The wasted opportunity of unfulfilled employees

Lack-of-innovation

It must be recognized that the weight of organisational context conditions the performance of individuals, of teams, and of their managers. The organisational environment and the postures of managers are essential in providing individuals capable of providing the best of themselves yet with the ability to break away from everyday conditioning and create pro-innovation environments. It is, in fact, necessary to not rush headlong in and blame individual abilities instead of correcting organisational brakes. In any organisation you are likely to come across unfulfilled and demotivated employees who become extremely inventive and productive as soon as you take them out of the organisation place them in a different context even with people that they do not even know!

In one of the seminars I’ve recently had the pleasure of organizing on Managerial Innovation (Management 3.0), I rubbed shoulders with fulfilled executives who have the skill sets and mindset required to instil energy in the groups and individuals they meet after a few short hours. Groups are created and evolve under the influence of a propitious environment. I asked myself the following question: Do these people act this way in their own organisation? Feedback was immediate, as I received just then a message at the end of the seminar from one of the participants in response to my wishes of a week full of motivation and inspiration:

His reply :

“Motivation and inspiration … not to be found where I am now

I’m fed up!

I can’t stand the idiocy of people in this business anymore

What am I doing with this morning

I can’t help but compare it with those three days of seminar

It’s like having a trip back in time”

This answer shows and demonstrates the wasted potential of unfulfilled employees, and how this waste reflects a very worrying organisational malaise or unwellness. The origins of this ‘discomfort’ are many, but allow me to share with you a qualitative analysis based on ‘verbatims’ collected from people I meet in the seminars I organise. Despite expressing satisfaction with the different workshops and experiences, participants often say: “Why don’t our managers attend these seminars?” “No one doubts their technical skills, but it would be nonsense for managers to continue managing us as they currently do.” This perception is so recurrent that you’ve had the opportunity to hear it yourself in the seminars you’ve attended. It reflects a gap between what managers are supposed to do and what they limit themselves to. We often have to deal with employees who understand the challenges of management but find that their managers do not address them correctly. After several missions of strategic diagnosis that I have the opportunity to realize within big international groups, I’ve concluded the real problem behind this malaise is not a question of incompetence of the managers. You can have competent and very intelligent managers who deal with unfulfilled and uninvolved teams. The reason is that these managers are often subject to a tunnel effect which prevents them from making the most of what they are, what they know and what competences and skills are available. These managers avoid measuring their performance for efficient and agile use of resources instead of thinking only about expediency.

As soon as you take the executives out of their organisational environment and place them in inter-corporate events, they will tell you that they are grateful for the opportunities of fulfilment that you offer them (learning, networking, sharing, …). That said, there is always a reason which appears later in post ice-breakers conversations in cross corporate events & seminars. Attendees of workshops I lead often tell me “We really are here to think differently, to think about our problems, to avoid the blinders of routine and especially to tune down the waves of incessant solicitations which prevent us from looking at things differently at work, sometimes even depriving us of any room for thought”. The major take away from this observation is the need to not perceive issues through the lens of the daily grint and foster environments where we can unload organisational burdens and create room to rethink our problems properly and encourage free thinking explorations of solutions.

Chronic Disengagement in Organisations

Lack-of-motivation

Do you know the motivation and commitment levels of the employees you supervise or the colleagues you interact with? Outside of work, how fulfilling do your friends find either their professional duties or their relationships with their superiors? International indicators are unanimous in answering these questions, and unfortunately disengagement is extremely high and prevalent. This rate exceeds 83%, according to the prestigious annual report of Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace which tracks employee engagement in 140 countries among more than 200,000 people. Figures in this report differ from one country to another of course but rates are high across the world with 67% in the US and 93% in the UK. The most striking figure in this report is that the company with the highest level of commitment has a 30% rate. This means that the difference between average performance and best possible achievement is excessively large, and that strengthening commitment is possible and not just a theory, as there are a few companies which have already successfully raised commitment.

These figures may have been a bit of shock, but what is most shocking is that many companies are in denial of disengagement or its consequences, and this for several reasons. Some people experience disengagement as a chronic illness which they get used to and convince themselves it is a necessary evil. Others are in the passive acceptance of disengagement, perceiving all companies in similar light and that there’s no point in struggling against a global phenomenon, and that it would be better to devote their energy on the non-human to generate competitive advantage: better supply circuits, better distribution channels, better tools, better financing, better planning … These practices may work on isolated cases but can not sustain long term business development. The change management consulting firm Kotter International confirms that companies with committed employees provide 5 times the return on investment of companies with disengaged employees.

