A lot has been written about why employees quit; with people managers taking a brunt of the blame. But precious little has been discussed about the “when” and unsurprisingly managers can’t do much about most of those timings – or can they?
You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He’s making a list and checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
(Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, Lonestar)
Children around the world are told all year round that if they misbehave, On Christmas day Santa will skip the candies and give them charcoal instead.When companies carry out their annual employee engagement surveys, some managers too get their lumps of charcoal. Surveys and studies comes back with the clear message that ‘People leave managers, not companies‘
Looking for one transformational idea for Employee Engagement in 2016? kfit: the Employee Health and Wellness platform from Kwench might be just what you are looking for!
I have always dreaded the last week of December. Christmas and New Year get-together and cake eating binges aside, there is always the dreaded mental review of another year gone by.
Ever since I landed up on the wrong side of 30, “Loose Weight” and “Exercise Regularly” have been on top or near top of my New Year Resolutions list and are always the items with a red cross against them in my year-end review. And somewhere along the year I would have inevitably invested in exercise gear that cost way more than I could afford, gym memberships that cost even more than the above mentioned exercise gear, and last year even a high-end water-proof watch – you know, for when I do the 25 laps in the pool. Several consecutive years of this pattern, and tens of thousands of Rupees later – I was fed up.
So I did what was seemed most obvious thing to do – I headed to the café and discussed my problem with others! (With a large latte and a chocolate donut on the side). Now what is interesting is that the story seemed to be pretty common across people I talked to. With all the stresses of just barely balancing daily work and family life, exercise and diet more often than not takes a back seat. Even drinking adequate amounts of water can be a challenge and the sugar in all the cups of coffee reflects pretty quickly on the waistline – if not worse! My colleagues at Kwench pretty much confirmed the challenges and so did a lot of our friends, family and even clients to whom we posed the question.
There is no doubt about it. The more we asked around the more it seemed that India Inc. has a serious health problem. We dug around for some data and this is what we found.
Well that’s just one part of the problem. You see from an organizational perspective, there is a lot at stake when the wellbeing of its workforce is not quite up to the mark. Loss of productivity due to more sick days, absenteeism and worse presenteeism.
If there is so much at stake for both the employee and the employer, why don’t Workplace Wellness programs work? Research on enterprise wellness programs by Guidespark reveals the top reasons why these programs don’t achieve the required results. While ~70% of employees feel that wellness is important, less than 10% actually take full advantage of such programs. Employees don’t participate or the end results are not as expected because they are too busy with work, the programs don’t suit their lifestyle or that they are not fully aware of what is on offer. Almost half of them felt that their biggest wellness challenge was insufficient activity followed by stress and poor nutrition.
Clearly any wellness initiative that hopes to succeed in the workplace must have a solution to all if not most of these issues.
One of the really cool things of working at Kwench is that problems are not left unattended for too long. Anything that touches on Employee Engagement obviously piques our interest. And if we think we can use technology to fix that problem them it excites us to no end.
We took the problem, pondered over it, did our homework, drew the sketches, put the engineers and designers into one big room to do their magic and created kfit – a comprehensive employee health and wellness platform that leverages the magic of social, gamification and mobility to help companies raise the health quotient of their workforce. kfit uses micro interventions coupled with technology to bring about positive and long lasting behavioral change.
Excited? We sure hope so, because we are very excited about the possibilities this platform holds in transforming the health and wellness landscape of Corporate India.
If you are looking for one BIG idea for your Employee Engagement program for 2016, then look no further.
If you want us to get in touch and explain more about how kfit can help transform your company’s wellness, please send us an enquiry.
If you want to know more, here is a quick guide to why this is the one BIG Idea, that you can download and it is titled (Surprise, Surprise): The One BIG Idea for Employee Engagement in 2016!
Oh and I am glad to say this year I won’t be putting a cross against “Loose Weight” and “Exercise Regularly” on my resolution list from Jan ’15.
2016 promises to be a whole new year – in more ways than one! Join us in changing the world – one step at a time!
PS: Reminder – Get in touch with us and we will be glad to talk about Employee Engagement Ideas for 2016!
interview: /ˈɪntəvjuː/ noun
a meeting of people face to face, especially for consultation.
It is that time of the year. Annual performance appraisals are underway. The dreaded bell-curves will be created. Feedback sessions will be held with employees and then the resignations will come pouring in. And here is something that I have always found hilarious: when employees leave they are asked to attend an exit interview – or worse fill out a form – conducted by a junior employee who clearly would be just checking some boxes.
