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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


Post title inspired by the Twilight Zone series (1958)

Week #35[Book of the Week] Jumping the S-Curve: How to beat the growth cycle, get on top, and stay there

JumpingTheSCurve_Jumping the S-Curve, reveals how the to companies get to where they are and more importantly, how they stay there. Authors, Paul Nunes and Tim Breene build on extensive research they carried out over several years, to show how successful companies successfully navigate the S-curve(s) of business success. In the book they point out the folly of several leaders who focus only on the ‘visible’ part of the S-curve while planning the strategy for their companies. (The visible S-curve is where companies start off small with a few early adopter clients/users, grows rapidly as the demand for the product/service swells and finally peaks and flattens off as the market matures/saturates)

The authors make a distinction between high performing leaders and others as,

The ability to both climb and jump S-curves is what separates high performers from those that never manage to translate a brief period of accomplishment with a single winning offering into a string of business successes.

In the book the authors point out how in most companies, the management (and leadership) is focused on managing the growth curve and rarely take the effort to understand and address the hidden S-curves.

The hidden S-curves the authors talk about in the book are:

  • The hidden competition curve: The impact of this curve is that because of innovation and other market condition changes, before the business hits its revenue peak, the basis of competition on which it was founded expires.
  • The hidden capabilities curve: In creating capabilities to ride the revenue S-curve, companies create capabilities that they might not be aware till its too late. By the time they are aware of those unknown capabilities in the organization the market would have changed and the company would need to develop new capabilities to compete.
  • The hidden talent curve: While putting substantial efforts in scouting for new talent, companies often are unable to retain the talent they already have. The authors refer to the inability of companies to retain what they call ‘serious talent’: people with both the capability and the will to drive business growth.

The book is a call to management to focus on what the authors call is the ‘real agenda’ – to understand how high performers create an organization that manages to all four curves simultaneously.

The quick answer?

They do so by engaging in three distinct management practices:

  • Creating strategy in a way that is “edge-centric;”
  • Changing the top team well before it appears necessary; and
  • Ensuring that they have more talent than seems required by becoming hothouses of talent.

Our Ratings:

JumpingScurvesRatingFurther Reading:

Jumping the S-curve: How to sustain long term performance, Outlook Journal, Accenture, February 2011

And here are the authors talking about the book:

Inferno: 9 Circles of Employee Engagement Hell.

Sandro_Botticelli_-_Inferno,_Canto_XVIII_-_WGA02854Non è sanza cagion l’andare al cupo: (Not causeless is this journey to the abyss) – Canto VII, Inferno, Dante Alighieri

We often get to read about progressive companies that invest in and also get their employee engagement strategies right. But rarely do we talk about companies that don’t get it quite so right. It just so happened that I started reading Inferno recently (not the Dan Brown version), and it eventually got me thinking. We often have traits of Bosses from Hell, Employers from hell. But what would a hell of Companies who get employee engagement wrong look like.

Let’s take a look at how companies enter Employee Engagement Hell, shall we?

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”

First Circle: Limbo – Organizations go through this state as leaders aren’t quite sure if they want to get into employee engagement. “We do parties and town-halls, isn’t that enough?” As Dante would put it, this is the state where the “guiltless damned are punished by living in a deficient form of Heaven.” For some leaders, who don’t really believe in the long term pain and investment required to achieve true employee engagement, this is the least amount of damage they can do to the organization.

Second Circle: Lust – Some organizations are condemned to the second circle because, of their leaders lust for awards. A TV channel announces a new category of corporate awards and some companies suddenly see a spurge of activity. Budgets are “discovered” to spend on what they think will make employees “happy” and “excited” and much public blogging and tweeting starts. Approximately a year later, the company wins the category trophy at the awards ceremony, a page in the annual report mentions, what a great a place it is to work and then things go back to the usual. The twitter handle goes silent after a while, the blog gives up the ghost and ‘project deadlines’ take over.

Third Circle: Gluttony – A glutton is one who consumes inordinate amounts of food and drink. Some organizations try to adopt anything sold to them as ‘employee engagement.’ Every strategy, every product, every ‘tactic’ is consumed mindlessly without any thought to its relevance. The concept of engagement is driven by a few (with possibly unlimited budgets) and eventually employees tire of the disjointed activities and initiatives. With little in terms of results, such engagement projects become an indulgence of a few powerful executives. Dorothy Sayers describes it very aptly as “the surrender to sin which began with mutual indulgence leads by an imperceptible degradation to solitary self-indulgence.”

Fourth Circle: Greed – In Dante’s Inferno, this circle of hell is populated by those, whose attitude towards material goods deviate from what was appropriate. Companies who feel that handing out cash-bonuses and material awards is enough to, “engage” with their workforce are condemned to this circle. These companies forget that compensation is a combination of monetary and psychological. Big cash awards as carrots for performance can only take the company so far, and at some point the company culture will be muddied by the ambitious and the unscrupulous. Money should be used as a basic hurdle – employees should be compensated adequately for their contributions beyond that the culture depends on much more than the pay-check.

Fifth Circle: Anger – The companies that are in this circle of our employee engagement hell are “withdrawn into a black sulkiness which can find no joy.” The leaders find the whole concept of investing in employee engagement ludicrous. “We already pay them a salary and the job is what they signed up for. Why should we have to invest to ‘engage’ them all over again” they rant. And as the famous adage goes “they get what they pay for.” Customer Service employees read from a prepared text and product service engineers do exactly what the manual tells them to. Eventually the customers leave and the employees follow. In the long run, the executives don’t have to worry about paying or engaging with anyone at all.

