Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reframing Employee Engagement

There seem to be two distinct camps in today's workforce:
- Those who want to have fun
- ...and those who don't

I don't believe this is a generational thing as much as a right brain/left brain epidemic. Unfortunately, most organizational development strategies rely on either/or assumptions.

Let's Reframe The Argument!

Uber-competitive employees enjoy winning. Winning is fun. Therefore, said employees enjoy having fun. They may not want to attend a yoga session or a book club, but the competitors still want to have fun. The analytics want proof before they take action....they are of the very few calculated employees who debunk the fact that our motivation is based 23% on reason and 77% on emotion. Still, when the results of a market campaign come in to show a 7/1 ROI; these beautiful little bean counters show a little emotion (and they love it). In contrast, those who believe that hope and uncompromising effort "win the day", still give no credence to their effort if the scoreboard does not weigh in their favor.

Point being: Fun is the determining factor to results!

We all just want to be happy, we all just want to be part of something we believe in. The catch to the engagement process is tapping into what we, as individuals, enjoy!

Make It Cool
It can be said that we like apple products better because their graphics are cooler. Game mechanics have been in play since Henry Ford used leader boards to encourage line workers to build cars faster and better. But, tablets are more sexy than lap tops and we would all rather hear Aaron Levie keynote at our company meeting than Jack Welch.

We want rapid fire ideas that engage what we love. We want to have fun! We spend most of our waking hours at work, so you better engage our personal interest.

Strategy is not a Commodity
There was a time when Rolex Watches were cool....that time is gone! You heard me, a watch worth 50k is no longer a sign of achievement but a memento of arrogance. We want to achieve our goals, celebrate together, and give money to charity.

Declarative statement: If you are giving your employees a catalogue and a trophy at their significant service milestone; the effect is more negative than positive. This strategy is formed by manufacturers that buy outdated products and mark them up 30 - 60%. They call it employee engagement.

The only conclusion is increased voluntary leave based on the fact that you just celebrated 10 years of loyalty with an outdated memento that could be bought on Amazon for $50.

The game is up!    

The Alarm Clock Test
My alarm clock rings at 4:45 am. If I didn't love what I do by the virtue of feeling genuinely challenged to create something that matters, I would hit snooze.

Do your employees hit snooze?

  • We need to be part of a company that is genuine in their intent: Great companies don't pretend to care for their customer by hiking up prices to pad their margins. 
  • We want to love our leaders: When our CEO speaks at a conference we want to rally behind her in the same way we would Tegan & Sara.
  • We want to be part of something that matters: Money only goes so far and management is mostly unnecessary. I will leap out of bed every day if I know that without my contribution people will lose sleep!

Make it matter! Find out what your employees love and celebrate that!

Don't Forget to Remember!


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Work Healthy

There has been what may be an insurmountable backlash to Yahoo's reversal of work from home policy. The intent of the directive and how it plays out will be more important to the Internet minion than the initial press.

Does Yahoo mistrust their employees to the extent that they feel progress is impossible without punching the clock?


Are they trying to build a culture?

Having worked from home and in an office environment, I can see both sides of the argument.

Point 1: People may be more productive in the sanctity of their home office but they take more personal time during the working day. Work/life balance is productive as long as the life doesn't overwhelm the work.

Point 2: People get more done in an office environment. With resources at arms reach, things are more streamlined.

Yahoo will lose employees simply because people are resistant to change. A culture shift of this magnitude may usher out the old guard...and Yahoo's competition will be selling new talent
on flexibility. It is a bold move! Most great organizational culture shifts are unpopular at first glance.

To work from your personal oasis or in cubicle nation? The best solution is a little of both.

People want to be trusted, they want to create at their own pace, and they want to be part of something they believe in. We want leadership who inspires, the ability to cut out to see our daughter's cupcake party, and we want our ideas adopted to prove we are part of organizational progress.

The aforementioned directives speak to employee wellness! It has become a buzz term, but Wellness taps into our ability to feel mentally, physically, and spiritually productive at work.

People don't need corporate policy or a boss to tell them how to be productive. We are motivated by our own direction and the better an organization can support our well-being, the better we will perform.

I am productive at the coffee shop with my I-pod on. I feel it necessary to exercise during my lunch hour. After a day in the marketplace visiting clients, I feel re-energized. I also enjoy business travel. Does that make me the exception or the rule?

If Yahoo's directive creates transparency, enhances teamwork, and allows employees to interact in the context of activities they personally enjoy.....they may just become the best place to work!

Good luck with that!

Don't Forget to Remember!


Monday, February 25, 2013

Transparency: HR's New Best Friend!

