When Steve Ballmer announced his retirement from Microsoft last fall, the former CEO told the Wall Street Journal, "the best way for Microsoft to enter a new era is a new leader who will accelerate change."
While trust and confidence were key traits for leaders of yore, nimbleness and the ability to engage are just as important for business managers today. Our fast-paced, increasingly remote work environments require leaders who can inspire their workers while keeping up with change.
Did ten-year plans from a decade ago account for the explosion in remote work or the bring-your-own-device trends in mobile? Even if managers didn’t see these changes coming, there’s no question that these trends have dramatically changed the way many people work.
Change is constant
The business buzz term "change management" was popular a decade or so ago. A Google search yields countless thought leadership articles about systemic approaches to organizational transitions.
That model is dated, Avinoam Nowogrodski, CEO of project management company Clarizen, writes in Entrepreneur. Whereas companies once viewed change as a one-time or infrequent event, such as a product rollout, now they should think about it on a continual basis.
"Historically, people have thought about change in the workplace as the transition from one way of working to another. The current (and future) workplace demands accepting change and embracing it," Nowogrodski writes. "At any given time, employees in many workplaces are adapting to changes in new technology, projects and leadership."
To embrace change, engage workers
The breakneck pace of innovation doesn’t mesh well with traditional top-down leadership. It’s impractical for leaders to send out company-wide memos every time there’s a software update or a competitor releases a new product — these changes happen every day. By the time leaders make systemic plans for addressing changes, they’ve often missed the boat.
"Command-and-control isn’t a fading leadership model simply for cultural reasons, but because modern organizations must respond in real time to fast-changing consumer preferences and agile competitors." John Coleman and Jim Whitehurst write in the Harvard Business Review.
A different, more productive approach is to entrust employees with picking up on new technologies and strategies that align with organizational goals.
"This can only be done effectively when leaders have engaged their organizations deeply enough that employees aren’t simply executing tasks; they’ve understood and internalized the ’whats’ and ’whys’ of the strategy deeply enough that they can innovate on and improve that strategy as the market demands," Coleman and Whitehurst write.
Take Zappos as an example. The online retailer doesn’t give its customer service representatives scripts. Instead it lets them choose the best way to have conversations with customers, pivoting when necessary. In addition to trusting employees, the strategy requires those workers to understand and act on the company’s mission: "To provide the best customer service possible." Maybe that means talking an individual through a return process, or overnighting a free pair of shoes to a best man who was unprepared for a wedding.
It’s not that Zappos is too lazy to write scripts. In fact, customer service employees are required to undergo seven weeks of training on how to make customers happy. But by understanding the company's overall goal, they’re able to use the latest tools and technologies carry out that promise.
Photo: Can Stock
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How Smart Engagement Builds a Dynamic Workforce
Real engagement in the workplace is part of a dynamic process of feedback and exchange. The more information you have about your employees, the easier it is to build programs and processes which actively involve them in learning and development. The more engaging your learning and performance strategies are, the greater the rewards in terms of staff productivity. Workforce engagement has never been more important. Gallup research shows that only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged. And according to Deloitte, as few as 4 percent of companies believe they are good at engaging with Millennials in the workplace. True engagement boosts company loyalty, reduces absentee days and increases an organisation’s profit. With employee engagement at record lows, the challenge lies in finding new ways to win the hearts and minds of your workers. The best way to do this is by building a culture of strong, creative communication and feedback while driving organisational growth. Practical, Proven Ways to Boost Workplace Engagement This all sounds fine. But how does it work in practice? Breaking the cycle of boredom, distraction and disengagement requires more than enthusiasm and good will. To understand your employees enough to engage them, you need to provide a system of continuous feedback which gives them the chance to tell you exactly what they need, where they’re at, and what they aspire to. This can happen in real time, 24/7, on the smart mobile devices that are central to Millennial communication, and that are becoming increasingly intertwined in the lives of older generations of workers as well. Once you have this vital feedback, you can start setting up central, cloud-based programs which feed their interest, meet their career objectives and fulfil their individual need to be recognised, encouraged, trained, coached, mentored and considered–in all the right ways. Customised programs lead, in turn, to a more focused and engaged workforce. Staff are now keen to collaborate and are increasingly able to innovate in small and major ways. Open lines of communication produce employees who feel valued, connected to their workplace, and able to build relationships in a more effective manner. By collecting real data from your employees, you are in a far better position to connect with them–in ways that resonate with their lifestyle, objectives and expectations. Over time, you have the tools to build a smarter, more engaged and far more productive workforce. How Continuous Feedback Is the Key to Engagement The following examples of continuous feedback show how it can work on the ground. 1) Measure Employee Engagement Craft a customised survey on a recurring quarterly or biannual basis to gather staff opinions on topics as diverse as feeling safe in the office, having opportunities for career development and quality of managerial feedback. 2) Encourage Open Communication Make your surveys fit for purpose to receive maximum possible feedback. Design confidential surveys–encouraging honest, unbiased responses–and dispose of lengthy questionnaires by allowing staff to answer a couple of questions in less than 10 seconds per day. 3) Foster a Culture of Continuous Improvement Create a series of pulse surveys designed to measure specific performance indicators, allowing HR to make ongoing adjustments. Call for targeted feedback on areas of employee dissatisfaction, gathering suggestions to improve company culture and practice. A continuous feedback survey platform like Cornerstone Engage allows your organisation to capture, analyse and act on real-time employee feedback. You can then: Measure engagement more accurately Capture feedback to help identify areas of difficulty and improvement Create customised programs to suit individual needs Track the effectiveness of these programs over time Drilling down into the details will give you the data you need to make truly impactful workforce decisions. So why get stuck in recurring loops of boredom and dissatisfaction? Integrate Cornerstone Engage with your cloud-based talent management platform and find your way out of the maze. Photo: Creative Commons
