December 22, 2011 § 2 Comments
Some executives still view corporate volunteer programs as an unaffordable luxury in hard times, excess weight that can be jettisoned when the weather gets heavy. That might even have been true at one time. These times are different. The world has changed in the 21st century and business isn’t business as usual.
Deloitte’s Center for the Edge 2011 Shift Index indicates the intensity of competition in the U.S. has doubled in the last 40 years. Change is increasing exponentially. The average tenure of a company in the Fortune 500 is dropping like a stone through still water, currently 15 years, trending toward five. You only have to look at Research in Motion for an example of how far and how fast a company can fall. In such an environment where the powerful fall like plague victims, it requires marshaling all of a company’s resources to maintain competitive advantage.
On average, only 33% of workers are engaged with their jobs; 67% are either disengaged or actively disengaged.
For years it’s been popular for companies to claim “people are our most valuable asset.” The fact that people were included among the inventory was a clue. In the 21st century products are ideas and the workforce is more than an asset, it’s the source of wealth. Engaged employees, passionate employees improve almost every metric that matters to a company.
In Gallup recent meta-analysis of 199 studies involving 152 organizations spanning 44 industries and 26 countries, they found employee engagement increases profitability by 16%, productivity by 18%, customer loyalty by 12%, and quality by 60%.
In case you breezed past that last metric, let me repeat it. Employee engagement increased quality by a whopping 60%. If employees aren’t developing positive emotional attitudes toward their company, their jobs, and their colleagues, it’s gutting the quality of their products and services.
A recent research paper by the Accenture Institute for High Performance (What Executives Really Need to Know about Employee Engagement) listed among the benefits of engaged (versus disengaged) employees the likelihood to use a variety of skills on the job (71% vs. 32%), the feeling that they have greater control over their work (53% vs. 22%), a belief that their job is important (73% vs. 26%) and that their company has a strong culture of trust and respect (52% vs. 6%). Engaged employees have a positive emotional impact upon their co-workers that shouldn’t be undervalued.
And a 2010 study by Towers Watson (Strategy at Work) found that companies with a highly engaged workforce have shareholder returns twice as high as those with low engagement.
What’s the cost of disengagement? It’s been estimated at $300 billion in lost productivity for the US alone. But it’s not the US alone that’s affected. Blessing White’s Employee Engagement Report 2011 indicates the problem is worldwide.
The comparison between world class and average organizations is also stark.
Obviously, engaged workers are profitable, disengaged ones are expensive. How do you encourage engagement? One way is to encourage them to volunteer.
According to the eighth annual Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey, millennials who frequently participate in workplace volunteer activities are more likely to be proud, loyal and satisfied employees, as compared to those who rarely or never volunteer.
- They’re twice as likely to rate their corporate culture as positive (56% versus 28%)
- More likely to be very proud to work for their company (55% versus 36%)
- More likely to feel very loyal toward their company (52% versus 33%)
- Nearly twice as likely to be very satisfied with the progression of their career (37% versus 21%)
- More likely to be very satisfied with their employer (51% versus 32%)
- More likely to recommend their company to a friend (57% versus 46%)
In other words, they’re engaged employees. Besides retention, there are other benefits that cascade from employee engagement, benefits that drive a company’s bottom line. Accenture itemized the benefits in a 2010 research paper and reinforced the message more recently in What Executive Really Need to Know about Employee Engagement.
Engaged employees are:
- 87% less likely to leave the company
- 86% happier at work
- 70% more customer-focused
- Generate 43% more revenue
- Have 37% fewer sick days
There remains the question whether volunteering is cause or effect, whether workers volunteer because they’re engaged or the act of volunteering encourages engagement. I suspect it may be one of those paradoxes of human behavior—we often heal ourselves when we focus upon helping another. Practically, it doesn’t really matter. There’s a positive correlation between volunteering and engagement. A company with more volunteers in their workforce is likely to have more engaged workers.
November 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
There’s something wrong with the game we’ve chosen to play, the economic engine we’ve built that now drives us. It doesn’t give us satisfaction, a sense of community, or hope. A few profit exorbitantly but I suspect even their lives are lacking in the same fundamental ways as those of us with less. And the vast majority are struggling to find food, water, shelter and warmth. There’s something wrong with such inequality.
