Engagement Is A Six Way Street
I have served as a director in corporate, non profits, and even educational settings. I have been tasked with leading, teaching, and taking part in growing organizations. The "Big E" word - Engagement has been a popular word to throw around. Companies want employee engagement; and they want it in the worst way. A disengaged employee costs an organization production, innovation, and the dreaded contagion that is employee dissatisfaction. What stands to spread like a wildfire is a team member who is unhappy and unwilling to be fully engaged in the mission and vision of the company.
It is human nature to focus on the employee when you're trying to address employee engagement, however I thought it would be wise to pull in my favorite performance and behavioral model - Gilbert's Behavioral Engineering Model (BEM). If you're not familiar with this model (developed in the 1970s), you've undoubtedly heard of terms like "six boxes" and other more modern ways to depict his model. Yes we are a society who regurgitates ideas and fails to show the link. My marketing undergrad degree says, the BEM is not sexy. But my additional education says sexy won't get you the performance or behaviors your'e looking for - real work will. And so the BEM is the model that all corporations should live and die by. It is the model that helps the novice leader figure out major obstacles to performance in my humble opinion. Here's what it looks like:
There are six areas that influence the way people behave. Those areas can each have their own effect as individual influencers; or can occur together to influence the overall behavioral or performance outcomes. Information, Tools, and Motivation all impact outcomes from the individual perspective and the environment (the organization). It is common to see bad behavior or performance and blame it on the individual's motivation to perform better or their lack of knowledge (information). The reality is there six areas of influence that play a significant role in the outcome.
I love the area as a consummate teacher, but hate the misinformation associated with knowledge. As a solution people believe, just put the employee in a class and performance and/or behavior will improve. IF (the all caps "if"), all it took was information, there would be no need for the entire field of Human Performance Technology and Human Resources Development. Knowledge can be a showstopper, and should be addressed. Sometimes employees are missing valuable information that helps them succeed. If you identify this area as one to improve, don't stop looking.
There are often some organizational obstacles that prevent knowledge from getting to the employee. The budget is a key area that prioritizes learning (or not). When a company fails to address knowledge at their employee investment level, they are either ignoring their responsibility in the relationship, or they don't see the value. Knowledge solutions are more than a training class, it is a strategy that should be interwoven into the culture of a company. To be a continually improving culture, you need to focus on improvement of knowledge every single day. If your workforce didn't learn today, they didn't earn what they could have today.
Having the right tools means everything. We sometimes take for granted what tools each person needs in order to be successful. There are many times when the employee is unaware of the tools that will help them achieve more and meet the goals of the organization.
A company must ask themselves, whose job is it to discover, determine, and deliver the tools needed for success?
I've found that it is typical that no one has their eye on this ball. The assumption in most corporate cultures is that if the employee needs something they will ask. The reality is that "the ask" typically goes no where because Tools were not made a priority. Everything boils down to budget. A founder may one day ask, "what do you need to make this work?" Unfortunately those conversations don't happen often; the layers get in the way. Tools can be everything from devising a flexible work schedule so that you get the best of your employees when they are at their best; to delivering optimization and productivity tools to their smart devices. There are unique ways to improve the Tools employees have. Yes it's up to both sides - the employee and the organization.
Having a Tools/Instrumentation PAC (People Action Committee) would seem to set the stage for innovation at the office. I've seen PACs work very well creating dialogue and results between the layers of employees and management. PACs take the burden off one person needing to find the solution for everyone. Instead, you empower a representative slice of the organization to analyze, communicate, and deliver new tools and initiatives.
The rubber meets the road when we talk motivation. Again, this is the area we blame the most when production, performance, and behaviors fail - they simply didn't want to do it. Societal norms and unconscious bias feeds into this mentality of blaming the person for not wanting to perform or behave better. This must stop; and it is easier said than done. Using the BEM helps break out of the mentality that the only problem is the desire of the individual to do better. Yes motivation of self and motivation that comes from the organization is a very important factor in helping achieve great outcomes. Motivation alone will not move the chains so to speak.
Hiring motivated employees who are connected to the mission, vision, and goals of the organization is the first step. The success of the hiring process feeds the rest of the machine.
You cannot dictate the reasons people want to come work for you, but you can give them reasons to give you their best work.
There must be a clear path to rewards and consequences when addressing employee performance and behavior. What I find as a consultant more often than not is that the path to consequences is explicitly laid out, however the reward is unclear and largely comprised of undesirable options. How's that for motivating employees? They see how they can get in trouble, and they don't appreciate how they get rewarded. I have seen a desire to parent the employee through policies and practices instead of lead the employee. Let's face it, there are some mediocre parents out there. This can't be what you want out of your corporate practices.
If a company does not have an individual, team, or even PAC (people action committee), they will fail at a fundamental area in employee engagement. Each day an employee feels that they belong, they will take ownership in the overall success of the organization. Accountability and motivation allow for the perfect marriage of employee to employer. Bottom line, it's not just about how bad the employee wants to succeed, it's how bad does the company want their employees to succeed as well.
The ideas of Gilbert's BEM are over fifty years old, and yet employee engagement is still a conundrum for many. My good friends at Gallup study engagement at all levels of human behavior. They recently reported on engagement in the workplace citing that the most highly engaged teams (teams who scored in the top 20% of their study) also saw a 41% reduction in absenteeism and had 59% less employee turnover. Go figure! Highly engaged people come to work and are less likely to leave. Happy people tend to remain in the place that fulfills their needs.
We must stop handing down edicts from above to employees. The "take it or leave it" approach doesn't work in 2019. Millennials and Gen Z are leaving it, and leaving organizations that exclude their ideas and opinions. Employees need to feel like they are part of the growth, not a cog in the wheel. Creating structure in your company whereby you allow employees to participate in the improvement in the six areas addressed by Gilbert's BEM will change the culture. We've got to stop tackling management of employees like parenting. Running a business for growth means you must allow the parts to grow with you.
This is not a one-size fits all topic. I'm fond of Gilbert's BEM (as you can tell) as I find it is the most complete model to address performance and behavior in an organization. The model removes the bias toward one of the six areas, and asks you to consider all of the impacts to performance and behavior. We can only improve what we measure, therefore we must look at what all six areas are doing (and not doing) under the corporate roof. Would love to hear your thoughts.