Monthly Archives: August 2015

Keys to Employee Engagement: 3. Opportunity

So far, we’ve learned how to establish a Base Camp for our journey to engagement by ensuring employees have a clear understanding of their job responsibilities and by ensuring they have the resources they need to perform at their best.

The next four questions focus on factors that can really motivate people to perform their best.

The third question in the Q12 is “At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best each day?”

Square PegEvery employee has a unique set of talents and skills they bring to the job.  When the talents and skills a person has are aligned with those most valued in a particular occupation or job role, we would expect the employee to perform well and be happy.

Creative people are stifled when they are placed in roles that have highly regulated procedures to follow.  Likewise, someone like an accountant might feel lost working in a creative role because it lacks the structure they’ve come to be comfortable with.

Sales people are often characterized as being behind on reports, expenses – paperwork in general. Perhaps, in some cases, it’s because they don’t have strong skills in Excel or WORD to do these tasks efficiently. Assuming they’re great sales people, they are most effective and productive when they are in front of customers.  By overloading sales people with burdensome reporting and record-keeping, we are actually preventing or limiting them from doing what they are really good at.

As managers, we need to make the job fit the people occupying the roles so they’re doing what they do best. Ask employees what’s holding them back or making them most frustrated about their jobs and either find a workaround or a way of minimizing the time spent doing tasks they do poorly.

Training people to fit a job role has some limitations. You can train and develop skills but, if the talents required for the role are not there, no amount of training will fix this.  If you have to do too much fitting of the people to the job role, it may be a sign you don’t have people with the right talents or the job is not a fit for the people you have.  Either way, you have to change something.

Keys to Employee Engagement: 2. Resources

In our last post, we discussed the importance of ensuring employees have a clear understanding of the company’s expectations of them in their jobs.  It sounds simple, but it’s surprising how many companies don’t do this right.

Today, we’re going to talk about another principle that’s at the foundation of employee engagement.

The second question in the Q12 is “Do I have the tools and materials to do my job effectively?”

Toolbox to represent resourcesIt’s hard to imagine a carpenter building a house without lumber or basic tools such as a hammer or saw. To bake a cake, a chef needs flour, eggs and other ingredients as well as mixing bowls and an oven in which to bake the cake.

In a modern work environment, a person such as an accounts receivable clerk would need a computer or terminal to obtain and record credit information. They’d need a desk to sit at, a chair to sit on and maybe a pad of paper to take notes. These are pretty obvious.

As employers, we owe it to our employees to give them full opportunity to perform to their best abilities. If we don’t provide them the tools and materials to do so, we’re severely limiting what they can do.

When the Q12 was developed in 1998, the focus was (we feel) too much on the tangibles – physical tools and physical materials.  We’d prefer the broader term “resources” be used instead – primarily to help employers focus beyond the tangible and consider intangible resources employees might need.

My background is in sales and marketing.  I’ve seen considerable turnover in sales teams during my career – and not just in the companies I’ve worked for.  Often, companies fire sales people because they aren’t generating an expected level of sales.  If a company is struggling financially, the sales team often gets the blame for not bringing in enough business.  Sometimes sales people ARE the root of the problem and should be moved out.  However, I often see that the people who place the blame and do the firing have never worked in the field to understand exactly what challenges the sales people face each day.

If we think about sales people, a number of tangible tools come to mind fairly easily: briefcase, samples, car and cell phone.  To this we could add brochures, fact sheets about products, specifications – pieces that help the sales rep educate the buyer.  And this is often where employers feel their responsibility to outfit the sales team ends.  In most companies that existed prior to 2000, the sales team was the last to be enabled with computer technology.

In our previous post, we referred to ISO 9000 as a source of business processes.  I’ve found very few companies, however, who have a clearly defined sales process – a recipe for sales success – for sales personnel to follow. If company leaders can put themselves in their customers shoes, they can probably develop a sales process that works well for their industry and product type.

When I worked for Plasmatreat, we had a very easy to follow sales process. First we obtained samples from prospects to see if our process could work on them in our development lab.  If that was successful, we could then go on-site to demonstrate the process on our customers’ production lines for a real-life test. On success, the customer had a choice of purchasing one of our machines or they could rent it to ensure the process worked properly over an extended period of time.  Over 90% of the time, customers who rented purchased.

