I will freely admit to being a Malcolm Gladwell fan. I have enjoyed all of his books. Unlike his critics I don’t see him as a scientist as much as a social commentator. He makes observations about things that he sees and comments on them.
Perhaps some of the reason I enjoy Gladwell as well as Seth Godin and Dan Pink is that I find their observations interesting and the fact that I am a social commentator as well.
Over the last three and a half decades I have continued to be at my core human resources professional although my path has taken me from human resources generalist to executive to c level executive to management consultant and coach.
The reason I say I have remained true to my calling is because what drew me as a young undergraduate continues to draw me- exploring how to build better relationships between individuals and organizations. I remain firmly convinced that the organization that acquires, retains, and aligns their talent best prevails in every industry. Unlike 35 years ago now there is evidence to support my belief!
It does wryly amuse me that as an industrial society we still shy away from this. We still want to honor the memory of Frederick W. Taylor, the “father” of scientific management, and manage people like we manage other inanimate assets.
We still call things like communications, giving and receiving feedback, setting appropriate expectations and coaching soft skills.
Even after a millennium we still do a poor job of ensuring that candidates for leadership and management are not at least competent if not proficient in those skills.
There remains a significant cohort that embraces the idea that leaders are born not made. I do accept that some individuals have a natural proclivity towards leadership; just as other have natural athleticism. Similar to athletics, every leader doesn’t have to play at the professional level…
The latest tempest in a tea pot is the arrival of the Millennial generation as the largest cohort in the workplace and the proliferation of their characteristics and how to and not to manage them.
I find that wisdom pretty lame. They are no more one size fits all than any other generation. They are influenced by their environment just like we all were.
The Tipping Point I am hoping for is that employers recognize that employee engagement, giving employees an opportunity to “join up” rather than comply is a far superior strategy and more importantly it is a culture not a program.
There has been a lot of information about how engagement strategy is a waste of time and energy and merely a fad. Most of that has been written by organizations that looked at engagement as a program and delegated to the HR department with minimal real change in any of the underlying culture or processes.
Unfortunately in the majority of organizations the human resources department’s primary function is compliance. They are score keepers not consultants so delegating responsibility for engagement to them is an epic fail.
My experience has taught me that there are a couple of key ways to create and sustain engagement:
- Hire the right people. I talk and write a lot about things like building a foundation based on trust, respect, and congruency. The reason I do that is because those characteristics of a culture have been proven over and over again to generate outcomes we want.
- Invest in front line leadership. The criticality of front line management shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. Heskett talked extensively about the impact of even one bad manager in his book The Service Profit Chain, and it has been discussed extensively by others as well. Employees have different expectations of their manager/supervisor than previously. The concept of manager as boss is severely outdated. Employees expect their manager to partner with and coach them in their career.
- Engagement is a culture, not a program and it doesn’t belong to or live in HR. If you ask most human resource professionals what their critical contribution to their organization is the vast majority will answer compliance. Compliance isn’t engaging, it represents the bottom rung of the trust ladder being based on authority and rules.
- Engagement is not a survey. If you have no intention of making meaningful changes don’t annoy your employees by asking them to respond to a survey. Pre-survey they might give you the benefit of ignorance. Post survey they know you are either incompetent or apathetic.
- Although leadership and management are a continuum and every manager doesn’t have to be an enlightened leader every manager must be competent at some core skill sets among which I include; setting clear expectations, giving and receiving feedback constructively, diagnosing performance issues and taking appropriate corrective action, coaching to optimize performance, and creating line of sight between organizational and individual goals. These skill sets are critical to every management role. The bad news is they don’t teach these in business school or most university curriculums of any discipline.
- The best organizations have a clearly defined employment brand. An employment brand clearly identifies for current and prospective employees what you are about. It is reinforced in hiring, training, performance management, and the reward system. Every organization has an employment brand; superior organizations are managing theirs proactively.
The reasons for executing an engagement strategy should be pretty clear:
- The economy is improving. Finding and keeping talent is becoming critical again, employees have choices and they will act on them.
- The “new” generations see themselves as much more of an equal partner in the employment relationship. They will not settle for the old model.
- Engaged organizations outperform their competitors in every key performance metric from per capita productivity to shareholder return and profitability.
So maybe, just maybe we can get to a place where managing people and talent rather than human capital becomes more than a fad….