Category Archives: employee engagement

Doing Good Through Better HR

doing goodChristine Bader, a former corporate social responsibility executive at BP, has an interesting piece up today at The Atlantic on the importance of a good HR department for companies that want to be better corporate citizens.

Bader, author of the 2014 book The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist: When Girl Meets Oil (judging from the title, I assume it touches at least partly on her BP experience), cites companies such as auto-parts manufacturer Lear, Google and clothing company Eileen Fisher that take innovative approaches to HR to unleash their employees’ resourcefulness and creativity.

At Lear, Bader writes, CHRO Tom DiDonato did away with basing compensation on performance reviews, “realizing that the emphasis on pay created stress and stifled the candor that people need to improve and innovate.” Instead, the company now bases compensation on market conditions and awards equity and promotions for good performance.

Bader describes Google’s efforts to do away with unconscious bias through training that not only helps its employees recognize their own biases, but encourages them to step in and intervene when they see biased behavior toward others, Head of People Operations Laszlo Bock told her. The training isn’t being done entirely out of altruism, he said: People perform better when they feel more safe at work. However, Bader writes, if people are treating others more fairly at work, one hopes that will spill over into their lives outside the office.

At Eileen Fisher, the company’s long-term plan to improve the environmental and social sustainability of its supply chain depends on an intense spirit of collaboration within the organization — one that is carefully nurtured by HR, Bader writes. Eileen Fisher’s sustainability efforts are overseen by a team of leaders from different departments within the company who meet weekly by phone and monthly in person. “Traditionally, work evolves into buckets or silos; we help connect people so they can break down the silos,” Director of Leadership, Learning and Development Yvette Jarreau told Bader.

HR still has a reputation among too many people as a bureaucratic rut — a dark hole of stifling paperwork and mindless processes, writes Bader. But for companies that are trying to change for the better, she writes, a smart and flexible HR department is crucial.

 

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Are Your Managers Just Muddling Through?

boredIf your managers are supposed to set an example for employees to follow, a new report finds the odds are pretty good they’re leading your workers down a road that’s been paved with apathy.

In its State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders report (available for download here), Gallup Inc. surveyed 2,564 U.S.-based managers, studying the relationship between managerial talent and engagement, and the level of engagement among managers. The Washington, D.C.-based performance management consulting company found that just 35 percent of managers are engaged in their jobs, with 51 percent of managers “not engaged,” and another 14 percent “actively disengaged.”

It stands to reason that this type of managerial discontent would have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the workforce, and this survey doesn’t offer any figures to suggest otherwise.

For example, Gallup’s analysis found that employees who are supervised by highly engaged managers are 59 percent more likely to be engaged than those overseen by actively disengaged managers.

That finding shouldn’t surprise anyone. No, it’s the sheer number of disengaged managers that should be alarming. And, just as disconcerting is the small percentage of supervisors the poll found to have the “innate talent to become a great manager,” according to Gallup.

Defining talent as “the natural capacity for excellence in a given endeavor,” Gallup found just one in 10 individuals has the “unique blend of innate characteristics” that are predictors of management excellence, including motivational skills, assertiveness, accountability and decision-making talents.

Another two in 10 have “functioning” talent, which means they possess some of the aforementioned traits but not all of them, and could become successful managers with the right coaching. Just 18 percent of current managers have “high” talent, according to Gallup.

Naturally, these managers are more likely to be engaged. Fifty-four percent of those classified as having high managerial talent described themselves as being engaged in their work, compared to 39 percent of those with functioning talent and 27 percent of managers in the “limited” talent group.

It can and has been argued that “employee engagement” is a somewhat nebulous concept. But few would dispute that—however you define the term—getting and keeping employees engaged at all levels throughout the organization is critical to success.

And, this Gallup data certainly suggests there’s a big problem with engagement among managers. Fixing it may be a tall order, but, as Gallup notes in its report, a failure to do so comes with a hefty price.

“Managers influence everything that gets done in organizations,” according to Gallup. “They translate energy into action and hold employee morale, turnover, productivity, safety and creativity in their hands. A great manager improves lives while improving performance. A poor manager makes workers’ lives miserable while destroying performance.”

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Will Those Millennial Enigmas Stay, or Not?

Forgive me, first off, for focusing yet again on millennials in the workplace. We’ve admittedly done more than our fair share of 84464529 -- millennial workersstories and blog posts on this demographic and what they need, and  apparently aren’t getting from many employers.

