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.
“Best Practices” are like fingernails on a blackboard. I’m physically uncomfortable when I hear people blindly promoting best practices. And we’d all be better off if it made everyone uncomfortable. There are two major difficulties with the idea of Best Practices.
Who says what’s best?
Who is the authority and by what standard does anyone say what’s “best”? Who can say what’s best: in the world; in the world for all time; for our small local organization at this point in time; in what culture? Best for what, who, when, where?
David Creelman, writing in PeopleTalk magazine says, “Outstanding companies often have unorthodox HR practices.” Best to be unorthodox? Not in all cases I’m sure. But it’s certainly not an not an argument for “same”.
In 2005, Vancouver cardiologist John Webb developed a procedure for replacing defective heart valves with a catheter rather than with open heart surgery. Best Practice in 2004 was no longer best in 2005. What will be best practice next?
Which leads us to the second issue.
We’re OK, we’re following best practices
“Betterment is a perpetual labor”, says surgeon Atul Gawande in his book, Better. In October, 2010 The Globe and Mail encourages workplaces to try out “a single new idea”; to experiment “with just one idea”.
The idea that there is a Best Practice tempts us to relax while continuing to develop is exactly what’s called for.
Best Practice? Get rid of the idea of best practices. It’s more like, best-we’ve-seen-for-us-so-far-at-this-point-in-time-and-we’re-continuing-to-experiment practices.
“I don’t know how” is an excuse to let yourself off the hook. After all if you don’t know how, how can anyone hold you responsible; how can it be your fault? What can you do about it… you just don’t know how.
If “I don’t know how” also includes “yet”… as in “I don’t know how yet” well that’s a different story. But in today’s world it seems to pass without question when people say, “I don’t know how.” If the pioneers said, “I don’t know how” they might as well have been saying, “I’m dead”. When Kennedy committed the U.S. to getting to the moon and back safely; he didn’t know how and neither did anyone else.
Do you really think “I don’t know how” carries much weight when you have so many resources at your finger tips? I don’t know how to solve quadratic equations. Want to learn? I don’t know how to transfer apps to my new iPhone. Really? I don’t know how to change the transmission in a ’57 Chevy. Do you want to know? And how about your Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, Amazon books and Google searches?
I’m reminded of a Dilbert cartoon where Wally says he does good work when he puts his mind to it. Asked if he’ll put his mind to it now, he replies, “Wow. Good follow-up question.”
“I don’t know how” needs a few good follow-up questions. Here are some to get you started:
Will you find out how?
Who can show you how?
When will you find out how?
What makes you think that it depends on “knowing how”; what if it depends more on your commitment, openness to learning and developing along the way?
What if no one “knows how” and it will require some courage, experimenting and debriefing to discover what’s working and what’s not?
Someone told me the other day that they didn’t know how to be more intentional. Which, of course, is nonsense. Any 5 year old knows how to be intentional. They keep working at it, keep asking, keep trying different strategies, keep practicing until either they either ride that bike or let it go for now. Surely you haven’t taken steps backwards since you were five.
What if it has nothing to do with knowing how and everything to do with your interest, courage and commitment? What if it has more to do with practice? What if your assessment of whether you “know how” is based more on your ridiculous expectation that you should be able to become world class on your third try?
Where are you stopping yourself from trying because you don’t know how? What will you do about it?
In my previous blog post I expressed amazement at the lack of even thinking about service at a Victoria restaurant. Unrelated and unexpectedly on Wednesday I was copied on an email Scott Macpherson wrote to everyone in his organization acknowledging Anita Barker for her client focus.
Scott runs TrainingPort. Together with his team, they provide customized business aviation safety and operational training across North America from their base at Vancouver Airport.
Scott says, about a client who is leaving, “This Company has been a client for a year now and was a hard-won client at that. It took over a year to earn their trust and they are all satisfied with our content, system and service. However, they are our first client to not renew.” It turns out that the Aviation Manager wanted to test the competition.
In closing out the file and training records, Anita discovered that a new pilot was starting at This Company and on her own initiative, set up the new pilot up as a trainee on the system until the end of the contract.
In a business whose biggest challenge is serving the tremendous growth they are experiencing (a well-earned challenge) an employee goes the extra mile to continue serving a client who is leaving. Others may be tempted to focus on the new clients, or those who are staying.
Now Scott, do you offer training for restaurants? Or Telus?
A bit of a theme is emerging here: Who are you serving? Are you going the extra mile or telling them to go away and come back in 10 minutes?
Or (Telus) telling the customer you will let them know in about two weeks how much longer they will have to wait for a land-line and internet service. After committing to provide the service!
We have two lines to serve you. The first line is to tell you how long the second line is. The second line is for the service we committed to!
My wife and were recently in Victoria for a week. While we have spent a bit of time there, we don’t have much local knowledge so we asked the friendly folks at the front desk of the Coast Hotel to recommend some dinner spots to try. Pagliacci’s was an excellent choice as was Sen Zushi. Both had excellent food and great service; we loved them.
At the end of an afternoon of walking around the city we dropped in to another recommended dinner spot. We went down the stairs from the street, through the open door and waited a short time at the host station before someone arrived. They told us that they were not open yet and wouldn’t be open for another 10 minutes.
There are probably hundreds of things (well, a dozen or so) he could have said at this point but the one he chose was, “You will have to go back up the steps, walk around for another 10 minutes and then come back.”
Apparently it didn’t occur to him to say something like…
“If you don’t mind having a seat at this table, we’ll be ready to serve you in about 10 minutes.”
“I can bring you a glass of water and a menu to look at, and a server will be with you in about 10 minutes when we open.”
“You can pick any table you want, relax for a few minutes with a menu and we’ll be right with you as soon as our servers arrive.”
The must be making a mint because they certainly didn’t want our business. We did part of what they said… we walked back up the steps.
You are here to serve something beyond yourself. What are you honoring? Who are you serving?