[Video] The Lying Org-Chart

We have a new video up on the kwenchEngage! YouTube channel called “The Lying Org-Chart”.  Take a look.

A quick introduction to the power of Social Networks within organizations and how it can be unleashed to achieve better collaboration and also increase employee engagement.

References for content used in the video:

“How Org Charts Lie”, HBS Working Knowledge Series, “The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding how  work really gets done in organizations”, HBS Press Book.

Remote Working and Employee (dis)Engagement?

Remote_Working_“WFH!” came the terse reply from an engineer I had asked for a time to meet up and go over a rather tricky problem. The engineer in question worked for a large telecom company and I was then working for an IT services firm where “working from home” was severely frowned upon. Today that large telecom company is defunct and the IT services firm is a giant in its space. The flexibility of working from anywhere is pretty high on employee’s opinion of perks that a company can give to engage with them better. But increasingly companies seem to be turning ‘off’ that option – what gives?

With a quick hat tip to the near mandatory mention of Merissa Meyer’s decision to drastically curb working from home privileges of employees at Yahoo!, with a nod to the decision of Best Buy to follow suit I point towards Unilever which has over 58% of its 171,000 workforce working from ‘where they want, when they want.’ and companies like Automattic Inc (of WordPress fame) and Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals) that have a heavily (near 100%) distributed workforce. In fact the founders of Basecamp wrote a book ‘REMOTE: office not required’.

Research is increasingly pointing towards two key aspects of remote working that drive (or dampen) employee engagement. (a) The kind of work that the employee is doing (b) The time duration for which the employee has been working remotely away from her team members. Gallup research, in its State of the American Workplace report finds that among employees who never work remotely only 28% are engaged whereas that number shoots to 35% among people who spend 20% of their time remotely. But the trend is one of diminishing returns with the percentage of engaged employees falling to 29% for the set that works more than 50% of their time remotely.

Let’s break that down by taking a closer look at the most commonly mentioned pros and cons of remote working.

Positives:

  1. A high degree of flexibility: working from home (or close to home) allows the employee to plan in personal activities into what would otherwise be ‘office hours’. Taking a sick child or parent to the doctor, getting some repair work done, or dealing with some government agency tend to be most common activities employees do in ‘working hours’ when they are not at office.
  2. Better use of time (and less cost): when your travel is a few feet from the bedroom to the living room, savings in the time wasted in traffic jams and fuel cost savings are immediate and easily quantifiable.
  3. Fewer interruptions from co-workers: Employees who support working remotely point to the fact that it is easier for a co-worker to amble over to ones desk and interrupt than it is to interrupt on chat/email/phone. This, the supporters say, lets them work more efficiently and also plan their tasks better.

Negatives:

  1. Lack of work/life balance: One of the usual complaints from employees is that when they spend too much time working remotely, or are working remotely just because they don’t feel like driving to the office, the virtual wall between work and personal life breaks down quickly. Eventually there is a visible drain on productivity as family members/friends get used to seeing one around the whole day and personal tasks (like dusting, grocery shopping) start finding their way into working hours.
  2. Lack of face-to-face interactions (and aha! Moments): This is the most common argument against working remotely (and indeed the one that Merissa Meyers used). Many managers feel that creativity and camaraderie get affected when team members work remotely and hardly see each other. Vint Cerf (regarded as one of the fathers of the internet), now Google’s Vice President and chief Internet evangelist says “We had people participating in teams, [and] they would almost never see each other face to face. Often they were in different time zones, which meant they had to work harder to stay in sync…So we started recompiling groups to make them, if not co-located, at least within one or two time zones of one another so that it was more convenient to interact.”(Quote from reference a)
  3. Heavy dependency on technology: The tools that let teams collaborate remotely also seem to create a lock-in in terms of the investment and the privacy needed to function effectively. Try having a Skype conversation with your manager with your kids watching TV in the room and the slow ‘faux’ broadband connection that your service provider has given you.

So should we start writing eulogies about remote working?

Not yet. All the literature and anecdotes about remote working and its advantages and pitfalls bring us back to the two factors that seem to govern the utility (and efficacy) of working remotely.

Company Culture plays an important role: Distributed teams are effective only when the tasks each person needs to do has been planned well and communicated clearly. If the managers can assign tasks/goals effectively and get out the way then this format can definitely succeed (Automattic believes very strongly in this approach). Understandably the distributed approach will fail in companies where planning is poor and/or there is a centralized and bureaucratic approach to decision making.

It should be the employee’s decision: The first fact that a company should recognize when trying to engage with employees is to recognize that each one of them is unique! Some people prefer to have a physical separation between their home and workplace. Others like to come in a few days to connect and then work alone to meet deadlines. And still others are most efficient when they work alone only. This will then boil down to the kind of work she is doing, her discipline to separate work and personal tasks, self motivation and the time/cost benefits of working from home. The choice should be up to the employee and the sheer flexibility it offers in times of illness or other important work is a strong motivator for employees.