With few exceptions, demotivation and disengagement eat away at organisations from the inside unless explicit attention is paid to them. In the best of cases, companies develop annual surveys with very fancy names (Global People Survey, HR Survey, Social Climate Survey, …). These polls are technically good, but the use of their results clearly isn’t. The problem with these polls is that they restrict themselves to headline affects and easy labelling instead of focusing on concrete actions linking demotivation to chronic corporate diseases to strengthen commitment to transformation projects. In many cases, these exercises can demotivate employees rather than motivate them by listening to them. A senior executive recently shared with me a very telling example of the disengagement malaise: Working in the Organisation Management of a multinational corporation specialized in sanitation services, he says: “We are often asked to fill out polls, provide our opinion on the social climate, and we do not know what they do with it. These surveys are only filled out because they are compulsory, and I have strong doubts about the quality of the information which HR management receives. ” The take away here is important and simple: Ask for a team member or stake holder’s opinion only if you will truly take this opinion into consideration and get back to them with effective change or actionable items. The second take away is to associate a set of practices in support of any attempt at measuring engagement:

  • Compare intra-company results with a cross-business benchmark, such as that of Trusted Advisors, which will cross-reference organisational performance and its evolution with that of other players operating in a similar environment
  • Communicate results in a transparent way by highlighting the business-to-business context in which they appear. This does not imply ‘cold’ communication through posters and unidirectional processes, but rather ‘hot’ communication designating actors to ensure the regular dissemination of engagement / disengagement indicators. These actors must also ensure communication of employee feedback in relation to strengthening their commitment and that of their peers.
  • Recognize that engagement or disengagement is neither cultural nor consistent across the organisation, and push teams and departments to show and communicate success stories of projects which reflect massive commitment.
  • Do not rush to blame human behaviour but identify and remove barriers to engagement in process, skills, workflow, performance control systems, management layers, reporting chains, …

These practices can be initiated in a structuring way as part of wider transformation programs, but can also correspond to team or collective work at each division or unit level. Building engagement is incremental work spread over years and not the result of a few minutes’ show and tell in an executive convention. The practices described below can be implemented with internal or external resources and provide very interesting results.

In order to delve deeply into the causes of disengagement, it is important to rely on consultants who are culturally and emotionally detached from the organisation. These are of vital use for deciphering chronic diseases such as:

Chronic Illness 1: Lack of vision and lack of shared values

Chronic Illness 2: Lack of Strategic Direction

Chronic Illness 3: Low synergy and lack of alignment between departments

Chronic Illness 4: Bad management in large company (top management, middle or local managers)

Chronic Disease 5: Inadequate or outdated know-how & skills set

Chronic Disease 6: Department don’t trust themselves or each other

Chronic Disease 7: Habits and values are not aligned

Don’t get stuck choosing between a pleasing lie and an inconvenient truth !

Lies and Truths

Should you ask someone if they would prefer being told a pleasant lie rather than an unpleasant truth, what would their answer be? In theory, in such a scenario, they would want the truth and nothing but the truth, even if it were disturbing. In practice, and in everyday situations, this question never arises, but each of us presumes a response from the other. And therein lies the problem: we presume!

 

We assume that we know the interests of others better than them and presume also of the reliability of our understanding in relation to what interests them or not. We assume that the other is not ready, or that they will act negatively, or that they would rather not be bothered with any of it. These assumptions are in some cases emphatic, but they are in many cases illusory. They are only pretexts to escape the responsibility of stating things as they are for us, by clarifying our intentions. We are mistaken in trying to find the answer in the perceptions of others when the answer is at home, within ourselves. Above all, we must clarify our expectations in all honesty.
Speaking frankly will rally allies over time. This said, there is a short term risk that being frank might shock or alienated some of your allies. If these people do not like the veracity of your words, they may distance themselves from you. Conversely, if you’re not frank in your communication, you will have term allies now but only for the short term.