But it seems no matter how much we write, or how much we study them, we simply cannot get our heads around these younger workers, generally born between 1980 and the early 2000s. Do they come to work with far too many expectations and little regard for established protocol? Are they one of the sharpest generations, or not so? Do they communicate well on paper and face-to-face, or only through their mobile devices? Then there’s the million-dollar question: Are they loyal or are they going to leave their jobs as soon as something else looks more interesting?

We’ve all certainly heard and read about the latter, haven’t we? It appears to be a worry that’s been plaguing employers for some time now and hasn’t been letting up much either. Indeed, both our January-February cover story, “Millennials in Charge,” and our soon-to-be-published April cover story, “Engaging Gen Y,” mention this age group’s propensity for job-hopping. So does a recent Aon Hewitt study that finds nearly half of all working millennials intend to find new jobs this year.

But then come all the counter findings: the most recent from the U.S News & World Report’s Money site suggesting “the reality doesn’t back that up at all.” In fact, writes columnist Alison Green March on that site, “a report from Oxford Economics [written about on the Forbes site] found that millennials are no more likely than non-millennials to leave their jobs in the next six months.”

Just last month, HRE Editor Dave Shadovitz blogged about another study, this one from IBM, suggesting “millennials change jobs for the same reasons other generations do and are no more likely than older colleagues to leave a job to follow their passions.”

So who are these guys? And should we be worried or not? Better yet, are we simply overthinking all these demographics and putting way too much stock in the latest survey or study?

I put all this to my 30-year-old son who will have been working as a mechanical engineer at a firm in Philadelphia for eight years this April. Count ‘em: eight. First job out of college and he’s still there. That’s way more loyal than most studies indicate.

He’s a good texter, but he also communicates extremely well face-to-face. In his words: “I don’t really waste time thinking about those studies, but I do hear that about my generation from time to time.” Yea, the way I figure it, he’s way too busy flying to site visits and drafting up building, systems and circuitry designs to spend much time reading about how likely he is to job-hop.

“The generational-studies thing, I don’t really get it,” he says. “Seems like they do that with every new generation, right?”

Well, yes, but his generation seems to have gotten the lion’s share of attention, I tell him.

Then again, haven’t millennials always gotten the lion’s share of our attention? I’ve read that about us baby boomer parents in a number of studies as well.

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GM Takes Care of its Hourlies

blue collarGeneral Motors is still digging out from the onslaught of legal bills, settlements and recall costs of its faulty ignition-switch debacle that’s been directly linked to at least 51 deaths so far. Costs for the nation’s largest automaker stand at nearly $3 billion and counting.

That has not, however, stopped GM from awarding its unionized hourly workers record bonuses of up to $9,000 apiece based on the company’s performance last year. Excluding settlements and other costs linked to the recalls, GM’s North American division would have seen a whopping $9 billion in pretax earnings last year, reports the New York Times. Recall costs whittled that down to $6.6 billion. GM’s strong financial position was partly enabled, of course, by its $49 billion bailout by the federal government.

“I thought the recalls were going to kill us,” GM worker George McGregor, president of the United Automobile Workers local at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant, told the Times. “We had the big check coming. We shouldn’t have to pay for their defects.”

GM’s unionized hourly workers are to be given annual bonuses based on the company’s financial performance, as per its current contract with the UAW. A spokesman told the Times that CEO Mary T. Barra decided that the workers had done their part to help the company meet its performance goals and should not be penalized because of the failures and mistakes made by others in leadership positions.

GM may also have had its eye on upcoming contract negotiations with the UAW this summer. “General Motors’ announcement today leaves no doubt about the strong, stable environment the G.M.-UAW collective-bargaining agreement created,” UAW President Dennis Williams said in a statement yesterday.

And what about GM’s salaried, white-collar workers? They, too, will get bonuses that will be unaffected by the automaker’s recall costs, two sources told Bloomberg News. Those bonuses are based on a blend of regional and global results, they said.

Barra and her top team will, however, see the recall costs eat into their own compensation, the sources said.

“The optics of not reflecting the recall costs into executive bonuses would be really bad,” Maryann Keller, an independent consultant, told Bloomberg. “In this case, the recall was precipitated by past management, but that’s just the way it is.”

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What Workers Want and How to Supply It

As most of you embark on your first official work day of 2015, and Bruce-Tulgan-New-Photo-June-2014-200x300just in case a New Year’s resolution was to treat your employees even better this year than last, I thought I’d start you off with some suggestions from workplace and demographic expert Bruce Tulgan.