3 years ago we may not have even known about Glassdoor. Nowadays, it is the first place potential employees visit to get a sense for the cultural vibe of any given company. Remember when Facebook was a stupid site for Paris Hilton to display her tanning schedule. That twitter thing hasn't gone away and it appears a random Junior High Schooler with a blog has as much influence as Mick LaSalle. The world has changed. Nothing is off the record.

The villagers now have more power than the Queen. I would suggest that the best way to combat bad press from the trenches is to be boldly transparent.

Don't Marginalize the Middle
In the extensive studies I have done on Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture there is a prominent fly in the ointment: middle management. Those who are superstars are able to progress from Manager to Director in far less time than it took them to break the "contributor" title. Then again, a lot of middle managers choose to marginalize themselves. Too often managers hold back their top talent because they want to benefit from their results. Many managers adopt team ideas as their own. Some managers choose to use their authority as a barometer for individual success....the aforementioned tactics produce one of two results:
1. You get fired
2. You stay in middle management forever
...through this process, marginal talent becomes the norm and your company culture decays.

Not any more! You can no longer hide behind closed doors, performance reviews, or empty promises. In this day-and-age, if you attempt to attack your talent for the sake of self preservation; 1 million  people will get the news via facebook. The reviews you write will be turned back on you with feedback from places you didn't know existed. The slightest of your peers now has the ability to call your bluff.

Address Feedback
Surveys alone do not tell the whole story. When a survey comes across our inbox we ask ourselves:
- Where did this come from?
- What's the intent?
- Who will see the results?

...with our guard up, we answer as we expect we should. Ask yourself: do you really give your candid opinion when HR sends you a survey?

We need to do more....interview the Executives, form a focus group with middle managers, get out of the board room and walk the floor....then you can perform a survey (if your really need the analytics).

Still, the worst thing you can do is ask for feedback and take no action!

Take Action
The kids would like a PrinciPAL more than a PrinciPULL - we can make HR cool if we're out celebrating achievement instead of policing the hallways.

The opportunity is here....

Now is the time to make the HR team an empowered group of strategic culture creators! Break down the silos, empower feedback by building trust, drive the company mission (and if you don't believe in the it!).

Do this...and next time you walk into a bar to find the sales team doing shots...they will invite you over instead of running in the other direction!

Don't Forget to Remember!


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What Do You Mean

Word on the street is that at least 70% of the workforce does not enjoy the work they do. That is unfathomable to me! Why would you spend 80% of your waking hours in a place you don't love? Let me guess....

It starts with a compromise....

"I don't really love this job, company, boss.....but I don't want to be unemployed for another 3 months, so I'll take it until something better comes along."

...Then you look up and thirty years have passed.

The moment you accept what does not genuinely engage you, the road veers from the cliff to the middle earth highway.

It is becoming increasingly prevalent that more than money, career path, work/life balance, or yoga at lunch; people want to do work that means something. Now more than ever, companies are emphasizing employee engagement, culture, and transparent talent management. Everyone is looking for a turnkey solution to make their company the best place to work.

There is no turnkey solution!

Get Inspired...and Stay Inspired
You might feel a tear slide down your cheek when a movie helps you remember what genuinely matters. You wipe the snot with your popcorn and when the movie is over you get back to your boring life. How can you maintain that feeling of inspiration every day?

In the same way you cannot buy engagement, you cannot create inspiration where it doesn't exist. If you pretend to be a vibrant, inspired person; you will probably be perceived as the creepy old guy. Those who love what they do need not put on a facade. I could care less about fashion but if a particular designer is genuinely passionate about their work, I will listen attentively.

That's the key: to have so much conviction in what you do that people cannot help but get pulled into your world! The goal is to have people desiring your help to the extent that they cannot sleep without it.

You have to earn it!

Compromise and Sacrifice are Different Animals
To have what you want you have to sacrifice, endure, and adapt. You do not, however, have to force yourself to compromise. To be empathetic is far different than to give up. If you are arrogant, you will experience success alone (and that is not success at all). To take others along with you will require you to be selfless. You can be equal parts selfless and self-confident, they are one-in-the-same.

Believe In What You Do
No job is perfect. There are assholes everywhere. With that said, you can ruin something you love by allowing mundane detail to derail the ultimate goal. Don't kill the magic by fussing over the color of the rabbit in the hat!

Steve Jobs had commented that in order to succeed you have to love what you do. He said that anything worth doing takes hard work and a great deal of perseverance. In order to succeed you will have to fail is easier to endure failure when you love what you do.

Is it worth painting a picture if the process of making the art is painstaking? Would you want to play a sport you dislike simply because you know you can win? There is a difference between playing to your skill set and committing to that which you genuinely enjoy....hopefully these paths meet in the middle of your big, beautiful heart!

Don't Forget to Remember!


