. Transforming lives and launching careers is their purpose. It’s what keeps them motivated semester after semester and gets their students engaged in their learning.

So if you run a restaurant, you’re not just serving food. You’re giving the lunch crowd an escape in the middle of their day and a place at night and on weekends to celebrate milestones and moments with family and friends.

If you run a cleaning service, you’re giving  homeowners the gift of time. If you run a clothing store, you’re giving people the self-confidence that comes with looking good.

Every business and organization has a purpose beyond selling products and services and making a profit.  Connect people to that purpose and they’ll want to work for you, spend and invest their money with you.

Finding that purpose can be a challenge. John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen, authors of The Purpose Revolution, recommend the search has to start with yoru senior leadership.

Izzo and Vanderwielen have helped hundreds of companies and leaders find their purpose by first defining their legacy.

To figure that out, they ask leaders five questions.

  • How will the world be a better place because of what you’re doing?
  • How will your family be better off?
  • How will the people who work with you be better off?
  • How are you making a difference for the people you serve and the community where you do business?
  • And when people talk about your influence and impact, what words and phrases do you hope to hear?

“Time and again, we have seen how the conversation in a room changes when you ask leaders this simple question – legacy is a powerful word,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen.

“Rarely do their responses focus on profits, revenue or market share. Instead, they tend to talk about the difference they have made in the lives of employees, customers, the community and their industry. When they connect to their legacy, they become aware of their higher and perhaps truest aspiration.”

Leaders who are clear on their legacy can then get to work on building a purpose-centred organization.

“We found that a CEO or business owner acting as a champion of purpose makes a huge difference in any organization aspiring to its higher purpose.”

Lacking a higher purpose is a problem in this current era of social good.  A revolution is underway, say Izzo and Vanderwielen. Yes, it’s important to make money. Yet current and prospective employees, customers and investors expect organizations to also make a difference. We want our work, purchases and investments to help leverage a better world now and into the future.

Do it right and you earn our loyalty. Ignore the purpose revolution and you risk irrelevance.

According to Izzo and Vanderwielen, a purposeful organization is wholly committed to making life better for customers, employees, society and the environment both now and into the future.

Yet the authors say a majority of organizations get a failing grade when it comes to closing the gap between what companies are doing and what employees, customers and investors expect.

Common pitfalls include:

  • Believing that making money is a purpose. “Profits do matter, but sustainable profits are almost always an outgrowth of serving a purpose.”
  • Confusing purpose with a marketing program.  Purpose is everyone’s responsibility and must drive day-to-day decisions. “It is more important to have purpose and live it authentically than it is to simply tell people you have purpose.”
  • Making purpose a one-way street. Instead of a top-down edict, you need genuine involvement by employees who are motivated by their own values. If they can live those values by working in your organization, you’ll build a purpose-driven organization that feels authentic to customers and investors.
  • Purpose is just stuck on a wall, with well-meaning words framed behind glass. “The conversation about purpose is more important than the articulation,” say Izzo and Vanderwielen.  “A well-articulated purpose is good but what determines its effectiveness in a company is how alive the conversation about that purpose is.”

Along with leaders adopting personal purpose statements and then encouraging everyone to do the same, Izzo and Vanderwielen recommend that organizations to replace job functions with job purpose. “When we connect to the true purpose of our work, it is transformed from a mean’s to an end to an end in and of itself.

“The purpose revolution demands commitment, and that requires discipline. Right now, there are companies and leaders who will one day be known for having won in the age of social good. The question is whether you will be one of them.”

To join those ranks, Izzo and Vanderwielen give practical advice and a gameplan for hands-on purpose-building across your entire organization.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

 

Review: No Ego – How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results by Cy Wakeman

no egoThis review first ran in the Sept. 25 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

No Ego: How Leaders Can Cut the Cost of Workplace Drama, End Entitlement and Drive Big Results

By Cy Wakeman

St. Martins Press

$37.99

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.

Review: Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using the Five Principles of Engagement

snowblowers

This review was first published in the Dec. 4 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami? Transform Your Business Using The Five Principles of Engagement

By Steven Goldstein

Greenleaf Book Group Press

$28.95

If I was president of the Niagara Health System, I’d invite Edna out for lunch.

Edna was the best of a pretty remarkable group of nurses and health professionals who looked after my mom last week at the St. Catharines General Hospital.

Edna didn’t just provide exemplary care. She genuinely cared about my mom and provided real comfort to our family. While her Sunday shift ended at 7 p.m., Edna stuck around until my mom got out of surgery nearly two hours later. They were still talking when my brother-in-law and I called it a night.

And although she was caring for other patients on the ward three days later, Edna dropped by to offer some last minute encouragement as my mom headed home.

So if I was a senior executive wanting to make a great hospital even better for patients and families, I’d go to the frontlines and look to standout staff like Edna for ideas on what to start, stop and continue doing.

“Interacting with employees and customers on a regular basis is the key to success,” says Steven Goldstein, past chairman and CEO of American Express Bank and author of Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?

“The answer to unleashing the power of your team – and to delighting your customers – lies outside the conference room. It is astounding how much valuable information can be obtained by simply talking to the people who really know the everyday inner workings of the company.”

Goldstein did exactly that while working for American Express in the United Kingdom and Ireland. That’s where he met John, a window washer who was ignored by every other executive in the building. Goldstein turned an impromptu 45-minute conversation with John into regular coffee breaks and end-of-day pints at a pub.

“I learned more in my first meeting with John than I could have ever learned reviewing reports or even talking to my team. He was extremely perceptive about what was going on in the business.”

So why aren’t leaders routinely connecting with frontline staff? Goldstein says it’s more a matter of will than skill. Yes, all senior executives are extremely busy with meetings. Some are introverts who aren’t blessed with the gift of gab. Others are insecure and believe they should already have all the answers. And more than a few leaders have developed over-inflated egos and take themselves a little too seriously.

Goldstein encourages senior executives to park their egos and venture alone and unannounced to the frontlines.  Don’t bring along an entourage or send in an advance team to stage manage a royal visit.

Take notes so the people you’re talking with know that you’re sincere and serious about their ideas and opinions. Report back to your team and make sure follow-up items are implemented.

“The best way to convince people that you are listening is for them to see clear changes resulting from their feedback. They will connect the dots.”

Be yourself and be natural in your conversations. Avoid being stiff, officious or contrived.

“Most important, have fun and enjoy this,” says Goldstein. “It is really great to get to know the people in your organization, especially the ones who really care about their customers and their jobs. Visit people and talk to them; make this a priority.”

Connecting with employees and customers is one of Goldstein’s five principles of engagement.  You also need to start looking at your organization with an outsider’s perspective, focus everyone’s attention on just two or three key metrics, be transparent with information and instill a bias for action. “Whatever speed you are going is too slow. Companies cannot assume they have endless time to evaluate, plan and launch new initiatives.”

When you have a highly engaged workforce, you don’t wind up doing dumb things like selling snowblowers at a Sears store in Miami. It’s one of many personal stories Goldstein tells from his 35-year career dedicated to helping leaders cure organizational dysfunction.

@jayrobb serves as director of communications for Mohawk College, lives in Hamilton, has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and is grateful to the health care team at St. Catharines General Hospital.