Monday, May 06, 2013

This Band of Ethical Heroes (2/3) - Taking Action

Last month's post introduced the idea of joining the many ethical heroes at work and in our communities. As the recent events at the Boston Marathon and the West, Texas catastrophe remind us, would be heroes are needed everyday. Some of the feedback that I received suggested that many of you feel that you are ready to join, but have not been called into action yet. In this post I walk you through some great research on the steps that people go through before engaging in new behavior. My intention is to have you judge where you are in this continuum and to consider what you might do to go one step further to being an ethical hero. And to be clear, I am right there with you - I want to do more, I want to be better, and I want to make a difference. How can you and I be seen as heroes in our own right? What would it take? How can we prepare to take action?

Steps Along The Way to Changing Ourselves

Really, the only person who can change how you act or how you see yourself is you. People may try to get us to change, and sometimes it feels like we are being forced to do something, but we often resist those efforts. We can seem to go along with what somebody wants us to do, but that doesn't mean that our hearts are in it or that we won't stop when no one is looking. If we say "I won't become that person!" then it is almost impossible for another person to change us. But what about those situations where we decide that we might want to change things up, and yet we don't seem to motivate ourselves? Perhaps all those New Year's resolutions come to mind, or the honest promise to exercise more: we can find ourselves stuck in that "someday, but not today" mode of thinking. I know when it came to my decision to "do more good" I found that the decision to be different was not the same as actually becoming different. It turns out that most people go through this phase, and it is really a part of how we change ourselves. 

There is a ton of research from Jim Prochaska (at the University of Rhode Island) that explains how we change ourselves. This process can be boiled down to the six stages of change shown above. First, we go through some thinking stages, where we might get from a very negative position (I won't) to a less negative position (I might). Even further along these lines is when we start thinking about how to prepare and when we will start (I will). Dr. Prochaska's research indicates that people move from I won't to I might to I will when they see good reasons for changing, or what he calls PROs. No one else necessarily knows how we feel about these first three stages because the stages are all inside our heads. However, if we do decide to tell other people in our lives about how we are thinking, our movement up the ladder becomes more likely. When we start blogging about wanting to do more good (ahem), we create a bit of pressure to live up to what we publicly said we would do because we usually want to be consistent with our words. Furthermore, if we start thinking about all the benefits of changing our behavior, then we are inclined to be more motivated to act.

Actually taking action is obviously different from just thinking about a change, but even here there are stages. We can actually dip our toe in the water by trying something different (I am), but that does not necessarily stick. If it does, then we engage in this new behavior more frequently until it becomes routine (I have). Further, if we begin to define ourselves based on this behavior (I do), then we are highly likely to maintain that behavior on an ongoing basis. One of the fascinating aspects of Dr. Prochaska's research is that moving through these behavioral stages has less to do with discovering PROs and more to do with eliminating CONs - overcoming obstacles that we feel prevent us from taking action. In other words, even when we picture ourselves looking great on the beach, getting compliments, feeling good about ourselves, we can still find ourselves stuck on the couch with potato chips instead of exercising because we have not dealt with CONs. 

Becoming the Ethical Hero

Every potential change in our lives has some specific downsides. Exercising means finding time, doing less of other things, getting over some initial aches, and so on. Yet, what about our concept of being an Ethical Hero? If it seems great to be the one who speaks up, stands out, and makes something good happen or prevents something bad from happening, then what could possibly hold us back from doing it?  The answer: our perception of what others expect of us.

The moment when we hear our voice speaking up or see ourselves breaking rank with others, we move away from how the rest of the world is used to seeing us. "What does Paul think he is doing, writing about ethics? He is no saint! I can tell you stories about him!" The funny thing is that no one needs to say those things aloud. For me, I hear those voices in my head as if others were saying them. "They" (me) are telling me how my behavioral change is wrong for me, how it doesn't fit me, how I should just stay the same. I am guessing that all of us hear those negative voices in our heads, and it stops us dead in our tracks. We end up mentally debating why we should versus why we should not, and in the meantime nothing gets done. How can we get beyond that? Here are three techniques for moving yourself from the thinking stages to the doing stages.

