Thursday, 20 November 2014

Six steps to engaging managers

One of my regular topics in recent months has been the way in which we engage and equip our managers to communicate with people in their teams. We know (and have known for years) that we don’t prepare them as well as we could, yet there still seems little consensus on how to improve this. So I‘d like to offer some suggestions on steps that any organisation can take to make progress.

1.      Define what you need – different organisations have different priorities. Some need to work on skills for sharing information, whilst others need to spend more time on how to build dialogue. Most need a focus on both areas to some degree, addressing the points and issues most pertinent to them. So don’t just pick an off-the-shelf development package for managers and hope it will fit: identify the key issues for your organisation, and the people with in it, before sourcing or designing a solution.  

2.      Identify people (and potential) – once you have articulated what you need, consider whom you might need it from: not only current managers, but also those with the potential to progress. The earlier you can identify and start to prepare these people, the more you can help them evolve into the type of managers you need.  

3.      Target employee ‘touchpoints’ – identify the various ways in which you currently connect (or could connect) with the people you have identified. Consider how you can use these touchpoints to convey and reinforce key messages about the behaviours you want to see. Don’t rely on training alone: seek and harness all the other channels and tools you have available.  

4.      Develop your training – training always plays an important part, but don’t rely on generic materials or exercises: they will seem a world away from day-to-day experience for your people. Root your training in familiar scenarios, with specific examples relevant to your organisation’s operations and ways of working. You are far more likely to gain the traction and inspire the behaviour change you need if participants don’t have to work to grasp the relevance.  

5.      Engage managers as people – throughout this process, help your people understand what’s in it for them: not just as company managers, but also as individuals. Help them see how more effective communication could aid their own enjoyment of, and well-being at, work. And give them the same support you would for anyone involved in change: the chance to ask questions, discuss issues and raise concerns. Don’t just give them materials or a training session and expect them to immediately deliver.

6.      Hard-wire behaviours – finally, make sure desired behaviours are reflected in objective-setting, recognition and performance management processes.
These are just a handful of steps to help any organisation engage and equip current and prospective managers with skills that they and the organisation will need. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

What does Sir Bob Geldof know about employee engagement?

One of the highlights of Microsoft’s ‘Future Decoded’ event this week was a presentation from Sir Bob Geldof.

He was discussing the education of future generations. And he suggested that we are, as a society, way behind where we need to be: the world has changed around us, but we are still living and teaching in the 20th century. The reason, he believes, is that we are still grappling with the implications of a tidal wave of technological change. We have not been able to answer a fundamental question:
What does it mean when we are all connected to each other, all of the time?

It was a regular refrain during his talk. What does this ability to connect, the advent of ‘always on’ systems and devices, mean for the way we live and interact with each other? How is it re-shaping the nature of our conversations and relationships? And how should we change the way we prepare young people for society in response?
This fundamental question has resonance in the workplace too.

What does it mean when we are all connected to each other, all of the time?
Within our organisations, we’re introducing an increasing array of tools and mechanisms that ensure we are connected to our companies and to each other, any time, any place. In this digital workplace, we’re always seeking more methods for unlocking greater connectivity, more information sharing and increasing collaboration.

There are opportunities. But there are also implications. Do we always think these through?

Do we have a clear sight of how such tools are going to fit within – or help to reshape – the way we work? Are we effectively preparing our current employees (as well as new recruits) to make use of them? Are we engaging people on cultural usage as well as technical requirements? Are we regularly sharing and celebrating success stories as we see them? Are we doing enough to identify and address emerging issues?
If we can’t answer in the affirmative, I’d suggest we haven’t really grasped what these tools mean (or may mean) for the way we work and for the people we work with. We’re in danger of ushering in a new technological framework that is divorced from, rather than resonant with, corporate culture (even if the plan is to catalyse change in that culture).  

I sound this only as a note of caution. Technology is giving us many, many opportunities to enhance the way we work and engage with each other. But there are risks we need to manage, and we should think about Sir Bob’s fundamental question as we plan the road ahead.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Five steps to improve employee surveys

One of the reasons employee surveys have been getting a kicking recently (just check out other commentary for evidence) is a lingering perception that organisations won’t act on them. This is unfair – I don’t think anyone spends money on such surveys with the aim of ignoring them – but employers could get far more from them by involving their people in the process. Rather than treating them purely as passive recipients of a questionnaire, organisations should seek ideas and feedback from employees to inspire enthusiasm and advocacy for the exercise. I offer the following suggestions of steps to success.

1.      Involve employees in design – every organisation will have core questions that are repeated every time a survey is run. But don’t stick purely to these questions if they ignore current, pressing issues on which employees want a say. Explore whether there are other areas that you need to cover. Involve an employee panel if you have one, or regular focus groups if you run them. Take soundings from managers or employee representatives. It might identify other issues on which employee views would be valuable and on which questions would inspire them to take part.  

2.     Involve employees in communication – some organisations still follow a ‘hit and hope’ approach to survey implementation, sending out questionnaires supported by generic communication materials. But we’d never do this in any other campaign: we know we need diverse methods to connect and communicate with different employee groups, who prefer to engage with the company in different ways. So ask people in different parts of the organisation how you can best communicate with them and their colleagues regarding the survey. Then shape your communication plan and the tactics involved accordingly.
3.     Involve employees as champions – in many other initiatives, it is accepted good practice to seek employee ‘champions’ who can spread the word to colleagues. Yet it’s comparatively rare in connection with employee surveys, despite the benefits it could bring. Why not identify ’influencers’ for your different employee groups and connect with them to explain the aims of the survey. Emphasise that employee feedback can help shape the company, and that the survey is not being done for ‘show’. Ask them to encourage colleagues to take part, because the more voices you hear, the more compelling the evidence will be.

4.     Involve employees in analysis – not in the data crunching itself, but in interpretation of what the numbers really tell you about your organisation. It’s easy to draw conclusions from the centre, or based on a provider’s comparison with other companies, but discussing hypotheses and testing interpretations with employees can be a powerful way of rooting interpretation in the specific circumstances and culture of your particular company.

5.    Involve employees in action planning – finally, keep involving employees as you consider how to address the themes raised by your survey. After all, they have raised the issues: let them help shape the solutions. Creating working parties for different parts of the business, with a cross-section of employees in each, is a good way of spreading ownership of the process and inspiring collective commitment to action.

These are simple steps that would help to establish surveys as an effective part of continuous improvement for everyone in the company, not “yet another initiative” from the centre. As with so many things in the world of engagement, involving employees holds the key.