With this post, we’re reaching the end of our series on employee engagement.
As an older job-seeker, I frequently was asked how long I planned to continue working. While I think this was a way to side-step around asking me my age, I usually took it at face value. My answer was that I’d continue to work as long I was learning something.
When I look back at my career, the companies where I stayed the longest were the ones where I was learning new things – and, coincidentally, where I felt I had the most fun.
At one company, it was learning how to compete effectively against a giant like Procter & Gamble. At Lawson Mardon, the corporate culture revolved around the study of management, leadership and strategy. When I worked for Plasmatreat, it was an introduction to nanotechnology and learning about a lot of leading-edge manufacturing processes in dynamic industries such as aerospace and medical devices.
Ironically, when Gallup analyzed the effects of the Q12 on four different dimensions – turnover, productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction – they found that giving employees the opportunity to grow and develop did not correlate with reduced turnover. Instead, they suggest growth opportunities are more strongly correlated with increased company profitability.
In our experience, while it’s true that employees switch companies to escape bad bosses or for higher salaries, it can just as easily be true that the employee has accomplished as much as they can hope to do with that employer and the only way to continue professional development is to move to another company.
One recruiter I know, who works in the CPG sector, moved people routinely from one kind of company to another: from Food to Personal Care products or Household Product; from large companies to smaller ones. To some extent, the moves were induced to help the recruiter earn more fees; from the perspective of the employees, it gave them broader exposure – to different industries, competitors, channels – that would render them more highly marketable. The average tenure in CPG marketing was about 2 years – about the time it takes to go through one complete budget cycle and come away with demonstrable results. I was placed by this recruiter multiple times and I can honestly say I benefitted from the exposure to different industries and corporate cultures.
What You Can Do
One thing you can consider doing is expanding the scope of each employee’s job so they experience new challenges.
Cross-training is one way of doing this, and it helps your organization by enabling employees to be more flexible and versatile so, when someone leaves the company or is on vacation, you have people already trained to fit into the vacant jobs.
This is easier to do in a larger company than a smaller one because there are simply more roles available to move someone into. That’s not to say it’s impossible to do in a smaller company. In small companies, one way to create growth opportunities for employees is to promote them so they can take on more responsibility.
We tend to think of employee development in a managerial context, developing the proverbial mail-room clerk so he/she can become CEO. But not all employees are good at managing people and some simply don’t want to take on that kind of responsibility. For employees who have no desire to enter management ranks, consider developing a “professional” track whereby they can take on increasingly more challenging projects or become subject-matter experts without having any direct reports. It’s a way to recognize their contribution to the company while allowing them to develop their professional skills. We had such a system in place at Esso, where you could find engineers who were experts on highly specialized topics such as fluid dynamics or catalysts.
Encourage your employees to acquire more knowledge. Have a program whereby the company provides some degree of financial support when an employee successfully completes a formal outside course.
Encourage your employees to achieve professional certification in their respective areas. This especially applies to employees on the professional career track.
Next week, we’ll wrap up the series with a summary. We’ll be compiling all the posts in this series into a White Paper so you can have the entire series in a single document.
If you think, from the title of this post, that you’ve already got this topic covered off because you do annual performance appraisals, then think again.
If you’re only meeting with employees once a year to discuss their career progress, you’re not doing enough to truly engage your employees.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t be doing annual performance reviews, but one problem with doing these once a year is that employees don’t have a lot of faith that the process is intended to help them in their careers and that the annual performance review is just “management’s” way of controlling salary increases.
An annual performance review is also very stressful for both employee and manager. Employee’s hate to get them; Managers hate to do them. Sounds like a process gone wrong.
The Gallup Q12 questionnaire has one question that addresses feedback: “In the last six months, has someone at work talked to me about My progress?” Notice it’s not in the past year; it’s in the past 6 months.
Sometimes, it might be as simple as a quick Post-It or note written on a document that said something like, “Great job!” or “You can do better than this”. Note this isn’t used to only deliver positive feedback.
Something I used to do with my sales team was, when they landed a new account, I’d go see them, shake their hand and say something like, “Nicely done!” or “Way to go!” Usually, I’d also ask them how they managed to win over the account and what they expected to see in sales revenue.
With either of these approaches, there’s no monetary reward or punishment, simply some recognition and honest feedback – and it’s done close to the time the action was taken by the employee. I call it Management in the Moment.
