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Seven Reasons Great Employees Leave

6 Jan

7

Check out this great interview with Leigh Branham about the most common reasons why good employees leave: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/smartcompaniesthinkingbigger/2013/01/04/the-7-hidden-reasons-employees-leave–leigh-branham

Do Employees Really Want To Be Engaged? by Leigh Branham

26 Jul

The following post was written by my good friend and co-author Leigh Branham. The second edition of his book The Seven Hidden Reasons Why Employees Leave, published by AMACOM, is due out next week. Check out his web site: www.keepingthepeople.com.

As I speak and listen to managers about employee engagement, I occasionally hear a manager come right out and say, “employees don’t want to be engaged.” I have concluded that for every manager who expresses that belief out loud, there are many more who believe it and don’t say it. I believe this mindset helps explain why only about 25% of the workforce is fully engaged. Managers (and senior leaders) who don’t believe employees want to be engaged are less likely to try to engage them and more likely to use a disengaging KITA (Kick-in-the-Ass) management style.

It is understandable that managers have this worldview. For centuries, most notably exemplified by the Greeks and Romans and continuing through the Puritan work ethic that is alive and well yet today, work has been seen as a necessary evil to be suffered and endured. It is only in the last 50 years or so that the idea of a job as a vehicle for self-fulfillment has been widely embraced.

And yes, of course, there are still significant numbers of employees for whom the idea of achieving personal fulfillment at work is a foreign concept. They view work as something they do simply to earn a paycheck that allows them to pursue the things they truly enjoy on their own time. Are they engaged? The term I’ve seen lately to describe these workers is “transactionally engaged.”

By contrast, the “emotionally engaged” are willing to give more discretionary effort at work because they feel a strong bond or connection with the organization, manager, coworkers, or the work itself that is often more important to them than pay.

The transactionally engaged, who most certainly comprise a large portion of the 75% that Gallup identifies as either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”, aren’t emotionally connected to the organization to the point that they are willing to go above and beyond what’s minimally required on the job. When some managers say they don’t believe employees want to be engaged, they almost certainly have these employees in mind. Thus, we have a matching of mindsets and low mutual expectations.

The question that intrigues me is “what if we could demonstrate to the transactionally engaged that it is possible and desirable for them to be emotionally engaged, not just for the sake of their being more productive for the company’s benefit, but because it would also enhance their personal well-being?

We know what drives engagement. Gallup, Kenexa, Towers-Watson, Sirota and others have all come to very similar conclusions as Mark Hirschfeld and I did in our analysis of 2.1 million employee engagement surveys. Here are the six universal drivers we identified in our book Re-Engage (McGraw-Hill, 2010) that the best employers have in common:

1. Caring, competent, and communicative senior leaders,

2. Managers who proactively manage performance through clear expectations and feedback,

3. A culture of teamwork, not “we vs. they,”

4. Job enrichment, learning and growth opportunities,

5. Feeling valued monetarily and a dozen other ways, and

6. Feeling the organization and manager care about your personal well being.

When these drivers are present in an organization’s culture, employees feel “given to” and, as a result, they typically want to give back. Put another way, they become “emotionally engaged.” Organizations that score higher on these drivers have fewer transactionally engaged employees and more who say things like “For the first time in my life, I actually look forward to coming to work in the morning.” In other words, their eyes have been opened to the possibility/reality that work can be a source of personal fulfillment. Deep down, I believe, we all want to be engaged at work…if only we knew it was achievable.

This is why it is so important for employers not to “roll out” employee engagement “programs”, but instead, actually start doing all the things that truly engage employees. This means training managers in what really engages employees, giving managers the discussion tools they need to engage and re-engage their direct reports, and holding managers accountable for improving a few carefully selected metrics.

Too many companies are conducting engagement surveys without truly intending to take action based on the results. To be fair, some do intend to take action, but still don’t follow through. This only serves to further reduce employee expectations and raise levels of cynicism. For more on this, see C.V. Harquail’s provocative blog — “Why Employee Engagement is a Scam-.

