5 Tips to Better Engage with Millennial Managers

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Millennials have long been a challenge for leaders who have been seeking to improve engagement and productivity in the workplace. With a preference for transparency, direct dialogue, better work-life balance, the millennials have challenged established organizational practices like no generation before them.

Now as the millennials take on managerial roles at the workplace, organizational leadership has to come up with strategies to better engage with them. Here are five tips based on what we at Kwench have learned from working with hundreds of companies on their employee engagement programs.

Tip 1: Listen Closely to your Millennial Managers.

Millennials are more candid at voicing their opinions, and they don’t necessarily seek anonymity to do so. Even in cultures where the power distance is higher as in India, the millennials are more likely to state their stand on issues upfront. Neither do they hesitate to show dissatisfaction by walking out of the organization. Surprisingly unlike previous generations, millennials don’t seem to change their approval of the organization as they move up the ladder (unless something changes fundamentally to alter their perception). Companies thus must institute mechanisms like open collaboration and communication platforms that adequately capture the opinions of the millennial managers and the vox millennia must be listened to.

Tip 2: Promote a culture of equality.

Studies have shown that millennials as a generational cohort demonstrate far higher levels of sensitivity to inequality than any of their predecessors. Managers in this generation like to win like anyone else, but they don’t necessarily agree to ‘win at all costs.” To better engage with managers of both genders from this generation, the workplace must be seen as one that is fair and equitable in all matters ranging from job allocations, pay, and promotions.

Tip 3: Get the employer branding right.

The millennial generation has proven to be one of the most astute and conscious generations when it comes to employer brand. One study shows that millennials who are proud to tell their friends and families about where they work are almost 20 times more likely to have an extended career with the company. Companies must thus use all means at their disposal to promote their brand internally to the employees as well. Technology platforms today let companies customize layouts and encourage employer branding in ways that were previously not possible. It is time for HR to take a page out of the Marketing team’s playbook and better engage with their ‘clients’ – the employees.

Tip 4: Leadership has to Walk the Talk

The millennials have demonstrated time and again that they prefer transparency over hierarchy. For millennial managers to be convinced of the direction the company is headed and thus to be able to better engage with their teams – they need to see authenticity from the leadership. In short, leaders now have to ‘Walk the Talk.’ When leadership tells their millennial managers that ‘they care,’ they better mean it. Research has shown that Millennials respond well to leaders who show a genuine interest in them.

Some of the questions most often asked of leaders by the millennial managers are:

What makes our company unique?
What makes us different and what do we do that will make us win ethically?
Why does leadership seem to say one thing and do another?
When the going gets tough, how do we stick to our stated principles?

Honest answers to these are the minimum threshold leadership needs to cross to convince Millennial managers to better engage further on with their teams.

Tip 5: Leverage Technology to facilitate bi-directional conversations

Millennials don’t like very much to be ordered around. They prefer to participate in conversations around topics, even if some of those are contentious and uncomfortable ones. Moreover, as a generation, they believe far lesser in power distance from the top management. As millennials move into management roles, they are increasingly showing a preference for platforms that enable them to receive real-time and transparent feedback not just from their superiors but also from their team members. Technology platforms like Instapat, today empower companies to get those conversations going seamlessly. This generation has been referred to as the ‘digital natives,’ subjecting them to formal, hierarchical unidirectional/top-down communication isn’t going to do much towards engaging them.

To sum up, I think the most uncomplicated framework leaders can use to better engage with their millennial managers is the one question asked by author Simon Sinek in his book ‘Start with Why’:

“Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief – WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?”

9 Aspects of Effective Employee Recognition

Employee Recognition is essential. Everybody gets that part. What goes into making recognition effective, however, is mostly guesswork. And that is not all bad – because there is no template for doing recognition right. What works for a young e-commerce start-up with 20 somethings hacking away day and night might not make sense for an SMB in the technology space and definitely won’t make sense for a large manufacturing conglomerate.

So yes, recognition is unique to the company, its work culture, its dynamics, and its value systems. But having said that, there are a few core aspects that one might consider while designing the Rewards and Recognition program, which would go a long way in making recognition more effective and help in building a culture of recognition at the workplace.

#1: Aligned with Values:

Recognition that is tied to actions or outcomes that align with organizational values has a far higher impact that one given in general. To know the difference, contrast the impact of a broadcast message saying “Shout out to the entire team that made our Annual Picnic happen” with “Hey Alice! Great work on solving that knotty bug with the customer form. Our largest customer just loved the blazing speed at which you fixed it.”