  1. Imagine how you will feel 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years later. Suzy Welch created a technique for sorting out short-term emotions from lasting ones. It is called 10/10/10, and it has been highlighted in her 2010 book and in Chip & Dan Heath's new book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Here's how it works. You are about to head into a meeting with your coworkers, unsure if you should say that you are no longer comfortable that your current business practice is ethical. You are afraid of their reaction and how they will treat you from that point on. Your career and your personal friendships are on the line. Do you speak up about your concerns? Well, imagine how you will feel if you do say something, but not at that moment. After all, that moment will be a bit scary - you know that. But what about 10 minutes later? You think, "I will feel glad that I spoke out, no matter how they react. It will be done, and I will feel pride in that." What about 10 months from now? You think, "Well, if others agree with me, then we can have a better procedure in place by then. If no one agrees with me, then I will have had 10 months to consider if I still want to be here. That's not so much scary as exciting." What about 10 years from now? You think, "Either this moment is long forgotten, or it is the moment where I changed everything... certainly not scary!" Separate the immediate feelings that can prevent action from the future feelings, which are likely more important to you.
  2. You want to go where nobody knows your name. If you aren't sure how your family and friends will react to seeing you doing something new, then get yourself in a new circle who don't know your from Adam (or Eve). Start out by compartmentalizing this new you. You might find a charitable event where a lot of other people volunteer time, and ask them if there are other opportunities to do more of the same. You might search the internet about an interesting social cause that might have a local chapter or local event coming up. For that matter, you might just want to plan out your next trip to the supermarket with a promise to make a stranger smile: give up your spot in the checkout line, help someone take groceries to the car, or buy a child a balloon. It doesn't matter how elaborate your action is. The important aspect is that you get some strangers to see you as that nice person.
  3. Be the actor in the movie. If you are still feeling anxious about changing from your typical self, then take on the role the way an actor in a movie would. Give yourself the command "Action!" and then play the part of the ethical hero. When if feels odd to speak out or stand out, you can remind yourself that this is what acting feels like. Relax, and see how others around you respond to your script. Look them in the eye, the way an actor would, with confidence. You will be amazed how people take you seriously even when you don't feel as calm as you seem. Later on you should review what you did, how you sounded, and the impact that you had on others around you. Even if it felt like you were acting like someone else, it was in fact you all along.
So, the next time you see an opportunity to act like the new you - the person you want to become - take a moment to consider what things might hold you back. Once you have that list, then you can see how many solutions you can generate to overcome those concerns. If you are hearing people's voices in your head, telling you that you cannot be different from the person they are used to, then pull out the 10/10/10, find a new setting, and act out the part. Do not miss the chance to follow through on a decision that you might or you will. Feel the thrill of becoming the person who can say "I am, " or "I have," or "I do."

 This post is not intended to represent any person or organization other than Paul M. Mastrangelo.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

This Band of Ethical Heroes (1/3) - Sleeper Agents

Imagine a movie set in a world where chaos and evil are everywhere, ethics are just about not getting caught, and one person is fighting for change. As our hero faces obstacle after obstacle, he comes across other rebels, and they form a rag-tag team that fights for justice and truth. Is this a trailer for a fantasy action thriller, or is it your reality and mine as we seek ethical behavior and social justice in our everyday world? 

Okay, our world still has ethical and moral standards, there are many sources of good left to be found, and we rarely have to act like action heroes to do the right thing. Still, "doing good" is under attack. 

Look at the business world. Despite a growing sense of corporate responsibility, companies face tremendous pressure to make continuously more money, and that pressure leads to behaviors that do not always meet ethical and moral standards. The large scale examples are obvious (e.g., Enron, BP and its suppliers, NECC), but even poor customer service and poor product quality are arguably failures to do what is right. Look at how workers and students treat peers - Bullying and cyber-bullying alienate people to the point where they consider suicide, school shootings, or workplace violence. (These last three links lead you news stories in the past few months alone). Even the most respected and virtuous of our organizations - the Catholic Church, Penn State University, the Boy Scouts of America - have difficulty policing their own members to ensure pedophiles do not abuse children (See Frank Bruni's Op Ed in the September 10, 2012 NY Times). 

