Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Zombie Engagement Strategies Don't Work

I have four children, so the chances of my Wife and I watching a grown-up movie are slim at best - so I take the opportunity to catch up on films when I fly.

On the way back from NY recently, I watched "Warm Bodies" a romantic comedy with zombies (I'm not kidding). Take a look at the first four minutes - at around 1:20 there's a scene where our protagonist imagines life before the apocalypse. (Click here to jump to it, or watch the clip).

The more I look around the real world, the more this clip makes me laugh. We spend so much time stuck in our virtual worlds that we can forget about the real people around us.

Engagement strategies can feel like this too, I've seen many companies draw up plans to improve employee engagement by focusing entirely on the electronic aspects of communication, and forget the human interaction element.

Here's a simplified plan that draws in some common elements:

  • Create an intranet site for employees that represents 'their voice'
  • Start a recognition program
  • Make some cool videos about how engagement helps
  • Promote the statistical benefits of engagement
  • Send regular emails about the program
  • Seek regular feedback

All of these are worthy things, but they all require an individual to make the effort to seek out the information and work with it. The problem is - those that do are probably your most engaged employees already.

Take a look at the chart below - this shows a company of 13,500 employees and their level of engagement.

Passive engagement is determined by opting in to certain activities, active involves making a contribution. This is the picture 12 months into an engagement program. Only 5% of the population are in the top two quartiles of engagement, but the majority of that engagement is active.

Also note the 9.9% who are not demonstrating any engagement at all - this is not uncommon, and having the expectation that all employees will be engaged in all things is unrealistic - it doesn't make them bad people, extensive interviews revealed that these are folks who are simply happy to do their work well, content in their role.

There is an underlying story here though, and it's that of human engagement. The effect that the top 5% had on the employee population here was astounding. These were the people who picked up the phone, walked around the office, created the atmosphere for change and generally became cheerleaders for increased engagement.

Looking at their influence on a geographic and organisational basis proved their value beyond all doubt.

So I have three things to leave you with today.

Number 1 - what are YOU personally doing to promote engagement in those around you? Enthusiasm is contagious, and can be expressed in electronic form - but is often much better expressed through direct interaction with the people you work with.

Number 2 - what kind of active engagements are you promoting? 'Change Jams',  interactive message boards and group events are all good places to start - but make sure that actions are taken based on the feedback you get.

Number 3 - are you measuring engagement? If not, then you are relying on hearsay and instinct to improve things - and whilst instinct and passion play a part in this, without hard data you are working in the dark. It's not difficult to do, and it doesn't cost a lot.

If you're struggling with measurement, then please reach out directly to me at or at , and I'll do the best I can to help.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Figuring Out the Secret To Keeping Employees Motivated

Those that know me will know that I have a 'thing' for luggage. I've travelled over two million miles in the last decade and learned the value of good packing & good luggage long ago.

I also have a passion for learning about what makes companies resonate with others - and have collected a substantial list of behaviours and attributes that seem to work for most. 

Red Oxx is a company based out of Montana which fulfils all those criteria for me, and I recently discovered this news segment in which their CEO Jim Markel explains how employee engagement creates committed employees who get involved with company growth. (Click here to see the video).

Jim and the team have figured out the secret to keeping employees motivated. They capture the emotion, passion, strengths and values of every employee and demonstrate it with every action they take - be that creation of a better working environment or getting great new innovations into practice. 

Fundamentally, as he explains "It's all about  building culture within your company".

So how does that fit with my check list? Remember this is personal to me, it may not work for you....

1. This is a company that fundamentally does the right thing, they follow what they believe in and demonstrate it in thought, word and deed. Their public persona matches their private behaviour.

2. The passion for their products shines through, the things they create are loved by those that work there, and it shows in the quality and attention to detail.

3. Ethically they fit into my personal world view - whilst they manufacture an American product from mostly American materials in America using Americans, they also support a community in Guatemala creating the monkey fist zip pulls used on the bags - they don't promote this much, it's just something they feel it's right to do. I like the pride in domestic product and humility in helping those with less opportunity.

3. Their customer service is not just amazing, it's human too. If you call them, don't expect to get anything other than an engaged, charming and passionate person on the other end of the line who's willing to help.

4. Nothing is too much trouble. Five years ago we needed a very odd shaped, but simple bag to transport an infant car seat on vacation. The bag was with us in a few days - and the only additional cost from a standard bag was proportional to the additional fabric.