When employees know how their actions are impacting the overall organizational goals and when the recognition reinforces the alignment with value systems it helps drive desirable behavior.

#2: Instant and Relevant:

In today’s hyper-networked world where news, rumors, and memes spread like wildfire, it seems ridiculous that one would have to wait for a monthly town hall (if not a longer duration) to receive recognition for an achievement.

Recognition is more impactful when it is given soon after the action or achievement of the team member you wish to praise.

#3 Frequent:

The frequency of recognition, especially when married with point #1, has a big impact on shaping behavior in the workplace. This is one of the most crucial aspects to be considered when designing Rewards and Recognition programs. In most organizations, there is an established program around events – Annual Days, Founding Day, Monthly Town-halls when great work is recognized. And then there are the rewards around specific events like “Safety Week”, “Health Awareness Week” and so on.

Establishing a culture of recognition entails going beyond the limited opportunities offered by “events” to incorporating recognition as a part of daily work practices. When people managers (and peers) are empowered and encouraged to recognize good work, the concept of recognition gets instilled in the organizational culture.

#4 Managed Formality:

A lot of the awards that are currently included in organizational rewards and recognition program don’t focus on building connections. Employee of the Month/Quarter/Year has to be an award that does the most to divide rather than unite the employees. On some criterion (mostly subjective), people managers choose one person out a team and declare her to be the best among the lot. Not a lot going for engagement there!

Consider other formal awards like Long Service Awards celebrate just people for “being there” rather than performance. In the new world of work that doesn’t offer job security and requires constant reinvention, this is the equivalent of using a cuckoo-clock to tell you the time. Looks good, but not very practical.

On the other hand, personal one-one recognition helps to establish a connection between the giver and the receiver. When others can participate in the conversation (it’s all social these days) it adds to impact.

#5 Recognition Setting and Context:

Now that I have gone on and on about how “social” everything is these days, let me flip that idea on its head. Here is the truth: Not everyone likes the attention. The reason you are recognizing someone in the team is to make her feel special, and yet you can’t be bothered to consider her personality. Hmm…

So don’t go social blindly. Choose between a quiet note of appreciation left on the keyboard versus an announcement on your favorite social platform, depending on the personality of the recipient. But yes, one thing is common to all types – they like recognition to be personal, not boiler-plate.

#6 Significance of who is recognizing:

In organizations getting an appreciation from senior management is often seen as an achievement in itself – especially in the more staid, formal setups.

But here is the thing – you can’t fool the recipient. If the recognition is of a public nature, and broad-strokes, big-picture “you saved the company by fixing that big issue” type recognition then the higher up the ladder it comes from more the engagement. But if it is something that delves into the nuances of say assembly level code fix that changes the way the graphics accelerator chip renders 3D images a recognition by the reclusive senior architect might resonate far higher than one from the President of Sales. In fact, when it comes to personal recognition it seems Peer Recognition rates over Supervisor/Management recognition.

 

#7 Sincerity:

“Annie, Great job on that account”, “Richa, Great job on account Y”, “Vikram, Great job with our oldest account”, “Gita…” you get the picture. There are people managers of every hue. At one extreme are the ones who don’t see any value in recognizing, and at the other are the ones who jump in with boilerplate “Great Job” to all and sundry (or worse – are biased towards a certain set of team members).

The value of the recognition you give is correlated to the sincerity with which you give it (and it is very difficult to fake this). Scaling back on recognition is better than handing them out like candy.

#8 Value to the Recipient:

Coming back to the point of really knowing the person you are recognizing. Each team member is unique and so too is their perspective on the value of the recognition. Some value tangible things like trophies and medals over a citation whereas the others might be exactly the opposite. Some might want bragging rights in the office (e.g. a ceremonial cap/lanyard) which lets everyone identify them as a recipient of something special, while others might want a dinner voucher to take their spouse out for a great meal. If the recognition is to resonate, the format in which it is delivered must be thought through as well. Broad strokes approach rewards/recognition can’t drive engagement beyond the bare minimum in the long-term

#9 Peer Validation:

Appreciation and recognition by the superiors have always been valued, but as organizations become flatter, more competitive and roles become more amorphous and complex – peer validation of recognition has taken on a whole new level of importance.

The Last Word:

Your supervisor might feel that you have done a great job, but your peers really know how you did it! And when they show support for the recognition it is a true validation of the achievement. Technology today (did I mention ‘social’) lets everyone ‘participate in the discussion’ around individual recognition. Mass Mails followed by “Reply-all” spams have been replaced with social feed and likes/comments.