The feedback doesn’t have to always be positive. It’s OK to criticize, but do it constructively. You’ll be helping your employees correct behaviours or processes so they get things right sooner. And you’ll see positive results in company performance.
Something else my best bosses did was periodically take me out to lunch. Sometimes, it was to discuss a project I’d been working on or to talk about an issue at work. Other times, it might just be to have a friendly chat about how things are going. What’s special about this approach is that it’s informal and done in a relaxing environment.. But it’s still Management in the Moment.
When I had a sales team, I promised I would take them out to lunch every month that they collectively exceed quota. The business portion of our lunch was simply saying, “Way to go, everyone. Thanks for exceeding quota.” and an unwritten rule was that we wouldn’t talk business over this team lunch. It was really a team building exercise because everyone got to go to lunch, and nobody wanted to be the one who was below quota. I think we only missed a few lunches in my time, and never two in a row. I think this was part of the reason our Division was the top performer in our company.
One of the best people I know who used lunches effectively was a colleague, Misha Sivan. When we were working on a data warehouse project together, if we had a stretch goal, Misha would say to the development team we’d take them out for lunch if they delivered on that goal. That project was completed inside 16 weeks from concept to live and the lunches were not just ways to rewarding goal achievements, they also served as a way to build team cohesion and spirit.
The underlying principle through all of this is the delivery of feedback on a regular basis, not just once a year. I think most people appreciate acknowledgement of their efforts and achievements and sometimes it’s the little things, such as those notes or lunches, that they appreciate the most. And, when the time comes to do the annual performance review that HR wants on file, there should be no surprises because feedback has been delivered. It’s just a matter of collecting and summarizing in the performance review report.
What You Can Do
- Get out of your office on a daily basis to interact with your staff. It also signals you’re approachable if they need help.
- Catch them doing things right, and let them know you’re pleased with the job they’ve done.
- When an employee has done a nice job on a report, send back a copy with a handwritten note or even just some comments written in the margins.
- Even if the report isn’t great, write in some comments to show where they could have done better and maybe suggest other ways they could have done things.
Giving informal feedback on a regular basis has two very positive effects: you reinforce good behaviours so employees keep doing them and you help them change negative behaviours sooner than if you waited a year for their next performance review. By making your employees feel they are valued, you really help them become engaged in their work.
We’ve been focusing lately on factors that can really motivate people to perform their best.
The sixth question in the Q12 is “Is there anyone at work who encourages my development?”
In our last post, we described how employees want to feel their managers care about them as individuals. And, as individuals, each employee has his or her own expectations of what their career can be.
I don’t think anyone wants to work in a repetitive role or task. Some are more comfortable with the status quo and don’t have lofty ambitions to progress further. Others see careers as ladders, to be mounted one rung at a time, and expect to be in the job role for only a short while before moving up to the next level. The majority are probably somewhere in between.
Most managers associate the term “employee development” with identifying and promoting employees through the ranks to senior management, But development doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to promotion up the ladder. It’s more about helping employees realize their potential. From a manager’s perspective, we need to ensure our employees are developed to the point where they are able to optimize their contribution to the organization.
We should identify courses that can help develop skills and/or knowledge in particular areas. We also should be thinking about projects and other work assignments that can enable employees to gain experience beyond their current responsibilities. There could be opportunities for job rotation so employees get a feel for how other jobs relate to the ones they’ve been doing.
But a central principle is that there needs to be ongoing dialogue with the employee to discuss their goals and potential so that, as managers, we can help them realize those goals. An annual performance review is simply not adequate for achieving this. With an ongoing dialogue, it’s analogous to reviewing progress and getting feedback from the employees in real time. And this ongoing dialogue can be perceived by employees as a way that managers can demonstrate how they care about their employees.
Some companies have defined development paths for employees. I don’t think the Executive Track needs much explanation. Some companies have implemented something like a “Professional Track” whereby employees can become subject matter experts in their fields – engineering, sales, IT and so on. People on the professional track don’t necessarily take on responsibilities for managing people. Some of them recognize they don’t have a talent for leading others; some just don’t want to assume that type of responsibility.
Progressing along a professional track might mean specialized courses to increase depth of knowledge in a topic area. It could also mean working on progressively more challenging projects. It also allows employees who follow this track to realize increases in compensation as they move from one level of expertise to the next. This can help retain employees with such valuable knowledge: they feel they are being recognized for their expertise and are being rewarded for further developing their expertise.
