Change

Are You an Employee Engagement Dinosaur?
Are You an Employee Engagement Dinosaur? 1080 810 Jason Lauritsen

This week, I somehow found myself in a conversation with a colleague about breaking the habit of putting two spaces behind a period when I type. Since he is roughly my age, he understood this challenge completely.

For some of you reading this, the idea of putting two periods beyond a sentence when you type sounds completely ridiculous (who would ever think that’s a good idea?). For others, this may be the first time you’re being confronted with the fact that you are doing it wrong.

I’m not here to argue over the right number of spaces behind a sentence; that has been decided. It’s one.

But, as we talked, I referred to myself as a dinosaur for using two spaces. Granted, I am a dinosaur in recovery (notice the single spaces in my post today…), but that left me pondering something else.

Employee engagement is a concept that we’ve been wrestling with for about 30 years now. And we know a lot of stuff today that we didn’t when we first started. Which begs the question: What are our “two spaces after a sentence” ideas in employee engagement? What beliefs or practices are we stuck in or do we defend, that just aren’t relevant or effective given what we know today?

I think there’s a few. So, I’ve thrown together a shortlist for you. If you recognize yourself in any of these, it’s time to rethink your position.

Signs You May Be an Employee Engagement Dinosaur

1. You think that employee engagement has to involve a survey

Employee engagement was created as a concept to help us measure and understand the human factors in the workplace that are hard to isolate but have profound effects on how we perform at work. The most efficient and effective way to measure engagement has historically been an employee survey. The survey results gave us something concrete to work with as we try to understand something as abstract as human behavior and emotions. As a result, an entire market of employee survey providers emerged to offer tools, expertise, and consulting to help employers survey their employees.

This practice has become so common that many have come to assume that to work with employee engagement has to involve a survey. The reality is that while a survey can be an effective tool for measuring employee engagement, doing the work of employee engagement isn’t about a survey. Instead, it is about creating an environment and experience of work each day that fosters individual performance. It’s about management practices and technology. It’s about culture and work processes.

It’s about far more than a survey. And if we are to make progress, we have to approach it far more broadly and proactively.

2. You think that HR “owns” employee engagement.

If you are spending any time trying to decide who “owns” employee engagement, you might be a dinosaur. This is a wildly unproductive and unhelpful debate and discussion. Every experience an employee has with and through work has the potential to affect their level of engagement. No one singularly owns employee engagement and everyone plays a role in it. When we say that HR or Corporate Communications owns engagement, it sends an unintended message that no one else needs worry about it.

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be people or departments who will play specific roles related to employee engagement. HR might have the responsibility for measuring engagement or providing training.  Executives may (should) have the role of setting a strategy and expectations for employee engagement. But everyone should understand that they have some role to play in both their own and others’ experience of work.

3. You believe there is one right way to approach or create employee engagement.

This is perhaps the most vivid example of “two spaces after a period” thinking about employee engagement that I commonly encounter. Executive leaders and consultants are particularly prone to this way of thinking. It’s fueled by a variety of mental biases but most potently the halo effect and the fundamental attribution error. Here’s how it happens.

We work at an organization where we are involved in creating or bringing to bear some kind of solution related to employee engagement. Maybe it’s implementing the Gallup Q12 survey or it’s implementing a particular management training program. Sometime following the implementation, the results of the organization improve or something else positive happens. We take this as indisputable evidence that our solution was effective and become convinced that it would work elsewhere. This is best practice thinking.

The problem, of course, is that it’s really hard to isolate the impact of specific programs or know exactly what caused the positive outcome. In addition, what works in one culture or context, doesn’t necessarily work in another. I’ve seen the same approach appear to be really effective in one company and fail in another. We have to recognize that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to engagement.

If you are feeling like you might be a dinosaur, it’s okay. You can still make some progress. It’s never too late to shift your thinking and approach. Despite almost 40 years of putting two spaces after a sentence when I typed, I’m actually getting pretty good at only using one. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s possible. We can all catch up.

 

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Belonging Is an Act of Courage
Belonging Is an Act of Courage 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

Where in your life do you feel a real sense of belonging?