There’s something wrong with the values we’ve adopted. Maybe it was an inevitable evolutionary outcome. I certainly don’t want to impose another moral imperative on our overburdened conscience, another thing we should or shouldn’t do for the greater good. Maybe it was unavoidable. We’re here because we had to be here but maybe we’re outgrowing our immaturity. Maybe a new order of complexity is emerging that will embrace and transcend our history. Maybe we will become something something new, something different, something better.
Denying the possibility of transcendence denies the possibility of change. Far to much is changing these days to deny. Our core values are changing, what we hold close to our hearts. Even acknowledgement of the need for heart and humanity in the workplace is changing, that place were the metaphor of the machine is still venerated.
It’s time we surrendered the machine as the image of God. It doesn’t work for humanity any more than it works for the universe. Our lives aren’t toothed gears turning in a clockwork mechanism. The places we work shouldn’t grind our spirit between metal teeth.
Work should express our common humanity, our community, our selves. It isn’t ultimately about profit. That’s just the way we keep score. There are better ways.
There’s something deeply important about work that we’ve perverted. I feel it even if I don’t have the words to explain. It feels powerful.
Work is far more than just making a living. It’s meaning, community, purpose but the purpose most of us serve is pitiful. It isn’t worth our loyalty or our lives. We only have this one life and to squander it seems shameful.
Can we rebuild our economy upon shared values that reflect our common humanity and the diversity of life on the planet? It seems possible to me, not through an effort of will but through the emergence of a new paradigm, a new democracy, new values that benefit the whole rather the the few. Impossibly idealistic? Perhaps if you believe the future can only duplicate the past but who would have thought the Arab Spring possible?
September 26, 2011 § 4 Comments
Seventy-five percent of working Americans are disengaged from their work in varying degrees. That’s a startling statistic since a worker’s passion for their work is a “prerequisite for effectively responding to mounting performance pressures” according to the Deloitte Center for the Edge 2010 Shift Index.
Disengaged workers cost America $300 billion annually in lost productivity.
Americans feel worse about their jobs than ever before reported the most recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. All ages, all incomes. They’re unhappy with their supervisors, apathetic about their organizations, and disengaged from their work. According to Gallup, it’s costing America $300 billion annually in lost productivity.
It’s also costing workers heavily. Gallup also reported American workers who are “actively disengaged”—emotionally disconnected from their work and their workplace—rate their lives more poorly than do the unemployed. They’d have to feel better to feel bad.
What most improves workers’ engagement with their work? It’s not what you think. It’s not more money, better benefits, or time off.
Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer recently published a book called The Progress Principle, an analysis of 12,000 diary entries from 238 professionals working for 7 companies over 10 years. Their conclusion? “Of all the events that engage people at work, the most important—by far—is simply making progress in meaningful work.”
In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us Daniel Pink ascribed three intrinsic motivations to knowledge workers—those workers who create something new rather that produce widgets on a production line. Those motivations are autonomy, mastery, and meaning. And, according to Amabile and Kramer, the greatest of these is meaning.
This remains a mystery to most managers. When Amabile and Kramer asked 669 managers from around the work to rank five employee motivations in order of importance, 95% failed to recognize progress in meaningful work as the most important, even more than money.
Meaning is a relative term, certainly, but in the MIT Sloan Management Review’s Third Annual Sustainability Global Executive Survey, half of the respondents surveyed said that a company’s commitment to sustainability could affect their employment choices. Obviously, sustainability is meaningful.
We know the cost of a disengaged workforce—$300 billion annually—but what’s the advantage of an engaged workforce? According to a survey conducted by the Corporate Executive Board, engaged employees exert 57% more effort and are 87% less likely to leap at the next job opportunity.
The title of a recent article in the Environmental Leader magazine pretty much says it all—"Why Sustainable Companies Have More Engaged Employees.” The author makes the point that employees need clear communication about their company’s sustainability goals and how they can individually contribute to help find meaning in their own work. Sustainability needs to be a grass roots effort for the employee’s benefit as much as the company’s. Employees need to know their individual contributions have an impact, that they’re making progress.