Don't kid yourself. You and I are called to be ethical heroes everyday. We are likely to be surrounded by people who pretend to be unaware, or who decide it is not their problem, or who show passive complicity with a wrongdoing. Do we step up? Do we break the silence? Do we ask if anyone else feels uncomfortable? Do we say "No, I have a problem with this" without waiting for someone else to take action? We all like to see ourselves as the hero in the story, but being the hero requires more than fantasizing. We all want to believe that there is a hidden team for good out there, but they will not recognize us as part of that team unless they see that we are worthy. 

There are three phases in becoming an ethical hero. First, an ethical hero must be able to recognize what is good even when isolated from any support, like a sleeper agent. Second, an ethical hero must take action in supporting good, even when surrounded by reasons for not acting. Third, an ethical hero must transform from a lurking sleeper agent to a public beacon for other agents. This post describes the ethical hero as sleeper agent.

Ethical Sleeper Cells

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the terms "sleeper agents" and "sleeper cells" were frequently used in describing the mission of the terrorist group Al Qaeda. I detest their mission of violence, but I am fascinated by their organizational structure. Their vision was formed by centralized top leaders, but the vision was executed by many decentralized local leaders who often had limited communication opportunities to stay coordinated. Think about that. In an environment with an increasing number of changes and variables, a loose organization of poorly connected agents exceeded their lethal, unspeakable goals. Well, what we need is that kind of organization, but with a morally "good" cause. In order to create "ethical sleeper cells" who loosely connect to ensure that people do the right thing in their everyday lives, there needs to be the same unified alignment. With so much work done in isolation, it is easy to lose direction either consciously (e.g., giving up the fight for lack of visible progress) or unconsciously (e.g., thinking your actions are right when they are not). To be that hero, that lone wolf who builds a connection of other isolated agents of good, there needs to be a code that the agents identify with and align to. If you are living the code, then you are connected to other agents even if you don't know it.

There are many possible ethical codes from philosophy and religion, but I learned a process for making ethical decisions back in my high school. I have never seen it anywhere in books, and I have lost contact with Mr. Poissont, who taught me the concept. (If anyone recognizes this, please let me know!) Still, this process is one I would recommend for anyone who is uncertain about what is the right thing to do, and I believe this is the code that an isolated ethical sleeper agent needs to ensure alignment to good.

I.C.O.C. = Issue, Circumstances, Options, Consequences

There are four considerations in deciding how to act ethically in any given situation. One should consider the Issue in general, the Circumstances surrounding the decision, the Options that one has in choosing to act, and the Consequences of one's actions.

  1. Issue. We frequently debate the morality of issues, such as gun control, abortion, or capital punishment. Even the basic morals that we teach our children can be considered to be general issues: Don't take things that are not yours, Treat others the way you want to be treated, etc. There is not always a clear consensus on issues, but most of us tend to know when we could do something that other people may not agree with. Let's face it; Many moral issues tend to be polarizing, and the two sides often debate to the point of demonizing each other. Let's sidestep all the debating for the sake of explanation. Why not define the ethical stance on an issue so that if anyone considers a specific behavior to be ethically wrong, then that behavior cannot be a universal truth. So, murder is wrong, and we should generally avoid killing another person. Likewise, there are positive ways of expressing what is ethical. For example, we should generally respect the fact that life is precious and cannot be rekindled once it is gone. Ethical heroes keep an open mind and try to find common ground when judging an ethical issue.                                                                                                                
  2. Circumstances. Most people agree that even when a behavior is ethically wrong, there are situations where that same behavior can be considered as not wrong. If someone were to be attacking a child with intent to kill the child, few people would find us at fault if we killed the attacker. Even though murder is wrong, killing someone to save an innocent life is a circumstance that alters the evaluation of the issue. Again, the infinite list of circumstances that surround an ethical issue will not always produce a universally accepted "exception" to the rule. However, the possibility of circumstances affecting the decision is itself well accepted. When faced with an ethical dilemma, remember that our circumstances may open a door that we generally consider to be closed. (We are wise to remember this aspect before harshly judging other people's actions.) Ethical heroes examine the unique aspects of the situation and carefully weigh what should and what should not affect the ethical decision at hand.                                                                                                     
  3. OptionsThe number and type of options that we have available also affect the ethics of our actions. Choosing to do something when there are countless available alternatives is different from doing something because there is no alternative. Therefore, one of the best things we can do when facing an ethical dilemma is to generate as many options as possible. A creative solution, or "third way," can produce an ethical outcome when none had previously seemed available. Ethical heroes should be sure to review and create as many options as possible.                                                                                                                                                                                       
  4. Consequences. Breaking the rules in order to achieve good is a fourth consideration for an ethical decision. Stopping at every stop light is hardly the right thing to do if it keeps our dying passenger from reaching a doctor. The end can justify the means, and the end can condemn the means. Such was the case at Penn State University, when people who knew of the abuses allegedly met the minimum requirements of what they should have done (legally, for example) but failed to do more when no changes were made. It seems that we can very easily misjudge consequences. Murderers can believe that the world is better off with their victims being dead (e.g., the attacks of September 11, 2001), and the pious can believe that they tried to do something even when much more was needed of them (e.g., Catholic church officials failing to expose sexual predators). Ethical heroes think critically about the consequences of their action and their inaction, even when (especially when) it would be easier to look away and hope for the best.                                                                                               
When you recognize that you are facing an ethical issue, and you or the people around you are not sure what the right thing to do is, work through the issue, the circumstances, the options, and the consequences as if they were the script for the ethical hero. I am reminded of the David Crosby song "Hero" and the line that says "He never wondered what was right or wrong. He just knew. He just knew."  If we want to form a band of ethical heroes, we need to know, too. Life won't be as simple as a movie hero's decision, but at least we can work through this process and then make our stand. 