So lets see: there are multiple rounds of interviews when the employee applies to the company for a position. A single (perfunctory) round when the employee leaves. And here is ‘funny’ part – no “interviews” during her entire stint, which might run into decades! Somehow like a bad marriage the conversation just seems to dry up between the employee and her manager(s) till it really is too late.
Most managers seem to be flummoxed when they get the resignation email (or instant message at times) from their team members. They seem to have no idea how the employee really felt about the work they were doing and often get upset about the resignation. Reactions range from ‘Nobody is indispensable’ to the nasty – refusing to accept the resignation, refusing to release the resource, making the exit of the employee as painful as possible citing pending projects that absolutely need to be completed.
The really smart managers avoid this situation by actively engaging their employees in a continuously ongoing conversation about their work, the organization, their engagement levels, challenges they face and everything else in between. That is, these managers conduct stay interviews regularly, get the pulse of what the employees are thinking and act on it!
First the Do-Not’s:
Do not couple with performance reviews: This is tempting and in fact many companies already do it; but in my opinion it is not a good idea. An annual performance review in itself is an inefficient event and understandably stressful for both the employee and the manager – siince there would be a lot of ground to cover and there is bound to be differences of opinion of what did or did not happen in that time. Besides the employee is going to be focused on a single number – the rating on the bell curve and would hardly be giving honest and unbiased opinions on how they feel about work and the organization.
Do not outsource: It might be tempting to setup an online survey or tell HR to conduct the stay interviews, but that simply defeats the purpose. The primary objective of a stay interview is to determine the engagement level and immediate concerns of the team member – something that is best understood (and appreciated) by the immediate manager. Immediate supervisor(s) or someone higher up in the direct chain of command of the employee must conduct stay interviews.
Do not cherry-pick: There is no two ways about this. You have to talk to everyone in your team while doing the stay interviews. If you talk only to a select set of people – what ever be the criterion you decided, it will be perceived as discriminatory. If at this point you are wondering about how to talk to the 50 odd people reporting to you, then you have a different problem. If your span of control is more than 10, fix that first!
Now the Do’s:
Do look for what “makes ‘em tick”: Talk to everyone on your team, especially the high performers and try to ascertain attributes that make them successful. If the only common thing you can find is that they are all smokers and join you in the smoker’s zone, then you might want to take a deep look inwards. Jokes apart, find out what motivates the top performers about working for the company, how do they tackle the challenges that others are not able to, etc. This information is not only helpful for you to guide the less engaged employees but also useful when deciding new hires.
The magic of engagement does depend a lot on the personality match of the employee with the organizational culture. For example if the culture is in-your-face-aggressive then hiring the most qualified introvert won’t really help.
Do use the same questions: Ask everyone you are talking to the same set of questions. Only then will you be able to determine the differences across top performers and the rest and be able to help the others engage better.
Do wrap it up quickly: Don’t extend the exercise beyond a couple of weeks at maximum. If you take a few months to get around to talking to everyone lots of things would have changed – most of which would be out of your control. The stay interviews are like a snapshot of the present and it should be done quickly enough to be a true representation of what your team is thinking.
Do close the loop: The sales professionals live by the ABC mantra – Always Be Closing. Well it applies to you too – take the feedback you receive (directly and what the collated data tells you) seriously. The zone of engagement depends on the overlap of what the organization and the employee wants, and if your insights can help increase the overlap – everyone wins! (See the figure above)
The final word: Remember, stay interviews give you an opportunity to connect with and take genuine interest in what motivates and engages your team members. If you come across as just ticking off boxes, then a golden chance would be missed. You couldn’t do much worse than having a 1-hour conversation, take notes and then do absolutely nothing.
I 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.
As we rolled out the all-new version of the Kwench Library in the Kwench Employee Engagement Platform over the weekend, I got thinking about the reading preferences of people. On kwench we have over 300k users who love to read all kinds of books. The dashboards offer an unparalleled insight into what “Corporate India” likes to read and sometimes data can prove popular perceptions wrong!
Now I am a big fan of fiction. My reading habits have been formed with spending countless hours poring over comics and then graduating to novels. Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, R.K.Narayan, Conan Doyle, Ayn Rand, Agatha Christie; Alistair MacLean all had a deep influence on me at various stages of my life. By the time Dan Brown, Rowling and Tolkien got published I was an adult, but I was more than happy to read those books too.
