Wednesday, 12 June 2013

CEO's still not seeing (or believing) the link between employee engagement and the bottom line?

According to research published this week by Ashridge Business School some CEO’s are still struggling to “engage with engagement”.
This despite the fact that the UK clearly has an employee engagement problem.  Survey after survey in recent years shows that only about a third of UK workers consider themselves engaged – a figure which leaves the UK ranked ninth for engagement levels amongst the world’s twelve largest economies as ranked by GDP (Kenexa 2009).
In November last year Dr Bruce Rayton, from the School of Management at the University of Bath, co-author of another report entitled ‘The Evidence’ – concurred with this figure and suggested this effectively means that two thirds of UK workers (20 million people!), feel they have “more to offer” at work, that they’re not performing to their full capability and potential.
Incidentally, I still hear discussions about whether the business case for employee engagement is proven!  Well if it’s not common sense that workers not performing to their capability isn’t good for any organisation, ‘The Evidence’ report also concluded that the total cost to the UK economy of poor levels of engagement is £26 billion.   And Dr Rayton said: “Engagement predicts future performance better than performance predicts future engagement. In particular, engagement predicts performance several years into the future.
“Engagement occupies a central role in “service profit chains”, with employee engagement leading to improved customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and customer advocacy which in turn drives future sales, operating profits and other financial outcomes”, he added.
And just in case there’s still any doubt, according to Hay “94% of the world’s most admired companies believe that their efforts to engage their employees have created a competitive advantage”.
Back to the latest Ashridge research, entitled ‘Engagement through CEO eyes’.  The research explored the topic of engagement during a year long study with 16 UK CEO’s.  It sought to find out how leaders define engagement, what stops them from leading in an engaging way and why engagement is not happening more in the UK.
It indicated that CEOs define engagement as an “organisational climate in which people choose to give the very best of themselves at work”.  No surprise there.  The CEO’s concluded that “being an engaging leader is hard and requires special skills and attributes” and that there is no single ‘right way’ to lead to achieve engagement, although a ‘command and control’ leadership style has declining relevance in a leaders job.  The report suggested that some leaders feel the difficult economic conditions of recent times is being used as an excuse for poor leadership behaviours.
One CEO said that “It is very easy when companies or countries are in crisis to have command and control and a belief that it needs a hero leader who is telling people what to do to actually get the thing moving forward”.  And several indicated that the challenges of the economy make it easier to ignore engagement, suggesting that it’s tempting to ‘;do what you’ve always done and wait for things to get better rather than do something different, and perhaps uncomfortable.
In terms of the things that stop leaders from leading engagement, the culture and system of UK business was seen as one of the main challenges.  CEO’s believed that organisational hierarchy and a focus on short-term* results are diametrically opposed to creating engagement.  Some leaders clearly still don’t see (or perhaps believe) the connection between engagement and the bottom line.
Other barriers identified in the report were shortcomings in leadership capability, for example poor self-awareness and having limited “emotional connections”, such as being open to feedback and sharing power.  Also traits like ‘leader pride’ may lead to behaviours inconsistent with creating engagement.  One CEO said: “There’s a whole set of worries that goes on with people, most of us like to be popular and actually you can’t.”
However, the good news is that some of the CEO’s talked about how the future of leadership needs to have engagement at its core, particularly given the differing expectations of a multi-generational workforce.  One said: “I think big corporations have got a massive challenge if they think they’re going to retain talented people through command and control and not including them into decision-making and creative processes early on.”
The report concludes that engagement is the better way to release the full capabilities and potential of people at work and in so doing to enable organisational growth and ultimately economic growth for the UK.

I agree - but more CEO's need to 'get it' first.
Twitter: @Inaccord_UK
Telephone: +44 (0) 7906 650019
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*I wrote about the problems of short termism almost 18 months ago.  First here:

These issues are still current, and still a big problem!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Who owns culture?