NEXT:  The difference between knowing what is right and doing what is right.

This post is not intended to represent any person or organization other than Paul M. Mastrangelo.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

This Little Light of Mine

After a long hiatus, I am writing today with a slightly different purpose. This past year I have focused on approaches to changing organizations, mostly from an HR perspective. Since November, I have been focused on a different form of change. My wife has been diagnosed with cancer, and I see change in a more personal light. I am seeing how short term and long term goals must be changed. I am seeing how personal identities must be changed. I am seeing how fast and how painfully slow change can be. I am seeing how I need to change.

I believe these changes have been brought to my life as a wake up call. "Yo, this is God. What are you doing with your life? Your life full of conveniences, mobile technology, and career mindedness? There is more going on in this world. You have a higher purpose. What you thought was important may not be so. Check yourself." 

It's one thing for me to write about spreading change across many, but it is another thing to be doing it. Furthermore, what change is worth spreading? For what cause do I believe in so much that I am willing to go public and attempt to influence others? How can I do more?

I am inspired by positive responses to the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, where Ann Curry suggested that people engage in 26 acts of random kindness in honor of the 26 innocent victims in Sandy Hook Elementary School. Passing on kindness is not new. Recall the public campaign Pass It On. These consist of the same infectious change techniques that I have written about (e.g., here and here and here) and that have been discussed by Malcolm Gladwell, Robert Cialdini, and others. I am also inspired by Corporate Rebels United, which I have Tweeted about recently. This is a small cross-organizational organization consisting of individuals who want to spark innovation across all of their employers- almost like a secret society for spreading creative thinking. 

Just after the sad news from Newtown came more sad news on Christmas Eve from Webster, NY - just a couple miles up the road from where I live, the town in which I send my son to school, the place where my wife goes to shop and my daughter has sleep overs with her friends. A deranged man set fire to his house to lure fire fighters into range so that he could shoot them. Two men lost their lives (Michael Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka), and two more were critically injured (Joseph Hofstetter was shot in the pelvis and Theodore Scardino was hit in the shoulder and the knee).

Ladies and gentlemen, we need more "good" in our world. *I* need more good in the world, and *I* have not done enough about it. A candle that is covered gives no light and eventually dies out. A candle that is visible can light up a room, especially when that one flame can light an infinite number of other candles. 

So, why can't I form an organization of individuals committed to spreading good into organizations, far and wide? We need more good. We need more drivers who stop traffic to let others make a left turn. We need more shoppers who offer their unused coupons to others in the store. We need more volunteers who help isolated people in need of attention. We need more coworkers who remind us of the right way to do our business. We need more citizens who band together with people who differ in opinion, but share a common interest in improving our communities. We need a secret society whose purpose is to infiltrate all organizations in order to create more good. Where there is more good - more visible acts of goodness - there will be more faith, more hope, and more charity. 