As I noted in this earlier (summertime) blog post about his recent book, The 27 Challenges Managers Face, Tulgan, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management consultancy RainmakerThinking Inc., is pretty authoritative when it comes to employer-employee relationships.

In this more recent post, What Employees Want and How to Give It to Them, Tulgan once again relies on his and Rainmaker’s more than 20 years of research into workplaces and manager-employee relationships to give you these “key elements of every job that employees typically care about,” he says.

As he puts it in the post:

“You want to be generous and flexible with your employees. Why wouldn’t you? Everybody is working harder. Everybody is under more pressure. Everybody needs more than what they are getting.

If you are the boss, one of the most important parts of your job is taking care of your people. Remember, people work to take care of themselves and their families. They want your help. Some managers consistently do more for their employees. If you’re not one of those managers, what is your problem?”

He’s not the only one stressing the importance of treating workers with respect and helping them develop — especially as more millennials and Gen Zers enter the workforce. But he’s one of the few with this much research behind what he recommends.

So here’s Tulgan’s list of what employees really care about:

  1. The ability to earn more money. This is all about the compensation package. What is the base pay and the value of the benefits? How much of the pay is fixed? How much is contingent on clear performance benchmarks tied directly to concrete actions the individual employee can control? What are the levers for driving the pay up or down?
  2. More control over their own schedules. What is the default schedule? How much flexibility is there? What are the levers for achieving more or less scheduling flexibility?
  3. Relationships at work. Who will the employee be working with? Which vendors, customers, co-workers, subordinates, and managers? What are the levers for controlling who the employee has a chance to work with (and/or avoid)?
  4. Task choice. Which regular tasks and responsibilities will the employee be assigned to do? How much of it is “grunt work” (tedious or otherwise difficult recurring tasks)? Are there any special projects? What are the levers for controlling the employee’s opportunities to work on more choice tasks, responsibilities or projects?
  5. Learning opportunities. What basic skills and knowledge will the employee be learning in order to handle his basic tasks and responsibilities? Will there be any special learning opportunities? What are the levers for controlling access to those special learning opportunities?
  6. Location and workspace. Where will the employee be located? How much control will the employee have over his workspace? Will there be much travel? Are there opportunities to be transferred to other locations? What are the levers for controlling these location issues? Within a given workspace, how much latitude will the employee have to customize his/her immediate surroundings?

Tulgan says the key to making these desires work for you has a whole lot to do with how you leverage them, as bargaining chips. He offers these examples:

  • “You don’t want to work on Thursday? I’m glad to know that. Here’s what I need from you by Wednesday at midnight.”

  • “You want your own office? Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to bring your dog to work? Great. Here’s what I need from you.”

  • “You want to have lunch with the senior VP? Here’s what I need from you.”

“When managers are able to [leverage employee desires and business needs like this],” Tulgan says, “they are giving the employee control over [his or] her rewards by spelling out exactly what [he or] she needs to do to earn them.

“In exchange,” he says, “the employee will probably be willing to do a lot [more] — to work longer, harder, smarter, faster or better” — while getting a valuable and immediate reward in return.

Sure, you can say all this is intuitive, but I would counter with, “then why aren’t more employers doing it?”

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A Finger on the Employee Pulse

employee pollWe all know that employee surveys provide very usable and valuable data. But how much employee input do you need, and how often should you be asking for it?

If a recent Wall Street Journal article is any indication, some companies are searching for the sweet spot by taking a “more (and more often) is better” approach to employee surveys.

In the piece, the paper’s Rachel Emma Silverman examines the rise of “so-called ‘pulse surveys,’ ” highlighting a few employers relying on short monthly, weekly or daily polls to “provide data on how their teams actually feel and catch problems before they fester.” (Short and frequent surveys are even replacing annual employee surveys at some organizations, says Silverman, although she notes that others—Google Inc., for instance—use a combination of both.)

For example, Limeade Inc., a Seattle-based corporate wellness firm with 115 employees, sends it people quick, one-question surveys each week, seeking feedback on issues ranging from customer service improvements to holiday party ideas.

Workers answer anonymously, and the results are discussed at bi-weekly company meetings. Limeade CEO Henry Albrecht told the Journal these polls revealed that the firm’s remote workers were generally less happy than those working from headquarters, and the company has since invested in more teleconferencing tools to “reconnect [remote workers] with the mother ship,” according to the article.

