Archive for October, 2007

Permeating Negativity

Monday, October 29th, 2007

Here is an interesting question regarding the battling of negativity that flows from the top of the organization…

I’m an HR Generalist in a small company and am disturbed with the amount of negativity that has flooded the company lately or how bad employees feel about working here. Most of the concerns are actually expressed by company top-level execs, stating their skepticism that the environment can ever be changed. If this is how the company’s feels, I truly wonder if any of my effort is worth the time. The primary issues seem to be that the company’s owners feels that there is no need for extra incentives or rewards and that the employees should be honored to work here. They provide no support for any employee programs. The senior leadership feels poorly treated by the owners and they seem to pass this poor treatment on to the employees.

I have experience in helping organizations transform their reputation towards their talent and a great desire to help solve this problem, but my boss has made it clear that I should not intervene in this manner. Could you suggest any strategies to address this situation?

Don’t give up just yet. You seem like you are up for this challenge, based upon your experience and expressed desire to make this situation better. The process of moving your firm towards focusing on employee engagement and retention will not be an easy one. However, please keep in mind that the very fact that you were hired with the resume you have says that someone in senior management recognized that you possess a unique level of expertise that would be valuable to have in their company.

Your first step is to breathe deeply and take the necessary time to assess the entire situation realistically and thoroughly for yourself. Resist the temptation to jump to conclusions or over-react to the situation. This will be difficult because it is an issue that you are clearly passionate about. But driving significant, meaningful transformation inside a change-averse environment takes a great deal patience and effort. In order for you to truly get the company’s top-level executives’ to pay proper attention to this matter and have confidence in your recommendations, it is imperative that you always appear level headed, pragmatic, and balanced.

Perhaps one key problem you might be facing is the simple fact that you are presenting an extremely unwieldy issue that is difficult to define and always tends to be mired in opinions and qualified data. Clearly you will need a persuasive, fact-based approach to get your senior management on board and supporting your efforts. A comprehensive, independently administered employee attitude survey might do wonders to put some much-needed structure, facts, and definition to the perceived morale problem. It might also provide important guidance in creating a prioritized plan for improvement, as well as an ongoing tool to measure the improvements that are made.

A good survey can be costly and gaining management approval to execute one is going to be a significant challenge in itself. You need to develop and formally present a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis that highlights the risks of not performing the survey and underscores the potential tangible and intangible benefits over the long term. Simply put, you need to carefully build your case.

If the long-term economics of the situation are presented in a balanced manner, the ownership will get on board, particularly if you utilize available metrics that are easily comparable to other firms. Lean on your CFO for help in compiling data that are appropriate for your firm and industry. Examples might be your firm’s historical employee turnover and turnover cost, as well as “per employee” productivity. You might take the dollars you are projecting to save from reduced turnover and increased productivity and add that to the profit from your prior year to see the overall impact of improving employee engagement.

Regarding the cost side of the equation, between direct expenses (such as recruiting, interviewing and training), indirect costs (effect on worker’s who stay, increased workload, and customer satisfaction) and opportunity costs (lost employee knowledge, existing work that could be performed without the burden of constant rehiring activity), the total cost of employee replacement is likely to run twice that of the previous employee’s annual salary. Another rarely discussed intangible cost of employee turnover is the loss of value inherent to lost relationships between co-workers, employees and vendors, employees and customers, etc. which are extremely valuable and, in many cases irreplaceable..

Use readily available data to show the link between high employee morale and corporate profitability. For example, a recent survey by Sirota Survey Intelligence reflected that the stock prices of companies in which over 70% of the employees expressed overall satisfaction with their employer outperformed similar companies in their same industries by a 2.5 to 1 ratio.

Once you have your written analysis reviewed and updated, then you will need to formally present your case to your firm’s CEO. Your approach must continue in line with your written analysis-persuasive, fact based, and concise. Remember to keep your focus on gaining approval for a survey and remain open to the possibility that the survey might reflect that a serious problem amongst the majority of employees might not, in fact, exist.

This will be one of the pivotal moments in this process for you. If you feel that your presentation was worthy of an approval for the survey and the ownership declines, then you need to reassess your position in the firm and whether you are a good fit within its existing (and future) culture. If the survey is approved, then you should feel proud that you have successfully begun to build the organizational momentum necessary to proceed to the next level of this process.

Once survey results are in, you will have reached your next decision point. Should the results bear out the negativity and associated issues that you have sensed, you will have the necessary fodder to begin to drive change in your organization. If the results do not indicate general employee malaise, then you will again have to assume that what exists will continue into the future and make your personal career decisions accordingly. In either case, you should be content in knowing that have done your level best to identify, quantify, and create a positive view of employee engagement for the benefit of the firm and the employees who work there.

Do you have an issue at your company regarding employee engagement or retention. Write us at communicate@themostimportantelement.com and we’ll try our hardest to get you some answers!

Motivating Without Money

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

A manager recently submitted the following question:

“In dealing with the subject of reward and recognition for my sales representatives, my organization is limiting me on the amount of compensation I can reward. What can I do to motivate my people to perform more effectively with the current constraint of not being able to offer additional compensation?”