 

Being frank is a quality and lying is a ‘moral’ lapse. Nobody would deny this. However, the verdict is much more complex to reach if we include not just what we say but also what we keep to ourselves or delay sharing. In practice, in both professional and personal settings, interests intertwine and wishes and wants merge easily. Anything we say can at any time be held against us, so we stick to what troubles our comfort zone the least. It’s easier to not say everything than saying everything, isn’t it?

 

The answer will require intense situational and emotional intelligence. Timing is key, sharing your thoughts when the situation is most conducive to their acceptance. The argument is simple and straightforward: Delaying sharing is not lying, on the contrary, it provides enough time for proper consideration of an issue to ensure we’ve looked at it from all angles.

Rethink Change Justification: Common Mistakes & Essential Steps

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We tend to believe that change can be ordered or delivered on demand. If that is the case, we are often mistaken. We ask others to invest in modifying their habits, or their use of systems we provide them with, we explain change in the light of a series of carefully prepared rationales and justifications. Advocating based on adopting the results of change is essential but unfortunately insufficient. In fact, the efficiency of change communication rationales is mostly hindered through sheer, simple haste.

 

Hastefully engaging into communication under the misguided notion that our arguments being, in our eyes, rational and well founded, and that they will also seem that way to others, is a fatal mistake. Repeating our rationales to stakeholder, to the point of swamping them in our attempt to convince them, only creates further damage. To be clear, I am not arguing that we should not ensure our rationales are well developed, nor that they should not be repeated. I am arguing, however that we must not rush into things and ensure we allow enough time to first go through a few essentials steps.

 

The first step is to have a comprehensive and detailed map of the stakeholders and tailor specific rationales to their needs and perception. Stakeholders can be change advocates, change averse, or even negotiators. Based on their influence on the results of the change process, rationales and messages need to match each participant’s profile. This is, if anything, the most subtle aspect of change management, which will surely test your understanding of organizational ‘politics’.

 

The second essential step is to further explore human nature and the wide range of reactions to change rationales, especially in the context of group dynamics. Several research works have gone into creating models of the processes governing individual changes occurring within a group. Kurt Lewin, for one, likens the behavior of people within a group to a sort of balance of forces pushing towards a will for change and those forces pushing to keep things as they are, maintaining the status quo. These findings confirm a wider pattern where it is much more efficient to start by convincing your targets that their status quo is not tenable instead of focusing exclusively on the merits of the targets of change. Building on moderation rather than injunction mechanisms, the aim is to encourage their train of thought to measure the risks of not changing rather than pushing the advantages of change. In initiating change, the imperative of convincing your audience that the current situation is not tenable is more important than arguing for the benefits of change. This argumentation, this rationale, becomes more important once appropriate distance has been taken from the norms and habits which create inertia.

 

The third essential task is to be able to self-criticize the quality of rationales for change, on a on-going, almost permanent basis. The arguments developed in the initial stages of change conduct may very well become obsolete a few weeks or months from launch. We invest important amounts of time in designing communications tools but spend comparatively little attention evaluating their long term pertinence or validity over time. This imbalance also contributes to the haste I mentioned earlier. It is essential to know how to evaluate your rationales through analytical approaches based on specific and weighed criteria. Personally, on mission, I tend to use the following criteria: ease of use of suggested systems, economies of scale provided by these, their performance among others …

 

Beyond these three essential steps, I would also like to insist on another factor which heavily influences how relevant a rationale will be within a transformational context. It is the care and attention we apply to ourselves as change leaders or change managers. Indeed, we must bear in mind that stakeholders have the same needs as us. We all need to be understood, reassured and supported before being won over. Once these considerations are incorporated in your operating procedures, the engineering of change argumentation will have every chance of success.

Learn to tell yourself No!

Choices

At the beginning of our career, the scope of our objectives and ambition means that we concentrate mostly on diversifying our activities and commitments. Diversification is generally the watchword and can also become a philosophy guiding our professional career, which is not counterproductive in itself. But, in wanting to do everything, do we not end up doing nothing or doing badly?

We often believe that we should never put all our eggs in the same basket. The problem is often that we look for more baskets or better baskets instead of taking care of our eggs, and end up damaging our eggs instead of transporting or storing them properly. The pitfall of diversification is succumbing to opportunity or greed instead of focusing exclusively on our tasks and their absolute, intrinsic value.