As many as three times a week, Boston-based public relations and marketing firm Metis Communications asks employees what they are most proud of and whether they feel their managers listen to them. Rebecca Joyner, director of content services at the company, told the Journal that a pair of standing desks appeared at Metis HQ within two weeks of one such survey, which asked employees if they were happy with their office chairs.

It’s worth noting that these organizations—as well as most of the other firms included in the Journal article—are on the small side, in terms of number of employees, and pay about $50 a month or anywhere from $15 to $100 per employee for pulse-survey tools delivered by companies such as knowyourcompany.com, TinyPulse, BlackbookHR and Gallup.

We’ll see if more large companies go this route, but it seems at least some are already taking similar steps to get a handle on how employees are feeling.

Sears Holding Corp., the Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based owner of Sears and Kmart, has launched Project MoodRing, an initiative designed to “record store employees’ moods at the end of their shifts,” according to WSJ.

Workers choose a color-coded emoticon on a screen, to describe how they’re feeling when they clock out, be it “unstoppable,” “so-so,” “exhausted” or “frustrated,” for instance. The article notes that Sears anticipates it will receive about 28 million daily mood responses a year, and has already found “a correlation between slightly higher sales and customer satisfaction at stores where employees are in positive moods rather than neutral or negative moods.”

While conducting surveys—even short ones—with such frequency can get repetitive and eventually begin grating on employees’ nerves, keeping the questions fresh may be one of the keys to successful employee polls.

Quirky Inc., for example, asks its approximately 150 employees about the challenges they’re facing at the moment, and who at the New York-based invention company has demonstrated great leadership in the past week, according to the Journal. Rochelle DiRe, chief people officer at Quirky Inc., told WSJ that the company has begun rotating questions more frequently, as a way to maintain employee participation and interest.

“Without some kind of variation,” says DiRe, “it can get a little bit like homework for some people.”

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Americans: Overworked Yet Positive

The latest Heartland Monitor Poll from Allstate and the National Journal is out and it contains some very good news for the nation’s employers. The poll of 1,000 employed Americans finds that the overwhelming majority think very highly of their employers, with 82 percent saying they believe their employer has a positive impact on their community and 87 percent saying they’d recommend their place of employment to others. Americans are also highly satisfied with their jobs: 93 percent said they’re satisfied and 54 percent said they’re very satisfied.

So here’s the less-positive news: Only 31 percent say they’re very satisfied with their pay. Just 43 percent are very satisfied with their job benefits, 45 percent with the amount of paid vacation and sick time offered and 38 percent with opportunities for advancement.

Finally, many Americans will be putting in time on the job that they’d rather be spending with their families this holiday season: Just under half (45 percent) say there’s “at least some chance” they will be working on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day or New Year’s Day. More than half (55 percent) say it won’t be by their own choice. At least 25 percent of American workers will be required to work during at least one of these major holidays.

Working Americans’ personal time is increasingly impacting their personal time: 81 percent say they are required to be in contact outside of working hours, with 41 percent saying they’re required to be in contact frequently. More than half (56 percent) say they checked email or otherwise checked in with work during their last vacation.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Americans are looking for more flexibility and more personal time. If given the choice between jobs based on the balance between work and personal time, two in three (67 percent would choose “more flexibility and shorter hours … but less pay” while only one in four (26 percent) would choose “more pay … but less flexibility and longer hours.”

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TMBC Welcomes Averbook, Secures Funding

Jason AverbookJason Averbook has designs on reinventing workplace performance and employee engagement.

Earlier today, Averbook—recognized HR technology expert and former CEO of Knowledge Infusion—was announced as the new chief executive officer of The Marcus Buckingham Co. In the new role, Averbook plans to help the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based provider of leadership development training and tools “create an organization uniquely positioned to turn the world of talent and leadership inside out,” according to a statement announcing Averbook’s arrival at the company.

Averbook, who officially took over as CEO at TMBC on Oct. 31, won’t be alone in this task, of course. The same press release highlighted TMBC’s completion of a $5 million Series A fundraising round led by SurveyMonkey, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based online survey development company.

With Averbook at the helm and this funding secured, TMBC has lofty goals, according to founder Marcus Buckingham, a best-selling author, researcher, motivational speaker and business consultant.