If Money Talks, What Is It Saying?
If you choose to accept the classic theories of motivation by Maslow, Herzberg, and Schein (and even those by more current thought leaders like Ken Thomas or Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman), pay and benefits can be extreme ‘de-motivators’ when judged to be not up to standard, but actually do little to improve engagement or retention once they are perceived by the employee to be at an acceptable level. Thomas suggests that it is important to remember that, for most people, money is not the end goal, but is, in fact, the means to satisfy other needs of the person. Unless the current salary is viewed as unfair in some way (or a critical or threatening monetary need arises), it is probably important to try to understand exactly why ‘money talks’ to a particular employee. Digging deeper might result in some ‘meatier’ needs – a desire for meaningful work, a need for recognition and to feel valued, a need to learn and grow, a need for acceptance and a supportive environment, a need to be able to trust and relate to leadership, and the ability to make a difference or have an impact on the organization, etc.

Just Ask
The concept of simply asking is an extremely sound suggestion, with strong support from subject matter experts such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and the team of Beverly Kaye & Sharon Jordan-Evans. I would highly recommend Kaye and Jordan-Evan’s book “Love ‘Em or Lose ‘Em: Getting Good People to Stay” or Buckingham and Coffman’s “First Break All the Rules” for some immediate action-oriented suggestions.

If It’s Not My People, Then What Is It?

Looking closely at how (and if) the job is designed for success (is the process sound, are the required tools provided, is there the opportunity for autonomy/empowerment, the ability to apply creativity, etc.), is also critical in stimulating employee motivation. To quote James O’Toole and Edward Lawler from the book “The New American Workplace”, “Managers today often fail to realize that the most successful efforts to increase worker motivation involve the design of work itself.”

In The Employee’s Control

With that said, the answer will most likely be found in the supporting and building of intrinsic motivation in each of your employees individually. To clarify, intrinsic motivation and associated rewards (as opposed to the shorter-term provided extrinsic rewards) are long term in nature and are derived by the employee directly from the work itself. Unlike the proverbial ‘carrot and stick’, intrinsic motivation is not under the company’s control.

Douglas McGregor proposed that a person is inherently motivated to pursue what they need in life and that, in order to keep one motivated as an employee, a manager should strive to provide them with an environment in which they can fulfill their inherent needs while achieving the company’s goals. Author Gary Heil said in an interview that people generally want to be strong contributors and perform meaningful work, but in most organizations there is simply not enough meaning in the work beyond the external rewards provided, to give them the incentive to move away from their own self-interest and towards making sacrifices for the good of their company. Teresa Amabile stated that intrinsic motivation comes from inside the person and is characterized by passion, interest, challenge and the simple joy derived from performing the task at hand.

Therefore, making sure that:

a.) the employee is in a job that is aligned with his/her skills,
b.) the job provides continuous challenges, stimulation, and opportunity for personal development and goal attainment,
c.) the job provides a level of autonomy in achieving goals is provided,
d.) the employee feels as if they play an integral role in the company’s mission,
e.) management provides continuous feedback and prompt recognition for performance,


…are really all key factors that positively impact a person’s intrinsic motivation.

Both Thomas and Buckingham/Coffman have broken down the concept of intrinsic motivation factors into nice, easily digestible chunks. Thomas looks at intrinsic motivation in terms of four types of rewards-a sense of choice (job autonomy), a sense of meaningfulness (in one’s work), a sense of competence, and a sense of progress (task). Buckingham and Coffman describe the Gallup Q12 as a series of 12 questions that progressively evaluate and employee’s personal level of job engagement and motivation.

The Path Less Taken
Digging deep into the real motivation, strengths, and needs of each of your employees on an individual basis is, by far, the hardest approach for you to take. It is, as some claim, far easier to throw money at the problem and hope for the best in the short term. But I truly believe that, in the long run, the time that you invest in this process will result in, not only a more engaged team, but in perhaps in increased sense of engagement and motivation for yourself.

Topics from the Media

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Recently, the TMIE staff saw an interesting column in the business section of The Dallas Morning News. The article, titled “Boss’ Schedule Request is Reasonable” was written by Marie G. McIntyre and appeared on page 2D of the 9/12/07 issue. Given the fact this this blog is aimed at opening up discussions regarding the subject of employee engagement, we thought we’d share it with you and see what you think.

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Boss’ Schedule Request is Reasonable
by Marie G. McIntyre

After my supervisor retired, I was promoted to fill his position. He had a special arrangement with one employee that allowed her to come in early and leave early. However, no one ever knew exactly what time she arrived at work.

When the owner promoted me, he said that I must put this woman on the same schedule as everyone else. I’m not sure how to approach her about changing her hours. How can I fix this without losing the employee?

(Signed) Caught in the Middle

Like many new supervisors, you’re suffering from “imposter syndrome”: Because you don’t yet feel like a manager, some basic supervisory tasks seem rather daunting.

Your boss has made his expectations clear, so you must tell this employee that different work hours are no longer allowed. You can say that this directive came from the owner, but you need to explain and support his decision.

For example: “I know you had a special arrangement with our former boss. But since varying schedules create confusion, the owner wants everyone to work the same hours. So I need for you to start coming in at 9 and staying till 5.”

This request is not unreasonable. If she has unique and unavoidable circumstances, consider discussing them with your boss. Otherwise, be sympathetic but firm.

Give her a week to adjust child care or transportation plans. Then monitor her hours to be sure she complies with the policy. If she refuses, talk with the owner about next steps.

Unless this employee has irreplaceable abilities, don’t worry about losing her. If she chooses to leave, you’ll simply find someone who can work the required hours.

(From the Dallas Morning News, Wednesday, September 12, 2007 Column from Tribune Media Services)

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How might you address this situation? Would you have handled this as the columnist suggests or in a different manner? Please share your views in the form of a comment or e-mail.