5. They deliver on promises. The end product is every bit as good (if not better) than described. Nobody is tougher on luggage than me and my family, and I simply could not travel effectively without my Air Boss (eldest son loves his Flying Box Car...the list goes on)

I like to buy things from companies I believe in. Hearing Jim talk about employee engagement reinforces my opinion and experience with the company. 

As you read this today, think about the companies you patronise - how many fulfil the criteria that work for me. Is your company behaving in this way? 

What are YOU personally doing to promote passion and engagement in those you work with, work for or manage?

Want to learn more - take a look at Gallups latest on Employee Performance and Engagement here.

Then visit the UK's Engage For Success project for more examples and see how you can help.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Sexist Misogynistic Over Opinionated Dictators

It's a hot topic, this diversity stuff. Even my evenings with friends can get dominated by the subject - and I'm beginning to think that there may be an unhealthy obsession with this in the workplace, despite my opinion that diversity is critical to success. 

People who think the same way cannot innovate together - my eldest son said to me recently that the problem with adults is they've forgotten how to dream, and don't question 'facts' enough. (Which made me think we should have some under 16's as consultants, but that's a blog for another day)

I spent a day in Oxford this week with some friends, and we talked a lot about this - specifically focussing on perceived sexism both inside and outside the workplace. I say perceived because we found than by engaging those around us to join in the conversation we discovered several different viewpoints.

Here's a simplistic one.  I feel it's right to hold the door open for a lady - but a short discussion revealed that I'll typically always open the door for the person behind me - regardless of gender. Nothing to do with male/female, just good manners.

Not one person we spoke to thought there was anything wrong with giving up a seat on a train for another person who you felt needed it more than you. An elderly gentleman, someone on crutches and yes, in almost all cases the mixed groups around us felt it was OK to give up your seat to a lady.

Thankfully 100% agreed that if that lady was pregnant, it was the duty of any passenger (male or female) to give over their seat. 

We concluded that it was nothing to do with sexism, and all to do with manners. Some people have different values, dependent on upbringing, age and culture.

Guess what? It's the same in the workplace - people are people. Everyone is different, and creating a policy conformist playbook, an extremist HR policy, or a fixed target is the wrong way to ensure that diversity is valued.

Recently I looked at the perceived culture fit of men vs women. Just over 400 managers were assessed by their teams on a number of behaviours (3500+ respondents). Whilst individuals had dramatically different results, when viewed together the conclusion can only be that people are people regardless of gender (or orientation, or race for that matter).

If your company has a high proportion of sexist misogynistic over opinionated dictators, then it's unlikely a policy of diversity inclusion is going to change the underlying environment.

Managers (and companies) with a short sighted view of diverse opinion will struggle with diversity programs. If you're looking for a place to start addressing this issue, make sure that a hidden bias education offering is available in your organisation. An excellent article on this subject can be found here,

The fact remains that appreciating diverse opinion is one of the most effective catalysts for change, and a diverse workforce under good leadership will always succeed in attracting better talent and delivering better results.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Why Is Everyone A Screw Up (Except Me)?

How hard is it to assume positive intent? Do you believe that people come to work to do a bad job, to screw up, get in your way or otherwise obstruct you? If that happens, do you think that they did it deliberately?

What a horrible world it would be if that were the case.

And yet every day, in every profession there seems to be more and more examples of this happening. In the UK there is a move to create league tables for the medical profession - including surgeons.

Stop and think about the implications of that for a moment. Behaviour is governed by multiple factors - two of which are recognition and compensation. Surgeons do risky jobs, the best surgeons do the most risky jobs - they are the 'go to' people when cases are close to hopeless.

If your performance affects these factors, why not just take the safe routes?

We are lucky enough to live near Oxford - John Radcliffe is home to some of the best in the world, and amongst other things is home to the Oxford University Medical School. 

My sons life was saved by an incredible surgical team - but there was a very great risk associated with the operations. 

Would the surgeon have taken the chance if it could affect his standing in a league table - of course, his priority was not his life, but that of our child. So why do we need league tables?

Does anyone think a doctor comes to work to screw up? Despite all the talk of 'like for like' comparisons in these tables, no two patients are the same - so how can that possibly work.