This year expect stories, ideas, and (hopefully) my own experiences related to spreading what is good. It starts with me. I am praying daily, and I keep asking for the courage to act. Thinking about good is not enough. This tiny, barely significant little light of mine. I'm going to let it shine. Let my flame light yours, and go do the same. 

Post your efforts using #ChangeAtWork tweets at and/or posts on ... Be the change at work!

This post is not intended to represent any person or organization other than Paul M. Mastrangelo.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

10 Next Practices for Creating Return on Investment from Employee Surveys

Many organizations survey their employees regularly, but they have different reasons for maintaining the survey process. Often leaders just want to assess employees’ satisfaction or engagement. Their logic is that research suggests that those metrics are leading indicators of performance, so it seems wise to measure them. As they say “what gets measured gets done.” Sure enough, the prevailing wisdom is that organizations need to identify “drivers” of employee engagement in order to find ways to maximize that score. By maximizing engagement, revenue will increase, efficiencies will be implemented, and profits will rise. It’s all very nicely packaged – survey to measure engagement, take action to improve engagement, repeat. The problem with this logic is that it assumes that all of the organization’s problems can be solved by having employees try harder (i.e., commit more time and effort to what the organization needs). What about aligning efforts, collaborating across silos, and being nimble? I see many organizations that have high levels of engagement, but still suffer execution problems. Does this mean that the employee survey is not worth the effort?

There is a growing set of progressive organizations that get return on their survey investment, but they treat the employee survey quite differently. Ask them why they survey, and they do not talk about putting all their energy into maximizing employee engagement. Instead, they talk about the survey as an investment that lets them learn about themselves so that they become better at what they do. At first blush, this sounds the same as what you would hear in any company that uses employee surveys. However, for the vanguard organizations, the emphasis is not on improving survey participation, not on increasing survey scores, and not on achieving 100% engagement. No, these metrics are good dashboard indicators, but they are not end goals. The reason these organizations survey their employees is to directly improve business performance by addressing opportunities and threats. Further, the survey is not just about employees telling leaders what is working and not working. Rather, the survey leads to a collaborative process of solving problems that creates return on investment – leaders and representative employees targeting the right actions in the right places with the right people in order to make the organization better. Oh, and along the way, the employees who were frustrated by their inability to more effectively do their jobs become completely bought into the process and more engaged in their jobs. Use the survey to improve performance, and as a byproduct, you will get improved engagement. See the difference?

