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.
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.