 

Applying Design Thinking to Employee Engagement

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Design thinking is now taking center stage in improving Employee Engagement and Experience at the workplace. Marketers have long obsessed about the Customer Experience (CX) journey.  HR teams at leading companies are now adopting the same principles to better manage and improve the “Employee Experience”.

Continue reading “Applying Design Thinking to Employee Engagement”

The Power of Story Telling: Get Employees Excited about your Company’s vision

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Having a meaningful vision to work towards, is a strong source of motivation for employees. Companies can use the psychological underpinnings of story-telling to better communicate and reinforce the organizational vision.

Most workers, many of whom are millennials, approach a role and a company with a highly defined set of expectations. They want their work to have meaning and purpose. Gallup, SOAW 2017 Report.

Continue reading “The Power of Story Telling: Get Employees Excited about your Company’s vision”

Employee Recognition through Celebrating Failure.

Summary: Failures are bad. Learning from them is easy. Right? Well not quite. Organizations need better ways to go beyond superficial or self-serving learning and recognition might be just the right solution.

 

“I have not failed, I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” – Thomas Alva Edison.

Continue reading “Employee Recognition through Celebrating Failure.”

n:gage Leader Speak August 2017: Interview with Archana Kumar

For this month’s n:gage interview I posed questions to Archana Kumar, CHRO at Ireo. A lot of leaders tend to have extensive experience in a particular industry – banking, IT, manufacturing.

Archana has had a fascinating career spanning over two decades (almost three) across multiple industries. She was also in the thick of two massive acquisitions (Reliance Industries and IPCL, CMC and TCS) – and we know how much fun those are for HR considering diverse work cultures in organizations.

This is one n:gage interview you wouldn’t want to miss!

Download your PDF copy here.

If you prefer to read online in our flash format head over here.

Money can’t buy happiness, but can it influence employee motivation?

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Summary:

Research has shown that more money doesn’t necessarily make employees happier. Money does seem to influence motivation – but is that impact positive or negative? The short answer is: we aren’t quite sure. The disclaimer? Yet!

Continue reading “Money can’t buy happiness, but can it influence employee motivation?”

The difference between Employee Satisfaction and Employee Engagement

Employee satisfaction and engagement are deceptively similar sounding attitudes when seen superficially. Many people tend to use these terms interchangeably but there are clear differences between these two and it is important for business leaders to know the nuances. In fact in some organizations, shaking up satisfied employees might be the key to growth!

Continue reading “The difference between Employee Satisfaction and Employee Engagement”

The ABC’s of Attitude, Cognitive Dissonance and Echo Chambers

Attitude, is a much used and equally abused word in daily life – both in the workplace and outside of it. It is often used to dismiss those who don’t ‘play along’ with broad stroke classifications of ‘having a wrong attitude’.

But therein lies the rub. Very few dig in deeper to understand what causes the positive or negative attitude. Take a moment to think about it – the attitude a person has is not something he is born with; it’s not something that is coded into his genetic material. So where does it come from?

Continue reading “The ABC’s of Attitude, Cognitive Dissonance and Echo Chambers”

n:gage: Interview with Sonali Roychowdhury, HR Director – India/Middle-east/ Africa Distributor Operations, and Indian Sub-continent, Procter and Gamble.

In the July issue of n:Gage leader speak, Sonali RoyChowdhury, HR Director, P&G India, answers questions about everything from the brilliant CSR programs that are run in India to challenges of engaging and motivating a multicultural workforce.  

Sonali shares…

….employees are more engaged and happier working for a company with strong value system and “doing the right thing” culture, and multiple internal/ external surveys keep validating this. Apart from our formal programs, we also have lots of informal employee-led “circles” under a program called ‘Vibrant Living’ which are actively doing their bit in making a difference to the world!

You can read the PDF version here

n:gage: Interview with Indraneil Roy, Head Strategic Hiring, Wipro Technologies.

In the June issue of n:Gage leader speak, Indraneil Roy, Head Strategic Hiring at Wipro Technologies weighs in with his views on the challenges faced by organizations in attracting (and retaining) top talent. I posed a range of questions from the challenges he sees in the current environment of uncertainty faced by the IT industry to managing diversity at the workplace.

Here’s a teaser

…at the very beginning the leadership in Wipro build a vision for having an all inclusive organization as diverse organization had better productivity, better connect with stakeholders and innovated better. We went ahead and hired a female board member so that the commitment was clearly visible across the organization. Also the leadership was involved with ensuring business objectives are enabled with D&I and every Business Head would ensure there is adherence to this policy. In parallel an equitable cultural environment was created with leaders driving it personally in their business units.