Monday, February 18, 2013

Prize Money

Working in the world of incentive management I am consistently posed the question about the prize. Should we incent with cash? Is it better to give trophies, non-cash rewards, and/or gift cards? The answer may be equal parts neither and/or all of the above. The pot of the gold at the end of the rainbow is far less important than everyone makes it out to be.

Money doesn't matter!

Test: if I were to put a hundred dollar bill, a gift card, and an i-pod on a table and asked you to choose: you would probably take the cash. What purpose would it serve? You might grab a meal, pick up your dry cleaning, and fill half of your gas tank. Tomorrow, with empty wallet, would you remember what you had done with your reward (or how you had earned it)? Our cash bonuses go to our kid's schools, we might buy some flowers for our sweetie, maybe we'll pick up a nice bottle of wine. As we advance through life the money in the bank becomes less about us and more about the ones we love. We are keeping up with the Joneses, maintaining, doing what we must to make ends meet. A necessity but hardly an inspiring tale of self-fulfillment.

I know not of a person who checked their bank statement on their death bed. No one ever looked back on a life well-served and wished they had put in more hours at the office. Ask any CEO what he/she would have done different and they would allude to having had spent more time with their now-grown-up kids. Money doesn't matter!

If a man is shown the exit to a company he had served loyally for 30 years, he might question his priorities. Those looking out only for themselves might find it hard to find employment after changing jobs each year. You don't need to look over your shoulder if you are doing the right thing. The right thing is to do that which you genuinely believe in. More than the prize at the finish line, we want to enjoy the race.

On your death bed you might look down at that watch on your wrist and remember the 30 years you put into building something that you believed in. You are more likely to look over at your children and feel good about the legacy you have built.

Time is the most important prize any of us can be given. You have 29,200 days on this earth. How are you spending your most precious prize?

Don't Forget to Remember!


Friday, February 15, 2013

The Great Demotivator

The readers of this publication are well aware that I am on a never ending quest to find the magic potion for what motivates people. Human beings are infinitely complex little creatures so I am becoming more aware that there is no silver bullet to engagement.

I do know what doesn't motivate people: Fear!

People want to be engaged in their work: they want to be part of something they believe in, to create something that matters, to be around people who inspire them. People don't want to be made to feel that the efforts they put forward are grounds for criticism. The economy is improving but no one knows it because we are drown in fear. What will they scare us with next?

Is fear mongering a proposed motivator in your workplace? If so, I wouldn't worry for too long. The world of work is drastically changing for 3 prominent reasons:
1. There are now more Millennials than Baby Boomers in the workplace (sorry for using the M word)
2. Transparency is now an expectation (not an option)
3. Proof is now readily available to everyone

Not Your Fathers Office
My dad woke up before 5am every morning and was rarely home before I went to bed. He put on a suit every day, flew on airplanes weekly, and entertained clients when he wasn't behind a desk. He is my hero for his willingness to endure such nonsense simply to afford to buy me Nikes.

Times have changed.

The formality of stuffy suits and board rooms have given way to jeans and coffee shop conversations. Flying to Iowa in the dead of winter has been trumped by the ability to view a presentation from your bed. It's comfortable, more direct, and less monotonous. The human element hasn't disappeared, we have simply dropped the bravado.

If you believe you can still micro-manage people into success, you are wrong! We now have proof that we are more successful if we get out of the cubicle. We understand that time and money wasted on business travel often extends the process of problem solving. We want to get to work, get it done, and look for another challenge.

Employees are no longer on's the Executives turn to answer....

Unhinge The Door
In the early 90's, there was an organization with an "open door policy". They claimed to empower employees as a means for collaborative leadership development. A distinct trend developed in this organization. The employees who were bold enough to engage in the CEO's office hours had about a 90 day shelf life. This is a true story.

Far too often we dismiss input from the trenches as "squeaky wheel negativity". We cannot avoid reality any more!

Performance reviews are being replaced by enterprise performance empowerment applications. Crowd sourcing is replacing executive ego stroking. We are starting to admit that Gamification is not just for kids any more.

The result: the employees are now on display and they like it! Facebook has made people more bold, more articulate, and more aware of what should/should not be broadcast.

You cannot pretend inefficiencies do not exist: If you suck, we will know. If you are awesome, you will let us know.

Analytics: Its not just for Finance any more....
Big Data: it frightens Data Architects and delights consumers. In-house information toggling has been replaced by free web portals that allow everyone to identify the habits of everyone. I don't need Hal anymore. I can run a business from an i-phone. Odds are your employees know more about you than you do them.

Scary....not really! You should only be scared of big data, the social enterprise, and the more agile workforce if you have something to hide!

Don't Forget to Remember!


Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Do you feel as though the human side of work is waning. Handshakes giving way to emails. Face to face meetings replaced by conference calls. Time spent together replaced by the sanctity of a balanced work life.

