Monday, 25 November 2013

Everything I Do - I Do It For You......

Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do" was the first dance for my Wife and I as a married couple - and we still love it. It was nice to see it featured as the '#1 Power Ballad' on the TV at the weekend, and with 85 million views on YouTube it's clearly still popular.

Do you know the story of the song? I'll bet you don't. For those old enough to remember, it was the theme song to the 1991 movie "Robin Hood - Prince Of Thieves". 

Mr Adams was asked to write and perform the theme song, which he did - but when he presented it back to the film makers it was rejected. They wanted something full of harps and flutes - and didn't take kindly to his interpretation. But in true rockstar fashion he told them to stick with making films and leave him to the music - then refused to rewrite it.

That's why it doesn't feature in the film until half way through the end credits. 

It went on to spend 16 weeks at number 1 in the UK and sell over 1.5m copies, and became the biggest advertisement any movie had ever seen. Doh. 

But there's more.....when asked in 2002 by the singularly annoying Brian Conley if he now hated the song after all the popularity (and the ensuing negativity that seems to accompany all such success) he defended it passionately as being loved by the fans & loved by him.

So what's that got to do with culture? Many, many things.

1. Love what you do. It's important to be passionate about all things in life - including your professional life.

2. Listen to the experts. By all means have an opinion, but keep your ears open and hear what's being said.

3. Don't be negative about others and their achievements, it only makes you look stupid.

4. Don't ask people to do things that clearly don't fit their world view. Asking Bryan Adams to write a song with harps and flutes is like asking One Direction to cover Highway To Hell.

5. Embrace your inner rock star.

OK - kidding about the last one, but the rest are valid I'm off back to my vinyl collection and the wedding video.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Gender Pay Gap

For some time now I've been accumulating anonymous salary data from various companies I've worked with. 

It's one of the 'hidden' factors in culture and engagement - and although conventional wisdom dictates that employees do not compare salaries, the reality is somewhat different; as our society and workforce get's closer and more open, financial remuneration gets discussed more than you think.

So typically when I work with clients who have a good understanding of their culture already but want to learn more, we look at promotion and career progression patterns, management span, salary, gender, ethnicity, performance management, quota achievement and a number of other 'sensitive' areas. 

Then we can overlay that to current understanding of different teams and functions in various offices - not only to build stronger cultures and better employee engagement, but also to provide hard metrics on the benefits.

As I've accumulated the data, certain patterns have started to reveal themselves - and one of them is that of gender pay gap. I've looked at multiple pieces of research on this, and I've found the reality (certainly within the companies I'm working with) is more exaggerated that I previously believed.

I realise that the infographic below is going to shock. Good. It should. But I'd ask you do to a couple of things before you open it.

1. Don't try and find reasons why it shouldn't be so - it is. These are facts, and even when I doubted them myself, I managed to go back through the data and verify them.

2. I've been working with data for over 18 years - there are indeed "Lies, damned lies and statistics" - and I've endeavoured to remove the 'spin' from the charts - but that shouldn't detract from the fact that there is clearly a huge problem with gender pay gaps in the global workforce.

3. Don't get hung up on the "did you compare like for like" argument. If you want to see that, skip to the bottom. The story is the same, just softened slightly - as no two people are alike it is impossible to do a perfect comparison, but in lower level sales, consulting and finance roles there is consistency that can be used. 

Click the graphic or here for a larger version

Again, I must stress that paying employees to improve culture and engagement will never work. In my last blog I pointed out .... 

"Most people join companies for the job, and the salary - but they stay there because of the culture. Deep down, most of us want to be part of a group that have the same belief systems and passions - and financial rewards (whilst being necessary), don’t actually make us either loyal or happy in the long term" 

However - what this data illustrates is that there is an endemic lack of fairness in many companies, which will feed the more negative aspects of cultural transformation and act as a barrier to employee engagement.

One final note - the companies who kindly provided this data are ALL being proactive in their approaches to addressing the problem. There is no quick fix, and there's a lot of historical influences that have contributed to the current situation - you should assume that if your company has the same kind of pay discrepancies, then they are currently fixing the problem.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Culture Gobbledegook

A friend asked me recently to help out his son - he's in the first year of his Computer Science degree at Cardiff University and was handed the following assignment,

"Describe some of the key ways in which managers can try to control the culture of their organisations to enhance performance?"

I was delighted to see that the educational establishments are taking the question of culture seriously - flattered to be asked for help and was half way through a response before I realised I was talking gobbledegook to an 18 year old.

