What is the key driver of the success of your business? Pause and take some time to think about the answer to that question. When you have done so write down your answer in as few words as possible. Then, and only then, read on.
There can be little doubt that the world is in crisis. The number of issues humanity is facing seems to increase daily. Soaring inflation and a cost of living crisis, climate change, the war in Ukraine and the threat of global food shortages, millions of displaced people, increasing political polarisation are only some of the challenges we face. And all are largely unprecedented. And one thing is certain – we cannot meet them with historic solutions. As Albert Einstein said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created it!”
Many of these problems are the result of issues that have troubled me for years. However, as someone who always looks to solve problems rather than criticising or complaining about things, I have always sought to answers. And as matters have increased my concerns, and made me anxious about the overall trend, my efforts have multiplied. This has led me to make more effort to develop and share my solutions, culminating in my latest book, “Searching For Better.”
It has been an extraordinary week. It is as though the whole world has aligned with my endeavours. New light has radiantly illuminated my inner convictions while the echoes of my expression have reverberated through everything I have heard. This powerful cornucopia of sight and sound has fired the furnace that has recharged my purpose, reinvigorated my hopes and re-energised my actions. Let me share the details in the hope that you will experience the same thing.
You might be surprised. I was. I had come to accept the idea that people quit their jobs primarily because of bad bosses. Yet, according to a recent report in Harvard Business Review, this appears questionable. As a result I found myself wondering why I had been lulled into such lazy conformity.
We all intuitively know that there are any number of reasons why people switch jobs, varying from such things as more money or a promotion (better status), to a new location or simply an easier commute offering more family time. This is simply evidence of that. That is why I am not sure I agree with my friend Alex Kjerulf when he says it is too soon to draw the conclusion that “leadership does not get retention.”
That is not to say that leadership is not a factor in retention. Certainly the fact that you do not like or get on with your boss will make a decision to leave more likely, but whether it is a primary motivator or not is debatable. Let me explain.
Purpose is fundamental to stainability and success, but is all too often neglected. It never should be. Let’s take a closer look and see why.
“How do you do?” That statement was an integral part of my upbringing. My parents taught us to say that whenever we met someone new. And it is so ingrained that even today it is what I say when I meet someone for the first time.
I realise now that it is possibly peculiar to my British upbringing. Certainly it does not appear to be universal. I remember being rather taken aback by the response when living in Canada. There people took it much more literally and almost invariably responded, “ I am good, thank you.” Yet despite this the habit remains!
Now, you are no doubt wondering what brought this up, and why I am writing about this here and what relevance it could possibly have, so let me explain.
It is hard to keep track of all the different definitions of employee engagement. David MacLeod’s government appointed task force identified more than 50 perfectly good definitions. So how can you expect to create employee engagement when you can’t even get a standard, universally accepted definition? This very diffusion makes it almost impossible to come up with a singular solution that appeals to everyone.
That is why I was so struck by the pithy answer that Ellen Kullman, the CEO of du Pont, apparently gave during an interview when asked what she looks for in an employee. She gave a single word answer which I am sure you will agree takes a lot of beating: “presence.” (Source: ‘That Used to be Us’: Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, Page 100.)
Having colleagues who, years ago, joked about “people who had left the company but were still on the payroll”, this struck an immediate chord. If, however, you find it too cryptic, her expansion is clear. “We want every employee to be in the room … the rote jobs today are gone – they are done by machines. Now you have to have people who can think and interact and collaborate.” You cannot think or interact or collaborate effectively if you are not 100% focused.
It gives me great pleasure to announce the publication of my latest book, “The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped.”
You need look no further than the increasing earnings differential and widening wealth gap to see that the ethos of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” has somehow been lost and that democracy is failing. With that failure we are in danger of losing the gains of the past 200 plus years and, if things continue along their current path, risk a second revolution. With the advances in technology and our massively enhanced destructive capabilities, who knows what price we would have to pay for that in terms of both devastation and loss of life? Thus it seems obvious that we should take steps to avoid such extreme outcomes.
We cannot do so, however, if we continue with our present forms of governance.