Here are 10 techniques that are "Next Practices" for creating ROI from the employee survey.
  1. Use the survey to create a dialog that identifies where your organization wants to be and where it currently is. Which gaps are most important right now, given the current business context? Survey analytics (e.g., norms, driver analyses) are helpful, but they should be conducted after ascertaining what topics are most related to opportunities and threats that face the organization. If prices are dropping in your industry, then topics related to cost efficiencies may be the most important feedback the survey provides. This focus on business outcomes also applies to departments and subunits. Instead of the IT department blindly focusing on improving engagement scores, for example, why not have them work to improve the speed of product specification changes so that Supply Chain can reduce the warehouse costs of keeping unwanted product? The survey provides an opportunity to improve coordinated effort by examining inside information about how your organization works. Think about how valuable your competitors would find this data, and then find a way to fully realize its potential for yourself.
  2. Spend more time on the creation of action goals. Use the survey to prioritize one or two goals that will be evaluated based on organizational performance metrics other than the survey (e.g., measures of efficiency, sales, profit, cost savings, customer behavior…), and be sure to define what successful goal attainment looks like (e.g., a 50% reduction in Lost Workdays within 6 months). While many organizations realize that ROI comes from post-survey actions rather than the survey itself, they typically set targets as if the survey scores are the end goal. A goal to improve the engagement scores of the customer service employees is not obviously and directly related to improving the performance of the customer service department. As soon as things get busy or another initiative rises to prominence, the employee survey goals will be forgotten. A better post-survey action would focus on a clearer performance indicator, such as the ability for employees to solve customer problems without waiting for approval. Furthermore, the target should not be to improve that survey question by 5 percentage points. The ultimate target is to reduce the number of customer service calls escalated to senior representatives or to reduce the number of cancelled customer contracts. Yes, the survey is a leading indicator of performance, but evaluating your actions should be based on the actual performance metric.
  3. Use a series of action plans that are designed to attain the same goal. Start with simple, low-budget actions that are easy to implement and can be evaluated quickly. Then, progress to more complex actions as necessary. Early successes can be used to gain support for more complicated changes. Creating post-survey actions can easily become an exercise in checking the box. Did you write a plan? Did you try to implement the plan? Did you cover your butt so you cannot be blamed for lack of trying? It would make more sense to have fewer leaders responsible for reaching a specific improvement goal, but to assure that these leaders do not stop until the goal is reached. Creating one action plan to create a change seems half-hearted. When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was planning a US recovery from the Great Depression, he famously designed multiple plans and vowed to keep whichever ones worked while scrapping those that did not work. Post-survey actions should be planned in a similar fashion, with simple efforts coming first followed by more complex efforts. If problems are completely solved with a quick solution, then great. If problems are only partly addressed with a quick solution, then use the momentum to built employee support for a better solution. If problems are not solved with a quick solution, then use the failed efforts to better understand what will work.
  4. Use words and phrases that will clearly communicate to employees what they are supposed to do differently and to what standards. Eliminate any ambiguity about what you are asking them to do. Much has been made about the need to communicate why changes are necessary, and indeed individuals will be more motivated to change their behavior if they believe it will lead to something better. However, motivation needs to be directed with specific instructions for what the new behaviors and new standards are to be. Assuming that the definition of success has been defined at the aggregate level (the total organization), that target must also be translated and refined down to lower levels of the organization and the individual employees themselves. Furthermore, the reward system, the training/development opportunities, and the priorities of the management chain must align with these goals. Only then will employees know that the organization is serious about change initiative.
  5. Involve as many employees as realistically possible for action planning and execution. In large groups, try using peer-nominated teams to create plans. Volunteers and assigned champions are not always perceived as being in touch with the larger group. Research has consistently shown that individuals are more likely to commit to be part of a change effort when they see themselves as having a role in the process. While survey posters and campaigns often tout how employee feedback will contribute to a better workplace, the decisions about how to react to the feedback often appear to be removed from employees. Really, the people who are in the best position to determine how a change can be accomplished realistically. Leaders should be collaborating with employees to unearth great ideas and to create buy-in to the process.
  6. Have employees help you communicate what they have done in support of the goal. In a change project leaders send out emails, hold chat sessions, and convene town hall meetings in an effort to communicate what is being done. These are good practices, and they should be continued if not increased. Continually sharing successes as well as missteps that need correcting builds a climate of openness and trust. What many leaders (and communication VPs) overlook is the opportunity to project how there are many employees joining the effort to achieve the goal. By showing the groundswell of support, you build the social norm and pressure the doubters to join the campaign. Having lower level employees showcased as examples of “peers” who are making the change real will have even a strong effect on those doubters.
  7. Use short notes or meetings to provide ongoing feedback to individuals (or groups) about their progress toward the goal compared to others’ progress. Here is where front-line supervisors can really help support an organizational change. One easy example comes from research on social norms. Let’s say there is a new procedure being introduced in a factory. Have the supervisor show a direct report her assembly time in comparison to the organization average. If she is below average, then the feedback will show her that her peers have progressed more quickly, and that she is in fact holding them down. This creates pressure to work harder or get help. If the employee is actually above the group average, then the supervisor has to use a different tactic so that she doesn’t relax her efforts and reduce productivity. This can be done by reminding the employee that she is doing exactly what she should be doing. Even a simple happy face J or sad face L will work can send an evaluative message that also creates pressure to keep up the hard work.
  8. Remember that your organization may include employees from different jobs, backgrounds, and cultures. Often these situational differences affect how people perceive the workplace and changes to the workplace. Find a way to get honest feedback from all segments of the population. Note that people from different cultures have a different approach to taking employee surveys. In Japan employees use the midpoint on a survey far more frequently than do Americans. Their scores will be lower even though their perceptions may be just as favorable. Employees in Latin America are far more likely to use the top level response, suggesting high favorability. Likewise, you tend to see higher scores among Sales and HR functions, and you often see lower scores from ethnic minorities. How do you know if these highs and lows really represent true feelings about the work environment (and are not just a methodological phenomenon)? Well, follow up with these employees to see if they have the same joys/frustrations as found elsewhere, or if perhaps they experience a different situation.
  9. Be persistent with the goal, but flexible in how it is achieved. Some people will need to change their thinking before they change their behavior, and they may need to discover their own way of helping out while maintaining their social stature and sense of worth. Think about the last time that you truly vowed to eat less, work out more, or stop smoking. Did you have setbacks? Did you have to figure out a way to change your routine in order to “trick yourself” into achieving your goal? Well, the same can hold true for employees who have cognitively committed to an organizational change, but have yet to behaviorally commit to change. Being transferred, even temporarily, to a group who has changed their behaviors can help these folks make the switch. Suggestions from peers and some form of “support groups” can also help.
  10. Make sure to include methods that will sustain new behavior even after the goal has been achieved. Consider whether recognition, reward systems, and new goals will continue to motivate employees to keep up the good work. Changing the way you do things can be very tiring, especially if you work in isolation from other peers or even your supervisor. To make a lasting change, the very culture of the organization has to help maintain an individual’s effort. Have employees help you see their point of view, their situation, their environment, and you may realize that the “organization” has not changed in a way that supports the organizational change facing employees.
This content is protected by the 1976 Copyright Protection Act of the United States of America. The proper citation for this blog is as follows: Mastrangelo, P. M. (date posted). Title of Post. The First Domino, available at This post is not intended to represent any person or organization other than Paul M. Mastrangelo.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Engagement In My Dreams