I deleted it all, and started again - but it made me realise how big the temptation is to revert to corporate BS speak sometimes (and I really do try and avoid it at all costs). 

Problem was that I reverted back to academia - where through rose coloured spectacles I diligently studied for four years and never touched a drop of drink....But I do remember hated the confusing language some of my tutors used - it seemed designed to make us look dumb.

So by way of answering this question for anyone relatively new to culture - here's my response. I would be delighted to get more input on this - the student in question is following these blogs and you'll be helping him too :-)

Hi Mark,  I have to do a presentation on the following question: "Describe some of the key ways in which managers can try to control the culture of their organisations to enhance performance?". 

I've found loads of influencers on culture but I don’t know how managers can use it to enhance performance.

No problem at all, happy to help and also to see that these kinds of questions are being asked of you :-)

Most people join companies for the job, and the salary - but they stay there because of the culture. Deep down, most of us want to be part of a group that have the same belief systems and passions - and financial rewards (whilst being necessary), don’t actually make us either loyal or happy in the long term - but it certainly does help!

There’s no such thing as a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ culture. If you’re in the technology field - you may want to work for Apple, but not for Microsoft. For Google, but not Facebook. Twitter not Oracle. A big part of that is how you think about their culture.

The younger you are, the more that will influence how long you stay, and how well you work when you join an organisation. There’s a good blog from my friend Peter McKelvie on different styles of management for Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y etc. here….

One of the biggest influencers of culture is how well you can engage your employees. This means assuming that people are smart, motivated and can contribute great ideas and good work to your company - and then trying to create an environment where they feel good about doing all those things. 

The opposite of an engaged culture is one where managers tell employees what to do all the time, and don’t listen.

Before you ask about ways to 'control’ culture, you have to understand why people would want to. Almost all businesses want to do this in order to save money or make money. The biggest savings come from reducing voluntary attrition (staff turnover where people just hand in their resignation). The biggest benefit comes from attracting the best people, and then getting the most from them.

So - the question is about key ways to control the culture.

1. The closest influencers that people have are their manager and their peers. If you want a consistent culture then make sure your managers are appropriately trained - this will be different in the Navy Seals that it would be in a Starbucks, or in the IT Department of Ford, or in kitchens of a hotel. The trick is making sure that your manager training fits the culture you already have, or the culture that the company aspires too. If you have five mangers that sit down with their staff over lunch everyday and listen to their ideas - and one who sits behind a closed door and yells at everyone to work harder, then you’re going to have performance issues in the latter team.

2. Measure employees perceptions of their managers. Most companies have a clear vision and values statement - they could be expected behaviours, or core values, a strategic vision or a mission statement. When you join a company, you expect to be working towards this common goal. So measure how close to the behaviours on the wall each of your managers is seen to act.  Asking, and then sharing the results keeps people motivated to share further information - but make sure that whatever the feedback is, employees are never punished for being honest. Nothing kills culture faster.

3. Act on employee suggestions - a manager who asks for help, ideas or advice from their team and then does nothing with it will never get anything of value from their team. If you are asked “how would you do this better” and nobody listens, why would you answer the question next time?

4. The CEO of Netflix once said “Don’t tolerate brilliant jerks” - he meant that sometimes in your teams the best performers can be rule breakers that pay no attention to culture and annoy those around them (whilst typically getting away with this behaviour). Another key role for a manager is to remove these people from the company.  Whilst there is a place in all teams for occasional heroics, if you have people that consistently annoy others they will drive their teammates to leave the company, and send a message that the 'values' are just words. This will cost you far more than keeping the bad influence.

5. Keep your people happy. It sounds easy, but it really isn’t. You can look up "Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” and see a bunch of research on this - but the higher up that triangle you can get your staff, the better they will perform, and the better your company will do. (Click here for a modern take on it from the Huffington Post, maybe easier to digest if you’re presenting to an audience ). Any way managers can support this, will effectively control the culture in the organisation. 

6. Measure the culture, and measure it’s effects. The smartest companies measure success of these things - so you can come up with a bunch of ways to control culture, but unless you know which ones work it’s all pointless. You can do this by looking at employee engagement levels, looking at the results from point 2 above, or analysing where the highest employee turnover is. By measuring it, and talking to employees about it - the whole thing becomes more ‘serious’ and is likely to drive people towards the right cultural behaviours…….of course, acting on what you measure is critical. There's some detail about engagement measurement here from a prior blog if you want to take a look.

