The recent shift to remote working has generated a number of issues around employee engagement, active participation and the implementation of ideas for improvement. While employee motivation has been an issue since I started working on performance improvement back in 1978, the lessening of direct contact between managers and employees and between employees makes it even more difficult for keeping people aligned to workplace goals and performance expectations. A friend called home workplaces, “dank,” and it has been hard to get that word out of my head…
And we see this clearly in the US these days as The Great Resignation. The numbers of people leaving workplaces is unprecedented, and companies are having a horrible time replacing the lost knowledge and experience. I won’t bother to share numbers here because they are shared in so many different places; I will blog more about these statistics in other posts.
Most managers seem to be so busy doing that they find it very hard be changing, putting in the work of trying to find some ways to do things differently. I mean, most managers find it hard to do all the things they are supposed to do now, much less do even more things to make improvements, even when some simple ideas exist. They are the main point of leverage for all performance management and they are overwhelmed.
One thing we need to do is strip away some of the current “responsibilities” faced by supervisors to give them more breathing room. Maybe this is relieving them of some report that is really not impactful. Or, it is taking them out of some unnecessary meetings. If you don’t know what to do, ask them. They can tell you. Cut away 3 or 4 hours a week of unimpactful responsibilities. Then, and only then, try to add some things that will generate some real improvement.
What I would like to share a really simple concept that can have widespread, positive influences on the workplace, something that is easy to implement and that can generate the active involvement necessary to create active ownership of the results. The process could involve a few 20 minute online meetings with the work teams a week.
As a name, I call it Dis–Un–Engagement.
Consider the reality that one cannot actually “engage” another person, nor can one “empower” them. It is simply an impossible task because it is the other person’s choice to be engaged or empowered. It is the same with a team, in that there is nothing you can do to engage them if they are choosing not to be engaged individually or as a group.
What you can do is identify the many different things that serve to un-engage people. They are numerous and different people are roadblocked by different things. It could be past history, it could be some personality conflict, it could be that the mission or goals or expectations are unclear, it could be a de-motivational issue.
But once those roadblocks can be identified, you can often work with them to minimize or remove them. That is why dis-un-engagement is a realistic activity; you can actually DO something to correct or improve it.
There are a LOT of tools and approaches that work to impact people and performance and which can remove roadblocks, directly and indirectly. And it is often the most simple and elegant that have the most impact. Keeping it simple keeps it useful and bombproof. Making the process visible and clear is even better.
If you look out at the world, you will see really bad statistics about engagement and morale and individual motivation and wonder about what the problems really are. But is engagement really that difficult? I think that most people are engagable and that this is not rocket science.
I’ve been playing with Dis-Un-Empowerment for thirty plus years — it is basically the idea of working and asking people and teams what things get in their way (generate a list of things that are roadblocks or that are un-empowering) and then working with that list to better understand the issues (as well as the individual beliefs and concerns) and then working with individuals (coaching) and teams to help manage them. It is really pretty simple when done as a facilitated process — Yelling and Telling will generate completely unsatisfactory results. (I discuss in detail in PMC Newsletter Four)
Dis-Un-Engagement is a similar concept. We can look at what workplace things are causing people to be un-engaged and simply work to remove them. The issues and factors are usually pretty clear and survey after survey gives you lists of the most common things that people say need to be done.
- If people report that management does not seem to listen to them, what would your solution be?
- If people report that they do not know what is happening in the company and that no one keeps them informed, what might be done?
- If people say that the poor performers seem to not get any attention and that the bad performance is not corrected, might we come up with an action plan to deal with that perception?
Engage-Ability is a simple little framework about how engage-able ARE people in the workplace. And the answer is REALLY – they ARE really engage-able if we work at it. But we tend to make things so hard.
Consider the new employee and this simple factor: 85% of employee morale sharply decreases after their first 6 months on the job. (This is older data, but what has changed to indicate that this has improved?)
–Sirota Survey Intelligence, June 2006
That does not take a lot of analysis or conceptualistic cogitation. We DO things to people that generates “regression to the mean” and the new, enthusiastic employee is brought down to the average of everyone else. And a LOT of those people just do not seem to care, anymore…
According to an older analysis of its database of 5,700 companies representing 5,000,000 employees, Aon Hewitt reported that engagement levels indicate the workforce is by and large indifferent to organizational success or failure. That should concern us. A similar report from SHRM showed that employees were only moderately engaged at work, with an average score of 3.6 on a five-point scale. And according to Corporate Executive Board’s Human Resources Practice, only one in 10 workers were putting in high levels of discretionary effort. And there are lots and lots of current data pointing to the same basic problems.
My take on things is that workers are making educated and calculated decisions about their workplace and how they are treated. They are trying to be like everyone else, in many cases. They are looking to see if the management cares for them and values their efforts.
People ARE engage-able. People can get more involved and committed to accomplishing things. People DO like to work in teams, when risks are minimal and the potential (personal and team) rewards are good. That does NOT mean money compensation, but it does mean that the intrinsic motivators are present.
And Trust is the Residue of Promises Fulfilled.
Making improvements will happen on an individual basis and be connected to the interface of supervisors and workers. Managers need to ask more (based on a lot of data) and tell less.
This ain’t rocket science, folks. It is basically about treating people well, giving them respect, providing training and fair compensation for their efforts and doing what we say we will do as organizational leaders. People ARE engage-able!
What we need are more of the management team willing to take the time to ask and listen and involve. Caterpillars can fly, if they would just lighten up!
Stay tuned. We are releasing an online version of The Search for The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and we are redoing our different sets of Square Wheels images and our toolkits for involving and engaging people in workplace improvement. If you are interested in collaborating with us, or using our products and tools for your performance improvement initiatives, send us a note. We are VERY collaborative as a culture. I want to build some solid and easy to use tools for managing remote workers and actively involving them in productivity and performance.
For the FUN of It!
Scott Simmerman Ph.D. CPF, CPT is still managing partner of PMC and collaborating with the team at PMC LLC, but also sort of retired…
Scott has presented his concepts in 47 countries and collaborates with consultants and trainers worldwide.