Sometimes it is easier to define something by describing its opposite. Perhaps that applies to Employee Engagement too. Maybe it is easier to depict employee disengagement.
And of course, when describing anything, the old adage is true; "a picture is worth a thousand words." I was reminded of that this week when I had reason to look at one of the cartoons from my book, “Lean Organisations Need FAT People.”
Ironically, although the picture does a wonderful job of portraying employee disengagement and its consequences, it is far from fiction. It portrays something that I was told once really happened!
This is the kind of situation that can actually happen when people are over-regulated or not valued enough to be allowed to use their own discretion. And that, I am convinced, is the root cause of the lack of employee engagement, and even the active employee disengagement, that is so rife today. You might not have a production line like this, but I am sure that, if you opened your eyes, you could identify any number of examples of employee disengagement that are costing you or your organisation a bundle.
I was re-reading Ricardo Semler’s “Maverick” the other day, when I was tickled by his question, “What would you rather have, the tail of an elephant or an entire ant?”
Of course it helps to know the context. After all, unless you are the elephant or an old-school maharajah wanting an elephant’s tail to keep the flies off you, there cannot be much demand for elephant tails!
Actually, the quote comes at the end of the chapter in which Semler talks about profit-sharing and the fact that employees at Semco are entitled to 23% of the profits. Effectively he was the principle “donor” in this arrangement, and he conceded that he felt 23% was “awfully high.” However, he explains his decision to go along with it by saying, “But I kept telling myself I stood to make at least as much money in partnership with a motivated workforce as I would as the sole beneficiary of the fruits of less inspired workers.”
Wow. Here’s someone who really understands the power of ownership and the glorious, potent effect it has on employee engagement.
His point is that employee ownership is what unleashes the true economies of scale and unless you have a fair and equitable basis for sharing profits you are basically operating with at least one hand tied behind your back. And, in case you think this is latent or blatant socialism, he makes the point elsewhere that “Few ideas are as capitalist as profit-sharing.”
So where do you stand? Do you want to hang on to your elephant’s tail, or do you want the ant?
Individual Objectives = Organisational Objectives
This simple equation encapsulates the essence of employee engagement. Doesn't it? After all isn’t that what you as a manager or business leader want? You want your employees to have objectives aligned with those of the organisation. And you want them to realise the success of the business and its survival depends on them achieving their objectives. Don't you?
This may possibly even be the biggest challenge you face. Unfortunately, trying to create this alignment all too often leads you down the track of thinking that you are responsible for motivating your people in order to create that effect. This is a track that can be a dead-end.
From the time of Aesop we have traditionally recognised two fundamental forms of motivation – the carrot and the stick. Even now these underpin all marketing efforts, only in modern parlance they are called ‘toward motivation’ and ‘away motivation’ respectively.
Yet there is a 3rd motivational force that is not widely enough recognised or acknowledged.
In my book “Lean Organisations Need FAT People” I used this diagram to depict it. This looks at motivation from the perspective of the above equation. So instead of looking from an away or toward perspective it looks at it from the individual and organisational perspective. Thus you have individuals looking to fulfil needs and wants, while you have the organisation looking to stimulate such desires through traditional carrot and stick methods.
However, individuals actually have a level that transcends needs and wants. For example think of a marathon runner. What makes them persist in heading out to train in all weathers and at all times of the day or night? There may be any number of terms for that, but I have called it devotion. (In the context of the individual and their relationship to the organisation, you may call it engagement.) Whatever it is it is both personal and innate to the individual.
This makes it very difficult for the organisation to try to address. What can you do to create devotion to the organisation? You have to find something that reaches the individual at an intrinsic rather than an extrinsic level.
That is why I am so excited by the research undertaken by social scientists and psychologists and championed by Daniel Pink. In highlighting autonomy, mastery and purpose as the primary, universal intrinsic motivators this work underscores precisely the points I was making in "Lean Organisations Need FAT People." Not only does my model of employee ownership embed the equation: Individual Objectives = Organisational Objectives through a sense of common purpose and shared values, but it also lays a solid foundation for greater autonomy and mastery.If you are serious about business success you have to build employee engagement and this offers you the perfect recipe. It is motivation in 3D!