That question on the surface feels like a pretty simple question to answer. And it’s easy to assume that almost anyone you ask would have an answer to this question.

Over the past year, I’ve spent a lot of time with this question, and I now realize that it’s far more complicated than I thought.

Belonging is a concept that is increasingly sneaking into our conversations about employee experience and well-being in the workplace. It has its roots in psychology. It’s one of those concepts, like many we use when talking about the human experience, that isn’t particularly well defined or understood yet.

And yet, it’s a concept that has deep emotional significance for most people. We may not be able to describe exactly what it is, but we know the experience when it happens. It’s the kind of experience we want more of, as much as we can get, but it’s often as hard to find as it is to define.

Part of the reason that belonging has such resonance with us is likely because the absence of belonging can be so painful. Let me offer you another question to ponder.

When was the last time you felt excluded, particularly when your desire to belong was strong?

Sadly, it’s far easier to think of answers to this question than the first. I’ve become convinced that we are facing a crisis of belonging, not just at work, but across our society. We are starved for and craving a deeper sense of belonging. And it’s not just one particular group or segment of people who are feeling this.

Two Major Insights Into Belonging

I have facilitated two separate retreats this year where we exploration belonging in an attempt to understand it more fully. I’ve come away from that work with two major insights.

First, we need to dive much deeper into belonging to understand what it is, how it works, and how we can foster it in all areas of our lives.

There has been some work done in this regard, but there’s much left to do. As I’ve explored this with colleagues and friends this year, questions emerge that highlight our need for a deeper understanding of this concept. For example:

  • Can you only belong to another person or group?  Or can you also belong to a place or experience?
  • Can you belong to yourself? If so, what exactly does that mean?
  • What role does belonging to or accepting one’s self play in the ability to belong to others?
  • Are belonging and exclusion opposites?
  • Can belonging exist in a group without some degree of exclusion? In other words, is exclusion a necessary ingredient to belonging?

These are not easy questions when you start putting them into actual application in your life or at work. And yet, they are questions we need to wrestle with until we find answers.

My second insight is that belonging is an act of courage.

While there are a lot of definitions out there for belonging, here’s how I’m defining belonging today based on both my experience and reading: Belonging is a feeling of unconditional acceptance.

Belonging is a feeling of unconditional acceptance. 

The place where I feel the greatest sense of belonging is in my marriage. Angie accepts me fully through our entire range of experiences together—when I’m at my best, and more importantly when I’m at my worst. It’s a rare and unique experience that has been incredibly powerful and important in shaping the quality of my life.

I think this definition also works when we talk about belonging to ourselves. The work of unconditionally accepting who we are is not easy and it’s a lifetime of work. I usually describe this as our journey to authenticity.

The real magic of belonging happens when we both belong to ourselves (i.e., we are fully authentic) and we belong to others simultaneously.

There Is a Catch to Belonging

But here’s the catch: To have the opportunity to experience belonging requires that you reveal yourself fully. It requires vulnerability, and as a consequence, it is an act of courage. This is true for both the individual and the group.

Belonging requires vulnerability, and as a consequence, it is an act of courage.

As an individual, to be unconditionally accepted as we are requires that we reveal who we are. The danger is that you can’t be fully accepted before you are fully revealed. It requires a leap of faith, an act of courage, before you can receive the reward. And the reward is not guaranteed.

If you are part of a team of mostly Christians, revealing you are Muslim or atheist might be met with acceptance but it also may not. The same could be true for being liberal in a conservative company. Any time, you reveal something about yourself that feels unique or different, there will be a risk. Even when you are pretty certain the group will accept you regardless of these things, it’s still a risk when you fully reveal yourself.

Belonging to yourself truly is perhaps one of the hardest and bravest acts there is because we live in a world that sends you signals all day every day that you are somehow not enough.

And when you unconditionally accept someone else, it also involves risk and vulnerability. What if they don’t accept you back? What if their beliefs are completely different than yours? What if who they are fundamentally conflicts with who you are? These are not easy circumstances to navigate, and they make the act of acceptance far more challenging. Extending belonging to others requires courage.

