I was reading an article on adapting things like HomeKit and Echo into the way people interact with their homes. Alexa is pretty cool, but there are issues around its inability to recognize voices and there have been instances of voices on TV actually telling the system to order products online and the reality that a burglar could simply tell the system to turn off security alarms. The point that author Seyi Fabode was making was that one of our most basic needs is for security and safety, both at home and in the workplace where so many of us spend so much time and emotional energy.
MY thinking about his thinking was framed around a workshop I attended by Brad Thomas with my local ATD group yesterday morning. Brad was focusing on the implementation of full-company engagement systems and his excellent talk was anchored somewhat to these local issues but mainly focused on the corporate commitment to generating and acting on large amounts of employee feedback to frame up issues and opportunities.
In that Big Picture Corporate Model, things needed to cascade down from the top and that HR departments had to rethink how they focused so that they could actually bring human resource capital into play for their operational counterparts, that they could not simply remain the paper pushers they are in so many places. HR needed a seat at the corporate boardroom table to focus on the people side of improvement initiatives. It seems like an awful amount of senior management engagement and systemic change was a requirement before ANY actions could occur.
And when you have, as I once did, senior executives out there saying (or believing) things like this about people / engagement / involvement and being actively working to generate innovative ideas:
“That’s like asking the vegetables how to design a refrigerator,”
you pretty much KNOW that you are not going to be successful working from the tops downward forward. (And, yes, there are senior managers who could not care less about employee involvement and ideas — we seem to have one in the White House if you need an example.)
These two things clanged for me about an hour ago. Big Corporate Solutions trying to solve the issues of the worker / supervisor interface. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as results seem to consistently show, pretty much everything… Overall, statistics seem to show that OD things look pretty much like this:
From this month’s issue of Workforce magazine (3/17), Rick Bell shared some statistics and anchor points. Supervisors clearly improve their leadership and engagement skills. Some tops-down corporate program to improve overall engagement will simply not get traction:
• 35% of US workers would forgo a raise to see their boss fired
• 44% of employees say they have been emotionally or physically abused by a supervisor
• 3 of 4 workers say that their boss is the worst / most stressful part of the job
Other statistics supporting the idea of local control / local influence include:
• “Communication and connection are the cornerstone of relationships – a quarter to a third of employees believe their managers seldom or never listen to them, understand their issues, seek their input and ideas, or help them to resolve the issues and challenges they face. This persistent gap presents both a challenge and an opportunity to leaders and managers.” (Leadership Management Australasia’s LMA survey, April 2016)
• Only about 1 in 3 US managers are engaged in their jobs, and about 1 in 7 are actively DISENGAGED. Employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged than those supervised by actively disengaged managers. (Gallup)
Bell and others share these statistics, however, so there IS opportunity here if we can improve the interaction between workers and their managers. A short list of opportunities and benefits looks like this:
- Managers are the Number 1 way that people feel supported by their organization
- Managers influence 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores
- Close to 60% of Americans say they would do a better job if they got along better with their boss
- Close to 70% of those polled said they would be happier at work if they got along better with their boss, with the breakdown equal among men and women, but younger workers in their 20s and 30s were even higher (80%)
- Over half (55%) of those polled, think they would be more successful in their career if they got along better with their boss
- Only 4 in 10 of Americans will thank their boss on National Bosses Day with most believing that their boss wouldn’t care enough to bother
- About 10% said they would use the day as an opportunity to talk to their boss and improve the relationship
Have a conversation with someone who works in an organization and ask about how they feel they are being managed. I had two such conversations with people in my pool league two nights ago. Absolutely eye opening!
So, what IS a viable solution? Understand that the Big Corporate Improvement Program Initiatives seem doomed to fail unless organizations impact that supervisor / worker interface and make it more supporting and effective. And you can probably figure out that working to engage workers working for the 1 in 7 managers who are actively DIS-engaged within their own organization is simply a waste of money and resources.
Throw some mud at the wire fence!
Break away from the Big Corporate Program Mentality and do some Guerilla Engagement. Give some of your better supervisors the tools they need to improve their effectiveness. Allow them to improve their interactions with their people and to improve their facilitation and involvement skills.
The Square Wheels Project is an online training program designed FOR SUPERVISORS who need some training and some tools to improve communications. The Spring Forward Monday Toolkit is a package of tools (handouts, powerpoints, posters and instructions) to give supervisors the framework for a series of meetings and implementation action plans for simple ideas for workplace improvement and innovation, to allow more teamwork and active involvement.
The Square Wheels Project is not THE Solution to anything, but it does represent a most excellent alternative to the initiatives that are generally not working very well, a step forward in the effort to improve communications.
But some facilitation skills training can certainly help your managers to become better motivators and better leaders. Help them lead on-site workplace innovation and improvement initiatives at the very bottom-most layer of your organization, where most things are actually happening. Do things differently and let them lead!
Solve the small problems in simple ways, keeping a sense of safety and security in place with your supervisors feeling a minimal amount of risk for doing something differently. Look for some “small answers” to local issues and build things from the bottoms up. Make real improvements where you can, instead of looking for Big Answers from a distance.
Addendum: Since initially publishing these thoughts, I have begun to focus on a framework of Disruptive Engagement, which takes in much of this thinking and adds more data and rationale. You can find those blogs by clicking on the two images below.
Our stupidly simple tools are designed help any manager get some really effective, performance-focused improvement conversations going using better facilitation skills and our metaphors, plus our online help and networking,
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Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
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A lot of truths here. I think a ‘blended’ approach is necessary. Often, when the ‘top’ controls initiatives, it moves slower than desired by the ones most impacted and can limit creative approaches if it’s pushed without a structure that allows for local ownership. While safety and security are needed, that doesn’t necessarily mean focused improvements can’t be made (from the bottom) in pockets of an organization – to become noticed by the ‘TOP’. Unfortunately, cascading or duplication of successes into other areas is difficult, because the desire for the same result might be desired, but the details are often lost as to HOW they occurred.
The reason you need both top/bottom, is the effort will soon crash and burn if it is not supported. It takes initiative from front-line supervision or department management, which is not always consistent across an organization. A top-down only approach can also crash if the true needs/desires are not communicated clearly. This results in things being ‘pushed’ that did not have the buy-in of those it impacts most.
So, pushing to the middle from both top and bottom, I think, is necessary for success in most environments. Depending on the work culture of the business, I can see the approach Brad mentioned also working. The KISS principle must be employed and communicated and there has to be some passion from those driving it, but if a group begins to see their recommendations are accepted and supported, you can usually begin to see an improved engagement process impacting the bottom line. Results do get noticed!
Unfortunately, most businesses work in a resource-constrained environments, which complicates the implementation of a plan – regardless of which end is driving.
Higher level managers do NOT typically think ‘work culture.’ There primary focus is the bottom line. So whether pushed (perceived solution) from top or as a local need from the bottom, converting the successes into the language of top management – as Brad mentioned – is a must.
I think it goes back to his opening comments about, “What exactly do you want to accomplish” through the initiative of Employee Engagement? The answer to that question sets the pathway for every other decision, regardless of which end is pushing. (Lot’s of areas for those square wheels to go Thump, Thump! :-))
oops, hope spelling and grammar errors are acceptable:-)