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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

What to focus on when investing in your people?

No matter the state of the economy, technological and global developments, or the competitiveness of the business climate, staying committed to investing in your employees remains crucial for surviving and thriving your business. Keeping your workforce inspired, motivated, and engaged is one step in this process.

Numerous studies such as the Gallup Engagement Survey of October 2011 show that only about 30 percent of employees are actually engaged at work. I am sure you can picture some of the many consequences of non-engaged or, even worse, the effects of actively disengaged employees.

Many managers, business owners, and corporate executives know from experience how difficult it can be to consistently inspire and engage the workforce so that they are willing to give the organization their best and more. The variety of motivations and inspirations of employees complicates this task even more. No two employees come to work for the exact same reasons. One employee might be looking for stability and a good life-work balance while someone else is mainly focused on an international career and yet another teammate is working towards quick upward movement, which in itself can be driven by different motivations.

Engagement, however, is not the only step. A recent research by Towers Watson, a leading global company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management, reveals that to generate a climate where employees contribute at a consistently high level of their capacity, you need more that just engagement. They refer to this as the “three E’s: engagement, enablement, and employee well-being. Engagement refers to the commitment of an employee to give it their all and go above and beyond in their job. Enablement provides the tools and resources necessary to excel in the job. This is what is often referred to as ‘leaders need to create the environment and conditions for success’.  Emotional and physical well-being is the third of the three E’s and refers to a state of emotional and physical wellness, and, as Towers Watson describes it, “The belief that senior management genuinely cares about their employees.”

I am sure it makes a lot of sense to invest in increasing an employee’s willingness to succeed and excel as well as the necessary tools and equipment combined with a ‘well state’ to deliver that high level of performance, personally and in collaboration with others. Neglect in any of these three areas will decrease any positive effects created in the other two areas. With the three E’s being clear, what is it that mostly needs attention to increase engagement, enablement, and emotional and physical well-being of employees? I suggest four focus areas:

1.    Creativity - IBM’s 2010 Global CEO Study, which surveyed more than 1,500 chief executive officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, concluded that creativity is now the most important leadership quality for success in business. It stated that creativity even outweighs competencies such as integrity and global thinking. The CEOs told IBM that today’s business environment is volatile, uncertain and increasingly complex. Because of this, the ability to create something that’s both novel and appropriate is top of mind. So the advice is to create the conditions for employees to strengthen their creative thinking capacity. This enables your people to see beyond limitations and to approach problems and their solutions in more diverse ways. One plus one is not necessarily three. One plus one could easily be Q or B. There are good programs for increasing the creative beliefs, thinking patterns, and skills of people and a great book on the topic is Imagine – How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer (2012).

2.    Diversity - Make “thinking different hats and different perspectives” as well as thinking in terms of ‘and’ rather than ‘either-or’ the norm, with everyone in a leading capacity an active role model.  This increases the likelihood that employees use their integrative thinking skills and that they continue to learn and grow and see the benefit of working with people who view the world and the business differently and thus approach everyday situations and challenges in different ways than they do. Adopt an outsider’s perspective and the world and it’s personal and business challenges might look quite differently from before. Two great books on this topic are The Third Alternative by Stephen Covey (2011) and The Opposable Mind by Roger Martin (2009).

3.    Emotional Intelligence - Provide group and individual coaching to increase emotional intelligence of every single employee. An employee’s awareness of himself and of others as well as interpersonal skills and skills to manage himself are crucial for personal effectiveness and for effective collaboration. A great book on this topic is Primal Leadership by Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee (2002) or other books by Goleman.

4.    To top it all off, the easy but frequently neglected one: genuine and frequent praise and encouragement is often the thing that motivates us the most. It takes little time once you know your people, their circumstances and their motivations, and it costs nothing. So managers, leaders, CEOs and supervisors, let’s get on with this easy and free give-away that means so much to your people.

My focus on these four areas does not imply that factors such as a sense of belonging or following a compelling mission and purpose are not important. I believe the above four factors, however, to be much discussed but often little understood and even less acted upon. What are you going to discuss, decide, and implement in order to improve engagement, enablement, and emotional and physical well-being of yourself and your employees? 

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