7. Get the hiring process right - make sure that you explain to people at interview what the culture of the company is. If possible, give them a quick test to check they fit. Getting control of cultural influence this early is good management practice - and WILL reduce early attrition.

I’ll finish up with an example for you. I went to see a company a few weeks ago that was losing a lot of money because people kept leaving. They’d hire them, and then over one third would leave within the first six months. That was a change, two years before only 1 in 30 new hires would do the same. 

The hiring policy within the company had changed, and they were employing a high proportion of both recent university graduates and school leavers. These people were being put into teams under managers that measured everything, gave out tasks regularly - but also DID listen to the ideas from them. But still they were leaving. 

Several reasons emerged, firstly the management team blocked all social media from the computers - no Facebook, Twitter, Google+ (of course all the new hires were just taking their smartphones to the toilets instead).  The teams were also scattered into various offices within five miles of head office - and the way it had been done meant that some teams felt very distant and undervalued. When younger employees came on board, they were managed by numbers (literally with a  huge public whiteboard) & told what to do. 

The managers believed they were listening (and they were), but they were not doing anything about it - not changing policy, or explaining why they did it - and the work environment was not explained during the interview process. So 1 in 3 were leaving because the culture of the role wasn't as promised.

This is an example of a culture being controlled by management, but certainly not to enhance performance - the opposite was true, and it’s easy to see how to fix it. Many times cultures need to change over time to support growth of the company or the financial goals.

If you have any more questions about this, please email back.....

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Five Easy Ways To Measure Employee Engagement - Right Now

I confess to being a data geek. Those who know me well often use more unkind words to describe that trait (you know who you are) - and I'm often surprised when people talk to me about measurement challenges and the astronomical amount money they are prepared to spend to solve the issue.

Fundamentally this challenge is about recognising the assets you already own - and too often the communications and HR groups I work with struggle with taking those assets and turning them into action.

So here's a quick guide for quick wins on data.

First - the ones everybody thinks of first, the active measurement techniques for engagement. Bluntly speaking this typically revolves around an employee survey being sent around the organisation - then presenting the results from the survey tool.

You know the ones I mean - if it's not four questions buried in the dreaded "98 Question Employee Opinion Survey" - it's a generic one asking such questions as "How would you best describe your level of interaction with your immediate manager/leader/annoying boss". 

Then the team responsible starts looking for ways to spin the data.

If you have 33 people that love their job, 33 that think it's OK, and 33 that hate it. You could say that two thirds of employees are happy in their job. Then you go on to group all the 'strongly agree' and 'agree' together for the next one to make things look better. ARGH!

If you're going to measure engagement with a questionnaire, then make sure you tailor it to your company, and focus on capturing the emotion of the participants. Set a target for participation and consider that to be your best measure of success - lack of response is an indicator that those being surveyed don't expect any action to be taken, and don't see the value in giving you their opinion.

But wait - that brings us to passive measurement - and that's a much more powerful tool, especially in the early stages of determining levels of engagement. You already know your participation statistics for other surveys you've completed over the years - so plot that on a chart and you'll get a rough engagement measure to start with, and it will even show you changes over time.

Read on, but beware, because we may get a little more are just five (of many) common nuggets of engagement gold you already have in your systems....


Do you have performance management tools? Do you have an annual window of participation when managers have to complete them? Is there a 'free text' field along with the review. Great! You have a very powerful engagement statistic just waiting to be measured.

Who is more engaged? The manager who completes the review process in the first week of the window, or the one who completes on the last day. The manager who writes 500 words on the employee, or the one that writes 20? So get a report from whoever the administrator of the system is on manager, completion date and length of the text field. Then play about with both measures in excel and rank them. It's honestly not that hard.


Do you have an intranet? Does it have company information on there? Information about your board of directors? Products? Good news, that's another statistic for engagement just waiting to be tapped. Your IT folks can send you a report that shows you the number of hits on any specific pages that everyone in the org has recorded. If Mabel has 300 hits on the intranet a month, Geoffrey has 5 - who's more invested in learning about the company? 

Way to go Mabel - step up, you're taking the time to use the resources available. I know who I'd ask about what info employees need. Oh, and guess what - you know have another ranked list of engaged employees.


Compliance training system? Online education? Opt-in leadership development program? Who completes the required training after the first email? Who leaves it to the last minute? As long as you know when each email is sent you can see who responds - that helps with both communication strategy and determining engagement levels. 

Optional training is an even better measure. Take those that complete the training that you don't send reminders for and you can bet they are a darn sight more interested in the wellbeing of the company (and their own career) than those that don't. Another one to add to the  list.