Done well, and not as an exploitive way to get employees to give more effort without giving them something in return, employee engagement is most certainly not a scam. Authentic engagement initiatives inspire commitment, not cynicism.

Recognition Goes Mobile

30 Jan

“There’s an app for that” has become a running joke in our family. My wife will register a complaint about something or express some unmet need, and my frequent response has been to check the App Store to see if there’s any help.

And when it comes to recognizing employees, mobile apps may help meet a significant need.

I’ m sure there are a number of these out there, but here are two examples I’ve found. The first is from AstraZeneca, who has developed an app folks at their company can use.

But another, from www.biworldwide.com , is open to the public and free for all of us to use. It has plenty of standard options for sending a note of thanks or appreciation, and you can also create your own. I already have one executive using the app where he works, as he has employees across the country but who can be easily reached via their mobile device.

To be sure, no app will solve the problem that too many good employees go unrecognized and unappreciated, and that our business performance suffers as a result. But these handy tools will make it easier for folks to catch employees making a difference and contributing in meaningful ways.

The Wisdom of Sergeant Esterhaus

1 Jul

“And hey, let’s be careful out there.”

For fans of television’s Hill Street Blues, this is the admonition that Sergeant Phil Esterhaus proffers at the end of roll call to his fellow police officers as they head out to face the dangers that unfolded each week on the 1980’s Steven Bochco drama. It turns out companies who are recognized as “Best-Places-to-Work” have leaders much like Sergeant Esterhaus, who are effectively managing employees in a way that creates a more productive and safe work environment. Consider the following comments from employees who work at highly engaged workplaces:

“I have worked in this industry my entire career and have never come across an employer more concerned about safety than our company. Nobody gets placed on a job here until they have completed an intense safety training course. And continuing education is not an option. We will shut down a job before we proceed any further if the safety issues aren’t 100% in order. There are no exceptions. Everybody comes home at night.”

“We have a great, safe office!  We have gone more than 7 years being incident-free and injury-free and were recently given an award by the president of the company personally at a celebration.  Our office is used as the bar in most other offices globally.  The atmosphere here is much different in our office due to our camaraderie and caring for one another.”

The leaders at these companies have taken approaches that are making a significant difference. Several independent studies support the idea that a more engaged workforce is a safer workforce. One such study showed that after factory floor workers were given the training and freedom to make repairs to their own equipment rather than having to call a supervisor every time they had a problem, they reported fewer occupational injuries and increased job satisfaction.

Contrast that with the employers we see reflected in the comments of their disaffected employees, for whom the idea of engagement is no more real than the dramas we see on our television screens:

“Most people are job-scared– too much negative reinforcement.  Management is more concerned about the Pay-For-Performance than the safety of the workers. They are so busy cutting costs that they don’t care about the safety factors involved in maintaining our heavy equipment and cranes.  Managers speak out the side of their mouths.”

“I have been an OR nurse for over 20 years and this is by far the worst surgery department I have ever worked in.  Management does not treat employees with respect, nor do employees feel as if they are valued members of a team.  Managers are also unprofessional and condescending.  If you asked the Registered Nurses why they remain at the hospital, the overwhelming response would be because of the money.    In addition, patient safety is often compromised and nothing is done to rectify the problems.” 

“I work between shifts and the manager for the second half of my shift is a total loser. She can get the schedule correct and just does not know to manage. They have put into effect practices with total disregard for the safety of the employees. With constant standing, many employees, me included, are having leg, knee, leg, and back problems.”

According to the U.S. government an injured worker spends an average of eight days away from work. A bit of sage advice applies here: “prepare and prevent, don’t repair and repent”.  More employers should take a Sergeant Esterhaus approach to safety and employee engagement.

As we think about the steps we should take to create and maintain a great workplace, let’s be careful out there.  It all starts with caring enough to take action.

In Ten Words

15 Jun

At a recent Best-Places-to-Work award event each employer who was recognized for their exceptional level of employee engagement was given very specific instructions on what to say in their acceptance speech. As they came to the podium to receive their award they were each asked to respond to the following: “In ten words or less, describe why your company is a great place to work.”