Interestingly some of my best friends can’t stand fiction. (Sort of puts a formidable challenge to the birds-of-a-feather theory) They recoil in horror when I try to regale them with the story of the latest blockbuster I finished. These puritans wouldn’t be caught dead with a well-thumbed novel. Only hard-bound business books please! (And I cringe before hiding my favourite copy of Fountainhead in my bag.)
Ever so often I wondered why these rather imaginative and intelligent professionals didn’t feel the thrill of being transported to another world. How can following Holmes or Poirot as they go about solving a murder not be exciting? Or how can the antics of Swami and his friends not transport the reader to a small town in pre-Independence India?
Interestingly I came across an article in the Sunday Review of the NYTimes – titled “How Reading Transforms Us”. Finally some research that seemed to back up what I had felt intuitively all these years. The effect fiction has on readers is very different from that of non-fiction. I had to read more. The rest of this post is essentially a short synopsis of the research by Maja Djikic et al. of the University of Toronto.
“Fictional Stories are Simulations designed to run not on computers but on minds”
Researchers have been pondering over the difference in the impact fiction and non-fiction has on readers. Bal and Veltkamp have proposed that fiction is ‘engaging and of emotional interest’. Put in other words, fiction is capable of generating emotions whereas non-fiction due to its informational nature might be engaging but not necessarily associated with emotions.
As all those of read fiction have experienced at some time or the other, readers of well-written (i.e. engaging) fictional stories often find themselves identifying with a character in the story. The degree of this is a function of the personality of the reader. In experiments on ‘identification’, researchers Kaufman and Libby concluded that instead of considering the events of the story from a neutral point of view, readers who are high in experience-taking ‘relinquish some of their own individuality’ and align with the mindset of the character in the story. (I have had friends back in university days act like Howard Roark after reading Fountainhead)
There are three primary kinds of simulations attributed to fiction:
Simulation of complexes of several processes: Stories involving relationships and social interactions is often based on complex interactions. It is the implicit understanding of those complexes that improve the reader’s appreciation of the situation (and hence the story). These ‘fictional simulations’ enable the reader to imagine possible situations and outcomes thereby belying the popular assumption that fiction is simply a description of some sort.
Simulation of empathy: When readers interact with an engaging story, they understand or empathize with the emotions of others.
In an experiment, researchers asked readers to read a Sherlock Holmes story and the control group was given a non-fiction piece of the same length that was based on newspaper reports. Interestingly the readers who were deeply involved in the Sherlock Holmes story became more empathetic while those who were less involved actually became less empathetic. Such effects were not seen in the control group.
The theory-of-mind: Researchers have proposed that an important aspect of reading fiction is to work out what the characters are feeling or thinking.
In a very interesting experiment, Speer et. al. had people read a short story while being scanned with a fMRI (a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) machine. When in the story the protagonist pulled a cord to turn on the light, the part of the reader’s brain associated with grasping objects was activated.
The very interesting observation that Djikic and others present is on the Change of Cognitive Empathy among the participants who had low ‘Openness’. There was a marked change in the empathy levels of those who have low openness and read a short story instead of an essay. The study also found that people who had been reading fiction for at least five years scored higher on the Interpersonal Reactivity Index.
To sum up it seems that those who read fiction are more responsive to social cues and are able to better empathize with others. Much more research needs to be done before we can start generalizing the conclusions.
But there is enough research to back up the calls for doing away with the stigma that reading fiction is merely a leisure activity. Reading fiction does contribute in cognitive development and encourages people to ‘place themselves in others shoes.’ Empathy towards others in the work place is one of the most important drivers of engagement. As the researchers point out in the conclusion of the paper – “Of course, we can understand others by interacting with them, but in real life misunderstanding often causes severe upsets. Fictional literature, in which we can misunderstand without suffering negative consequences, may be a gentler teacher.”
Acknowledgements and References
Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
1. How Reading Transforms Us, Keith Oatley and Maja Djikic, Sunday Review, The New York Times, Dec 19, 2014.
2. Reading Other Minds, Effects of literature on empathy, Maja Djikic, Keith Oatley and Mihnea C. Moldoveanu, University of Toronto
Yes, ‘n’ how many years can some people exist/Before they’re allowed to be free?/Yes, ‘n’ how many times can a man turn his head/Pretending he just doesn’t see?/The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind/The answer is blowin’ in the wind. (Blowing in the Wind, Bob Dylan)
When we talk about Employee Engagement, the discussion is essentially about motivation. Engagement is in fact, at some level a consequence of Motivation – a sort of end state if you may.