How about a recognition system? Many companies have mechanisms where employees and managers can give a shout out for good work done by others in the organisation. Recording the recipients will show you who shines at making extra effort - but recording those that give rewards will show you who's spending their cycles being more engaged. Add them to your list.


And finally - if you're progressive enough to have some form of internal social media tool - maybe Chatter or Yammer - then you have a gold mine of information about activity and participation. Those that spend time sharing information, setting up groups and responding will add even further value to that list we've been creating - and the best news is that the system administrator can just push a button and send all the info you need straight to you.

Trying to work out who is the most engaged person in your company is not a good idea. It won't be of ANY value and it's just creepy.

But looking at who scores highly in each of those categories will give you an idea of whether you're on the right track. I'd bet good money that if you have someone with high scores in each of those, you already know they're a good 'go to' person.

So what do you do with that list? Back to excel - and plug in your organisation report. The one you have with 'who manages who' and 'which division' and 'which country'.

Put a score next to each name from your list.

Now group up by country, division, or senior manager and take an average. You'll find you can find those hotbeds of engagement very easily - and once you really know where these groups are you can start work on finding out WHY they do so well.

But that's a subject for another blog.

Feel free to check out some of my reporting examples - for the most part drawn from already existing data and built for senior execs here

If you want some help dragging information from systems and making sense of it, just let me know - drop an email to and I'll respond. 

You CAN start to measure engagement already, without spending anything. Be brave!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

25 Top Tweets From The 2013 RSA Chief Executives Annual Lecture

Last night, Matthew Taylor delivered his annual lecture at the Royal Society of the Arts in London "What Does It Mean To Be A Citizen At Work"

wordcloud generated from hashtag #RSAemployment

wordcloud generated from hashtag #RSAemployment (Click for full size image)

As part of the Engage for Success movement, I was in equal parts excited, intrigued, and also slightly worried about what might be said. But the energy and gravitas at the packed auditorium lead to some fantastic debate - leaving me with no doubt that Employee Engagement is about to reach the top of the corporate agenda in the UK.

If you didn't get the chance to attend, then here are some of the Twitter highlights from those present (both in the room, and virtually via the live feed)

  1. So I'm a crushed middle manager working for an emotionally unintelligent sociopath. Right?! - LukeRobboUK
  2. If you want to solve complex problems you need clumsy solutions - becca_mchase
  3. The correlation between employee engagement and wellbeing is compelling - gbminds
  4. A tipping point is possible when individualistic, organisational, and managerial intent align - AuditFutures
  5. Research shows CEO’s biggest block to employee engagement is that it’s more emotionally demanding than command and control - GuyCorbet
  6. Strong strategic narrative about an organisation's purpose is a key principal - commsdan
  7. Media not interested in the debate around engagement - do they think it's not interesting? Yet stats show it's so important - jododds
  8. Work can be unbureaucratic, purpose-driven, autonomous, multi-skilled, collaborative and deeply satisfying - LukeRobboUK
  9. Find 20% engagement improvement in one hour of real listening - ChangeTheLogic
  10. Mid-staffs shows collective representation no protection from lack of employee voice - croftpod
  11. Better work should be everyone's business - Engage4Success
  12. By enriching our working lives we can tackle our nation's key economic and social charges - LukeRobboUK
  13. Wendy Cartwright - meaning of work had changed but human nature has not - gordonslaven
  14. Organisations need to have a purpose beyond making money. They need to do something useful that makes money - hazelhodgins
  15. Good to hear talk of meaningful work & sense of purpose. Even in tough economic times we shouldn't just be grateful for a job - jonnygiff
  16. This will require a step up for leaders. How can we help them achieve that and not be seen as wimps? ChangeTheLogic
  17. Need to see engagement as investment in asset, not an additional cost - croftpod
  18. Being free to express disagreement in the work place vital for engagement but so rare in my experience - capabilitybrown
  19. Young talented people have seen their parents hate working for bureaucracies and start own work instead - jonjalex
  20. If UK employees were a football team, at least one would be playing for the other side - johnjalex
  21. Maybe change needs no longer be a top-down, but an inside-out process - javierbajer
  22. We need to get beyond belief in technology as a means of innovation in work: efficiency over exploration and experimentation - GuyCorbet
  23. The best proxy for meaningfulness at work is engagement - johnhitchin
  24. Change driven by coalition of actors is always more powerful than a 'good' legislation and comms strategy - AuditFutures
  25. Is there a danger of engagement tripping into immobility and over consultation? Let's make sure we do engagement well - ishbel_hunter
My own Twitter commentary from the room can be found here

Friday, 8 November 2013

It's Time For HR To Bare It's Teeth

I've spent most of this week at the 2013 CIPD annual conference - and it's been a great experience, hearing and talking with those leading the HR field - both up on stage and in the world of Twitter and Blogs. 