Here are a few of the responses (not all in the ten word limit), but worth examining:

  • “Passionate, zany culture with remarkable service.”
  • “Great people who love brutally competitive athletic competitions.”
  • “Hire passionate people and unleash them.”
  • “Mission made possible by exceptional people.”
  • “Corporate social responsibility is alive and well.”
  • “Challenge each of our partners to the best every day.”
  • “Our team gets to live summer camp every day.”
  • “We exist to build great things through great people.”
  • “We’re 100% employee owned and don’t work for a rich guy.”
  • “Fun loving people with great interest rates. Call us!”
  • “An environment for great people to become exceptional.”
  • “Care for employees. They care for customers. The rest takes care of itself.”
  • “It’s an honor to serve our customers.”
  • “Golden Age of biology. What could be more exciting?”
  • “It’s easy to love your job when you get to help patients and do it in jeans.”

Mind you, these were all given impromptu, but they show a passion and care for their employees. The most applause went to the financial services firm who ended their statement with “call us”. Clever, but indicative of their culture.

You’ll also note they’re different. They don’t all focus on the same thing, which fits with what we see in the most engaging employers, those who take the building blocks of great workplaces and add their unique “spin”. We call this evolution turning “employee engagement universal drivers into signature drivers.” The great cultures we’ve studied have many elements in common, but they’re able to forge those elements into something that fits who they are. In doing so their culture is more bullet-proof, one that can withstand the elements.

How would you, in ten words or less, describe why your company is a great place to work? I’ve used this question in workshops and conferences since then, and I highly recommend you start asking it where you work:

  • Try it at a staff meeting.
  • Talk to the human resources recruiters who are out in the market and see what they’re saying to prospective employees.
  • Take a few minutes at a senior leadership meeting and see what kind of discussion you have.
  • Ask a few valued customers.

This exercise might sound straightforward, but don’t let its simplicity fool you. I’m guessing it might create worthwhile dialog. You might note, for example, that some of your associates have trouble coming up with any description about why you’re a great place to work-might that be a problem? Or how would you feel if you did this with a group of your leaders and they couldn’t agree with what makes this a great workplace-that’s a problem too, right?

I think companies with highly engaged workplaces do a lot of things right, and one of the outcomes of their efforts is they have a language about people stuff. It’s a language that aligns them. It’s a language that makes talking about certain things much easier.

Ten words to describe why you’re a great place to work. Try it.

Living In Fear At Work Is No Way To Live

18 May

I spoke with a friend of mine who is looking to leave her current employer. She is an outstanding employee– hard working, highly skilled in her functional area, considerate and helpful to her coworkers, and passionate about serving others.  Her direct supervisor loves her; in fact, when her supervisor learned she was being wooed by another company a couple of years ago she was persuaded to stay.

Why would someone leave a job they like with a supervisor who wants to keep them? A senior leadership team that uses fear and intimidation as their modus operandi, that’s why. Here’s what she told me:

Most people here are walking on egg shells around the CEO, who is a tyrrant. We are all scared of her irrational behavior. There are times when she intimidates people, thinking this somehow will motivate them. It does just the opposite. My boss tries to shield me from this, but the fear people feel in the office can be cut with a knife. I love what I do, but life is too short to put up with this crap.

I feel badly for my friend. She is a good employee stuck in a company run by a leader who should be supervising a Cold War Soviet gulag instead of a twenty-first century company.  Sadly, her lament is something we hear far too often from employees who weigh in via employee engagement surveys collected by our research partner Quantum Workplace. Here’s an employee offering a similar sentiment:

There is too much fear in the organization. It prevents us from making quick and decisive decisions. Form over substance is the primary guide for certain management. Heavy politics prevents success.

What a shame. What a waste of time and talent. The philosopher Sophocles said “To him who is in fear everything rustles”. Too many employees are in environments where they “rustle”, where their hearts and heads cannot be put fully to the task at hand for fear of the despot leader.