In every part of life it's the same - how much smoother would your day go if for the next 24 hours you assumed that every interaction you had was with someone who meant the best. 

No matter how much of an incompetent jerk you think they are - here's the thing - they are trying to help. Think the best of people. Wouldn't you prefer it if people always thought the best of you? You might just learn something too.

Change your perspective. 

Stand by that principle for just one day and see what a difference it makes.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

How Many Women Do We Need In The Workplace?

I've had an interestingly female oriented few days. Firstly my nine year old daughter wanting a dress up outfit for an upcoming school event, then I had to brave the tube to get to a Friday morning event (Women In Technology) in the centre of London.

On Thursday I started to look for the dress up outfit. With two sons who want to be Avengers (or occasionally Superman) most of the time - I anticipated finding an Avengers "Black Widow" costume for her would be simple. 

However, it seems that in the UK even the Superman (girl) outfits are pink with tutu's. NOT what she was looking for. Eventually I had to get one from the US, which she's very proud of - but for crying out loud, it shouldn't be this hard should it? It appears as though even at her age it's tough to level the playing field with the boys.... 

Then an early start on Friday to get to a breakfast event. I've been travelling into London for over 20 years, and it's not unusual for me to struggle with my upbringing vs 'modern' cosmopolitan society. I cannot sit down if a lady is standing - I've tried, but it seems fundamentally wrong to me. 

There are many arguments I've tried over the years to persuade people to take my seat when they object,  the best I've found so far is "We're on a moving vehicle and your heels are taller than mine, surely it's more comfortable for me to stand than you".

What I really want to say is "Please sit down, can I not offer some kindness without being labelled a sexist pig?" - but I've tried it in the past and it doesn't go down to well.

Moving on......

The "Women In Technology" event last Friday morning was an excellent opportunity to hear some of the challenges that women face in the workplace, meet new people and gain other perspectives. 

Being responsible for guiding culture transformation, promotion of diversity is one of my critical factors for success, but it has to be influenced - not demanded. 

  • Shocker of the morning: The story in which whilst discussing pay increases for a mixed group of senior managers the woman was excluded as the men "had families to support". (This undoubtedly caused the sharpest intake of breath I've ever heard at any conference)
  • Bravest statement of the morning: "It's OK to focus on family at the expense of career for a while, if that's what you want to do"
  • Divisive issue of the morning: Setting quota for number of female leaders in an organisation.

There were two clear schools of thought - that quota's were essential for ensuring an increase in sexual diversity, and that women promoted under a quota system would always be stigmatised by it.

Let me be absolutely clear about my view - setting quota's for diversity (sexual or otherwise) is a terrible idea. Measuring diversity is important - but in order to truly embrace the requirement for it, behaviour change is needed throughout any organisation.

I for one am fed up of hearing about sexual equality. It's narrow minded and ridiculous to imagine that men and women are the same, or that any two people are the same. My Wife has many skills that I do not possess. I have a few that she doesn't have.

If we start looking for equality then we are doomed to failure. By definition we are looking for diversity and that means recognising strengths that others bring - regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or age. Any successful partnership requires diversity of skills and opinion - so why is that so tough to accept in the workforce?

Studies have shown one very simple answer - managers tend to employ in their own image. People are generally more comfortable looking in the mirror than courting dissent.

Seeking different perspectives is critical in the workplace, the strongest leaders surround themselves with different viewpoints, different opinions and different personality types. A lack of diversity in those working for you is generally illustrative of narrow minded, insular thinking. 

So why not set that quota? Simple. Any woman, no matter how brilliant, skilled and qualified for a role will always be stigmatised with being a 'statistic' rather than an asset, and that perpetuates the problem. 

How do you perceive Marissa Meyer, Meg Whitman and Sheryl Sandberg  (to name but three)? Brilliant businesswomen or statistically correct figureheads? I sincerely hope it's the former - do you think any of these women were promoted to be statistical successes? 

Behaviour is governed by the targets you set - good and bad. So please be careful about setting a target without thinking through the consequences. Change is everyones responsibility - if you want to introduce greater diversity into the workplace, then that change starts with you.

Note: Much kudos to Montash (and in particular Vicky Jones) for hosting the event, and attracting three excellent panelist   Isobel Thomson (CIO HJ Heniz) and Mary LeBlanc (CIO Novartis Pharma) & Dana Deasy (CIO BP), with proceeds going to charity.