You can read the good old PDF version here or read the digital magazine version (requires Flash installed on your browser) here

 

Employee Engagement: Focus on the right Symbiont.

kwenchBlogBanner_RightSymbiont_I ain’t some dying dog that you can kick /
So f* off /
It’s so easy to fall into that hole /
And you’re the one who cast me in that role / (Social Parasite, Alice in Chains)

We often hear comparisons of organizations with organisms. In his book ‘The Living Company’, Arie De Gues compares companies to living organisms by arguing that just like them, companies learn, evolve and eventually cease to exist. The traditional view point of the contract between an employee and the organization/employer has been that of two principals who are inherently in conflict; but in order to maximize their self-interest they engage in co-operation with each other. Employee-employer relationships have come a long way from the Master-Slave days and so has the implicit contract between them.

Continue reading “Employee Engagement: Focus on the right Symbiont.”

FLIPping VUCA through Strategic Employee Recognition

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Livin’ on the edge / You can’t stop yourself from fallin’/ Tell me what you think about your situation/ Complication, aggravation is getting to you

If chicken little tells you that the sky is fallin’/ Even if it wasn’t would you still come crawlin’ back again/ I bet you would my friend  

(Living on the Edge, Aerosmith)

It has become nearly impossible to access a news site off late without coming across a report or opinion piece on how layoffs are imminent in the Indian IT/ITeS sector. Experts, who understand this sector much better than I do, seem to attribute the negative sentiment among companies in the sector to rising protectionist sentiments in traditional markets, impending rise of AI and ML and subsequent loss of jobs to automation. Some even feel that the entire sector was ‘lazy’ and that the loss of jobs was a foregone conclusion. And all those share buy-back offers by IT majors? Now that simply has to be the ultimate proof that things aren’t going well at all!

If all this fearmongering makes you want to scream out loud, join the line. As Aerosmith put it so well – it feels a bit like ‘Living on the Edge’! Continue reading “FLIPping VUCA through Strategic Employee Recognition”

5 Employee Engagement tips from the Baahubali Saga

5 Employee Engagement tips from the Baahubali Saga

 

 

 

 

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion has been making waves at the box office. Everyone wanted to know why Kattappa killed Amarendra Baahubali. A story of intrigue, ambition, greed, love, loyalty and everything in between.

Like all good stories, there are nuggets of wisdom embedded in there that leaders can put to good use. So here are five employee engagement tips from the story. (Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen the movie, and are planning on seeing it, you might want to skip this post for now and come back later once you have seen the visual treat) Continue reading “5 Employee Engagement tips from the Baahubali Saga”

Kwench among top 50 fastest growing companies

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Silicon India has listed Kwench as one of the entrants into their 50 Fastest Growing Companies – 2017 List and we are mighty pleased.

I refer to the write-up to particularly explain the two important terms in that shortlist – Growing and Fastest.

About Growth it says:

The term ‘Growth’ has become a buzzword for present day organisation’s to sustain and survive in this competitive age. Competition at present times among the companies has been recognized as the driving force behind the operation of markets and fostering innovations, forcing the companies to adopt a unique business model that helps in generating revenue as well as profit to enhance the growth of the company. (emphasis mine)

About Fastest it says:

 In the world of business, the fastest growing companies are graded in terms of its sales turnovers. Sales growth strategy is regarded as one of the most reliable and proven business strategy for any business. Though all good companies increase their sales every year but there are some exceptional companies with competitive moat, do faster than others. For these companies increase in sales turnover represents market domination. (emphasis mine)

You can download an extract with the listing and the write-up about kwench or read the complete eMagazine

View/Dowload: Extract of Listing and Write-Up on Kwench

View Silicon India eMagazine (gated, redirects to Silicon India site)

n:gage Content: Download the 10Cs of Engagement Flash Cards

Ivey Business Journal published an awesome post titled ‘What Engages Employees the Most OR, the Ten Cs of Employee Engagement’

We liked it so much that we have used that post as a reference to make some quick Flashcards for you to use as reference on a daily basis as you go about your work or create communication about Employee Engagement. Feel free to use these in your emails, posters, presentations, mailers et. al.

Download the full set of cards here or copy the URL: http://get.kwench.in/kudos_10csemployeeengagement_/ into your browser.

 

Engage with the gift of time

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It’s just another manic Monday
I wish it was Sunday
‘Cause that’s my fun day
My I don’t have to run day
It’s just another manic Monday (Manic Monday, Bangles)

On a Monday morning most employees glance at their calendars for the week, see the myriad patchwork of colored blocks staring back at them from their chock-a-block calendars, heave a long sigh and head for the coffee machine in the hope that caffeine will make it all go away.

