Month: July 2015

Employee Engagement: Stop Measuring, Start Doing

July 26, 2015

We’ve all heard the cliche… “What gets measured, gets done”. In the case of employee engagement – I say maybe not. For years organizations have been measuring employee engagement. Organizations like Gallup and Towers and Hay Group have made millions of dollars administering employee engagement surveys that ask hundreds of questions and measure how people feel at work at some given point in time. Don’t get me wrong – it’s what organizations are asking for, and I’ve done it too – for years and years. But my question is this,

How come, after all these years of measuring employee engagement, we still haven’t moved the needle on the very basic service profit chain?

Does it really matter if employees are engaged anyway, as long as they’re doing their work? You tell me… Engaged employees are happier and more productive employees. They connect more strongly with their organization and are more loyal to the mission. They are what drives a workforce forward, particularly amid change – because they do what is required AND MORE. So, if this is true, why then, after all this time, don’t business leaders (and HR for that matter) understand the correlation between business outcomes and employee engagement? Why haven’t most companies been able to get it right?

A little history

In the early 1990’s Dr. William Kahn introduced the term Employee Engagement when talking about an employee’s ‘discretionary effort’. Then, in the mid 90’s Gallup came up with the Q12 – the 12 simple but critical questions that employers can use to measure how much of this employee-based discretionary effort is being used to drive their productivity. The results were shocking. Let’s put it this way, results today are the highest they’ve been since 2000, and they are at 31%. 31%?! That is the percentage of engaged employees we have in America.

So, we’ve been measuring this for over twenty years and we’re still only at 31%? WHY? (For more on the Q12, click here)

Here’s why

Organizations and the people that lead them don’t “just do it” (to steal a line from Nike). Oh, they think they’re doing it. They build action teams. They rally around it. They share the results (at least some do).

But how many can truly say they are focused on engaging the hearts and minds of employees as they drive their strategy forward?

I recently met with a senior leader who was discussing his strategy with me. He showed me his PowerPoint deck, his communication plan and his much longer execution plan. It was thorough and well thought out. He had reviewed it with this Board of Directors, as well as the Executive team. Our conversation went like this:

Him: What do you think?
Me: Are you sure, you really want me to be honest?
Him: Yes, of course, that’s why I asked.
Me: (and as always, this is where the coaching gets dicey – does he really want the truth?? Have I built enough trust to give him the truth? In this case, I thought yes). I think it’s a great plan – it’s thoughtful and almost complete – yet, there is a big component missing. Nowhere in this 20-page plan is the mention of the word “employees”. How do you expect to get any of this done without thinking about how to engage the employees?
Him: No words – his jaw dropped.

This is a leader that is typically very in tune with the organizational culture. He is always concerned about communicating plainly and with transparency, yet he is absolutely not alone. How many leaders truly understand that if they focus on the employees – on real employee engagement – what Dr. Kahn and Gallup meant from the beginning, that we really wouldn’t need to measure anything except business results? And they would speak for themselves.

But why is it such a leap? Why don’t business leaders truly understand and believe in this notion that employee engagement drives business results – actual outcomes? My guess is because they fear taking their eye off the results ball for one minute to focus on something else – even if it’s a driver. They believe in their heads that engagement drives results, but do they really believe it in their hearts? If they did, overall engagement in this country would undoubtedly be higher than 31%, wouldn’t it?

Or, maybe they do believe it, but don’t know what to do about it. Maybe they think if they just measure it it’s bound to get better, right? Well congratulations to us. We’ve proven that’s not the case.

Here’s some good news.

There is something that we can do about it. I’ve been in exploration mode lately and have come across some really great tools that get to the essence of what Gallup has been talking about. They don’t measure engagement, they just do it.