This insight that belonging is an act of courage helped me understand why the work of creating belonging is both so challenging and so important. The irony is that, as in most cases, the courage required is repaid a hundred times over in most cases. But, we’ve got to take that step.

The work of creating belonging is both so challenging and so important.

Here are my requests of you:

  • Experiment with revealing more of yourself to others as a way to explore and understand how belonging works.
  • Ask the people in your life about their experiences of belonging and exclusion and how it affected them.
  • Work on ways that you can extend a more unconditional acceptance to those who you live and work with.

We can be the solution to this belonging crisis together. We just have to muster the courage to do it.

 

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Why Work Still Sucks (and Organizational Change Is SLOW)
Why Work Still Sucks (and Organizational Change Is SLOW) 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

We’ve been working on making work suck less for quite a while now.

Gallup has been measuring employee engagement for nearly 30 years and the results have always been terrible. Most employees are not fully engaged at work.

In other words, work isn’t working very well for the people doing it.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some organizations out there who have figured it out. They’ve redesigned work in a way that the humans love and are reaping the rewards. These are rare examples and proof of what’s possible.

We also have more research and science available to us today than ever before to help us understand people–how we are motivated and how our brains work, etc. In other words, with all this data, creating environments that are optimized for humans should be less mysterious and challenging.

And yet, we are still struggling just as mightily as we have for the past few decades. This riddle is one that I’ve pondered for a long time and while I’d love to tell you I have the answer to breaking through and being one of those rare examples, it’s not that simple.

I do, however, think I can point to one reason that this change is happening so slowly.

Let me take a step back for a moment. If you’ve been working with employee engagement for very long, you’ve probably debated–or at least thought about–whether it’s possible to take a disengaged culture and change it to an engaged culture without a change of leadership at the top.

Most of the stories we hear about an “epic culture change” start with a change of CEO. The old CEO didn’t get it, the new CEO does. And thus marks the beginning of the culture transformation for the organization.

Rarely do you hear a story about leaders who didn’t get it, but after some really compelling meetings with HR, they turned it around and became that leader who can spark a different kind of culture. I’m sure there are some examples of this happening, but it seems to be rare in my experience.

Leaders Lose Sight of How They Could Change the System

This leads me to an observation I’ve made throughout my career that I find particularly challenging.

Leaders struggle with breaking the system that gives them power, even when they know the system is bad.

It’s not an uncommon story to observe people changing as they rise up higher on the organizational chart. When they were a “high potential” new hire, they probably saw all sorts of issues in the system. They had pages of ideas for how leaders could show up differently and behave differently to make their work experience and their team’s work experience more rewarding.

But with every promotion, that individual moves farther and farther away from that employee perspective they once had. Every new title comes with a bigger paycheck, better perks, and more access to those with the real power.

Over time, that person grows accustomed to the role of the organization leader with all of its associated fringe benefits. The advice coming their way from those who grant the power at the top of the org chart begins to drown out those old ideas rooted in their own experience of leadership.

They become part of the organizational machine. And partially, that’s because there is so much at stake: big title, big paycheck, big office. All created by a system that they know isn’t working the best for most employees.

And so they find themselves, perpetuating the very behaviors and systems that they may have once railed against. It’s a cycle I’ve personally seen play out over and over again.

So what does it take to break out of this common pattern? It takes a rare and courageous leader to climb to the top of the ladder and then go about breaking apart the very ladder they are perched atop. That ladder is what affords them the power in the first place.

Willingness to break or fundamentally challenge the system that gives you power requires true vision, fortitude, and principle. It’s rare because the risks, or at least the perceived risks, are very high.

As I write this, I realize that this is a bit depressing. The system is designed in such a way that there are powerful incentives NOT to change, so what do we do?

