In Bringing out the Best in People, I have a chapter titled, “Thank Goodness it’s Monday!” Wouldn’t it be great if an organization created such a work environment where employees couldn’t wait to get to work after a weekend? The economic value of such an organization is staggering. In his book, Human Competence, Thomas Gilbert estimates that the potential increase for sales in the average organization is 500 percent. That assumes that proper management is able to bring all sales people to the level of the best performer. Of course most managers think that is impossible. That maybe due in part to the fact that Gilbert estimates from his data that managers vary in effectiveness by as much as 300 percent.
While these numbers seem incredible to managers and executives who struggle every day to reach monthly and yearly goals that don’t approach these numbers, consider this: Less than 40 percent of employees, by their own admission, say that they are doing all they can to further the mission of their organization. Since most employees think they are above average, the real number of fully engaged employees is probably less.
Maybe you’ve seen the commercial for Fiber One cereal, in which a woman stops at a traffic light beside one of their trucks. The woman rolls down her window and shouts at the driver about how she loves the cereal. The driver responds, “Lady, I just drive the truck.” She continues to talk about Fiber One’s benefits and the driver, while looking askance, says, “Have a nice day” as he drives off. This represents the exemplar of a non-engaged employee. He “just drives the truck.” He has a job to do and he does it, goes home and comes back tomorrow and does the same thing. If I’m a Fiber One executive, I would want him to say, “You are right ma’am, it is a great cereal. Thank you for being such an enthusiastic customer.”
While you may be convinced of the value of total engagement, the question most executives have is, “How can you develop a fully engaged workforce?” There are many consultants and training companies that assume the answer is as simple as being more positive and giving more recognition. While I have spent the majority of the last 40 years promoting the advantages of a more positive management style, engagement is not something that can be accomplished by simply changing supervisor and management behavior. While there are substantial benefits for just doing this, it will not capture the potential value that is available to the organization.
The key to full engagement starts with senior management. It is not about a new building, modern equipment and even good benefits. It starts first with systems and processes. In OOPs: 13 Management Practices that Waste Time and Money, I address management practices that are not only widely known, but are also viewed as acceptable systems for managing performance. There are many systems that have been a part of almost every organization for the last hundred years and have gone relatively unquestioned as to their effectiveness. Yet, almost all of them fail from the standpoint of including what is known about the science of human behavior that is necessary to bring out the best in people. Most of these systems were designed from the perspective of finance rather than behavior. Therefore, the first thing the CEO should do is to make sure that pay, benefits, evaluations, etc. are designed so that they meet financial and behavioral requirements that bring out the best in people. For example, employee of the month does more harm than good as only one person can be reinforced for their hard work. Performance appraisal systems, even though not intended as such, are competitive. It is never productive to have internal competition among employees. Bonus systems are poorly designed behaviorally and often cost considerable dollars with minimal motivational benefit.
Once management systems are behaviorally aligned, it is the CEO’s task to ensure that every job has some daily accomplishment. Few things are more motivational than accomplishment. What do most of your employees have at the end of the day that they can feel proud of accomplishing? If a job does not have daily accomplishments, you should eliminate the job.
Next, employees should own the process that creates the accomplishments. Every CEO has stood before employees at some point and said something like, “You are our most important asset.” But what employees see is that they are the first asset that the organization cuts when times get tough. What this says to the employees is that they are not the most important asset after all. Unfortunately, most CEOs don’t know how to capitalize on that asset. You capitalize on the employee asset by letting them improve the process and solve the problems involved in reaching and exceeding the goals of the organization. If you have 1,000 employees, you probably have 100,000 ideas for making your product or service more valuable and profitable. Very few organizations ever come close to capturing that level of innovation and creativity. However, if you truly let the employees own the process and turn supervisors into coaches that can help them as opposed to bossing or managing them, you will always be surprised what they can do, and willingly so.
Finally, learn the science of behavior. While there are many things about behavior that are still not completely understood, there are many that we know to the certainty that the sun will rise tomorrow. Learn those things. You will be richly rewarded when you do.
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