Waggl is a tool I have just recently launched at Apollo Education Group. It is a real time pulsing platform that allows leaders to ask questions of large groups of employees and receive anonymous, real time feedback, quickly. It also gives employees the opportunity to voice their opinion and vote on answers that their peers have submitted to which they feel particularly aligned. It’s fast, it’s cool, it’s transparent and it creates a culture of listening. And, since one of Gallup’s 12 questions is: “At work, my opinion seems to count”, it is completely relevant to driving engagement. Not measuring engagement, driving it. It’s very easy to use – only takes a minute to create and the best part is, the results are real time so you (and everyone else) can get them immediately – it even puts the results into a presentation format if that’s what you’re into. Waggl was recently written up in Wall Street Journal.

Gallup also asks: “I know what is expected of me”. How can we be engaged if we are constantly trying to work out what is the important stuff? Enter Workboard. This is a simple app that managers actually choose for themselves – no heavy IT infrastructure required. Once downloaded, the tool gives managers the ability to determine who is on their team (think beyond direct reports – alas, this also includes cross functional teams – reaching beyond silos), and then align weekly goals – not lofty, prophetic goals – but real, execution based goals that either get completed in that week, or don’t. There are several other really useful bells and whistles embedded – like badging, scheduling and a myriad of things that make project implementation much easier.

Are you satisfied with 30%?

Maybe it’s better than this in your organization but is it good enough to drive the kind of outcomes you are looking for? Don’t get me wrong – there are definitely some companies out there that are getting it right. We know them, we talk about them, and we benchmark them. How does your organization measure up? Are you simply measuring it, or are you actually doing it? Tools like Workboard and Waggl have made it easier. But to really capture hearts and minds of employees it takes courageous people to step up and use the tools and do the very hard work – not just measure it. And isn’t it worth it? Don’t we spend enough time at work to want to create an atmosphere where people can be at their best, where they have the tools and resources to be successful? Where people care about each other, and help each other grow and learn? I certainly do.

I Heart Millennials

July 23, 2015

WHAT??? With everything I’ve read lately, that sounds almost like sacrilege. How can I love millennials when they are selfish, entitled and lazy? How can they be good, when they are demanding things at their young age that I would never have dreamed of demanding? They want, want, want… all the while they are threatening to leave – to go somewhere where their demands are not so unreasonable. (For those that don’t know what millennials are, see the Urban Dictionary definition here.)

What do they want that is so terrible?

Development? Hmmmm, that doesn’t sound so bad, even at my advanced age. They want to learn and grow and not be stagnant. They want to collect and gather meaningful experiences out of which they can reap valuable lessons – both in business and in life. I have to admit – I get that. I want to keep learning too, and I look for the lesson in everything. And I certainly get bored if I’m doing the same thing again and again.

Flexibility? They want to work remotely? Do more than one thing at a time? Work like they do everything else – when they want to, not according to the strict 9-5 hours that the baby boomers are so used to? Well, let’s admit it, that doesn’t sound too bad either, does it? I wanted that when I was their age, and I want it now.

To be listened to? Granted, in many situations their experience is limited, so why would anyone listen to them? BECAUSE THEY ARE GENERALLY SMART and see things differently than we do. Because of when they grew up, they join the workforce with a different sense of things – a different vibe of the world. Their eyes see differently than ours do.

So, here’s the thing. I don’t think they are any different than I was at their age. I wanted all of those things, and I still do. They have access to so much more information than we ever did.

The world is so much smaller, we are so much more connected.

We can Skype and Face Time and see each other while we talk on the phone. And because we work so much more globally now, this phenomenon occurs at all times of the day and night.
We can work from virtually anywhere – home, Starbucks, even our car. There is no place that doesn’t have WI-Fi, and we have all the codes. We are on 24/7 and we’re actually fine with that.
Development is experience-based, and can be virtual, and if it does take place in the classroom, the classroom can be in Japan, and we can be learning in New Jersey.
The fact is, when I was their age none of this was possible. My first job was in New York City at the Citicorp Center on 53rd Street and Park Avenue. I worked on the 57th floor. When I printed something at my desk I had to take the elevator to the 40th floor, cross over the elevator bank and then take a different elevator two floors up to 42 in order to pick up what I printed. There was literally a farm of printers. Because Citi was so progressive, I had a MAC – it wasn’t a laptop, but I was lucky because the typical alternative was an IBM computer that didn’t even have Windows. When I was their age, sharing information was difficult and slow, and technology didn’t support many of the things that millennials want today – they were completely out of reach (even unimaginable then).