I was reading an article on the BBC website yesterday about the Maasai people in Africa.  It reported how the Maasai are organising themselves and hope to prevent companies using the Maasai brand without their permission.
In it Isaac, a Maasia leader, elder and chair of a new organisation, the Maasai Intellectual Property Initiative (MIPI), is quotd as saying: “I think people need to understand the culture of the others and respect it.  You should not use it to your own benefit, leaving the community – or the owner of the culture – without anything.”
The problem is that until now there hasn’t been a unified Maasai body to approach to seek permission to seek permission to use the brand, though the inititative seeks to change that.  And MIPI hopes that selling the rights to use the Maasai brand might earn the Maasai people millions of pounds of income each year.
Maasai men
In this instance MIPI is seeking to establish ownership of the brand and the culture which is associated with it on behalf of the Maasai people.  But in business, who ‘owns’ culture?
It’s clear that responsibility and accountability for culture rests with the board and senior management team of any organisation.  Failure to recognise that has cost some business leaders dearly in recent years.  Bob Diamond lost his job because of it.  So did Rebekah Brooks.  And Sir David Nicholson still might lose his.  Some have argued that they understood their responsibility for it but that their knowledge of it wasn’t sufficient, that they didn’t understand it with sufficient clarity, a clarity that enabled them to act to manage the risks inherent in it and which, when they came to fruition, couldn’t be mitigated.  Others claim that they understood their responsibility but didn’t want to accept accountability.  In truth, there may be an element of all of those, but I think all indicate very strongly a need for large organisations to have a unit responsible for monitoring culture and being the conscience for it within the business.  Reporting in to a member of the executive, it also needs to have a degree of independence so that it doesn’t become part of, and subject to, the culture of the business.  If it lacks that independence it loses impartiality and as a result, value.
But responsibility is different from ownership.  Culture is about groups rather than individuals.  As Hofstede said: “Culture is the collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of one group or category of people from others”.  Consequently ownership cannot lie with an individual, instead it rests with the group who constitute it.  They may not recognise it, or want to accept it, but they own it nevertheless.
The distinction is an important one for leaders to understand.  They must accept their responsibility for culture and that they are accountable for it whilst also accepting that ownership lies elsewhere – with the group as a whole.  This understanding is key to the process of changing culture.  Accepting responsibility means mitigating the risks (and maximising opportunities) of the current culture and failure to do so may see them held accountable for the consequences.
But they must also accept that the actions they take to adapt and evolve culture will very rarely produce the immediate and intended result.  It’s not like shifting the track and changing the direction – as a signal operator might do with a train.  There is no lever to pull to produce a guaranteed response.  A leader must instead take actions that affect the environment in which the group works so that it collectively engages and moves.  The leaders role is to create the conditions in which those who own it make it happen.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

What business needs to learn from the Billy Ray Harris Story

You may have heard the interview on the radio this morning with Sam Laidlaw, Chief Executive of Centrica, in which he defends the 11% increase in profits in the residential arm of British Gas.  If not, and you want to listen to it, it's here.  The criticism levelled at Centrica, in this interview and more broadly in the press today, is that this level of profits illustrates that the 6% rise in prices to UK customers during the last year was unnecessary, and unfair given the squeeze in disposable income than many people are experiencing.

Mr Laidlaw defends the increase and explains why increased profits are important.  During the interview he refers to (admittedly in a slightly different context) it being about a balance and whether you or I agree with his explanations and believe that the balance is right, it's clear that many are questionning it directly as a result of the size of the increase.

And it's yet another example of disquiet about the morality of big business and indeed about society in general.  You just have to think back over the last few years to numerous examples: PPI mis-selling, LIBOR fixing, MP's expenses, MP's cash for questions, NoTW phone hacking, the BBC Jimmy Saville affair, Mid-Staff NHS Trust and of course just last week the Chris Huhne's belated guilty plea for perverting the course of justice over a 10 year old driving offence - examples that I could think of off the top of my head in a couple of minutes, and all of which have damaged the level of trust people have in an institution and the engagement they feel with it.

In direct contrast to the negative feelings associated with such stories I came across the story of Billy Ray Harris earlier this week.  Billy Ray is the homeless man who has become the centre of a global fundraising campaign after returning a platinum and diamond engagement ring to a bride to be who accidentally dropped it in the cup he was using to collect coins.

After realising it was gone she rushed back to the scene the next day and was overjoyed when Harris had kept the ring and returned it to her.  The lady's fianceé Bill Krejci, then set up an online fundraising page to raise money to reward Billy Ray's honesty and people from around the world, warmed by the story, have since been contributing.  When I checked a few minutes ago over $164,000 had been donated.

The act of honesty has been described as a 'miracle' by Bill.  And yet, Harris himself simply said: "I thank the good Lord for his blessing that I do still have some character".

You can see a video about the story here.  It truly is a heart-warming tale and one that has struck a chord with thousands of people, from all over the world.  Over 7,000 people have taken the trouble to donate on the GiveForward page that Bill set up.

