Employee Engagement has been niggling at me. Something doesn’t seem quite right about the whole area: from surveys to programs.
It became clear when I heard a Senior Executive say she wanted to engage employees more. It sounded like what she really wanted was for them to do more of what she wanted them to do; and to do it with enthusiasm. That’s doing it to people; not with them. Maybe that’s why they’re not engaged.
In Engaging the Soul at Work, Lewin and Regine state,
“…trying to influence people to believe in what they are doing, without seeing who the person is, wanting them to be something for you rather than recognizing them for who they are, is an act of imposition, not engagement. To be blunt, it’s dehumanizing.”
Instead of wanting to engage employees more, how can you make room for their unique gifts and talents? How can you invite them to contribute what inspires them? If you are recognizing them for who they are, the perceived need for a survey, initiative or program to encourage engagement with fade and people will be called to engage.
I’m sitting in the Red Bird wine and scotch bar in Truro, Nova Scotia enjoying a drink after a delicious meal. Steve and Marlene own the Redbird. Steve tends bar while Marlene is the chef. No one “waits” on tables; no one is a “server”. Both Steve and Marlene are gracious hosts who welcome everyone to the Red Bird and create a comfortable experience for them.
Certainly there are some regulars and you would expect that they would feel comfortable here. But I live in Surrey, B.C. and that’s a long way from Truro. I’m here on business and visiting the Redbird for about the 6th time in four trips over the past 18 months. Not quite a regular but not my first visit. Both Steve and Marlene know my name, my wife’s name, that I have grandkids, and my preference for red wine and McCallan scotch. They know this because they’re interested in me, what I do and what I care about. I’m not a “table” or the “chicken parm”.
Marlene makes a great meal (don’t’ worry about whether it’s on the menu, if we have the ingredients we’d be happy to make it for you) and Steve is a wealth of information about scotches and wines – where they’re from and how they’re made and world supply and demand. He is also a distant relative of Karl Creelman who rode his Redbird bicycle around the world in 1902.
I’m not sure if Marlene and Steve are clear about their unique gifts and talents but what they create is so welcoming and comfortable, I visit every time I’m in Truro. I’m clear that’s a gift of theirs whether they know it or not. Everyone has unique gifts and strengths but often they’re not aware of what those gifts are. Often your idea of who you are and your greatest contribution doesn’t line up with others’ experience of you because you find it so natural.
Your greatest contribution is often easy or automatic; you can’t imagine doing it any other way. You see, others have the best view of the difference you make just by showing up. While you can see the difference others make just by showing up but you can’t clearly see the difference you make. You can’t see it because you don’t see what it was like before you arrived, how it changed when you arrived and what happened after you left. Only others see that. So whether we’re talking about your presence at a meeting, a family dinner or while you’re passing through on this planet, get interested in the difference you make just by showing up. It’s not about what you do; it’s about who you are.
Become more of who you are; enjoy making your unique contribution; then make more of that, more intentionally.
Here are a couple of great comments generated by my earlier post on coaching.
This is a great article that hits on some very real issues. I agree that while not everyone wants to do what it takes to change the game, there are some managers that want to change the game and may even be willing to put their ass on the line for it but don’t see a realistic way of achieving it. For example, I come across managers on a regular basis that have passion for raising the game of their direct reports, but see it only achievable as a trade-off… “I would love to have the time to be able to put my ass on the line, but I have a job to do as well.” They think that it would be easy to double someone’s effectiveness if that was ‘all’ they had to do. In these cases the challenge comes not from a lack of willingness but from a place of misunderstanding where managers do not see their primary responsibilities as ensuring the success of their direct reports. They do not live in a way where it is already their job, with their asses already on the line to have the “work” as the opportunity to engage, inspire, and light-up their direct reports. To live as, “if my staff fail, it is impossible for me to succeed” level of commitment.
This is not surprising as most managers do not and did not have “coaches” that have provided this for them. It is now time to live this understanding (and)… to make this commitment… we have just never been accountable to ourselves and others for doing our real jobs.
Interesting, but I think there are some other angles. What about the other side, the employee has to want and to be willing to commit to improve an equal degree or the manager is pushing an awful big rock uphill?
And what about employees who really are performing well, and the status quo is good for the employee and the company? Perhaps this steady state is the best thing ; the employee may find that suits them, and the company needs that role filled on a perpetual basis. It’s similar to the general business rule that if your company is not growing, it’s dying. I disagree, there are definitely situations where steady-state is the best state.
However, your description of assessments and how they happen is bang on (where I work). Its a hidden system in that the process is shrouded and secretive, and it’s unclear often how evaluations are done. Its unclear if they have any value at all . I think they don’t; I’ve never got anything out of them in the last three years.
There is one thing more powerful than all the coaching models, approaches and certifying organizations put together.
That one essential key is hindered by almost all organizational performance appraisal, performance assessment, performance development or what-have-you systems and processes. The typical performance appraisal system puts the manager in the position of assessing and judging the employee. Separate from them, overlooking, deciding, giving them their score. There is no requirement to make a significant commitment to the employee. Sometimes there is a commitment to provide developmental opportunities but rarely have I seen a manager commit to the employee that their performance will improve.
From the sidelines you watch and judge. “From the French judge, a 6.9”.
Imagine this scenario: A manager says to her boss and her colleagues, “Let this employee work for me for a year and I promise they will be twice as effective as they are now. If they don’t achieve that, cut my pay in half and don’t let me supervise anyone again.”
Now that’s commitment – a level of commitment that’s a game-changer. Now you’ve got something at stake. You are in the game with the employee and with a commitment to improving performance. To make this bet you may need more development than your employee. That way everyone wins!
If you have some employee whose performance needs to improve, and you’re not willing to make the bet, either you or the employee ought to leave now and save everyone from the torture of being stuck in a job going nowhere.
But then, not everyone wants to change the game. Not every assessor, evaluator, judge, Monday-morning-quarterback wants to risk putting their own ass on the line.
Do you trust that through conversation, people can hear what’s valid and worthwhile and can begin to hear how they can contribute? Or are you trying to manipulate them like pieces on a chessboard? Are you trying to get people on the same page, to get them to agree, to get them to do . . . anything? For you, are people like Pokemon cards, with all of their skills and powers listed on the back — you just flip through them to find out who they are, or trade them away if the offer is good?
Manipulation with good intentions is still manipulation. Manipulation demeans both the manipulator and the person you are trying to manipulate. Consider this: people might not resist change at all. Maybe they resist being demeaned by manipulation.
When you think you “know” who someone else it; or “know” their skills and talents as if it couldn’t be different, you are being affected by two blind spots. First, “knowing” who they “are” misses the possibility of who they could become and defeats development. Second, you miss noticing the impact you have by relating to them that way — as an unchanging “thing”.
If you want people to grow and develop, stop manipulating them. Instead, consider developing yourself in the area of communication. That will be a much better investment than more slyly skillful manipulation.