There Are No Easy Answers to Slow Organizational Change

I don’t think there are easy answers to this issue. But, here are a few things I’ve learned:

  1. If you have a CEO who gets the importance of engagement and culture, you are incredibly fortunate. Do not squander the opportunity by playing small with small ideas. When you have the CEO as your back, you can accomplish some amazing things for both your employees and your organization.
  2. There is one exception to the rule that leaders won’t break the system that gives them power. That exception is a crisis. When the organization is facing a crisis, leaders’ minds open to alternate paths. If the status quo leads to extinction, then change is required. When your organization finds itself in crisis, step forward with bold plans. This may be your moment to truly change the trajectory of the organization.
  3. Don’t lose sight of what it feels like to be a non-management employee. As you succeed, you will get promoted and with that will come all the trappings of corporate success. Stay connected to the experience and challenges that your employees have each day and what matters the most to them. Create rituals or habits where you are in regular conversation with employees about their day-to-day life at work. And, to the extent you can, help the up-and-coming leaders in your organization to do the same.

Regardless of all of this, I don’t want you to take the wrong message. CEOs don’t have to “get it” for you to make some big progress. But, it’s a whole lot easier when they do.

Start with what you can control. Transform your team first. Practice the kind of leadership you expect from others. Your example may help nudge others in the right direction.

 

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Before the Resolutions, Work on Your Purpose
Before the Resolutions, Work on Your Purpose 300 168 Jason Lauritsen

Yesterday, as I was climbing onto the treadmill to start undoing the damage I’d done to my body over the holiday, I noted how few people were at the gym.

Then I thought, “Next week is going to be different.”

It’s resolution time of year. Next week, the gym will be full of new people and those who haven’t been in a while. All of them full of New Year’s inspired resolve.

For someone who goes to the gym regularly, it’s an inconvenience to have so many people packing the gym. But I know it won’t last.  It never does.

Within a month, things will return to normal. New Year’s resolve gone.

Setting resolutions and goals alone is typically not enough to drive the sustainable behavior change needed to see meaningful results. Getting in shape, for example, is really hard. It means changing your diet and giving up foods you probably love. It means doing workouts that you are not good at that leave you feeling the next day as if you got run over by a truck.

It’s hard. And because it’s hard, you are likely to quit.

Unless.

If you want to keep more of your resolutions and meet more of your goals, start by first getting crystal clear on why they are important.

Why do you want to get in better shape? What consequence will it have in your life when you succeed (or fail)?

Is it to feel better and have more energy to play with your kids or spend time with friends?  Is it to avoid suffering from some serious health conditions that could take everything away?

When you are clear on your “why,” it’s harder to quit.

The workouts might suck, but you aren’t quitting on the workouts, you are quitting on your kids (or your future, etc.). Being clear on the purpose behind your goals is where real resolve comes from.

This the same reason that so many projects and goals fall short at work as well.

Organizations often commit themselves to improve employee engagement in the same way we set resolutions to get in better shape. It seems like the right thing to do and it seems like everyone else is doing it.

So we survey our employees. And despite the fact that our leaders think everything is fine, we discover that it’s not so great for the employees. And, making the needed changes is going to be hard.

You will probably quit. Mainly because you (and everyone else) aren’t sure exactly why any of this really matters.

If you want to make an impact at work towards creating a better work experience for your employees, start with purpose. Before you set any goals or make any plans, get really clear on why it matters.

Is it to improve your employees’ lives? Is it to improve organizational performance? Is it to save your organization from going out of business?

There’s a lot of reasons why you can and should care about employees’ experience at work. The important step is to uncover and articulate why it matters for your organization.

Because doing this work, like getting in better shape, is hard work.  And when you (or your leaders) want to quit, you need to remember that you aren’t quitting on a survey or an HR project. You are quitting on the organization or your employees’ future.

Before you start writing out resolutions or making plans for next year, invest some time in thinking about why any of it matters. Goals and intentions built on a solid foundation of purpose are far more powerful and effective.

Make 2019 your best ever by starting with clarity about what really matters.

Happy New Year!

SHRM isn’t the Problem, I am.
SHRM isn’t the Problem, I am. 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Let me first say that I can’t believe I’m about to write this post.  After all, I’m supposed to be the radical, status quo crushing HR leader who runs around in his spare time calling himself a Talent Anarchist.  If anyone should be chucking rocks at the establishment, it should be me. Instead, I find myself compelled to defend the institution.  Weird.

