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.

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

Drive change for successful project management !

Drive change for successful project management

Successful transformation and change efforts require more than resources qualified to execute and deliver projects on time, on cost and on target. It is well known that the success of projects intimately depends on the ability to integrate deliverables into the organizational environment, not just boasting about of the perfection of your project preparedness, planning, execution, control and closure capabilities. Many projects unfortunately can not think beyond deliverables, instead of pursuing how the product could properly be exploited or how to beat resistance, inertia and opposition. The consequence of this short-sightedness is the very high rate of failure and underperformance of projects, standing close to 85% according to the famous Standish Group’ Chaos Report.

Awareness of what we have just discussed must be the beginning of a deep reflection among project governance bodies to think and act beyond normative project management schemes to integrate more global considerations, geared towards instantaneous and agile value creation when it comes to expectations and desires of both customers and stakeholders.This is the ability to understand what customers expect from our products, what their customers expect as well, and most importantly, what might prevent them from using these products properly in their operating environment. The products might be procedures, systems, or even labour organizations, exploited by stakeholders who will need to be influenced before, during and after the process of conducting change.

Project management has many components that are very useful to the conduct of change, which need to be addressed in a configuration integrating both disciplines.From team motivation to communication techniques to stakeholder expectations and risk management, all these areas are often addressed in both disciplines, but in a different way.The major difference is that project management directs these disciplines towards the realization of each project phase, whereas conduct of change focuses on the twin levers of adhesion reinforcement (aka buy-in) and resistance management.

As we have just seen, and thereby adding to project management, the conduct of change provides added value by enhancing the chances of success of transformation projects.Assessing return on investment in change management is a very important step to take at the beginning of each transformation project. This approach allows us to understand the benefits of these efforts, if only in terms of other benefits at risk if these efforts are not undertaken. In this sense, one of the most credible assessment methods at the international level is the ESSEC Chair of Change shows that 5% investment in change management can prevent up to 20% of delays in project delivery. This means that your investment in change management provides you with up to 15% return on total investment. These figures allow you explain budgets allocated to change management and to be able to size and deploy project diagnostics, engage tactical and strategic levers, as well as monitor transformations.

Why is it essential to know how to protect ourselves from allies?

Why is it essential to know how to protect ourselves from allies?

We know intuitively to protectourselves from stakeholders opposed to our transformation projects. Counter intuitively, we must also consider protecting ourselves from our allies as well. In fact, the most spectacular defeats of history were provoked not by enemies but allies. As Voltaire said, ’God preserve me from my friends, I’ll handle my enemies’. There are two reasons behind this reticence. The first reason is that we often feel comfortable with our allies and may reveal weaknesses which could be used against us. The second reason is that our offensive and defensive capabilities are so focused on resistant stakeholders that we do not invest enough energy and effort in our areas of vulnerability which our allies are supposed to protect. This does not mean we need to be obsessive about it, only to keep it in mind.

We spontaneously tend to surround ourselves with allies, for comfort, protection, or conquest. To be well surrounded is to recognize that we can not go far without federating the strength and will of others, especially those who are not under our direct authority. These are the stakeholders who influence our projects but who may have other interests and interests which do not concern us. The urge to reach out to these stakeholders is so intuitive that it is hard to overcome. This risks rushing into alliances not out of necessity but out of a desire to satisfy our ego. Let us not forget we are better off alone than badly surrounded. A great deal of responsibility concerning the failure of our allies is unfortunately due to our early haste in their selection. Alliances often start to great fanfare but few become solid, sustainable and reliable. This observation is similar to that of the win-win agreements I mentioned in my article long-term win-win relationships. Taking the time to choose these allies thoroughly if much better than the headlines effect. Furthermore, inflated objectives create very high expectations in relation stakeholder contributions which can only be disappointed at a later date.

Choice of allies must not be made by affinity or through docility. Allies depend on the strategy of influence you adopt and the principles you advocate as part of the transformation you are conducting. You must have no ally independently of any situation you manage. Choice of allies is contextual and reflects the positioning of your strategy of attack or initiation of change whether negotiated, permanent, imposed, or clean-break. Your allies are not supposed to be your clones intellectually speaking, but must have the ability to reflect your strategy on the ground. This said, they have concerns thatdo not normally require your attention. As soon as these concerns overspill into your field of action and your interests, your allies become your future competitors or even join other resistant stakeholders. It must be understood that as soon as you begin to succeed, stakeholders agendas can change alonside their perception of their commitment to you and how they identify with your success. In the words of Francois de La Rochefoucauld : “To make enemies, surpass your friends; to make allies, let your friends surpass you “. In this case, your ability to protect yourself from your allies is subtly dependent on your ability to ask yourself the right questions at the right time!