Monthly Archives: April 2013

Add meaning to engage?

Some say it is about creating a vision that everyone feels part of. It is about understanding what motivates them, say others. Hmm…says the practical cynic, it is only about making sure the way people behave supports your organizational revenue goals, velvet-gloved as values.

Employee Engagement. Everyone hears the buzz, but is it the honey they taste or the sting they feel? Statistics further spice up discussions. Only 14 to 30 percent of employees are engaged at work, screams a survey – and we have dozens of extrapolations of how much more productive organizations can be if engagement went up by even 5 percentage points.

Fad or truth, fluff or real, it begs attention. Not the jargon-coated icing but the plain vanilla.

How do we spark the “wanting-a-life-that-counts” enthusiasm in the employees who spend roughly 1/3 of the hours they are alive at work? For, at the core, all of us want to have an impact on people and situations that touch our lives.

The responsibility starts at the top, without a doubt. The leadership team must be engaged themselves; they must be role models for this behavior with their direct reports—who then do the same for their teams. For supervisors, managers and leaders, this must light a fire under their chairs to make work more meaningful for those they work with.

The stark truth in today’s business scene – and this is to be taken with no inciting emotion – is that loyalty cannot be rewarded the way it was in the past. That career progress is a spiral and not a ladder. The good news is that the ‘more-with-less’ credo is understood and agreed on both sides of the table.

The paycheck, the bonuses and other rewards…these are driven by revenue and budgets, as they should be. Let us go beyond tying the incompatible knot between genuine meaning at work and monetary rewards.   How can organizational leadership add motivation based on the employees’ roles themselves?

For starters, can leaders creatively design a role-based model that explains employee engagement starting with the end goal in mind? Most organizations have a model that splits an employee’s role into core (what is in the job description) and non-core but value added competencies. Can each leader understand his business well enough to make the roles of the ‘innovator’, ‘the career developer’ and ‘the organizational team member’ roles more exciting for his members? Visibility, respect, acknowledgment and recognition for skills beyond the core job competencies are powerful motivators that tap into the longing to make contributions beyond oneself. They are happier and more excited when they are successful in both roles.

Within the everyday status quo, leaders can opt for a fair number of possibilities – deliberate responsibility rotation, opening channels of learning, increasing opportunities for direct interaction with customers and senior leadership, open decision-making, wise deployment of individual, cluster and mass communication, artful and timely positive and corrective feedback…

For the organization too, this translates into tangible benefits.

Employees, when part of a team that develops company-specific knowledge, become assets who understand, with pride and depth, the culture and objectives of the organization. They engage in behaviors that support the organization instead of their own jobs and these behaviors bring high value to productivity.

But like I said, it has to start above. Leaders need to walk the talk – confused, distracted and dejected leaders kill employee engagement. They need to, with clarity and conviction, articulate how each role helps support the business goals and strategy. They must provide meaning, support and pride for the value-added roles.

This may then set a better context and direction for employee engagement and lend better value for the time, effort and money invested in initiatives in this area.

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Mentorship – my experience, your success!

Part of the learning progression of every professional is the deft shift of understanding and belief as to why people stay with an organization. Early on, there is a strong assertion and conviction that people follow the money and stay or leave for that reason alone. As we mature, we know and admit we are wrong. A multitude of factors influence the decision to stay or leave, but we come to realize that one of the strongest reasons (if not the strongest) is the relationship with people we have in an organization.

Friends – yes. Peers with like-minded objectives – yes too. Managers who build our capabilities and help us climb the career ladder with learning, recognition and enjoyment – a double yes to that! But above all, it is the time and effort our mentors spend sharing their knowledge that bind and convince us of the closeness of our professional home to our hearts.

Personally, I have been very lucky in having senior leaders spend valuable time with me, sharing their personal and professional experiences that helped them climb their summits. They helped me recognize and determine my strengths, gave me brutally candid but constructive criticism that lent a whole new dimension to career support. My reminiscence holds a fervent prayer that every earnest and diligent professional gets the same good fortune.

That brings me to the question of leadership responsibility (nay, obligation?) to mentorship. How many of us as seniors voluntarily take on this happy activity? And how do we approach it – right from the intent, content and execution?

Intent. This goes beyond focus and objectives. One must have both an intense belief and a passionate urge to make a positive difference in the lives of one’s mentee(s). And yes, it is really about your mentee – you do draw upon your experience, wisdom and foresight, but please, the mentee is the star.

Content and execution are best tackled simultaneously. You could be in either a casual mentor-like role, or a formally assigned mentor.  The ‘modus operandi’ changes in both scenarios, but the pleasant burden of responsibility they carry is no less.

Spontaneity is an awesome friend when it comes to mentorship. Keep your conversations spontaneous. Reflect on your experience to tickle the possibilities and help her apply your wisdom to her challenges. Reenergize him with the confidence and belief that he can rise above his situation.

Your mentee is the prime character. Understand him, connect with her – build a relationship with trust. Today’s business environment is rife with generational and cultural divides from across the world. Trust will be the critical bridge.

Help them understand how the bigger organizational picture can map with their work ethic, values and expectations. Subtly and non-invasively, get to know their moral compass – what matters most to them, to what beat of the drum do they march, both in their career and life priorities? Help them pin their work to where they are in their lives today – this will help chart their next steps with enthusiasm and conviction.

Every encounter is a whisper of a mentoring opportunity. Keep both the obvious and the subtle channels of communication open. Make them feel comfortable opening up. Yours is not to solve or solution – yours is but to reflect their dreams, ambitions, capabilities and experiences as meaningful feedback that they pluck from your tree of perspectives.

And then, you realize, while the physical time frame of your mentoring assignment could be finite, its spirit and essence can extend throughout a mentee’s career.