So, in the world they grew up in, where we can learn constantly and engage with each other in real time any time, I ask this:

Is what millennials want unreasonable? Why do we need training programs and articles and webinars for how to manage millennials?
I surround myself with millennials at work and at home. I own a gym in addition to being a leader in a corporate job. Most of the people on both of my teams would be described as millennials. I love working with them. They are smart, and see the world differently than I do. If they don’t know something, they Google it. I do that too, but it’s a learned behavior, where for them it’s as natural as brushing their teeth when they get up in the morning. They instinctively look for and easily find information they need; because they’re information natives they’re also discerning about the information they choose to believe. Their sense of connection is completely different than mine – it’s larger and more fluid. As a result, they are exposed to hundreds of thousands of more ideas and expressions than I am. I tap in to that – I learn from it. I respect it and I relish it. I Heart it.millenials textBut don’t take my word for it – they’re everywhere.

Go find a few. In fact, make a deal with yourself – before you write them off completely do some exploration. Find three or four men or women who are currently in the workforce and are between 22-30 years old. Invite them for coffee and then interview them. Ask them questions to better understand how they think. If you can’t think of your own questions, I came up with a few for you:

What are you passionate about, and how do you plan to tie that to your work?
Describe the person who you will someday describe as the best boss you ever had?
What are the three most important issues you are dealing with right now?
How do you learn new things?
What insights did you have? What did you learn? My guess is that while not all millennials are the same, (we are talking about an entire generation here), you will realize at least some of them are a lot like you were at their age. And, maybe they need some help navigating our world as much as we need help navigating theirs. You’ve taken the first step now – there is no place to go but forward.

The Team Behind the Team

July 20, 2015

When I worked at the United States Olympic Committee I was proudly part of the ‘team behind the team’. The team that worked relentlessly to ensure that every detail was perfect such that when the athlete stepped on their world stage, their only thought was their gold-medal winning performance.

When you watched the US Women’s soccer team win the world cup this month, you didn’t think about the team behind the team – but believe me, there was one there in Canada that propelled that team to take home the trophy.

Who is on your team behind the team? Great leaders always have them – those individuals that support, encourage, coach, question and push them towards greatness. They do it unselfishly because they believe in that leader or person. The team behind me is large and its members come and go.   All of them play a critical role – some offer advice, some open doors and some really teach. In fact, the team members behind me, while they don’t know each other, all see my strengths from different angles and believe in me from their vantage point.

They aren’t afraid to tell me the truth, question my assumptions or push on my thought process – and that’s what makes them so important.

But the most important thing about the team behind the team is that they are clear on what my goals are and do what they can to help me achieve those goals. And because of that perfect clarity and alignment – we have the secret ingredient that every team needs: TRUST.

I’ve been working with a leader lately who is taking some huge, courageous culture building steps and they are scary. He can do it – he has both the brain and the brawn. The other day he ran a series of town hall meetings for all employees. He was addressing some dicey issues, and afterwards, when I asked him how it went he said “I often think about Jack Nicholson saying ‘you can’t handle the truth’ but then I tuck that away and move forward”. I am definitely on his ‘team behind the team’ and I heard the request for support in that comment. And that’s what I gave him: the positive reinforcement and support he needed in that moment to continue on this difficult quest. And he trusted me enough to be vulnerable, share his doubts and let me know he needed the encouragement.

