Monthly Archives: August 2012

Compliance? Or Engagement?

Why is it that in spite of knowing money is the most expensive way to motivate employees, it still remains the first choice of many leaders?

And why is it that in spite of knowing the futility of driving any initiative with punitive consequences, it still continues as an organizational choice?

This is a paradox the strategist in a leader seems to understand, but the executor in him invariably stumbles on. Have organizations stuck a label that refuses to peel, or is there an obstinate denial to surgically make a change? Most managements still spend disproportionate time and effort to find the Utopian balance between fear and reward in driving employee engagement.

The truth is, neither is there an elusive balance to be discovered, nor are fear and reward the two key players in the game. (Let us run with the average assumption that people are compensated well enough to meet their needs and that the basic discipline of workplace behavior and ethics are understood as non-negotiable)

There are enough surveys and credible analyses to show that employees do not rank salary as the top factor in determining whether they like their jobs or not. Enter quality of work life, as a key player in workforce engagement. This is about employees saying “Treat me the way I am, not the way you believe me to be”

In real terms, this means rewriting the basic hygiene factors of fulfillment. And listening hard when employees say

  • I need opportunities to do and get better at what really matters
  • I need the elbow space to direct and control my work life, not merely be on autopilot
  • I need to fulfill my desire to do something larger than just myself

I can be made to do anything if I am appropriately threatened or bribed. The question is, in so doing, can I be made to want to do something? No sir, not with your threats or bribes. But give me the freedom and empowerment to feel so – and I can, and I will. Throw in with it the responsibility for checking my own quality, and chances are I will exceed expectations almost all the time.

The truth is, there is a driver of motivation that many do not pay attention to – maybe because no one has found a tangible equation to link it to the critical balance sheet parameters. Call it “the-act-is-its-own-reward”, or what you will, it is very real and organizations may ignore it at their own peril.

Besides, robotically consistent rewards just for the sake of executing excellence can reduce the joy of achieving excellence to drudgery – I lose the freedom of doing something for the sheer joy of doing it! No kidding, that is why hobbies are so joyfully addictive. And, hmmm… let me see, can it also evoke lower performance arising out of stressful apprehension of losing the reward?

If we can raise so many doubts on the generous act of rewards as it is traditionally practiced, what can we say of the “stick”?  Discounting the well-etched commandments of ethical code of conduct, the less said the better, I would think!

Look at Wikipedia, Firefox and countless other stories of  hobbyists creating works of common joy without being paid, let alone being motivated  by incentives. Certainly this cannot apply everywhere, but unless we are willing to think differently, we cannot achieve anything different. 
 As managers and leaders let us stop worrying about controlling employees to do what they need to today, and about them not doing so tomorrow!  Instead, let us hold people accountable for results, shed our roles as good referees to become better coaches.







Make your alumni employees your staunch brand ambassadors

Are current employees the only stakeholders of an organization’s talent management program?

Imagine this. X, a top talent employee leaves the company. A farewell lunch and handshake…and both the individual and the organization close the doors on each other, going their own ways.

 The question is, should it turn out so? A more critical question – can a mutually beneficial relationship be built with former employees who may someday provide significant value again?

 ‘Corporate alumni relations’, as part of an organization’s talent management discipline, is a powerful networking and business development strategy, both for the individual and the organization. With the increased reach and clout of social networking, it reflects a credible philosophy of regarding former employees as high ROI assets and strong brand ambassadors.

 Consider the following two business scenarios, amidst today’s challenges. One, we have organizations challenged to remain nimble as their workforce shrink. On the other hand, we have top talent that shows a diminishing interest in long-term employment.

In a manner of speaking, the alumni relations program is a combined business development and “quality-of-hire” strategy. Targeted recruitment of former employees (or ‘boomerang’ hiring) is looked upon as a low risk, high advantage exercise – a boon in  tough times when organizations cannot afford to make hiring mistakes in getting the few but right hires. Top talent alumni have recognized skills and competencies; they fit back in quickly and become productive faster; they know the basics and organizational culture and have a higher retention probability (having seen the other side of the fence and chosen to return).

 A word of caution though –rehiring boomerang employees may cause resentment among current employees, and this needs to be managed intelligently, proactively and reactively.

 So the next time you shake hands with a top talent exiting employee, ask yourself – “do I want to lose him to the invisibility of the engulfing business galaxy?”

 I suspect the answer will be a firm “NO”!