When employees feel their employer cares about them and helps them realize their potential, they’re much more likely to remain with that employer. The result is reduce hiring costs because the need to hire replacement workers is reduced and employees who are motivated to help their employer to succeed. The latter will manifest itself in improved productivity, innovation and customer satisfaction.
We’re currently focusing on four factors that can really motivate people to perform their best.
The fifth question in the Q12 is “Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?”
When you work for a large organization with many employees it can be easy to feel insignificant, but most employees want to feel valued by their employers and it’s hard to feel that way when you perceive yourself as just another cog inthe wheel.
There’s nothing more demoralizing than working for a boss who doesn’t seem to consider the feelings of his employees. You get asked to work extra hours at the worst possible times – like when your daughter has a music recital. Your boss yells at you when you complain about something, or she chews you out in front of other employees over a tiny mistake. When you have a manager who lacks any sense of caring for their employees, you usually see turnover as employees leave the company to distance themselves from these “managers”.
Something Gallup identified as a success factor in achieving employee engagement was that managers recognized their employees as unique individuals. Techniques to motivate people would vary from person to person because what might work for one might be ineffective on another employee.
It doesn’t mean a manager has to be friends with his employees. There is a need for some professional distance between manager and employee. But a manager needs to get to know her people well enough to understand what drives them, to be aware of what’s important to them to be able to tailor development activities or motivational techniques that match the employee’s personality and needs. Asking how a spouse or child is doing, talking about a favorite sport or activity – these are ways of asking open ended questions or having discussions that demonstrate an interest in the employee on the part of the manager.
I usually talk to people about music, pets and sports. My tastes in music are eclectic, so I find it easy to relate to each individual’s tastes and to talk about bands or composers the employee likes. People are usually passionate about pets, so asking about breed, behaviours and things like that draw people out in a way similar to how mothers talk about their children. With sports, knowing a favorite team or player can serve as a focal point for engaging in conversation with employees.
If knowing your employees as individuals is difficult for you, try this exercise. Create an Excel worksheet with the names of your employees in the first column. Head up the other columns with topics like “Spouse”, “Children’s names”, “Favorite baseball team”, “ Favorite music genre”, “Favorite band” etc. Now go out and talk with your employees so you can gradually fill in all the cells in your worksheet. If you’re able to add one or two items to the sheet each week for each employee, you’ll make a lot of progress – and watch how your employees respond.
We’re working right now on four factors that help motivate people to perform their best.
The fourth question in the Q12 is “In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?”
I think ALL employees like to feel their work is appreciated. That it makes a difference.
Think how you would feel if you thought you were doing a good job and your boss made you feel that that was just what was expected of you and never acknowledged the effort you put into your work. I think, if all employees hear is criticism, there comes a point at which they tune out and then the best employees decide to leave.
When was the last time you made some positive comments on the work done by one of your subordinates? We tend to hear more criticism than praise. I read a great quote about this, “Criticism is easy. Anyone can do it. It takes special grace to be an encourager.”
Some people think the way to recognize people’s accomplishments is to give them money. Certainly, it CAN make sense to use money as a reward for good work, but it’s not the ONLY way. Sometimes the best way to recognize someone’s work is through intangibles.
I read a story about a high achiever who received so many plaques and other awards that they had lost their meaning. When it came around to the annual sales meeting, his manager arranged for his family to be present when he was presented with his latest plaque for top performer. Having his family share in the experience meant more to him than the plaque he received. His manager was astute to see that the reward system was losing significance for this employee and, by reaching out to the employee’s family, he learned just what was important to this employee.
For my sales teams, I used to go around, shake their hands and say, “Way to go!” whenever one of them landed a new account. In my monthly report (which I shared with my sales personnel), I kept a chart that showed rankings for new account development in dollars and in numbers of accounts developed. There wasn’t a prize for being at the top of the list, but the competitive nature of sales people meant they wanted to be as close to the top of the list as they could. Maybe it’s not just coincidence that our Division was the most profitable division of 22 business units in our company.
Most people don’t expect to receive a gold star or plaque every day. I think the majority are just hoping to hear someone say something like, “Nice Work!”, “Good Job”, or “I really like how you did that” Giving praise like that, on a regular basis, is not that difficult to do. If you’re not doing this now, try it for a month to see what kind of response you get. You’ll most likely be pleasantly surprised.
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?”
Every 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.