Last night I had a dream about meeting two Chief Human Resources Officers (CHROs) from two separate companies. We were at an airport bar waiting out a lengthy flight delay while fortifying our bodies with the local brew. On my right was the CHRO from a company called Ideal, Inc. They were very successful as a B2B service provider, but they were not very flashy in marketing or employment branding. They had good profit margins, although not close to the highest in the industry, probably because they believed in overstaffing projects. Their customer retention was at 93% annually, which was the envy of their competition. They favored hiring applicants with specialized degrees and at least a year of experience in the business. Because of their overstaffing philosophy, newcomers were able to join an established team of experienced employees on actual projects. The team members’ performance was partly based on how well they developed the new employee over the first two years. Then, the new employee was given more leadership responsibilities and the task of supporting another team that offered different services. In this way the employee collaborated with more staff, learned about other services, and potentially brought back ideas to his or her home team. Another characteristic at Ideal was that 90% of employees had customer facing duties. Indeed, employee performance ratings were also partly determined by customers’ ratings from 360 feedback surveys and their responses to phone discussions with team leaders about delivery.

I was intrigued as I grabbed the last of the pub mix, so I asked the Ideal, Inc.’s CHRO about how they maintained employee engagement.

The CHRO smiled and said “Engagement just happens. We don’t worry about creating it. Our employees meet challenges from our customers as well as facing challenges from internal changes in technology, delivery and so forth. In HR I try to foster our leaders’ two-way communication with employees about these challenges. If HR helps leaders and employees collaborate to solve problems and eliminate frustrations, then the company’s performance improves and the employees know that they are the key to making it happen. Engagement is a byproduct of getting good employees—ones who love what they do—to partner with democratic-style leaders who see themselves as working for their employees. We occasionally arrange lunches or happy hours to celebrate achievements or sometimes to let off steam about what we do, but helping people do their job is our engagement strategy.”

At this point in the conversation, the CHRO on my left nearly dropped a full glass of IPA. This was a CHRO from a different B2B service provider called AveragCo.

"Wow. That is not my experience as a CHRO at AveragCo. As a company we are always looking to make our employees have fun at work, balance their personal lives with work duties, and promote our brand. You know, half-day Fridays, contests, giveaways. I guess we have to, really. I mean our engagement scores are high, but I never feel as if our employees are excited by what we do. We have more layers at AveragCo, and less than half of our employees are customer facing. They get their performance ratings from objectives that are cascaded down from the top. That seems like a good idea, but employees complain that the measures we use are at a level too high to indicate good or bad employee performance. Like today, I had a guy complain about his rating because the customer he works with was the first to transition to new software we provided from a new third party supplier. He worked like a dog tracking issues and bugs, but he had no power to make our supplier move more quickly to make the fixes. Naturally, this customer gave us some lousy ratings, which means this employee got a lousy rating. The only recognition we provide is through bonuses, so he felt punished for working twice as hard. Lucky for us the job market is so horrible, huh?”