Whilst all of that is true I do wonder why it has become world news.  I don't want to appear cynical (and I'm as touched by the story as anyone else) but I'm sure there are many more people out there who have done similar things and have the same degree of honesty and morality as Billy Ray Harris.  Somehow I doubt this would have been such big news in times past.  What makes is so special right now is that it's happened at a time when people around the world have become conditioned to expect dishonesty but still desperately want honesty and integrity from people and organisations they want to trust and respect.

Honesty, integrity and doing what's right - the challenge for people and the organisations they are a part of and the opportunity.

Twitter: @accordengage
Telephone: (0044) 07906650019

Monday, 18 February 2013

How employees hang themselves on the coat-stand by the door?

Whilst chatting to a friend over a beer yesterday I was reminded about a story I heard several years ago, told by the poet, author and speaker David Whyte.

My friend started a new job last spring and, having not seen him since the summer, I was asking him how it was going.  He explained it was "OK", in my experience usually an indication of something less than perfect!  There was undoubtedly a tinge of disappointment in his voice as he said it, which surprised me given how excited he'd been back then.  As we continued to talk he told me that he felt the reason he'd got the job in the first place was because of the skills he had, and that they'd explicitly said that those skills could benefit them.

Less than a year later though he said that the opportunities to use those skills had been limited.  They'd told him that they'd try some of his ideas in the future "when the time was right".  He said that he'd tried to show initiative and progress some new ideas anyway but was asked by not to do so unless he first had explicit approval.  So he lowered his sights a little and worked on incremental improvements to processes which, when it came to the attention of senior management, again met with a negative response.  The outcome is that he's become noticeably less enthusiastic and even a little weary of it all.  I talked to him about possible responses and how best to remain positive and add value such that he got more independence and he said that "for the time being I'm going to keep my head down and hopefully some opportunities might arise in the future".

David Whyte's story came to mind afterwards when I was driving home.  He explained how many new starters go into their role with excitement and expectation about the positive contribution they are going to make.  They enthusiastically throw themselves into the role each day, seeking ways to be as effective as they can and make the most effective contribution.  They do what they are good at and intuitively use their skills.  But then they meet barriers, they hear people talking about "the way things are done around here", and are told "if you want to get on you have to .....".  And so they start to subjugate themselves and who they really are to fit in - metaphorically speaking they take who they really are off at the door and hang themselves on the coat-stand.  At first they pick themselves up again every night before hanging themselves us again the next morning.  But as the expectation of who they should be at work in order to fit in grows, and they become more and more familiar with the person they believe they should be, sooner or later they just pick themselves up at weekends.  And sometimes, if they stay long enough, the real 'them' eventually stays on the coat-stand permanently.  They become the person they think they should be to fit in with the culture at work, losing who they really are altogether.

Sometimes I talk to people who have been in the same organisation for many years and they talk wistfully about who they used to be and what they once wanted to do, and achieve.  These are sure signs of people who have left part of themselves on the coat-stand.

An organisational culture that results in people bringing only part of themselves to their role can't be a good thing for an organisation that wants to succeed can it?  What's best, a culture in which people comply or one in which people authentically use all of their skills, their attributes and their qualities for the benefit of the organisation?

How many of your people hang themselves on the coat-stand by the door?

Twitter: @accordengage
Telephone: (0044) 07906650019

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Valentines Day - How your people can genuinely love your customers

It's St. Valentines day, so a blog about love almost seemed obligatory.

There are various theories on the origins of Valentine's Day, but the most popular goes back to the time of the Roman Empire when in 270AD the emperor Claudius II didn't want soldiers to marry because he believed single men made better warriors.  Bishop Valentine went against his orders and performed secret marriage ceremonies.  When Claudius found out Valentine was first jailed and then executed for his disobedience.  Prior to his execution of February 14th he wrote a love note to the jailor's daughter, signing it "From your Valentine".  Awwww.

It's now a well established tradition of course to express your love for someone special on this day.  And it's big business.  It's celebrated in numerous countries around the world, from the US to Italy, Canada to Denmark, Mexico to France and the UK to Australia.  Around 150 million cards and gifts will be given in the US today!  And over £500m will be spent in the UK.

The love theme has also been used by businesses who have used Valentine's day to exhort their people to "love your customer".  But really - is that likely?  Is the relationship employees have with their customers ever strong enough?  Love is a feeling that is deep, profound, passionate, having a strong impact and influence on us, so is it realistic to ask employees to manufacture those feelings towards customers?  I don't think so.