Vint Cerf sums it up best, “There’s a limit to the utility of remote work … You’re seeing a positive response up to a point because people see that flexibility as a benefit, and then beyond that, you start to have less utility. So it’s not a black-and-white situation.(Quote from reference a)

References and Acknowledgements:

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

(a) Can People Collaborate Effectively While Working Remotely?, Gallup Business Journal, (b) Telecommuting Likely to Grow, Despite High-Profile Defections, SHRM, (c) How WordPress Thrives with a 100% Remote Workforce, HBR Blog Network, (d) Remote Working: Who’s Right?, Forbes.

Building a high-energy work environment

_Workplace_Motivation_Usually when people think of an office buzzing with energy with everyone in the ‘zone’ they think of start-ups. Small office, people sitting where they can, cheap furniture, lots of wires criss-crossing the floor from all the machines lying helter-skelter all around. For the record, the first “office” ‘kwench had was a living room and we had one-plastic table and a plastic chair (for guests).

Large offices with cubicle farms, cafeterias, grand lobbies typically evoke mental images of power and a large process oriented machine at work rather than energy.
Good generalizations for stock photography and movie plots, but hardly the reality. The energy you feel in start-ups doesn’t come from sitting on the floor or having doors as desktops, it comes from the motivation levels of those working there. Similarly the fluorescent lighting in the swank offices of a large organization isn’t sucking out the creative energy of the workforce, something else is.

There is a default environment in a young start-up that larger organizations with hierarchies, departments and processes need to consciously implement. The magic-dust that transforms a workplace into a high-energy work environment is, engagement.

Component_Target_In the book Employee Engagement, W Macey et. al, write that there are there are four components (or aspects as some would prefer to call it) held with the glue of engagement, that need to come together – – to enable a creative and motivating work environment. What follows is a slightly modified list.

(a) Employees should have the liberty to engage: ‘But who is stopping them?’ you ask. The answer, is ‘most likely – everything.’ Companies have processes and set rules to ensure that things get delivered on time with the required accuracy and this definitely is a good thing. But it is not the best thing. Employees following set processes and delivering as promised drive customer satisfaction; engaged employees deliver customer delight. But they should have the liberty to do so. The organization should be tolerant of creative solutions and possible failure – a confidence that failure will be treated “fairly”. If deviation from processes is always punished, innovation is unlikely to ever happen in your workplace.

(b) Employees should have the capability to engage: So you set the ground rules in your workplace and encourage the team to go the extra mile. But nothing seems to happen. They seem to be just doing what they have been doing all along! What gives? In order for people to really make a difference they should also have access to the required knowledge/information. If all the information is locked away on a “need-to-know” basis chances are very few will actually “know”.  Once you provide your employees the liberty to engage, support it by creating an open environment where they have access to information, where they get timely and open feedback on their work, and have the confidence that the organization will provide full support with everything they need to meet their goals.

 (c) Employees should have the motivation to engage:  An average employee spends 10-12 of their waking hours at work, add a couple more for getting to work and back. That’s 12-14 hours, of the 18 hours they are awake, away from their family. It’s important that you give them a very good reason to do so. When you provide the liberty and set the ground for capability for employees to engage within the workplace, the onus largely lies on the employee to step up and capitalize on the freedom. To motivate them however, the onus lies on the organization. Multiple surveys have shown that employees are most disengaged because they lack clear and specific goals and timely recognition for work done. From the organization perspective the requirements are clear (and fairly simple). Match the employees to the right roles – provide clear achievable goals – provide an open environment where the information required to deliver results is available – provide timely feedback and recognition.  When people have a sense of belonging and recognition of incremental progress they are making towards a larger, complex goal – motivation levels go up automatically.

 (d) Establish a transparent way of working to enable engagement: Once you have set up the first three layers, you have to enable positive reinforcement through an open and transparent culture. Make recognition public – this has a strong element of positive feedback and also ensures that there is no feeling of favoritism. Enable Peer-recognition and evaluation systems – Peers are usually in the best position to know exactly what work has been done. When the goals are clear, the combined effect of mini-evaluations over a period of time is more powerful and accurate than any detailed annual-appraisal can ever hope to be.  Be tolerant of open networks within the organization – enable a free flow of conversation and be open to constructive criticism. Typically social networks formed for a purpose tend to be focused and self-regulating. Any deviations are usually dealt with by the group without the need for active monitoring by a ‘higher authority’.

Engagement is what enables your employees to “see the big picture” and align their goals with that of the organization. But on a day-to-day basis it’s the work environment that provides the impetus for your employees to engage (or in the other extreme – disengage).

It is tempting to conclude that the onus lies on the senior leadership of an organization to do everything from establishing organizational business targets to driving an open and engaging work-culture to make sure those goals get met. While they have a large role to play, in a dynamic marketplace, waiting for senior leadership to decide every small detail is suicidal. The best way is be open and involve employees’ right from the planning process for establishing the organizations goals/targets for the year and continue to engage them throughout.