Now it was the Ideal Inc. CHRO who nearly spilled the suds.

“Well, no wonder you have to worry about engagement at your company! If your employees feel stuck in their jobs, they are powerless to improve performance, and they are de-motivated by the company’s performance process, then of course they will unplug.”

The AveragCO CHRO shrugged and said, “Well, we have a different hiring philosophy than you do. We hire young, smart people and work them hard until they decide they have had enough. It keeps our salaries lower, and our profit margins higher. I know it sounds a bit cruel, but sometimes a business strategy does not focus on developing talent.”

“Wait, a minute,” said the Ideal, Inc CHRO. “I thought you said that you were constantly working to engage your workforce? And you just said that you were lucky that the job market isn’t better. What is the ROI for your engagement strategy, if you can call it that?”

I cringed a bit. I didn’t want to have an HR bar brawl emerge in front of my eyes, especially as I was in the middle of the two of them. Luckily, the AveragCo CHRO seemed to ponder the words as if never really thinking about it before.

“Hmm. ROI on engagement. Well, we use a survey that has been researched by the vendor. High engagement corresponded with higher profit, higher revenue, and better performance. So, we just worry about keeping our engagement scores as high as possible.”

There was a pause and a sip of beer (still no more pub mix) before we heard more about AveragCo.

“It is funny, isn’t it? We actually feel that our turnover is not high enough! Yet, the only thing that our leaders come to HR about is improving engagement. For us, that is mostly about intention to stay, because this is the easiest correlation for us to make within HR. We know that higher engagement is associated with lower turnover, but… you’re right. That’s not our problem. Energy level, collaboration, performance… those are our problems.”

The Ideal CHRO then said something that really stuck with me.

“Maybe you are engaging people the wrong way. The fun and the work/life balance might promote staying at the company, but it is probably taking away from being absorbed in one’s work. We’ve got this guy in our office who genuinely loves his work—forgets what time of day it is, always looking to help other employees, always thinking that there must be a better way for us to get things done. I asked him why he does these things. He said the work is something that fits what he does well and what he likes to do. Plus, his boss trusts that he is going to make good decisions that help the company succeed. He said it’s like everyone is a leader at different times, and everyone is a follower at different times. When he comes up with an idea that will save time or create a new service, his boss becomes the follower who helps make that idea a reality. Then, his boss becomes the leader again by setting up tests to see if the idea should be adopted or discarded. They are completely aligned on the same goal, so there is no need for formal ‘you do what I say to do’ leadership.”

“But how can HR make that happen?” asked my new friend from AveragCo.

“We hired a good fit for the job, but also a good fit for what the job would become in the future. We developed our leaders to change the way that they lead. Leadership, at Ideal, is about sharing information and decision making. The leader’s job is to foster teamwork, encourage new directions, and help individuals play their roles… and to change those roles when an opportunity pops up. Think of the Beatles, right? John Lennon formed the band and was the leader, but he brought in Paul McCartney because it made the band better. He let everyone write songs and use different instruments. He was completely open to new possibilities, some of which he would not have chosen.”

“John Lennon hated ‘Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da’ you know,” I proudly pointed out, feeling good to add such value to this conversation. I grabbed at the pub mix the bartender just placed in front of me.

"My point is,” continued our Ideal spokesperson, “if you want to have the best band in the world, then you bring in good people, you trust them, and you partner with them to accomplish your shared goal. If you want to improve organizational performance, you do the same thing. The goals you set for your employees and the sharing of leadership to help them succeed will create employee engagement and make your company more… Ideal like.”

That’s when I woke up, still tasting the salty peanuts and spicy snacks. I wonder if the AveragCo will become more Ideal, or if only in my dreams.
This content is protected by the 1976 Copyright Protection Act of the United States of America. The proper citation for this blog is as follows: Mastrangelo, P. M. (date posted). Title of Post. The First Domino, available at This post is not intended to represent any person or organization other than Paul M. Mastrangelo.