Organizations Are No Different

Like great leaders, great organizations also need “teams behind the team”. These are the support functions designed to build infrastructure, manage process, and create efficiency so that the front line team (in some cases called ‘the line’ or ‘the business’) can do their thing. I work in HR, and we are definitely the team behind the team. It is simply not our stage – we ensure the right people are on the team, that the team gets compensated appropriately and understand exactly what is expected of them. We work hard to ensure that they get the development they need to be successful so that when they go out on their world stage (or sales calls, or laboratory, or whatever true business they’re in) they have every expectation of success.

Sometimes people in support functions forget which team they’re on and what its real role of is.

Why do support teams sometimes operate as solo teams – as though they are the ones on the main stage?

Why does the HR team have their own set of goals, separate and apart from rest of the business? Oh, they link them to the business goals, but in reality aren’t they really working their own goals and calling their own success? Why can’t they be satisfied with being the team behind the team?

It comes down to trust. Do we actually all feel as strongly about the organization’s goals as we feel about the goals of our own team? Is it more important to understand a new performance review process, or in the case of Finance (another team behind the team), a new expense management system, or is it more important to diversify our business portfolio?

Some might say one drives the other. I politely disagree. Some might say we can do both. And maybe we can – but that’s where it gets hairy. That’s where we forget what comes first, and that’s where we lose trust in each other. Nobody is clear on what the REAL goal is.

Swifter, Higher, Stronger

We all play many roles. Sometimes we are the star of the show, and sometimes we are a valued member of the crew. What is most important is that we are consistently self-aware enough to understand which role we’re playing when.

If you are on the main team:

  • Have you surrounded yourself with a team behind you that has your best interest at heart, shares your vision and goals? Do they have the ability and intent to provide the support, coaching, tools and expertise you need to be successful?
  • Do you trust your team behind the team?

If you are on the “team behind the team”:

  • Are you clear on what the real goal is and are you genuinely committed to helping the team achieve it?
  • Does everyone trust each other to play their assigned roles and play them well?
  • Are you competing with the main team or supporting its win?
  • Is there trust between you and those you are supporting?

In sports it’s much easier. Winning is well defined, everyone knows who the players are. There are hundreds — sometimes thousands — of people behind those athletes supporting and pushing for the win and they don’t compete with the athletes they support.

It’s muddier in organizations — and sometimes it’s muddy personally when we’re on the team behind the team. But if we can figure out and embrace the role we are really playing, and what is really needed for the win, maybe — just maybe — we can be a part of an epic win with people we trust and support fully. With that, maybe we can all be champions.

Why is Food Always the Answer?

July 11, 2015

Why is Food always the answer?

I mean, it makes sense, when you think about it logically. Food is fuel, it’s calories. And calories are energy. And energy fuels, right? So logically, it makes sense. But in the day to day decisions and judgements we make about life, it seems that lately, regardless of the question, food is the answer.

When you are from NY and spend your entire life surrounded by great food, it’s not a surprise that life revolves around it….when it’s raining, you order in Chinese. It’s just what you do. And, similar to Pavlov’s dog, now, even though I’ve been out of NY for over a decade, when it rains I still always crave Mu Shu Pork and Lo Mein. The good news about this is – I live in Phoenix where it hardly ever rains…which is great because they really don’t know how to make Chinese food out here. But, I will not judge.

Moods can be changed, managed and enhanced by the right food. Arguments can be settled, milestones celebrated and families reunited with some great pasta and crusty bread. Broken legs and scraped knees can be mended by a creamy macaroni and cheese, and love can form over a plate of sashimi.

But, I’m talking about more than this. I’m talking about performance. I’m talking about even at work, the answer is always food.

For three years I had the great fortune to work at the United States Olympic Committee. I worked side by side with some of the world’s most elite athletes and their coaches. I watched as they conditioned their bodies, trained and practiced their sport with energy and determination. I learned that it was a package deal; that elite athletic performance came from a combination of the right balance of focus, preparation and recovery. And I don’t just mean physically.

These athletes spend a significant amount of time setting goals – understanding exactly; to a second or a millimeter, what it will take to go for the gold. They think about the qualifying competitions and work backward from there. They create mini- steps, short term milestones that will lead to great success. This takes a huge amount of focus – both mentally and physically.