I have heard it said that the more friends you have online, the fewer you have in real life. It can be said that email has taken away our need to write letters. Facebook has eliminated our desire to fly back home to see old friends. We may not even know the people who work in the next office over.

Bringing the Human Back...
Nowadays we can find statistics to back up any statement. Here's a best practice, based on a survey...we found it on the Internet, so it must be true. There are metrics upon analytics regarding what is popular. Quick question: how can you create something unique to your organizational culture if it is based upon what everyone else is doing?

Ever see the Seinfeld episode where Jerry gives Elaine cash for her birthday? We look for the least common denominator, the easy fix, what we assume everyone wants. This way we can get back to the things we really don't want to be doing.

Building a Reason to Stay!
In reality people will accept less cash for an engaged organizational culture, the ability to have leadership mind share, and/or a boss they love. Too often someone hires another and leaves the company only to find his/her team terrorized by a new hire with a new sheriff in town mentality. The personal partnership between a boss/contributor cannot be shrouded in technology.

I will revisit the worst advice I have ever heard, "don't get too close to your people". The aforementioned a result of a miscast sailor taking credit for others putting wind in his sails. If there is a personal relationship between you and those who work for you there is great certainty that unfortunate details can be amended.

Remembering to Say Thank You!
The resounding reality is that people would rather hear they are awesome than they suck! You can still challenge people without being a jerk, you can still solve business problems without brow beating your constituents, you can still win without choking your players.

Call it the wussification of the workplace but aren't we really asking people to quit abusing their titles...? In very real terms, today's workforce is not going to put up with being micro-managed. They will find another place to work or overthrow you.

Have we forgotten how to shake hands? Have we lost our ability to sit down and talk (without checking our phones)? When is the last time you gave one of your employees a hug?

People will have hard days that overwhelm their silly little job. It is in these times when their job matters most. If people have friends at work, they will stay. Culture can be created by a group of people who like one another. Sometimes you merely have to open the front door and allow them to make your company great. You can create something that matters by not giving them a reason to leave.

Don't Forget to Remember!


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Leadership Collective

Remember when companies were run as dictatorships...? We simply cannot do that anymore. There are too many people in too many places with too much work to be done. Nowadays one man or woman cannot run a start-up (let alone a Global corporation). In formulating Employee Engagement strategy I would often hear, "the CEO wants it that way so that's the way we are going to do it". Today, the CEO-centric program may be the very thing that drives tomorrow's talent away.

So now what do we do?

Raising commissions is not enough, designing cool technology is only the launching pad, allowing work/life balance is appealing only to those who are not interested in working really hard. Nope....we want a piece of the pie!

How to Get in Their Heads
We did a survey, there was a focus group 3 years ago, and then there is the obligatory town hall meeting. I've heard it all in my time of HR consulting. Surveys do not work unless they create actionable data (followed by Executive action). Focus groups do not work if you only choose to hear from your top performers. Town halls are great for people who are opinionated, but they are seldom your greatest source of insight.

What if you interviewed every member of your staff? What if you asked those who are struggling why they are struggling? What if your CEO engaged individuals instead of groups?

There is no such thing as a turnkey culture. Employee Engagement is not something you create with a widget. You have to actively infiltrate your organization from every angle. When you are done with your series of executive interviews, ask a manager; then poll your employees. Only with hard data from the mouths of your people can you truly understand how to fix your culture. Your culture will always need fixing.

One to One Doesn't Work Anymore
People don't fear feedback, in fact, they want more of it. The concept of one person deciding another persons fate at a company (as the only line of progress) is infantile at best. People don't leave companies, they leave managers. A lot of managers are failing, and you may not know it, because they are protecting their leadership inefficiencies in the silos of the performance review culture.

While enterprise technology may not be the entire answer, it is a launching pad. You can keep your employees off facebook if you have a super cool internal facebook. Failing managers may need some coaching and bringing performance management into the enterprise is a great way create collective feedback. If you don't respect your manager (that is happening everywhere), isn't it better to have other avenues for development.

Are we afraid to break down silos because we are afraid to hear the truth about our fractured culture. Do we think addressing employee opinion will create more work? If we are so opposed to hearing feedback from the least of our staff then why did we hire them?

There is no technology that will create Employee Engagement. We cannot hire a vendor to make our people more productive. No amount of money will create 100% employee satisfaction.

Everyone has to pull up their sleeves and accept their part of the leadership mission. If everyone is aligned to a vision, we can build something that matters.

Warning: it will be difficult! Anything worth doing is difficult! Stop wasting time pretending and get your paws dirty. The honey tastes sweeter when you tackle the hive together!

Don't Forget to Remember!

Dave Kovacovich