The firm aims to “fix what is broken in the process of talent performance assessment and management,” says Buckingham. “TMBC’s vision is to deliver companywide and individual team leader visibility into employee strengths, engagement and performance; and its content aims to help the team leader build on the strengths of each employee.”

At the moment, “no such tools—designed explicitly for team leaders—exist,” according to Buckingham, who says the funds provided by SurveyMonkey will go toward “serving this pivotal but unserved market segment of true talent engagement, performance and real-time progress tracking.

On the eve of the announcement of his arrival at TMBC, Averbook echoed those sentiments in a chat with Human Resource Executive, during which he discussed the role of the company’s StandOut integrated performance and engagement platform in rethinking how workplace performance is measured and improved. The first round of funding from SurveyMonkey, he says, is tied to enhancements to StandOut, a strengths-based performance management system that includes a strengths profile for employees, pulse surveys designed to gauge employee-engagement levels and trends in real time, and talent reviews geared toward workforce planning using local talent data.

“The challenge has always been getting [the right] technology into the hands of team leaders,” says Averbook. “We want to [enable] real-time team building and measure engagement at a team level. We want to look at employee performance and engagement in a new way.”

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Ford Fouls Up

Editor’s note: Correction appended below.

Will they ever learn?

Amid all the talk recently about the need to re-engage employees and strengthen your employment brand against the backdrop of an improving economy and tightening labor market, Ford Motor Co. decided to downsize 90 workers from its Chicago assembly plant — via a robocall (and on Halloween, no less).

Many of the workers assumed the call — which they received at home –was merely a prank, and showed up at the plant for their Saturday shift only to learn that their badges no longer worked: They were barred from their plant. Because they really had been fired. And that robocall had not been a prank.

In a statement to AOL News, Ford said that it did not normally fire workers via robocall and that it expected the layoffs to be temporary: “As part of our business process, we have temporarily adjusted our workforce numbers at Chicago Assembly Plant by approximately 90 team members. Our goal, as always, is to return the workers back to their positions as soon as possible based on the needs of our business.”

And to think, those workers had probably assumed they’d be getting a welcome break from annoying robocalls, now that the mid-term elections are finally over.

Ford is hardly the first company to bungle a layoff announcement, of course. Just a few months ago, Microsoft executive Stephen Elop received plenty of well-deserved criticism when he announced a massive layoff near the end of a long, rambling email to Microsoft employees within his division. Layoffs are often a necessary evil, of course, frequently dictated by business cycles over which the company may have little control. But a company — HR, in particular — does have control over the manner in which the announcements are made, and the remaining employees won’t soon forget how their ex-colleagues were treated.

In summarizing his thoughts about the Microsoft email, Bill Rosenthal, CEO of New York-based Communispond, explained it to reporter Jill Cueni-Cohen this way: “It’s tough to make hard decisions, and I don’t think what Microsoft did was a bad decision; it was the message that was bad. It was the way he delivered it.”

Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Stephen Elop as the CEO of Microsoft Corp. Satya Nadella is the CEO; Elop is an executive vice president.

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Keep on (Food) Truckin’

Here in the Philadelphia area, we love our food trucks. Maybe it’s due to the large number of colleges and universities here (with their hordes of students and underpaid adjunct professors looking for a quick, cheap and tasty meal) — whatever the reason, Philly food trucks can offer you delights ranging from kebabs, Chinese food, falafel sandwiches and gyros to cupcakes, gourmet ice cream and water ices with flavors you’d never dreamed existed. food truckTheir popularity has spread well beyond the collegiate crowd: My town’s school district recently sponsored a food truck fair to help raise money for extra-curricular activities; the organizers were expecting about 1,000 people to show up — ultimately, more than double the number came, leading to hour-long lines at some of the more popular vendors.

So I’m not terribly surprised that the food-truck crowd is targeting a new demographic: office-park workers. A company called Roaming Hunger bills itself as a “hub” for organizing food truck events at companies. The company says it tracks 5,000 of the country’s “best and most popular food trucks” and that it has organized food-truck catering events for clients like Google, Nike, Geico and Ford Motor Co. Another vendor, Food Truck Caravan, also specializes in organizing these sort of events (their food-trucks vendors include ones with names like The Lobster Lady and Wok n Rolls). Then there’s Food Trucks 2 Go, which includes a “quote” from Orson Welles on its website: “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” (I’m not sure whether he really said that.)

Bottom line: If you’re looking to spice things up at your workplace, consider a food-truck event. I’m pretty sure you’ll have some happy employees.

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