Of course, people don’t have to be managed by fear and intimidation. The companies with highly engaged employees we studied and who are profiled in Re-Engage actually work hard to minimize fear, knowing that this approach brings little long-term value to the enterprise. Contrast these feelings with the following employee, who lauds his employer for allaying fear in the midst of these more difficult economic times:

In these uncertain times the leadership of the office has gone out of its way to hold staff-wide meetings to keep us informed of how the firm is doing and what it is doing, short of layoffs, to hold down expenses, and to try, generally, to assuage the fear that is naturally going on right now.    Trusts its employees to do their respective jobs without undue interference or micromanagement.

Here’s another employee, who has chosen to stay with her employer, in part because of a leader she can trust:

I have had opportunities to leave the organization, but have chosen to stay because of the leadership of our operation and the opportunities that are afforded me and my fellow employees.  I believe leadership is honest and provide crucial information about the current state of our industry in light of the economic down turn.  This transparency has kept me here.

Bravo.

Employees don’t have to be motivated by “do-this-or-else”. Leaders who feel a need to manage by fear and intimidation are, in my view, broken. In this case of my friend, the CEO has a Napoleon complex that serves no one. It’s pathetic, really.

We’ve found employees can be motivated in so many more productive ways, such as desire to contribute to something important, a need to feel part of a productive team, or an opportunity build one’s skills and talents.  What leaders need to do is help employees find the best within them to bring out that talent.

Want to engage and re-engage employees? Stop leading with fear.

(Photo from by stuant6 on Flickr)

A Defense (of a sort) of Metrics

21 Feb

Written by Mark Hirschfeld and Leigh Branham

This post was originally published as a guest post by our friends Jason Lauritsen and Joe Gerstandt at Talent Anarchy. Do check out their web site for the entire chain of discussion on this important topic.

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This message begins with a disclosure: We earn a great deal of our living helping collect, analyze and create metrics for employers across the United States.

We’re data guys.

You could call us data nerds or data geeks or data commandos and our feelings wouldn’t be hurt one bit. You are certainly welcome to keep this in mind as we respond to the remarks of Joe Gerstandt and Jason Lauritsen and their recent tête-à-tête at Talent Anarchy.

Jason and Joe have offered us a refreshingly candid discussion around a very important question, that being the use of metrics in the effort to build great workplaces. We’re grateful for the opportunity to weigh in on this topic.

Over 110 years ago a German physicist, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, brought radiography, or what we more commonly call x-rays, into practical use. The technology, as it was initially designed, had major flaws. For one, in the case of its use as a diagnostic tool in medicine, it creates a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional object. Because of this weakness there are times when the radiographic picture is inaccurate. There is distortion. The image on a flat x-ray cannot accurately represent the length and width and girth of our body. Early applications of x-rays hurt patients, as well-intended medical researchers slowly lurched the technology forward.

Mark once read that what we know about predicting human behavior is roughly equivalent to medicine in the Middle Ages. That might be a bit dramatic, but it makes an important point—our ways of measuring things like employee engagement are still in their infancy. How we go about measuring human-related “stuff” isn’t as good as it should be right now.

But we’ll get better at it, and we think it’s worth the effort.

There are some crappy metrics out there and metrics being used in the wrong way. Profit, for example, may not always be seen by all as the most worthy goal, though it is highly measurable.  What is more worthy is creating something of value that employees feel good about, and feeling engaged in the creation of it.  The irony is that by initiating and tracking progress on the people metrics, the mystery of how to increase profits is often revealed.  Too many leaders just don’t get it that engagement, for example, is not a program or gold watch or “billion-business-book-of-the-month-club”. It is a leading indicator of customer service, profitability, and value creation…and that the building blocks of employee engagement can be measured in several ways.  Progress doesn’t have to mean “always more,” but it can mean “always better”.