And this is just the ‘planned’ part of the week. Continue reading “Engage with the gift of time”

n:gage Leader Speak Series #2: Interview with Kavitha Balasubramanian, Director – Human Resources, GreenPoint Global

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In the second issue of the Leader Speak series, we publish an interview with Kavitha Balasubramanian, Director – Human Resources, GreenPoint Global. Kavitha too responds to questions on the importance of recognition in engaging the modern workforce and the challenges she sees in implementing a successful engagement strategy.

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An excerpt:

Many companies set ad-hoc goals for recognition and often fail to achieve them I believe that the goals must be articulated well enough for them to be achieved.

First and foremost, an overall philosophy that needs to be defined and have the buy in of all stakeholders. This needs to be followed up with a well thought out strategy, process, goals and tasks to achieve those goals.

 

To read the complete interview please go here or copy the URL (https://joom.ag/hNlW) into your browser.

In case you have difficulty in accessing our digital magazine, you can download a PDF version here

To make sure you don’t miss any of the insights we bring you under n:gage, please do sign up for the series updates here and spread the word among colleagues who you think would be interested in learning from top leaders of India Inc.

A Pareto Curveball on Employee Performance

ID-100176404I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me/Lost track of how far I’ve gone/ How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed/On my back’s a sixty pound stone/ On my shoulder a half mile of line (The Rising, Bruce Springsteen)

 

 

Curveball: a slow or moderately fast baseball pitch thrown with spin to make it swerve downward and usually to the left when thrown from the right hand or to the right when thrown from the left hand

The “Bell-Curve” has been the mainstay of performance ratings for a very long time now. The distribution of employee performance is forced to align with the assumption that the organization has a few high performers, a few low performers and a vast majority clustering around the ‘average’ performance level. The whole idea of trying to fit everyone on to a ‘bell-curve’ is thus based on the assumption that performance in an organization tends towards ‘average’ – and I guess you can immediately spot the inherent problem with this assumption.

No organization would like to be configured to be average; yet, everything from compensation distribution to employee engagement strategies continues to be guided by this basic rule of thumb.

Popularity or Performance?

The rather uncomfortable question that needs to be asked is what is the core driver behind the performance evaluation numbers/ranking? Increasing the rewards substantially between the top performers and the rest raises the possibility of a vast majority being disgruntled. Rewarding a few much more than the rest poses challenges for traditional notions of fairness and equality in the workplace. Not making enough distinction removes the incentive to strive for better performance – especially for the outliers.

The crux of the issue lies in the question: what portion of the employees is actually driving the business results.

In an a series of interesting studies, involving 633,263 researchers, entertainers, politicians, and athletes – researchers Ernest O’Boyle Jr. and Herman Aguinis concluded that performance follows a power law distribution more closely than a Gaussian distribution. Put in other words – a few outliers are responsible for a majority of the output.

Pareto’s rule, a popular example of power law distribution – is often referred to as the “80-20 rule” i.e. 80% of the output can be attributed to 20% of the causes. Often subjected to abuse, this ‘rule’ still remains an easy way of summing up the conclusions of the power law distribution.

This insight has interesting challenges for how HR will deal with evaluating employee performance and contribution in the future.

In a traditional setup, the typical manager grapples with one or more of following while doing an evaluation:

  • Lack of clear quantifiable goals for the employee: Goal setting, an exercise often considered a mere formality and carried out with minimal participation from the employee and the manager comes back to haunt both when its time to evaluate performance.
  • Lack of a proper understanding of ground-realities: Managers are humans and are victims of their own perceptions. In the absence of intelligent means to capture customer and peer feedback combined with the previous point of incorrect or inadequate goal, managers often have an incorrect or skewed opinion of performance – especially in large teams.
  • Directive from HR to fit team into a bell curve: Small wavelets build up into a large wave, but small bells don’t make a big bell! The basic requirement that every team must have a Gaussian distribution borders on statistical absurdity – but continues to be a popular practice.
  • Fear of (increased) attrition: The team member has been working on the customer account for most of the year. The training is time consuming and team members take almost a month to start contributing. Too low a rating might increase attrition and the manager will need to find replacements – which will again need to be trained! Putting everyone near average is much safer from the manager’s perspective.

The ‘Bell-Curve’ to some extent lets the manager play-it-safe with his evaluations. A Power-Law assumption takes away that safety-net increasing emphasis on getting the evaluations spot-on. Put another way – the Gaussian assumption lets the organization be popularity focused and dilutes engagement, while the Power-Law assumption goes to the other extreme and focuses heavily on performance – posing a major challenge to established notions of engagement.