Over the past month or so, our beloved professional association, SHRM, has taken a beating around the blogosphere.  There have been several articles on TLNT (here, here, and here) regarding some snafu’s at the board level.  Mark and Laurie at www.voiceofHR.com hosted a series of posts from prominent HR bloggers who detail their recommendations for what SHRM should do in 2011 (some great ideas, a lot of criticism).  And then there were several of the folks at Fistful of Talent who, after having session proposals rejected by SHRM for the annual conference, have decided to host their own conference in Vegas the day before the SHRM conference kicks off.  It’s been a rough stretch in the online world for SHRM lately.

I’d like to pile on.  I was even tempted to do so.  But, I’m not sure that SHRM is the problem.  Let me first say that I’m not a fan of how the SHRM board has been handling their business lately and I’ve gone on record publicly saying as much.  That aside, as an HR executive, I’m thankful for SHRM daily.  Most members of my HR team are SHRM members.  Several either have PHR certifications or are pursuing them.  We use SHRM resources to get answers and perspectives to HR issues when we encounter things we haven’t seen before.  I appreciate their email newsletters that help me keep up to date on what’s happening at macro levels around key issues in HR.

I’m also thankful for the SHRM structure that has facilitated the creation of the two active and healthy local SHRM chapters we have in Omaha and Lincoln.  These chapters provide affordable, regular developmental and training opportunities for my staff and the other HR professionals in the area.  And, all of this is provided to us for less than a few hundred dollars a year.  A pretty great bargain in my opinion.

The discussion and the angst with SHRM is indicative of something much bigger.  As I’ve read through these online discussions, here are the thoughts that have come to mind for me.

  1. HR is at a turning point.  It’s become increasingly evident to everyone in the world of business that competitive advantage is ultimately about the people.  This is creating an incredible demand for smart, business savvy HR leaders who can step forward and take the lead–not just in the HR department, but in the organization. Problem is, most HR leaders either aren’t capable or aren’t competent to make this transition today.    This is creating some incredibly intense pressure on current HR leaders and they aren’t sure what to do.  
  2. Because of this friction being created between market demand for HR talent and the supply of strong, HR executive leadership, something’s got to give and we all want someone to blame.  So, we turn our attention to SHRM.  If only they would be more strategic, or more proactive, or more embracing of social media deviants, or [fill in the blank]. This is a load of crap.  SHRM isn’t the problem.  I am. We are. 
  3. HR will only rise to it’s potential and it’s calling when HR leaders decide that they must first change.  The problems in HR aren’t new.  HR was born out of administrative requirements forced upon organizations by regulation.  These early personnel departments created a dumping ground for all things administrative and touchy-feely.  Problem is, we never shook this stuff off.  HR leaders have to be where the buck stops.  They have to redefine and re-imagine what the corporate HR department does and how it creates value for the organization.  (While I’m on my pulpit, it’s not about changing the name of the department.  Human Resources is a perfect name for what we do.  If you think changing the name of your department will fix your problems, you are delusional).  
  4. Note to HR Leaders and Bloggers, SHRM does not exist to serve you.  SHRM will never be a place for those leading the revolution.  They, like any large organization, have to appeal to the middle of the bell curve.  Should they role model some progressive behavior like social media?  Probably.  But remember that a majority of our profession is just coming around to the idea that social media is here to stay.  If SHRM gets too progressive, they risk alienating the core of their membership.  Not a reason not to innovate, just something that I’m sure is tough to balance if you live on the inside of the organization.
  5. We need to be careful in the arguments we make.  Mark Stelzner specifically took SHRM to task for having two consecutive CEO’s who didn’t hold an HRCI certification of some sort.  Really?  Mark is a brilliant guy and I normally shout “Amen!” to most of his posts, but he and I diverge here.  Are we honestly going to stand up and say that we value certification and technical skill over the competence to get the job done? Or, that a CEO can’t advocate for a certification he doesn’t have?  The PHR certifications are designed for people who are practicing HR.  I don’t want an HR practitioner running SHRM, I want a CEO.  I don’t give a flip about certifications if you can get the job done.  Let’s find a CEO for SHRM who has vision, leadership, business savvy, integrity, courage, and a burning desire to advance the profession of HR.  And once this person is hired, I’m hoping they spend time running the organization, not studying for a certification.  