On the other hand perhaps the problem is the meaning we attach to the word.  What if we made it mean something slightly different?  What if, for example we adopt the various meanings that the ancient Greeks had for love?

They described four types of love: agápe, éros, philia and storgé.

  • Agápe described unconditional love, a general affection for someone else, a sense of holding them in high regard.  It was described by some as benevolent love and Christians used it to describe the love that God has for people.
  • Éros was love in the sense of being in love with someone.  It was passionate love with sensual desire and longing (although not necessarily sexual in nature).  Plato suggested that: "Although éros is initially felt for a person, with contemplation it becomes an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself."
  • Philia is the love that exists between friends.  It requires virtue, equality and familiarity.  It's the love that leads to a bond between people who share the enjoyment of common interests and activities.
  • Storgé is natural affection, an enduring fondness like that felt between family members or sometimes perhaps between others who find themselves together and develop affection which lasts over time.
These words are still used by Greeks to attach greater meaning and add greater clarity about the nature of love felt between people.

If we adopt these definitions of love then perhaps employees really could love their customers.  Could you agápe and maybe over time philia your customers?

Twitter: @accordengage
Telephone: (0044) 07906650019

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Why building organisational culture is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle

My youngest daughter enjoys doing jigsaws and doing them has become one of her preferred activities on cold, wet winter afternoons.  And very often when she decides that's what she going to do it becomes an activity for the whole family to gather round and do.  It was easy of course when she was young when there were just a few big pieces.  But now we've moved on to bigger, more complex ones with lots of pieces and subtle changes in colour it's much, much more difficult.

As we prepared for our latest challenge last Sunday afternoon I was thinking that building jigsaws and building organisational culture have lots of similarities.  Here's a few comparisons that work for me:

  1. Prepare well
    It's amazing how much easier it is to do a jigsaw when you've prepared properly.  We always do them on a table top, making sure of course that it's big enough for the full jigsaw to be built.  We find somewhere to put the box so that we can all see the picture we're building.  Then we turn over all the pieces and then sort them so that the edge pieces are all together, clearly related colours are together and so on.  We're also clear who's helping and who's not at this stage - it seems to create some frustration if someone comes along right at the end to insert the last few pieces!  A little planning and organising at this stage seems to help considerably and really speeds up the process later.
    It's the same with culture.  Taking time to plan really helps.  Knowing the desired culture you want to create (and approximately how long it will take to do it) and what individuals roles are, are all useful considerations before you start.  Some planning of the activities, or cultural interventions, you'll take and thinking about how they can be grouped and delivered most effectively is also helpful and will prevent time being wasted later.
  2. Always have the full picture in mind
    It helps sometimes to step back from the jigsaw and have another good look at the picture on the box.  When looking at tiny pieces it can be difficult to see something you've not noticed before in the picture.  When stuck, taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture, and the details it contains can help to see the piece you haven't noticed before which has been holding you back.
    Being able to see the big picture, and the detailed parts of it are both essential when managing culture change.  Get too close to the detail and it's likely the culture you get is not what was intended.  And never looking at the detail will mean that the actions taken will be ineffective and once again the culture you end up with won't be what was intended.  The end result is the same but the cause is different.
  3. Build in sections
    What seems to work best for us is to build the edge first because they have fewer connecting bits.  Once we've gone the outside done we pick areas with the most obvious colours or features and then we progress from there.
    When shaping culture I always suggest thinking about actions under three headings.  Firstly, those things which enable the change you are seeking, without which change is unlikely to even start.  Next, accelerating factors, those things that will speed up the change and thirdly, those things that will embed the changed culture you are striving for.  It always make sense to do some things before others so I suggest taking enabling actions first (building the edges), then focusing on the accelerating actions and then concentrating on embedding.
  4. Remember that every piece is an equally important part of the whole
    It's so frustrating when you're nearing finishing your jigsaw only to realise that there's a piece missing.  It's happened a couple of times to us and it always goes in the rubbish bin.  After all, what's the point building a jigsaw that you can never finish completely?  A thousand piece jigsaw becomes useless if just one piece is missing, each and every piece is an equally important and connected part of the whole.
    The pieces of an organisational culture jigsaw are all also interconnected.  Each piece should be considered to be an element of the overall culture and shouldn't be approached individually and / or separately.  It must be about the picture as a whole and not the individual pieces.  That's what makes culture so complex - unfortunately the actions required for each piece may well be different and conflicting.  As the banks have found in recent years, the focus on sales has produced a culture which has resulted in customers being taken for granted and often taken advantage of.  And yet I'm sure that isn't what leaders, with responsibility for culture, wanted.  A requirement for cost consciousness can easily become cost cutting at all costs and, as the report into the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust illustrated just last week, produce terrible breakdowns in patient care.  When the culture jigsaw is focused on just one piece rather than the big picture, problems inevitably follow.
  5. Be willing to persevere
    Thousand piece jigsaws aren't built in a couple of hours - at least they don't when I'm building them!  Sometimes we start one day and then come back to it regularly before eventually completing it several days later.  And every once in a while we get bored, decide not to finish it and put it all back in the box.
    Creating an organisational culture which enables business success doesn't happen overnight either.  You'll have to keep coming back to it, adding more pieces until the picture is finished.  Or, you could just put the pieces back in the box?             