It might seem tempting to abandon the existing (flawed) system of force fitting employee performance ratings into a Bell-Curve in favour of a Power-Law distribution, but such a move would be fraught with potential pitfalls.

 Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.

Remember that much of employee disengagement revolves around a sense of justice and fairness. The organization should not only do but also be seen as providing the required tools and facilities for the employee to succeed at the task, the organization should able to and also be seen as being able to correctly evaluate how the employee is performing at the task and then finally the organization should and also be seen as adequately recognizing the contribution made by the employee. Stumbling on one or all of these will lead to employee disengagement sooner or later.

In the power-law distribution a vast majority of the organization will be rated as “below average” The new assumption in no way implies that an organization should be only made up of only top performers – in the long run this is impractical for organizations of any size. The useful insight that can be gleaned from the new distribution is distinguishing between the employees who are vital and those who are not. Alarming as it may sound, when taking decisions of whom to retain or promote, making this distinction becomes a critical success factor.

Performance systems that can highlight top performers serve as powerful tools in the hands of HR and leadership of companies looking to engage with their employees and establish a culture of high performance. The impact of interventions based on inputs from a power-law trend of individual performances will expectedly be far higher and more meaningful compared to traditional systems. The challenge however will be eliminate bias in the evaluation – the impact of any such bias will be disproportionately higher in a Paretian distribution, with potentially disastrous consequences – a true curveball!

Acknowledgements and References: 

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The bell curve is a myth – most people are actually underperformers, Michael Kelly, May 2012, BusinessInsider

The Best and the Rest: Revisiting the Norm of Normality of Individual Performance, HRMA Research Briefing.

Employee Alignment-Zone: “The Time Element”

The Architect – Precisely. As you are undoubtedly gathering, the anomaly is systemic, creating fluctuations in even the most simplistic equations.

 Neo – Choice. The problem is choice. (Matrix Reloaded, 2003)

On this blog and in quite a few conversations, I have pointed out the risks of overtly relying on cohorts or grouping of employees to formulate an employee engagement strategy. Using segments and cohorts to understand broad behavior and drivers of engagement is okay, but trying to engage the individual based only on those conclusions is not the best approach.

As ‘Neo’ puts it in the movie Matrix Reloaded , the ‘problem’ is Choice or to be more accurate, in this case – individuality. Every employee is an individual with her own priorities, preferences, fears and responsibilities.

ZoneOfAlignment_

Work, forms an important part of an employees life – and the emphasis I place is on ‘part’ and not on ‘important’ because that aspect is the one that often gets missed out when employee engagement strategies or initiatives are designed. As an individual with family, friends, interests, hobbies, ambitions and aspirations – responsibilities at work represent just a fraction of the things that matter to the employee.

There are a bunch of things that are important to the employee (health, financial well being, spending time with family, a social life, learning new things, new experiences) and there are things are important to the organization (employee well being, profits, playing an important role in the society, innovation).

When an employee is at work, he is operating in the intersection of these two spheres – there are things that matter to him which align with what matters to the organization. When this overlap is driven by the correct factors (alignment on the larger picture, the direction the company is taking, quality of work, the work culture etc.), there is a zone of alignment that is sustaining (and empowering).

ZoneofDisillusionment_

When what matters to the organization (as perceived by the employee) starts to drift away from what matters to the employee as an individual, this overlap reduces, the zone of alignment starts to shrink and becomes unsustainable. This is when disillusionment sets in eventually leading to Disengagement if corrective measures are not taken.

GapOfDisengagement_

Too much of something:

The logical question that follows is what when there is perfect alignment – shouldn’t that be the ideal state? To borrow (somewhat incorrectly) from that age-old adage, “Too much of anything isn’t good for you”

A situation where an individual is completely (and only) aligned with what matters for the organization makes him dysfunctional in other things that should matter to him. If the last line reminds you of the uptight, always-on-the-edge, hard driving, ranting and screaming executive, you are bang-on.

ThePuppetZone_

The other (unintended) consequence of such a situation is that individual then subsumes his discretion to what seems best for the organization. Being too focused on one aspect inevitably leads to a myopic vision of what is correct. It is the healthy balance of all aspects in ones life that helps drive a balanced approach towards challenges – both personal and at work.

A ‘super-mom’ I know uses negotiation skills learnt at work with her 1-year-old infant (works most of the time) and then takes the lessons learnt from handling the concerns of parents, her husband, siblings back to work to engage with her multi-generational team. Imagine what would happen if she tried a time-sheet driven approach with her infant or never took time out to spend time with her parents or spouse but focused only fixing “issues” at work (of which there never seems to be any dearth).

