How Organizations Get Employee Engagement Wrong
Employees now expect more. Employee engagement is key to success for most organizations. If we understand the typical and recurring mistakes made in this field, we can predict and prevent them happening to us.
Today’s guest post is by Frank Devine, author of RAPID MASS ENGAGEMENT: Driving Continuous Improvement Through Employee Culture Creation (CLICK HERE to get your copy).
The Roll-out Assumption
During a visit to one of the sites where my Rapid Mass Engagement (RME) process had been implemented, a group of senior visitors toured the site guided by a shop-floor employee who outlined the new high-performance culture. The visitors could see and feel the culture and were impressed by the ‘Behavioral Standards’ – behaviorally specific standards designed to make accountability both easy and transparent developed from employee data and created by employees. One of the visitors informed the guide that they were going to take these away and ‘roll them out’ in the visitors’ own organization.
The employee guide looked deflated and when asked why, explained:
“If you think you can roll these out, I have not explained properly how they were created … and who owns them.”
This roll-out assumption is common. In one site the employees added the following to the organization’s Behavioral Standards:
“Warning: attempts to apply these standards without the process that created them will only disappoint.”
Ownership matters and creates discretionary effort and engagement, and anything rolled-out, by definition, is not owned by those on the receiving end.
Engagement without Enablement
Imagine you do what it takes to create a highly engaged workforce, but employees then crash into overcautious and inflexible legacy systems. Our HR and Quality policies, how we recruit and promote, how early we involve end-users in the design of equipment and software can all be designed to maximize enablement, but frequently suffer from producer capture.
Failing to quickly and systematically align systems to your nascent emerging culture, will mean you have highly engaged employees, but working for another organization.
Squashing Ownership, Solution Space and Discretionary Effort with Unnecessary Standardization
Western universities and organizations dominate thinking and research in areas such as leadership and engagement. In addition, our understanding of improvement science (Lean/Six Sigma, etc., however described) means we first create standards before attempting to improve them.
Why is this a problem? I have seen many examples of corporate functions specifying the color, the size, even the font to be used in visual management.
Why do we think corporate knows best? Why carelessly disregard the mountain of goodwill, ownership and discretionary effort available by letting a thousand flowers bloom, by encouraging local people to create their own?
If you have multiple locations worldwide, allow each to design their own approaches to visual management or, as in the example above, how they codify and articulate their high-performance culture. Give them the maximum solution space and they will fill it with locally resonant and authentic words owned by the employees concerned.
I often hear comments such as “no-one comes to work to do a bad job.” The danger is when this is followed by a logical leap such as “all we have to do is empower our teams and they will do a great job.”
In corporate life, I designed the training for CarnaudMetalbox’s Self-Directed Work Teams (called ‘Autonomous Manufacturing Teams’ in French); the key was ensuring clearly defined scope and responsibilities.
If we create a power vacuum the only thing that is certain is that the power vacuum will be filled. The hope is that a highly motivated self-directed work team will always fill this vacuum, but that cannot be relied upon. It some cases this naïve assumption led to systematic restriction of output, bullying and abuse of vulnerable employees.
Random outcomes are the opposite of high performance. Some of my work comes from helping readdress the damage caused by such policy failures which ignore everything we have learned from FMEA and Human Factors in other contexts.
Timid Engagement: Wishing the Ends without Willing the Means
An executive from a global organization who had visited a RME site contacted me.
He told me he was very impressed by the culture he had experienced on the site and the impact on quality, customer service and productivity and he wanted that for his organization.
We discussed what was involved in creating such a high-performance culture and his enthusiasm declined rapidly. This is common.
This was one of many examples of people willing the ends without the will to enact the means necessary to achieve those ends.
In the senior team diagnostic workshops that are the 1st stage of RME, it is common for at least some of the senior team to imagine that transformational outputs can be achieved with conventional ‘safe’ inputs; they can’t.
Shiny and New
I have worked with tens of thousands of employees in highly participative workshops where, in the early stages of culture change, cynicism about ‘management’ is common. Employees often tell me of an interesting coping mechanism. Having experienced a high turnover of senior leaders and initiatives they advise their peers to smile at the new leaders and make encouraging noises. They go on to say “this initiative won’t last very long and then another shiny and new initiative will be launched that we can give superficial commitment to! It seems to make them happy.”
Why exhaust yourself launching and re-launching initiatives top-down when it is possible to gain employee ownership of change and culture from the bottom-up. This will maintain the humor but also create and sustain meaningful change!
Frank Devine, author of RAPID MASS ENGAGEMENT: Driving Continuous Improvement Through Employee Culture Creation, founder of Accelerated Improvement, Ltd., specializes in creating a High Performance continuous improvement culture from the bottom-up.
For more information please visit https://www.acceleratedimprovement.co.uk/
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