The physical focus takes the form of energy management. When do they practice, train, and then recover? What do they eat that will drive this focus? How do they fuel their body, and their brain to take them to the next level? When do they rest? How do they recover? I learned that there is passive recovery – we laymen call that sleep. And there is active recovery – things like massage, meditation, visualization.

The question becomes simple – why do we expect that we can demand elite performance out of ourselves and our teams – yet we don’t value the things that drive elite performance. “Wait a minute, you’re saying, “but I do value those things. I eat well, I sleep and I even workout sometimes…..” Yet, we don’t value it enough to see it as our obligation to those things and people we care the most about. Taking care of our body translates to understanding what your family needs from you – YOU. We don’t view exercise as something that will drive our energy and mood such that we perform better at work either. We never make the connection between how we eat and the success at the meeting we just had. And when we only get 3 hours sleep the night before we simply drink a lot of caffeine and complain to our colleagues.

Elite athletes use food as fuel. I’ve seen them eat A LOT of food, and really enjoy it – but the good news for them is, they need that fuel to power them through their relentless practice to be the best in the world. They are also very careful about when they eat what…..

But, here in Corporate America – we don’t really think much about that. We have “fast food”. We actually call it that – food that is fast, so we don’t need to think about it, we can just gobble it down regardless of what it might do to our performance. We have cafeterias – some of which are actually subsidized by the company for whom they serve, and yet they still don’t pay attention to how the food served there will fuel their employees. I don’t want anyone on my team eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes at lunchtime and then trying to come work at optimal performance levels – do you?

I pay attention to what I eat. I eat clean – I really do. I eat a lot, admittedly, but I eat healthy food that is very nutritionally sound. I also own a gym. I work out A LOT. I love working out and I love being at my gym, so it makes it easier for me than for most. However, I’m gaining weight lately and I feel sluggish, and my clothes are not fitting right. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t care as much about what the scale says as I do about how I feel. And I feel sluggish. “I can’t believe It”, I say to my trainers, “I workout so much!” “What are you eating?” is all they want to know.

I’ve been going to yoga for over a year religiously. I love it. I’ve seen a huge change in my flexibility and balance and at 50 years old, that’s really important. Yoga challenges me, teaches me to be mindful and how to breathe to calm myself down. I love that. There is an advanced yoga workshop coming up in a few weeks. I don’t feel like I’m advanced yet, but after a year, I’m certainly better than where I started. So, I asked my yoga instructor if he thought I was ready for the advanced workshop. He mentioned a few poses and asked how easily I was able to do those. “Pretty well”, I explained – “but that big toe standing balance – I can’t get that one. I’ve been trying for a year and I can’t seem to progress”.

Guess what he asked me? “What do you eat?” ARE YOU KIDDING??? I can’t do big toe standing balance because my eating is wrong?? “Do you eat meat and dairy?” he said. “Yes”, I said, “but I don’t eat fried foods, I limit my sugar and I eat tons of vegies”. He said “meat and dairy cause a lot of inflammation. You can’t do big toe standing balance with inflammation in your body”.

My husband is a chef. He cooks delicious food; mostly healthy but still delicious. Going to great restaurants and having an amazing “foodie” dinner with a big, bold glass of red zinfandel is one of the top three joys in my life. Food plays a critical role in my life. Yet I’m a high performer in almost every area of my life and I strive for nothing less. I have high expectations and I’ll do whatever it takes to reach them. I’m never going to stop eating. I enjoy meat and dairy, more than I enjoy doing big toe standing balances, so I’m going to make that choice. I’m going to continue to go to great restaurants and eat great food when I want to – but it will be my choice and I’ll do it mindfully. I will never stop caring about what goes into my body and I’ll never stop taking care of it. It’s all I really have, and all my kids have. But there is balance, and there are choices.

But fundamentally I guess, I still have to ask….why, oh why does it always come down to the food??

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