 

The Time Element:

Unlike organizations, what ‘matters’ to an individual is in a state of flux. I am not talking of value systems, or ambitions – those are (hopefully) rather fixed. I am referring to the drivers of what is a priority. Companies and Institutions have stated goals at time of creation and (usually) those drive everything they do. People on the other hand have changing preferences and changing events and these affect the overlap and consequently the alignment they have with the organization.

TheTimeElement_

If the organization stays rigid on how it interacts with the employee, then the extent of alignment is bound to change. Again an increased degree of alignment is not necessarily a good thing.

A few years ago I got chatting with a senior executive at a party. He was really good what he did, and totally disengaged. He was so efficient at what he did that the organization was reluctant to consider what his own personal aspirations were and had kept him doing the same thing for years on end. “The Gap of Disengagement” was very clear and he was looking to quit because he realized that by staying on he was damaging himself and the organization through his disengagement. I ran into him two years later in a busy airport and was surprised that he was still with the same organization in the same role. When I quizzed him, he confessed that he was still disillusioned but a personal crisis had made it impossible for him to look for other possibilities. His efficiency gave him more time at home and so he compromised his ambitions to stay on with his employer. The executive’s alignment with his employer had increased, but it was driven purely by convenience.

Smart organizations would avoid this situation by being aware of various dimensions of what drives each employee. DIY Pulse surveys are a good way; Managers who listen to their team members and do something about their concerns are even better.

A static employee engagement program is not enough neither is a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Like ‘generically designed’ antibiotics can have unexpected nasty side-effects in patients, employee engagement strategies designed for ‘masses’, ‘cohorts’ or ‘segments’ can induce the reverse effect. The pharmaceutical industry has woken up to the importance of pharmacogenomics to counter the ill effects of ‘universal-design’ for medicines – its time for HR professionals to follow suit.

Acknowledgements: 

Post title inspired by the Twilight Zone series (1958)

Impact of Role Relevance-Competence Fit on Engagement

Every hour and every day I’m learning more/The more I learn, the less I know about before/The less I know, the more I want to look around/Digging deep for clues on higher ground (Higher Ground, UB40)

In my post yesterday I talked about the ABC Drivers of Intrinsic Motivation. (Achievement, Belief and Camaraderie). A sense of achievement is something you derive by, among other things, being in the job/role that is right for you and then being very good at it.

The 2×2 grid (yes, blame it on the B-school stint) below shows how where you lie on the Role-Relevance and Role-Competency axes will determine your sense of achievement.

RRRC_Matrix_Relevance:Low, Competence:Low – Disengaged Employee: If an employee is in the third quadrant i.e he is placed in a role that he doesn’t like and also does not have the skills to perform then he is effectively being setup for failure and will be highly disengaged as he has little motivation to do a good job. If an employee finds himself in this situation then it is a failure of the organization and specially his immediate supervisors more than his own.

Relevance:Low, Competence:High – Efficient Employee: If an employee finds that he has a role that he doesn’t like but is good at then he is efficient at his job but is not engaged. He will do assigned tasks well and deliver on time, but will not be motivated to put in discretionary effort. Good managers can make a difference by listening and understanding what truly motivates their team members and finding a way to move them from Q1 to Q2 or Q3

Relevance:High, Competence:Low – Motivated Employee: When an employee is in a role or team which he wants to be in but is not trained for then he is motivated (but not competent). By providing the right training and support, employees who are in this quadrant can be easily moved into the ideal situation – into Q2.

Relevance:High, Competence:High – Engaged Employee: This is when employees are motivated to give their best to the job. They are in a role they want to be in and have the required training and competence to deliver results. When employees are in this quadrant, their sense of achievement is the maximum.

 Companies on the 2013 list of Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work for, offered 66.5 hours of training annually for salaried employees, with around 70% of those hours devoted to employees’ current roles and nearly 40% focused on growth and development.

Organizations that are not bound by rigid hierarchies and siloed org-structures have the flexibility to, better engage their employees by investing in training and having the opportunity to move them to roles they prefer. These are exactly the kind of facts that a good Employee Engagement Survey should throw up.

RRRC-Transition_

It is not a coincidence that a majority of the top rated employers also have the highest investments in learning. These organizations know that investing in engaging employees with the right role and competency fit, also prevents a ‘brain-drain.’ Employees in all age-groups and roles need continuous support to expand their skills. Investing in skills and knowledge training, of employees communicates a sense of commitment by the organizations in the future of its employees and goes a long way towards fostering a sense of achievement.

