What I’m reading now: Stop Trying to Control People or Make Them Happy

No amount of structures, processes, and systems are ever enough to anticipate the kinds of problems employees face everyday on the front line of the business. So, instead, companies need to give their employees more autonomy and, at the same time, encourage them — impel them, even — to cooperate with each other. Only then, when they are liberated in this way, will employees be able to make critical judgments, balance complex trade-offs, and come up with creative solutions to new problems.

Insights from the Employee Engagement Tweetchat

I recently hosted a tweetchat on employee engagement (to which I invited our employees to join) and had a great conversation about the factors effecting motivation, inspiration, satisfaction, and thus engagement. Below are a few of the key themes that emerged.

Employee satisfaction is a product of fulfillment and actualization

As Daniel Pink said, it’s surprising what motivates us. Studies identified three factors influencing performance: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It turns out; this same theme came up in our tweetchat. Satisfaction comes from feeling your work has purpose, a purpose that is meaningful to you, not necessarily to anyone else. Understanding the strengths, weaknesses, and interests of your employees then becomes critical. You can’t contribute to their fulfillment and actualization without understanding what drives them.

Recognition means more than you think

The great thing about recognition is that it doesn’t have to be complicated or costly to be effective. It doesn’t have to be monetary. It doesn’t have to be an award. It doesn’t even have to be a thank you. Not that these things aren’t valuable as well. “Recognition can be as simple as asking employees their opinion in working groups,” wrote Senior Managing Consultant, Michael Anton. So while recognition is an important component of developing an individual’s personal esteem, it really encompasses much more than you think.

If engagement is an issue, look at your leadership first

A question leaders should ask themselves is, “Am I creating or enabling barriers to engagement?” Perhaps you are wondering what that really means. As leaders we can create barriers or, at least, enable them by:

  • Not communicating long term and short term goals and how employees fit into those
  • Being closed off, not having an ear to employees needs (or what I call, “Living the open door policy”)
  • Perpetuating a culture that’s not oriented around employees
  • Developing an organizational vision that doesn’t align with employee values

What you do or don’t do as a leader has an impact on employee satisfaction. You should be the first source of motivation and inspiration for your people. If you want engaged employees, who are happy to come to work and excited to take on new projects, then you have to put them first. Your daily mantra needs to include, “how does this impact my employees,” “what will be expected of them,” and “what’s in it for them.”

If you’re not using collaborative tools, now’s the time to start

Collaborative tools are not the answer to employee engagement, but they are great way to add to the employee experience. There is a cultural shift that needs to be responded to, a move from one-sided communication to multi-directional collaboration. “Go where employees engage naturally and communicate with them directly,” wrote Workforce Transformation Consultant, Brittany Thompson. But not only do collaborative tools allow you to have these meaningful conversations with your employees all over the world, they also provide you the opportunity to identify experts and reposition them, which brings us back to helping your employees fulfill their purpose.

 

There is not a single formula for employee engagement. Adding a pool table and a nap room to your office won’t magically transform your workforce. Ultimately though, it’s not about the things, it’s about the people and how you treat them. As author and speaker, Shep Hyken, said during the tweetchat, “My Employee Golden Rule: Treat people you work with the way you want your customers treated, maybe even better.” And as far as employee satisfaction goes, I’d say that’s a great place to start.

Insights from the “Facing Challenges” Tweetchat

Last week I hosted my final tweetchat of 2012 on the topic of facing challenges in the workplace. I started the discussion with a question: “What is the number one challenge you face in the workplace?” Three key challenges emerged, and along with them, many ideas for overcoming them.

The 9 to 5, or 6, or 7, or…

The combination of mobile technology with increased work pressures and expectations has contributed to more people working more hours. While we appreciate increased flexibility, the additional workload can be daunting and at times even paralyzing.  However, there are strategies we can implement to manage our workloads, improve overall performance, and even make time for the little people (AKA your children). Managing your workload is really about managing your time, for example, setting appropriate boundaries for work and personal time or what I called in a previous post, managing “work/life imbalance.” Those in the tweetchat also had good ideas for time management. Strategy Consultant, Alan Howze, had recently been experimenting with “Living Your Calendar,” which takes your traditional to do list to the next level by helping to prioritize and set aside time for specific tasks, instead of focusing solely on urgent tasks while pushing aside important ones (a critical distinction).  The tweeters at Online Business Degree suggested breaking down projects and setting time limits on individual tasks. Moral is, if your workload is burning you out, and you find you don’t have time to do the things you love or really need to do, then take a good, hard look at your calendar, chances are it could be better organized.

Fear of Failure

“What will my boss think or say or even worse, do?” Often employees are afraid to speak up or take action, because they are concerned about the recourse. But as David Williams wrote in his recent article, “Employees who are afraid of something or someone in the organization will naturally close up to protect themselves, and can no longer perform at their full capacity.” Plain and simple, fear is a performance and innovation killer. However, leaders can play a significant role in reducing employee fears. As leaders, we should advocate for and truly live an “open door” policy. Give your employees the opportunity to get to know you and what you stand for. Walk the halls and introduce yourself to people you don’t know. As employees get to know their leaders, they become less afraid of them and more willing to contribute new ideas. As for the individual, consultant, Brianna Lux, had a whole different suggestion: Improv. Yes, I mean the “stage, mic, random acts of comedy” improv, and it turns out, Forbes agrees.

Employee Dissatisfaction

One of the greatest challenges an organization can face is employee dissatisfaction. Low morale contributes to equally low performance. I thought it would be better to ask the group what would improve employee satisfaction rather than propose ideas myself: “Provide a clear career path and encourage employees to engage mentors who can assist with their development,” wrote Adam Jelic, Workforce Transformation Lead. “Find what motivates your teams!” interjected Senior Managing Consultant, Bill Kirst.  While Alison Nickerson suggested, “Let people feel they can contribute and be a part of something.” Three very different ideas that prove there are many ways to overcome employee dissatisfaction – and for more ideas start by asking your employees.

For a conversation about challenges, and trust me, it wasn’t difficult for participants to name a few, it had a distinctly hopeful feeling. I think this gets at the question of why even have a conversation about something seemingly unpleasant? Hiding challenges will almost never make them go away, but acknowledging them and then collaboratively addressing them will not only eliminate the problem, but build camaraderie too.

Friday Fast Tip: Say Thanks

Saying “thank you” goes a long way. It’s easy to overlook and underestimate, but a simple thank you can mean a lot. An easy, quick, cost effective motivator, employee recognition doesn’t have to be complicated. Try sending hand written notes thanking people for their hard work, be specific about what they did and why it was important