Doing good is good business on numerous levels, not least of which is the emotional well being of the workforce. Perhaps HR should be leading corporate sustainability.
June 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
…I posted this open invitation to my team at Microsoft. It will be interesting to see what results.
This is a time of significant change for ourselves, our company, our world. There is a sense that the present is unraveling and the future vaguely threatening. We don’t typically talk about these things. Perhaps we should.
Perhaps we should talk about work—what it is, what it’s becoming, what we think about it, what we want from it. There are forces at play reshaping the workplace, redefining the meaning of work. Perhaps we can understand those changes better collectively, through conversation.
I’m suggesting we could meet informally during lunch once or twice a month. The format is up to us. Some of the topics I find compelling are listed below. Others might resonate with you. Let me know if you’re interested.
- Is it possible any longer to separate personal and work life? Is it even desirable?
- How can we bring our authentic self to work?
- How do we deal with the increasing rate of change in the workplace?
- How do we make plans in a competitive marketplace that’s become increasingly unpredictable?
- What’s the significance of storytelling at work?
- What will work look like at Microsoft in the next 10 years?
- How do we learn to live with increasing ambiguity in the workplace?
- What do we most want out of our work?
- What responsibility does Microsoft have to the community, humanity, the planet?
- What does employee loyalty mean now?
- What do we most want Microsoft to become?
- What does the future most want Microsoft to become?
June 10, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In previous generations work life and personal life were strictly segregated. One domain wasn’t allowed to intrude into another. It was considered a tasteless faux pas to bring your personality to work. Now work has intruded into the home. We’re all connected to our jobs wherever, whenever. There’s a corollary to the loss of boundaries that’s becoming obvious—we’re bringing our personal goals and aspirations into the workplace. We’re requiring that our work align with our Work—our calling, our contribution to the larger community, the greater good. We’re demanding that our companies contribute rather than merely profit.
As one in a series of interviews titled Walking Up the Workplace Dr. Otto Scharmer talks about the future of capitalism, the profound interdependence of systemic change in the way we do business and personal transformation, and the critical importance of personal purpose to a company’s success. Dr. Scharmer is a Senior Lecturer at MIT and the author of Theory U: Leading from the Future as It Emerges.
Others in the series include Barret Brown on “Conscious Leadership in Action: Research from the Trenches,” Rand Stagen “Leaders Get the Organizations They Deserve,” and Brian Johnson speaking about “Consciousness is our Greatest Asset.”
Highly recommended and especially pertinent to the goals of Net Impact.
May 6, 2011 § Leave a Comment
“Our employees are our most important asset” was once a popular phrase mouthed by companies promoting themselves. It was largely an empty phrase but it did reveal one telling truth—employees were like property, valuable property perhaps but ultimately just another corporate asset. A fundamental shift is required of companies evolving to meet the increasing complexity of the marketplace. They need to treat employees as collaborators rather than assets.
Collaborators are empowered to make corporate decisions at their local level either as individuals or in teams. Collaborators are partners, not employees. Collaborators are accountable to each other.
Offering a carrot or threatening with a
stick misses the point.
A company needs to be at least as complex as the markets where it competes. That may even be a law, the law of requisite complexity. Complexity requires a different orientation to knowledge workers, a different relationship between workers and company, even between workers themselves. It requires a higher sense of responsibility, an alignment with clearly articulated company goals and cultural values, an informed and knowledgeable workforce capable of making effective choices in their sphere of action. That workforce already exists. Companies need to recognize it, nurture it, and quit trying to manage it like a production line in a New England textile factory.
Salary, bonuses and incentives are just the ante required to get into the game. Of course incentives have to be sufficient for workers to feel secure and valued. They have to be competitive but they’re not the primary motivation for knowledge workers. What drives them are intrinsic motivations—autonomy, mastery, and meaning. Offering a carrot or threatening with a stick misses the point.
Offering knowledge workers more money past what’s needed to be competitive reinforces selfish, self-centered, myopic behaviors, the opposite of what’s desired. Give them more autonomy, new tools and complex skills to master, and the opportunity to serve a cause greater than corporate greed. That’s what excites them. That’s what generates flow. The alternative is to watch them vote with their feet.