I guess at the end of all of this, I can summarize my thoughts like this.  I hope that SHRM continues to do what they do well and that they continue to strive for improvement.  But, SHRM isn’t going to transform the profession of HR.  That’s up to us.

One versus Many
One versus Many 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

The holy grail in HR seems to be to find a system or process that will impact every employee and affect change uniformly across the board.  We strive to build performance management and talent management processes that can be applied at every level across the company.  We look to find a way to get all managers to embrace the same best practices and become better leaders collectively.  We spend money on consultants and technology that seem to hold the promise of this elusive holy grail.  We want a clean, easy and elegant solution to our organization’s people problems.  


The problem is that HR is about working with (and changing) people.  People are complicated and messy.  I, just like everyone else, still spend hours in pursuit of the elegant process-driven approach to broadly changing employee behaviors because these approaches have merit.  But, the underlying truth of the work we do in HR is that each person is unique and they change on their own terms and at their own speed.  And, much more importantly, change within an organization actually happens one person at a time.  

This is where my thinking has taken a turn in recent years.  It’s not a new thought, it just took me a while to arrive here.  Given that our role in HR is to impact employee behavior company-wide while change in behavior happens one person at a time, we appear to have a dilemma.  However, when you break down how organizations of people work, there are key players within the organization who have broad influence on how others in the organization choose to behave.  In essence, if you get these people to change, the rest of the organization will follow.  Here are a few of the key groups:
  1. Executive leaders.  Clearly, the group with the most significant influence.  But, we don’t always have access to these folks.  
  2. Emerging leaders.  Those who are either formally or informally identified as the future leaders of the organization.  This group may be the most significant because not only do they have influence today, but their influence will grow in the future.
  3. Informal leaders.  These are the employees who may not have formal titles, but who others look to for what to do in times of change or conflict.
  4. Connectors.  Those employees who have relationships that are broad and stretch across divisions.  These connectors have the ability to spread ideas quickly due to their network.  
HR is a busy profession with lots of demands on our time.  So, we aren’t going to have the luxury to literally work with each employee one on one in the organization.  The big payoff is focusing efforts on the key groups of people outlined above and focus on strategies to influence them..  If you want to get everyone to do a particular thing a certain way, get these groups to do it and the rest will follow.  


Change happens one person at a time.  The key is to start with the right person.  


HR as Role Model
HR as Role Model 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

Being the expert feels good.  It means that you get to render your judgement about others actions and hand out advice freely.  In HR, we are frequently called upon to be the expert when it comes to employees.  And boy do we love to give out advice on how others should do things.

The big question is whether we are credible experts.  Are we both providing expertise but also “living the way” in our own teams?  Being the role model of best practices is one under utilized way that HR can shape change in an organization.  Advocating for employee development?  Make sure you are doing world class development within HR.  There’s no better way to get others attention than to utilize your expertise to transform you own team.

As I think about the following issues that seem to be hot in our HR world, how are we role modeling the change we would want to see?

  • Employer Brand — How are you branding HR?  How are you branding yourself?
  • Culture – Are you defining and managing to an intentional culture in HR?  Do you know your core values?
  • Social Media – How are you using the tools within your team to drive innovation, connection, and learning?
  • Performance Management – Are you working with a process in HR to plan performance and hold people accountable?  Does HR do quality goal setting?
  •  Diversity – How are your actively creating and embracing more diversity within in the HR team?  
The list goes on.  The point is, that one thing that you can influence most as an HR leader is what happens with your team.  Be the example and practice the change you desire in your own shop before you take it on the road.  By being able to show how you made something work and talk about the results, you gain real credibility and power to influence others to do the same.