A frequently overlooked example of an intangible resource the sales team really needs is a compelling value proposition that defines why a customer should buy from the company.  Too often, the value is offered in the form of price concessions.

When Marketing puts together sales literature, they have plenty of photos, specifications and details how the product works.  But they leave it up to the sales team to figure out how to quantify the benefits of the product to the customer. While some sales people are pretty good with Excel, most are not proficient in developing ways to show the customer how the product they’re selling adds value to the customer’s business. When Marketing takes on this kind of competitive product comparison, they have the skills to not only do the analysis but also to make the data presentable.

What a sales person needs now is a good corporate website with compelling content to create leads, a CRM to interact with customers and provide technical support after the sale, a laptop to be able to research customers and to maintain contact with the inside staff, and intelligence about the market, customers and competitors.  That’s a long way from a briefcase and samples. Note we haven’t listed brochure among these: sales people now expect the company website to give the customer an overview of the business.

If you short-change your employees on resources, you’re really setting your company up for failure. Without the right resources – tangible and INtangible – your employees just won’t be able to deliver your expectations for quantity, quality and timeliness of their outputs.

These first two questions are what Gallup considers the Base Camp of a successful campaign.  It may require some work, internally, to get processes defined and to consider the intangible resources needed, but doing so will put you way ahead most of your competition who think it’s too much work for them.

Keys to Employee Engagement: Expectations

For the next two weeks, we’re going to discuss employee engagement.  It may sound like a buzzword, but engaged employees tend to stick with their employers, so engagement has a big influence on employee retention and reduced turnover.

What we’ll be writing is not new.  The concepts here were first published by the Gallup Organization in 1999 in a book called “First, Break All the Rules.”  This book introduced the 12 Questions or Q12 of Employee Engagement, and the questions are ones that can easily be used by companies of all sizes.  The research that went into their development encompassed over 1 million employees representing a good cross-section of industries and sizes.

The first question in the Q12 is “Do I know what is expected of me at work?”

A starting point in thinking about how your employees would answer this is whether or not you have written job descriptions for each position in the organization. More importantly, do you share or disWhen Understanding Equals Expectations, Engagement Occurscuss these job descriptions with the people actually doing the job to ensure they reflect organizational realities and that they are understood?

We mention job descriptions are a starting point. They usually describe reporting relationships, responsibilities, accountabilities and so on.  But what about standards of performance or how the job should be done?

Companies who have implemented ISO 9000 understand that one of the requirements for attaining ISO certification is to have a written description of all business processes.  They may be in the form of a process map or simply in paragraphs. Building on job descriptions, these processes tell employees how to do the tasks inherent in their jobs and how to handle different kinds of situations.

When I was a summer student, I worked as a shift chemist in a smelting plant and did assays on the incoming ore and intermediate process material to help guide the operation of the plant. I operated a piece of equipment that performed these assays electronically. On night shift one night,  the machine went down, but assays still needed to be done.  Fortunately, someone had considered this possibility and created written instructions on what to do.  There were detailed descriptions of how to do the assays with “wet chemical” tests, and I was able to complete the shift and submit my assays on time and accurately.

Although I was technically a temporary employee with limited experience, the written instructions developed by the employer allowed me to complete my tasks and handle what otherwise could have been a chaotic situation.

Another aspect of knowing how to do the job right is performance standards or other metrics. Not only should these be defined, they should also be measureable and tracked.

We used to have a standard that incoming phone calls were to be answered within 3 rings so clients could feel we were responsive to their needs. A grocery store cashier could have a standard of 99% accuracy in the pricing they entered. A sales person in a call centre might have a standard of making 60 calls an hour.

These standards need to be realistic. For the grocery store cashier, 100% would be unrealistic, so some recognition that no employee is perfect helps. Considering most grocery products are bar coded, 99% might not be a bad standard. For the sales person, our suggested 60 calls an hour represents one call per minute.  That might not be realistic if the pitch takes more than a minute on average.

The company must have systems in place to help enable employees to meet the standard. For the call centre salesperson, the company should probably have automated dialling and a list of people/numbers to call so the sales person can focus their efforts on their primary task – making calls.

When employees have a clear understanding of their jobs, they’re more likely to do them right, with fewer mistakes.  Your customers will be happier….and so will your employees.