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September 2011

Do you have the leadership to inspire zeal and engender employee engagement?

 "The heart and soul of leadership - the essence of inspiring others."

Those words of John J Murphy, from his book, "Leading with Passion", epitomise my definition of leadership.

Burning Match 000017482380Small So when I read them again this morning in their full context, I felt I just had to share them with you. Murphy says, "Light a match in a dark room and watch as the light instantly overcomes the darkness. Observe the power and grace of that single, solitary flame dancing with life. Now light several candles or kindle a fire and experience the added warmth and comfort extending from that first, vulnerable flame through others. This is the heart and soul of leadership - the essence of inspiring others." (If you want to read more for yourself, click on this link.)

I am sure you will agree that is a beautiful image. More important, however, is what it symbolises. For as a leader your power does not lie in the size of your flame, or the power of your flare, but in the number of candles you light or the fire you start. That is where your leadership legacy lies.

Murphy calls it leading with passion. I prefer to call it "zeal" because passion can be too fleeting and too misguided. Although zeal can also be used to portray the negative, for me it conjures up a sense of greater rationality and empiricism. After all, a dictionary definition of zeal is "great energy or enthusiasm for a cause" and it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm" while Norman Vincent Peale said, "There is a real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and achievement." 

However, whichever word you prefer, as a leader you must:-

  • Have it  yourself; and
  • Be able to inspire it in others.

Thus a lack of employee engagement is indicative of failed leadership. It is de facto evidence of an inability to inspire - an inability to create enthusiasm.

So you need to ask yourself, "How bright is my flame? What am I doing to create enthusiasm? What fires am I lighting?" After all, you cannot create the shared values to build a culture of employee engagement unless you do. And that means you will never realise the full potential of the talent at your disposal.

Where people insight and sensitivity come into employee engagement

I nearly choked! 

The irony was far too much for me.

The cause of my discomfort was an article with the headline, "We can't lose sight of the benefits of the HR function: people insight and sensitivity." Now, I don't know about you but insight and sensitivity are definitely not two of the 'benefits' that I associate with HR.

How much insight or sensitivity would you ascribe to a function that has Security escort people from the premises when they are made redundant? Or that enables a situation to arise where you are called to a meeting and, when you arrive early, you are greeted by a (non-HR) colleague who says, "Oh shame. Have you been called in for your redundancy meeting?"  No, people insight and sensitivity are definitely not something I have witnessed often in my dealings with HR.

Yet, nor do I think that they should be something that distinguishes HR.

Helpfulness 000007651555XSmall After all, how often do people actually deal with HR? The fact is that HR is generally a bureaucratic function. Their primary role is to set, maintain and enforce policy as regards the treatment of people. Think about your own experience. By and large it is your relationship with your manager and colleagues that shapes your day-to-day experience and how you feel about the organisation. Isn't it? So surely you would far rather see insight and sensitivity from them than from HR. And, of course, it is more important that you do.

So I am afraid that it is not just past experience that makes me choke at this headline. It is the perpetuation of the myth that HR is a function that looks after people. For me it reveals why HR has problems being taken seriously. Its focus is on rules, regulations and red-tape, and people insight and sensitivity do not - or only rarely - come into play. So, if you want HR to be taken seriously, you need to get over this self-satisfied delusion and start ensuring that people insight and sensitivity are an organisational responsibility that cover ALL your organisation's dealings with people, and stop seeing it as something that is unique to HR. 

Until you do, I am afraid that your efforts to improve employee engagement will never succeed.

Overcome the small results indicative of small minds

Archimedes It was so powerful it was like a blow to the solar plexus. 

It was only a statement, but it took my breath away.

One of those "Archimedes jump-out-of-the-bath-and-run-naked-down-the-street Eureka moments." You know the kind I mean. You must have had them.

They are the times when you read or hear something that is absolutely new to you and yet you feel it is something that you have always known. The "Yes, of course!" instances of pure inspiration, that leave you wondering, "Why did I never see that before?" 

So what was it that had this effect on me? It was a statement by Roy H Williams that, "Rules are for people whose minds are too small to understand the principles behind them."

You have to agree that is a pretty powerful statement. Especially when you start putting some context to it.

I am sure that for you, as it is for me, the most obvious context is the business one. How much do you have to rely on rules and red tape to get things running smoothly in your organisation? Of course no one can blame you for that. Ever since you started out you have learned that a manager is responsible for safeguarding the organisation's operations. You have a duty to ensure that you safeguard and maintain assets and use resources properly - productively, efficiently and effectively. And of course, this underpins the whole command and control management system.

And you rely on rules, regulations and red tape to maintain this.

So, just pause for a second and ask yourself, if Roy Williams is right, are you perhaps guilty of spreading small-mindedness? Do you implicitly think your people are small-minded? And, if you do, does this not mean that you are possibly encouraging and endorsing small-minded thinking?

Of course this is "just the way things are." You would have to be one of an exceptional minority not to have fallen into this trap. But what are the consequences for your organisation? They have to be negative. So now that you know better you are obliged to do something to change things.

The beauty of the statement, though, is that it also gives you the answer - the way to stop falling into the trap and following the familiar and to break out of the shackles and transform performance. To get rid of the rules, regulations and red tape you simply have to ensure that your people "understand the principles." 

Of course you have to define what those are yourself, but I don't think it can be all that difficult, do you? After all, it is just a question of identifying the purpose of your organisation and how you propose to fulfil it. But, I am sure you are already ahead of me. After all, you can no doubt also see the blindingly obvious - that eliminating the rules, regulation and red-tape will automatically enhance employee engagement and transform performance.

Just remember though, that if you can create the employee ownership to lock in that employee engagement you will ensure that there is universal understanding of those principles. Consequently, you can secure adherence to them and so practically guarantee improved performance with a better bottom-line and sustained success. 

Mind-blowing waste that can be (easily) avoided

220px-Ateam "I love it when a plan comes together!"

You are doubtless familiar with the character "Hannibal" Smith's catch phrase from "The A Team." And no doubt it resonates with you too, precisely because you also love it when things turn out precisely in the way you hoped, planned and worked for. After all, there is little in life to beat the sense of self-satisfaction from a job well done.

But how familiar are you with that feeling? Possibly not nearly as familiar as you would like! 

So perhaps you will be able to understand and share my delight in the corroboration of a message that I have been promoting for several years now. If you are familiar with my perpetual mantra about "human economic waste" - the waste of human endeavour in the workplace - you will certainly be interested in the significant endorsement it received this week. Perhaps, if you are still a sceptic it will help convince you.

I am talking about the findings from a research study undertaken by Warwick Business School, which concludes that the Forbes Global 200 companies each lose $1.2 billion a year through "bureaucracy and complexity." And what is another term for bureaucracy? Command and Control!

Hopefully - unless you are one of those corporations - you are not quite in the same league! Yet, you are still likely to have the same sort of command and control structures. So could you also be losing 10% of your bottom-line? If so what would that be worth to you?

That is not all. An earlier survey reported that fraudulent expense claims work out to an average of £462 per person and cost UK businesses a whopping £3.5 billion a year.

Surely these are enough to convince you that you need to take action?

You have to agree that a scheme of universal employee ownership that gives each and every employee a stake in the business and its results is likely to offer you the best way of addressing both these problems. It will create a platform to do away with most of the command and control, and cement the shared values that will enhance employee engagement and enterprise and so reduce the inefficiency and the likelihood of people effectively robbing themselves.

How else do your expect to do it?

Remember "The A Team" achieved results because they worked as a team. Can you think of a better way of creating a team?