We often let our attention wander despite our limited time, concentration, energy, and motivation, and as we progress in our careers, we realize that we can not do everything. Sooner or later, scattered attention creates a definite unease: Thoughts become dispersed over several priorities or multiple projects leading to only a few being brought to conclusion or wanting to attend every meeting and to participate in every decision-making process; these are some of the behaviours and feelings symptoms of a spiral of destructive scattering.
Understanding whether our attention is focused on our long-term goals should be an ongoing, everyday effort, even and especially in the face of a constant deluge of information, recommendations and choices that we offer ourselves or that are offered to us all day long. This observation is not specific to our times, but distraction today is more intense than before when you consider the digitization of our professional interactions and our personal life.

To avoid scattering our efforts, we should know how to finish what we started, we must have the patience to learn from our mistakes and continue our progress, and we must above all know not to be distracted by a multitude of choices and concentrate on execution. Of course, challenging ourselves at regular intervals, requesting feedback, and involving others are keys to adaptation. Nonetheless, we also have to give ourselves the time to execute cleanly and fully, and concentrate on achieving ‘sprints’ which tolerate no disturbance or distractions.
It is quite important to recognize that the more our strike force and efforts are spread out, the less powerful it becomes. Moreover, focusing this strike force towards a selected number of precise objectives provides an incredibly mobilizing advantage of intensity. The key to success becomes our ability to manage the choices to which we constantly have access.

We have to remember that more choice leads to wrong choices and reduce our perception of happiness. Groundbreaking research has been done by Barry Schwartz to argue and prove this in his book ‘The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less or -Why the Culture of Abundance Robs Us of Satisfaction’, HarperCollins. Above all, we must say no, even and especially to ourselves, when we have too many choices. In fact, refusing a choice or an option may seem disruptive but it is scientifically valid. Freedom lies not in the multiplicity of choices but in their quality. It is essential to focus on achieving a limited number of alternatives as the key to successful change and transformations.

Permanent Change is The Only Constant in Complex Environments

Le Matin : Isn’t permanent change the only constant of organizational environments?
Farid Yandouz : Indeed! Companies are often faced with very high levels of complexity and its resulting impact on uncertainty of clients’ projects scope and the competencies required to implement such projects. This complexity is made even more difficult by a technological environment obeying one rule: permanent change. As a result, several managerial practices are becoming essential and central to strengthening organizational performance.

What actions do you recommend then?
Several tactics and strategies can be deployed in response to the ever-increasing complexity of changes. It all depends on the room for manoeuvre each manager has, the extent of the sponsoring enjoyed, and the intensity of the inertia tied to a need to maintain the status quo. According to operational priorities, the following key areas can be identified.

  1. Assessing individual’s, department’s and organisation’s ability to change.
  2. Strengthening adherence to core values reflecting the organization’s desired (or projected) identity.
  3. Reducing structural, political, behavioural and functional inertia.
  4. Developing quality of working life in a changing environment.
  5. Deploying and promoting individual postures and aptitudes capable of co-constructing the strategies required by permanent change.
  6. Aligning competencies with organizational development needs.

Regarding this last point on action required to develop the competencies you mentioned, what approach would you recommend in complex environments?
It is important to bear in mind that managing these competencies requires first-line managers as well as middle-managers. Indeed, especially in complex environments, the way competencies will evolve, or are prompted to evolve, is very much unpredictable and heavily influenced by changes in technology or customer needs. Here, for example, the implementation of learning networks with a focus on evolving competencies is strongly recommended. This will allow the progressive emergence of new trends, as well as regular feedback on required competences, to manage both sourcing needs and resources career development.
This said, though, we must acknowledge that conventional Strategic Workforce Planning does provide quite a comprehensive picture. Nonetheless, SWP is unfortunately ill-suited to complex environments. Competence development itinerary models and associated workforce can not be used in a practical manner. The alternate exercise must provide employees with more visibility as well as more regular polls to ensure their feedback is taken into consideration. Such an approach will be built upon:

  • The Implementation of a self-assessed mapping of the areas of expertise required by the department, prioritising the construction of skills clusters.
  • Ensure skills clusters are build on a ‘division projects’ orientation and not a ‘posts / jobs’ orientation.
  • This approach can be fuelled by focus groups and moderated by stakeholders neutral to political and personal considerations.
  • Mapping is then prioritized in dedicated workshops with top management.
  • Q&A with Farid Yandouz published in LE MATIN newspaper