At 3M, one the world’s most innovative companies, the HR team provides the tools and processes but it’s the individual managers and supervisors who are in charge of engagement at the employee level. Accountability for establishing a culture of engagement at the workplace is done by embedding engagement into the list of leadership competencies. The company provides managers with engagement scores on company-wide surveys making employee engagement a key strategy to establishing competitive advantage in the marketplace.

References and Acknowledgements:

The “What” and “Why” of Goal Pursuits: Human Needs and the Self-Determination of Behavior, Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan Department of Psychology, University of Rochester; Work Redesign and Motivation, J.Richard Hackman, Driving Performance and Retention through Employee Engagement, Corporate Leadership Council, Employee Engagement, Macey et al, Wiley Blackwell; Creating an engaged workplace, CIPD Report, January 2010.

Image1 and Image2 used in this post courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.

Mission Impossible – ‘Presenteeism’ Protocol

Disengaged_Gap_The world of banking has a term it dreads – NPA (Non-Performing Assets). These typically refer to loans that are at high risk of default.

Your employees are your most precious assets and their best performance is what you bank on to make the organization thrive. The Towers-Watson Global Workforce Study 2012 surveyed over 32,000 full-time workers across the globe and found that only 35% were highly engaged. The rest?

22% felt they were unsupported.

17% were detached.

And a whopping 26% were disengaged.

If you were a bank with over 25% of your assets at risk, the central bank would be all over you with audits, stress-tests and maybe even cancel your license.

If were a manufacturing firm with 25% of your plants breaking down all the time and hardly producing anything, you would declare the units sick and fix them or close them down.

If you were an airline with 25% of your planes flying practically empty you would reroute, optimize, or shut down the routes.

And yet even though over a quarter of your employees are disengaged, you still hope to meet your financial and business goals without a clear well-thought out employee engagement strategy.  Time to call Ethan Hunt?

References and Acknowledgements

The Towers-Watson Global Workforce Study 2012; Post title inspired from the Mission Impossible movie series; Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net.

Presenteeism: “One central consequent of presenteeism is productivity loss, and scholars have attempted to estimate these productivity numbers. While examining productivity decrements, however, it is implied that losses are measured relative to not having a particular sickness or health issue. Furthermore, in comparison to being absent from a job, those exhibiting presenteeism may be far more productive. Nonetheless, a large study by Goetzel et al. estimated that on average in the United States, an employee’s presenteeism costs or lost on-the-job productivity are approximately $255.” (source: wikipedia)

The amplifying effect of peer-networks

LM741CN AmpYou hate the slow tedious testing process your company has for its blockbuster product. Surely there is a better way to do things. You get onto the company’s new collaboration platform and connect with like minded people across various departments in the company. Discussions around topics of mutual interest start. Ideas for some new software tools to improve product testing get thrown around. One of them really attracts attention. Someone suggests that you collaborate to build a prototype. Others in the company take notice and join in. The concept gets refined continuously. The conversation spreads. Quite a few people are hearing about it. The energy is electric. Everyone is checking their message feed to see what the latest update is.

Read the full post

Notes to the CEO: Transform your employee engagement strategy [Infographic]

_Kwench_Blog_NotesToTheCEO_30Apr2013_Thumbnail_You have tried everything – hiked salaries, given huge bonus payouts, taken the whole company on an all expenses paid trip, there’s free food in the refrigerator and even a yoga teacher who comes in every Friday to help the team relax.

And yet, you don’t see it. There is simply no energy. Products aren’t getting shipped on time or with the quality you expect. Your customers are slowly but surely taking their business elsewhere. The business plan you submitted to the board looks more like like a fairy tale now.

This scenario, every leader’s nightmare, unfortunately is playing out in thousands of corporates every single day in varying degrees. The chasm between what most companies do for engaging their workforce and what is expected is growing.

And you can blame it on the gizmos (if you don’t want to face reality).
Continue reading “Notes to the CEO: Transform your employee engagement strategy [Infographic]”

Social Intranets: Your key to a “Knowledge-Creating Company”

SNA_segment

By 2016, 50 percent of large organizations will have internal Facebook-like social networks, and that 30 percent of these will be considered as essential as email and telephones are today. (Gartner Research)

Social networking sites are increasingly becoming the primary means of communication among people outside of their workplace. It should therefore come as no surprise that organizations are increasingly considering the option of deploying similar solutions internally to improve communication and collaboration among their employees. But the biggest hurdle senior management faces is in pinning down the ROI of a paradigm shift from emails, phones and traditional “secure” knowledge repositories to social intranets and real time collaboration platforms.

The problem is – most of them are looking for answers in the wrong place.
Continue reading “Social Intranets: Your key to a “Knowledge-Creating Company””