How would I measure the success of such an event? No surprises, of course I focus on culture and how did it measure up?

Well the culture was fantastic, and just what you'd expect from a group of people committed to a career of making the lives of those in companies better (don't laugh, it's absolutely true - bad reputations often come from misunderstanding). I found everyone was open to new ideas and seeking new ways to improve the bottom lines at their companies. There was an open collaborative culture everywhere you looked.

Engagement - well, the halls were full, the stands were packed and the speakers got feedback (mostly positive, but no one was shy about disagreement) from those in the sessions and out in the twittersphere. Note to presenters - don't use "Gen Y" anymore - tech is changing too fast, and it's not applicable.

Better than that though, was the overwhelming momentum that was generated AFTER the event had finished for the day - heated conversations at dinner tables (and occasionally in bars) were joined by all as the topics of the day were bounced around. 

My favourite after conference debate concluded thus:

Stop asking to be at the executive table, and take the seat. Too many times (as Peter Cheese pointed out) HR talk about this and don't take action. If you're not already at the CEO meetings, here are some pointers:

1. Everybody listens to the head of sales, she brings a forecast of upcoming revenue, facts to back it up and everyone in the room relies on that income for their wages.
2. Everybody listens to the development head, he brings an update of how the products are performing, when the new ones are out, and how that's going to impact sales.
3. Everybody listens to the head of communications, she brings a communication plan that supports the sales of the current products, and the new ones about to release - and how that's going to impact sales.
4. Everybody listens to the legal head - he brings a report of the threats and opportunities to the safe running of the company, and how that's going to impact sales.

See the pattern? How do you impact sales?

If, and I mean if, your HR head is not a direct report to the CEO - then you have a problem. 

HR is not an overhead. I hear this too many times from the IT folks as well. HR is the custodian of the most valuable data about the most valuable (and typically most expensive) asset any company has.

HR owns the success and failure of all of the other departments, and should be measuring that. Companies live and die by the people who work there, not the product, or the service, or the sale. 

What does HR bring to the table? The most engaged people are those who bring the greatest sales, who develop the best products, who deliver the best soundbites to the press. 

They also provide the innovation and intrapreneurship for the company - every other head in the room is looking for that (they may think they know, but in my experience, the reality and the 'managed up' perception is rarely the same).

Sales teams with good culture fit make more money than those that don't. HR govern the interview process, and own that data. Compare your culture profiles to that of the highest achieving sales people and demonstrate the value (in the example below ALL the quota exceeders are solid culture fits).

High attrition is possibly the greatest cost to any company. HR knows where that voluntary attrition is happening across the whole company - the other heads only see their own issues - mitigating that risk is something that HR are not only the best qualified to do, they are the ONLY function with the appropriate skills.

I recently had a conversation with a friend at LinkedIn. "Who do you think knows more about what's happening in your company - HR or us?" they said. 

LinkedIn know who in your company are looking for jobs, who's engaged, who's leaving, where they are going, what they are posting, which groups they are in, who they are connected with - HR often don't take the time to even look at these facets. A good company with proper career management, high percentage of culture fit and great collaboration should know ALL of this.

The elephant in the room is that the HR team gets blamed for all the evils within a company, and rarely does anything to correct the perception. 200 people being laid off - instinctively the population believes that the names on the list were put there by HR. Often it's HR managing the process, delivering the news and dealing with the fallout - sadly, they can also take the blame.

No pay rise? It's HR again. Lack of development opportunity? Lack of promotion? Benefit cut? All HR. 

And yet it isn't - that the decision of the CEO and his team to build a better and stronger business, HR advises and implements. 


BareTeethSo here's the thing. 

It's time for HR to bare it's teeth. You are the best qualified, most connected, most influential part of any business. You have the skills, the talent and the AUTHORITY to help deliver better business results throughout all functions

PROVE that you act on behalf of the business, whilst representing the voice of the employee. 

You KNOW how to strengthen and build a better culture, improve engagement, create better leaders and management, recruit and look after the wellbeing of the employee. You have the data to prove it and the motivation to do so.