In our travels we’ve met those who use metrics as a sledge hammer, seemingly thinking that employee engagement is about getting one more morsel of flesh out of employees. They may get their pound of flesh, but they’ll never get the sustainable business results for which they pine. One of our favorite horror stories is about an executive who heard that a “great workplace” used green M&M’s as a way of celebrating with employees when the company had a success. This executive decided to bring green M&M’s into his company as a way of creating a more engaged workplace. He was bitterly disappointed that a year later his employees still didn’t think it was good place to work. This ignoramus didn’t understand that the green M&M’s at this company he had read about were a symbol behind which there was significant substance, most importantly a remarkable culture that had been built and nurtured over many years. The best metrics in the world won’t save this dope from himself, nor his company from languishing.

We also have some folks out there, in some cases well-intended, who don’t understand how to use human capital metrics properly and, as a result, make a general mess of things. We often do a horrible job of helping leaders understand how to use tools and resources available to help them be more effective serving and supporting the workplaces they have the privilege to lead.

There are some things we may not ever be able to measure. We may not be able to measure honesty, compassion, and courage, but we can measure the results that those traits produce–lower voluntary turnover, lower quit rates, fewer grievances filed, more internal job progressions allowed, more customers returning more frequently and referring their friends, more managers coaching (often confronting), recognizing (more often) and giving constructive feedback, more new employees being hired through referrals from happier, more engaged employees–all measures of not just more, but of better places to work that do indeed serve as measures of progress toward becoming a remarkable workplace. 

Many of us dream of a world of work that is different than what most now experience. We hope for a workplace where leaders actually give a damn about the people in their employ. Wouldn’t it be great:

  • If a CEO was notified by employees that a new product offering “embarrassed them”, that the CEO took those concerns seriously and immediately changed the product because he always wanted his employees to take pride in their work and their company?
  • A company, in the midst of difficult times, encouraged and helped their employees find new jobs if they couldn’t get them enough hours in their current job?
  • Terminated employees who were a poor fit for a job would feel so positive about their work experience that they would refer family and friends to their former employer?
  • An employer would have such a strong, caring, engaging culture, that when they were forced to have layoffs that all their former employees willingly returned when the economy turned around?
  • An executive team would freely give up their employer funded 401(k) match so that money could be distributed to entry-level employees who participated in the company retirement program?

These aren’t dreams or hopes. Each of these is true.

They come from employers we have had the pleasure of learning about through our research. There may not be many of these places, but they do exist. We wish there were more, and one goal in writing Re-Engage was to inspire other employers that creating and maintaining an engaging workplace can be achieved and that the sometimes arduous, frequently challenging journey is worth it.

There are remarkable leaders out there like the ones we profile, who are doing remarkable things in the world of work. They care deeply. They have compassion and love in their hearts. And along with their hearts, they also have a passion for making sure they’re measuring how well they’re doing in their efforts to create and maintain a great place to work.  

To them this is not an either-or, false-choice proposition— either they care about folks or they care about metrics. With every fiber that is in them they embrace this paradox and care about both.

To them, engagement survey results or other metrics are just like the x-ray. They are crude two-dimensional representations of a three-dimensional living organism called an employer. These leaders use metrics as a way to start a discussion with employees, not as the final answer. They use metrics to support having an honest conversation with a supervisor who isn’t captivating and inspiring her/his employees. They use metrics to inform their gut instinct, not replace it. They use metrics as a guide in making important decisions, not the final word.

One company we’ve worked with achieved a significant year-over-year increase in the results of the employee engagement survey we conduct. The increases were in areas like breaking down unnecessary silos that got in the way of employees working together and having managers who were perceived as more open and honest in their communication with employees. Employees felt more appreciated when they contributed to the success of the business, and perceptions that senior leadership truly cared about building a great workplace were on the rise. These survey results came from efforts on the part of a leadership team that has devoted themselves for over two years to build a more engaging workplace.

They also had one of their best years financially in a long time.

To them, and us, their financial success is not coincidental. These leaders did not achieve this by luck or chance. By thoughtfully and patiently building a great workplace their financial success was, in our view, an inevitable, even natural, result.

No metric we can create or conceive can turn a poor leader from wreaking pain, havoc and agony with every step they take to the employees who fall in their path. But the right metrics used in the right way in the hands of caring leaders can achieve much.

(pic courtesy http://www.sxc.hu/photo/565371)