The Great Engagement Robbery: How Others Influence Engagement
"Don't grab your shovel right away. Just step back and watch the pace and tempo of how we work around here." I hold a strong belief in personal responsibility for employee engagement, but it would be wrong not to acknowledge how relationships can influence and shape how we work. In this post, I will outline how workplace relationships can foster disengagement. We were working on the railroad... The term railroad has two meanings. As a noun, it refers to a system of tracks for trains that are built and maintained by hundreds of employees. As a verb, it means to rush or coerce someone into doing something. I have the perfect story to illustrate both definitions at the same time. In 1974, I got a job with the railway on a crew called the "Perishable Gang" in Thunder Bay, Ontario. It was still the age of nepotism, so I got the job because my father was a railroader. I wanted to make a good impression at work and I wanted to make my father proud of me. The perishable gang was a group of four to eight employees who were responsible to look after livestock cars, heater and refrigerator cars, and pick up large grain spills in the railway yard when there were no freight trains moving through Thunder Bay. ... and then I was railroaded I vividly remember my first day at work. I arrived before eight in the morning and as there were no trains coming for three hours, we drove out in trucks to clean up a large grain spill in the yard. With shovel, burlap bags and great enthusiasm I eagerly went about my task. I rapidly filled a burlap sack with grain, slung it over my shoulder and crossed multiple railway tracks like an Olympic hurdler to sling the bag into the back of the pickup truck and return rapidly to fill the next bag. I thought the rest of the gang was going to be impressed with my show of herculean effort. And sure enough, within twenty minutes, the head of the gang called me over and suggested we take a walk down the track. He asked me, "How do you think it is going?" "I am working about as hard as I can," I replied. "That could be the problem," he said. I looked at him, puzzled. He continued. "I want you to go back to the spill. Don't grab your shovel right away; just step back and watch the pace and tempo of how we work around here. Once you understand our pace, and only after you understand our pace, do I want you to pick up your shovel and fall in." How workplace relationships effect engagement Had you been watching me work, in less than 90 minutes from starting a new job you would have witnessed a highly engaged new employee transform into a plodding and disengaged worker in record time. Ultimately, I did not perish working in the perishable gang as I was let go during the annual seasonal layoff three months later. Don't get me wrong; I take full responsibility for my lack of engagement. But even with personal responsibility for our work other people have a huge influence on our engagement. This early formative experience is why I entered the field of engagement thirty-five years later - to atone for my past sins of disengagement. If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.Let him step to the music which he hears,however, measured or far away. - Henry David Thoreau The purpose of this story is to examine the role of others in your own engagement and the engagement of employees within your organization. Do others enhance or undermine engagement where you work? How are you addressing the role relationships play in influencing engagement? Are you helping employees take personal responsibility for work and educating them on how to do this?
Break the Engagement Funk: Why Companies Must Close the ’Passion Gap’
Bored. Complacent. Uninspired. Those adjectives describe (at least some of the time) a vast majority of employees in the modern workforce. New Deloitte research found that more than 87 percent of America’s workforce fails to reach their full potential because they lack passion for their work. This "passion gap" is a drag that prevents people from doing their best work. But the bad news doesn’t end there. The malaise can be contagious, threatening to pull down other employees’ satisfaction and performance. "In today’s rapidly changing business environment, companies need passionate workers because such workers can drive extreme and sustained performance improvement — more than the one-time performance ’bump’ that follows a bonus or the implementation of a worker engagement initiative," says Deloitte. There’s no panacea, no quick fix, to fight the affliction. A promotion or an employee outing might improve engagement, but passion runs deeper. Deloitte defines passion through three attributes: commitment to a specialty or area of expertise, questioning, and connecting. The ardent people who possess all three are driven, model employees that every business leader strives for. Some just don’t know it yet. Recognize Workplace Passion as a Positive So how can business leaders help employees break out of the funk and inject a bit of passion into the workplace? Business leaders' first step should be shedding bad connotations they might have with passionate employees. Passion is often trumpeted as a noble characteristic in life, but in the office that same quality is often (too often, according to Deloitte) associated with the emotional, risky behavior that makes an employee a HR nightmare. Not so, says Deloitte. Shedding prejudices against passion is the first step. Then, managers should rid those same prejudices from the businesses’ processes. Institutional and business processes that stress conformity and process over creativity and passion can stifle passionate employees. The study suggests four workplace conditions that nurture passion among employees: Encourage connections: Allow and encourage employees to work with people in different departments, both within the company and in the industry broadly. Reward curiosity: Encourage employees to tackle projects and work that inspire them, even if those projects go beyond their daily responsibilities. Nix xenophobia: It’s a big world out there. Encourage employees to work and collaborate with people in the broader industry, beyond the office walls. Listen and innovate: Keep an open dialogue, at all levels of the organization, with customers to encourage fresh thinking. Perhaps passion is one component of what Josh Bersin, founder of talent management consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte, calls the "irresistible workplace," an antidote to the engagement and performance problems that plague companies. Photo: Can Stock