Twitter: @accordengage
Telephone: (0044) 07906650019

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The organisational culture jigsaw (Part 2) - do you head towards the east coast of the US or the Boston Light at the entrance to Boston harbour?

In my last blog (here) I wrote about how leaders must overcome siloed, parochial thinking in order to build a strong and productive organisational culture.  And I stated my view that it's the role and responsibility of culture practitioners in organisations to help them do that.  The culture that organisations seek to achieve should be driven by  requirements from the business that culture needs to help deliver.  Each requirement can be seen as a piece in a jigsaw and all of the individual pieces combine to form the whole picture.

I said that in this post I'd focus on the key to actually making the jigsaw by fitting the pieces together.  However, I think it perhaps makes more sense to write first about the picture the pieces make when they are fitted together.  What is the picture on the box?  By the way, I'm indebted to Michael Stratford (keynote speaker, coach and MC - you'll find him on LinkedIn) for posing some questions and stimulating my thoughts on this.....

I guess the first question on this topic is whether it's a good idea to have a picture at all?  There are two sides to this argument.  On one hand, given that the competitive environment is changing so fast, is it possible to project ahead and vision the type of culture needed?  And is it desirable to do so when some employees might be very happy with the culture as it is right now?  And of course there's also the argument that it's just not possible to intentionally and deliberately shape culture anyway.

On the other hand, if you know that changing the culture will mean the organisation is better positioned to face the uncertainties of the future then doesn't it make sense to change it?  The argument that the environment is changing so fast surely suggests a new cultural requirement - for agility and an enhanced willingness and capability for change.  The counter argument to employees not liking it is that, well, to be blunt, I believe the primary driver is organisational performance.  There's little point having happy employees in an organisation that is failing.  The answer is always to support and enable people through the change.  And the counter argument to the doubt about whether it's possible to shape culture is that it is.

I'm firmly in the camp that it is possible to shape culture and that the most successful organisations do just that.

The next conundrum is how clear the picture on the box needs to be in order to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together.  My short answer to this question is: "clear enough that you can head towards it without being so clear that you can see the picture in its entirety - because it's not possible to do so".  Culture is difficult to describe at all so seeking absolute clarity on what future culture should be is even more difficult.  Continuing to focus on it beyond a certain point produces increasing frustration and diminishing returns.  An HR Director I worked with once described it like this: "To start with it's enough to know that the destination is, let's say the east coast of the US, not the Boston Light at the entrance to Boston harbour."

What she meant was that it's not necessary to specify the exact landing point at the outset, you can firm up on that when you're underway.  What's important at the outset is that the direction of travel is clear enough to enable the journey to start.

But how does the culture practitioner establish the picture at all, so that the journey can be started?  The answer to this takes me full circle back to my previous post.  It's all about requirements, the requirements from the business that the organisational culture must support and help to deliver.  It's therefore the culture practitioners responsibility to gather the requirements (the pieces of the jigsaw) and then put them together so that the picture starts to emerge and the direction of travel identified.  Whilst most people don't build a jigsaw in this way, it's the right way for culture.  It also perhaps explains why getting the culture picture is so tough - have you tried building a jigsaw without looking at the picture!

In my next post on this subject I will write about the process of fitting the various pieces of the jigsaw together.  In the meantime.....all thoughts welcomed and valued.

Twitter: @accordengage
Telephone: (0044) 07906650019