People to Algorithms: “Back Off. We want to make our decisions!”

AnalyticsDeadEnd_

“It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” from the Terminator (1984)

Analytics is the hottest, absolutely-must-have corporate buzzword these days. Out with the fuzzy and in with hard data. Leaders and Managers have been known to repeat Deming’s quip (and wrongly get credit for it at times) “In God we trust; all others must bring data” when faced with business proposals that are based on ‘intuition and gut-feel.’ Finance and Operations have been using advanced modeling techniques for years, fine tuning the art of showing that big revenue spike (or cost saving) just around the corner. (Hasn’t happened in the last 10 years, but next two quarters are going to be huge!) And now it’s the turn of HR. People Analytics is the next big frontier and machines are being primed to crunch numbers on human attributes and ‘go where no machine has gone before.’

Correct Data is good, Intelligent Analytics is even better. I have had enough experience with gut-feel and arbitrary extrapolation driven disasters in my life to have a deep respect for both Data and Analytics (with the qualifiers firmly in place). I also know that modeling human behavior (or worse projecting it into the future) is something best left to Ethan Hunt.

‘Let’s collect all possible behaviors about employees, get a bunch of statisticians and lock them in a room till they come up with a formula to predict who is good and who is not,’ sounds like a good idea. Only problem – seems people don’t like it. And not just any people – top notch engineers at Google who live and breathe data and analytics.

“Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done.”

Promotions are a big deal at any organization. It represents an acknowledgement of the company’s belief that you have done an excellent job in your current role and so are ready to take up further or different responsibilities. Nominating the wrong person for a role can be one of the most disengaging acts in an organization. The person(s) who lose out in the race often choose to leave the company and walk right next door to the competitors HQ.

Google has a rather elaborate process involving self-nominations, committees and appeal process for promotions of engineers. As you can imagine this process is costly, time consuming and can be tedious at times. With the rather noble intention of saving a bit of effort for everyone, the People Analytics team decided to explore the possibility of getting an algorithm, which they can use instead.

They did come up with one. And statistically it was awesome!

No possibility of bias, absolute transparency, much less effort, very accurate (based on fitment with past data). One might expect everyone (especially engineers) to love the ultimate solution to getting promotions right. All the disengagement rising from favoritism, bias, perception et.al. out of the window in one masterstroke.

Guess what happened.

The Engineers hated it!

“They didn’t want to hide behind a black box, they wanted to own the decisions they made, and they didn’t want to use a model.”

At the end of all the research, the ultimate takeaway for Google was that ‘people need to make people decisions’ Analytics serves an important role in providing the decision makers with data points and insights, but it can never replace them. It is highly unlikely that we will ever reach (or accept) a situation where algorithms and black boxes are seen as taking decisions (even if you put a human face on the screen). [See Prasad Setty talk about it in the video at the end of this post]

Speaking of algorithms and disasters: Remember the Black-Scholes Equation and 19 October 1987 (Black Monday)? And for those with shorter memories there is the Gaussian Copula function and the 2008 meltdown. And those are failures when modeling movement of financial instruments (and therefore indirectly just one aspect of human behavior which ultimately drives price of those instruments).

It has taken us decades finally realize the tyranny of the “Bell Curve” in performance evaluation though most organizations still are stuck to using what is essentially a convenient misuse of statistical formulation.

Hopefully business leaders will appreciate the pitfalls in giving into the lure of expecting everything to be boiled down to an algorithm. (Elon Musk is rumored to have referred to AI as “summoning the demon”) Even if I don’t quite share Elon’s assessment of the scenario of doom (yet), in my opinion hoping to click a button to decide people’s career path is bit of science fiction, wishful thinking and lazy management all rolled into one.

But if you are a math wiz, don’t care about what old geezers like me have to say about “free will” and social cognition, then your mission, should you choose to accept it …

(Unfortunately this blog post will not self-destruct in 5 seconds)

Acknowledgements and References for this post: 

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Google came up with a formula for deciding who gets promoted—here’s what happened, Analyze This, QZ India, Max Nisen, November 20, 2014

Recipe for Disaster: The Formula That Killed Wall Street, Tech Biz, Wired Magazine, Felix Salmon, February 23, 2009

The mathematical equation that caused the banks to crash, Mathematics, The Observer, Ian Stewart, February 12, 2012.

Will the machines take over? Why Elon Musk thinks so, Science, The Christian Science Monitor, Anne Steele, October 27, 2014