When I meet senior executives in organizations, a common lament is that ‘quality’ talent is so difficult to find. And if it’s a group of executives, then you can be assured a passionate discussion on a broken education system, exorbitant pay packages offered by rival companies, attraction to go abroad etc. will ensue
I usually try to bring up the topic of motivation and get them to talk about it. It works sometimes, but sadly more often than not – it gets pooh-poohed. One (very smart) executive recently told me bluntly – ‘ the very act of accepting the job offer represents motivation to work here. Why should we need to keep providing additional motivation? Nobody was motivating me with badges and games all these years!’
The lady had a point. Her conclusion was erroneous but her premise was not totally incorrect.
Accepting the job offer represents the first step in a journey with the organization (and with everything else that comes as a part of the deal – managers, peers and the organizational culture.) When the job offer is taken up, chances are you have crossed the hygiene hurdle of adequate compensation, so I am not considering that in my discussion for the moment.
The paycheck only comes around once a month, but the employee has to deal with the effect of organizational culture, his peers and his managers every single minute that he is at work (and sometimes even when he is away).
In my opinion, there are three questions every executive should try to answer honestly
- What intrinsic motivations can this candidate have to work with me?
- What intrinsic motivations can this candidate have to work with my team?
- What intrinsic motivations can this candidate have to work in my organization?
Note that I ask you think about the ‘intrinsic’ motivation. Compensation, Job role, Profile, Designation, Bonus is extrinsic motivations.. Focus on understanding the intrinsic motivations.
Take a few minutes and answer the three questions before reading further. Chances are when you answer each of these questions candidly; you will already know why you are not attracting top talent.
The ABC Drivers:
From all the literature I have pored over and the people (team members, managers and leaders) I have talked to, three main drivers of intrinsic motivation stand out – and I call them the ABC drivers of Intrinsic Motivation.
A: Achievement – A sense of accomplishment is a major driver for motivation for anyone who gets up in the morning and goes to work- taking time away from family and battling traffic. Its human nature – If you don’t have a constant sense of achievement, an idea of how you are contributing to the larger ‘story’, your engagement levels crash. Then you are doing ‘something’ with no clue ‘why’ you are doing it (a very common comment I hear!). Managers and leaders who want the best out of their team have a duty to set the context, explain how the tasks are contributing to a larger whole, give constant and constructive feedback and help provide a sense of accomplishment. If any of these pieces are missing, the engagement picture will remain incomplete for the employee.
At some level, your answer to Question 1 as a Manager should address this aspect. If you are a manger who is successful in providing your team members with a sense of achievement, they will always want to work with you!
B: Belief – Employees are highly motivated when they believe that the organization enforces a level playing field. They are motivated when they know that they have the authority to take a decision to solve issues. They are motivated when they know favoritism has no role in decisions taken, when team members are not promoted for being a ‘smoking buddy’ of the manager and when the organization stands behind the employee for doing the ‘right’ thing. A belief that the organization really cares about its stated mission and its employees really does wonders for employee motivation.
This driver should appear in your answer to Question 3 on why should someone want to work for your organization.
C: Camaraderie – Would you want to go to work in an organization where secrecy rules the roost? People in such organizations are afraid to share any information or to collaborate on projects because compensation and career progression depends on information asymmetry. Favoritism, Secrecy, Coteries, Mistrust drives a general feeling of apathy among the employees and engagement levels will be abysmally low. All the bonuses in the world can’t fix this problem.
A sense of camaraderie and teamwork is critical for driving engagement. Employees look forward to work when they get to work along side peers who support and empower them to achieve organizational goals.
This driver should appear in why people would want to work in your team. What kind of team-culture do you have? Do team members support each other? As a manager, do you pave the way for your teams to leverage everyone’s strength or do you ‘divide and rule’?
In Conclusion: If you want to increase employee engagement in your organization, then as managers and leaders – at some point, you will need to ponder over these three questions and see how aligned you are towards enabling the ABC intrinsic drivers among employees. And note that, these are in a way the only things that you need to do, but these should underpin all your thoughts, actions and efforts – otherwise everything you do will ring hollow in the long term.