Sixth Circle: Heresy –Leaders who go a step beyond the ones upset with having to “invest in employee engagement” and dismiss the whole notion as a fad, condemn their organizations to this circle. These organizations not only have no active strategy and plan to engage their workforce; they in fact oppose any suggestions to implement such a program. The notion of leadership tends to be very much top-down in such companies, with a few deciding what the company, the clients and the market place needs and commit the organizations to their strategic roadmap. “My way or the highway” is a good approximation of the leadership style.

Seventh Circle: Violence – Companies that tolerate leaders and managers who believe that a ‘bigger voice is better’ find themselves in this circle. They believe that the employees cannot be trusted to take decisions on their own and micro-management is the only way to ‘get things done.’ Understandably, all the good employees leave such organizations and the ones that remain are mediocre and eventually the company suffers the consequences. No innovation or sustained growth is possible for such companies, because they will receive hardly any feedback or insights into what the customers are thinking. As with Dante’s inferno for companies in this circle, “the portal of the future has been shut.”

Eighth Circle: Fraud – At the very bottom of our employee engagement hell, we head into the two circles that punish sins of fraud and treachery. In Dante’s version, this is where the panderers, the seducers and the flatterers are doomed to spend time for eternity. And so too for companies, where the leaders profess to care about their employees, but hardly walk the talk. The leaders talk about listening to the teams, but no follow through happens. Collaboration is bandied about as important, but org-charts and siloed approach towards working rules. Employee engagement gets talked about in town-hall meetings, several pages with pictures of smiling people are dedicated in the annual reports, but the employees are left feeling cold wondering what the hell the leadership is talking about. And of course with the faith in leaders eroded, even genuine statements and promises get discounted and the downward spiral towards disengagement and eventually disappointment is inevitable.

Ninth Circle: Treachery – At the very bottom is the ninth circle, where the companies with insincere execution of employee engagement programs are put. These are companies where employee engagement budgets and efforts are allocated ad-hoc with little or no oversight. This lets the middle-managers and team leaders who may not have bought into the concept to sabotage the entire program. Managers sit on budgets and don’t hand out the awards to team-members, instead showing the amount as cost savings, at the end of the year to get their own bonus. At the end of the year, the leaders are convinced that employee engagement isn’t really working and that it’s only the hard-working managers who are saving the day for everyone by somehow cutting costs. Eventually, all efforts are abandoned and the company regresses to the good-ol’ command and control approach. Guess who are the only ones smiling when that happens?

The concept of Employee Engagement Hell might be a bit dramatic. The point I wanted to make is that leaders have to put substantial thought into deciding what the organization stands for, what is the culture they wish to propagate and what the employee engagement goals are – before embarking on building out the strategy and deploying solutions. There is no quick fix for employee engagement. Employee happiness yes maybe. Employee Excitement too can be achieved in the short term with a radical overhaul. But engagement takes a long term view, a sustainable strategy and unwavering execution to achieve.

Does your organization take employee engagement seriously, or do you think it should be relegated to one of the circles of Employee Engagement Hell? Tell us in the comments section below.

Image Credit: Sandro Botticelli – Inferno, Canto XVIII – WGA02854, Source Wikimedia Commons.

‘kwench HR VLZ Webinar on “Creating Leaders: The HR Way”


Join us for a webinar on “Creating Leaders – the HR Way”, focus on a holistic HR approach towards organizational strategy. 

The Speakers:

A. Krishna, Senior Vice President (HR), Bosch Ltd.

Krishna_Mr. Krishna is a Science graduate and a Cost Accountant. He started his career as a Management Trainee (Finance) in HAL.  He held various capacities in the plants and in the Corporate office in the accounts/ finance / controlling / treasury departments.

 He joined Bosch Limited in 1993. Has varied experience with Bosch, at different locations in India and overseas:

  • Head of Accounts, Controlling and Costing at Nashik
  • International assignment in Germany in the Materials function
  • Responsible for two plants of Bosch, as Commercial Plant Manager for over 7 years
  • Head of HR for Bosch Ltd. India and Head HR for the 6  legal entities of Bosch in India. covering 6 companies (over 27000 Employees)

 His interests are:

  • Leadership  and People development
  • Corporate culture and related topics


Raghavendra K, VP & Head – Human Resource Development, Infosys BPO

Raghvendra_Raghavendra currently holds office as Vice President and Head of Human Resources (HR) and is in the Executive Council of Infosys BPO. His expertise lies in aligning HR’s functional role to dovetail business plans. His areas of interest are development of HR competencies, managing cultural diversity and change management, especially in the context of mergers and acquisitions.

He has created strong synergies between performance management systems and employee development platforms, ensuring that Infosys has a readily available and competent internal talent pool to meet business challenges. A strong proponent of the “Learn while you earn”, he has institutionalized a number of interventions whereby there is a huge value add for a person to move up the value chain while continuing to pursue one’s career.

Raghavendra has anchored numerous initiatives to support the development of strategic Human Resources (HR) and is a frequent speaker in HR thought leadership sessions and seminars in India and globally.

Raghavendra comes with a wealth of experience of over 28 years straddling different industry verticals and organizations such as J.K. Synthetics (core manufacturing and process), Blue Dart Express (service industry) and Ramco Systems (IT), and was last heading the Human Resources function at Strides Arcolab Ltd. (pharmaceutical operations and R&D) before joining Infosys.

He is a commerce graduate and a PG Dip (Hons) in PM & IR from the Madras School of Social Work. He has also undergone the 1 year AMP from IIM Bangalore.

To register for the session: 

Please register using the below URL. There are no charges for the session!


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


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””