Workplace Culture

Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies
Open Offices Suck, Annual Engagement Surveys are Dead, and other Lies 1024 512 Jason Lauritsen

I love CBS Sunday Morning.

This past Sunday, Faith Salie shared an op-ed monologue about how much she dislikes open offices. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of the post for you to check out. She makes a pretty compelling argument.

Just a few years ago, open offices were THE ANSWER to the future of workplace design promising more communication, more innovation, and more productivity. Not to mention they are less expensive for the organization (more people in smaller spaces).

But, now a backlash has started. Lately, it’s become more en vogue to make the point that open offices are, as Faith argues, THE WORST.

Which is it? Are open offices THE ANSWER or are they THE WORST?

Arguments like these are everywhere when it comes to what’s best in the workplace.

  • Is performance management good or bad?
  • Is the annual engagement survey critical or dead?
  • Are front line supervisors the problem or the victims of a bad system?
  • Are best friends at work vital or ridiculous?

These arguments between binary choices are assinine at best and harmful at worst.

We’ve become so enamored by best practices that promise THE ANSWER to our problems, we’ve lost sight of the complexity of this work. Our fixation on finding the right choice between two polar opposite choices is causing us to ignore a harder reality.

THE ANSWER is an illusion. No, it’s a lie.

There are never just two answers. And, there are almost always several different right answers.

Personally, I have mixed feelings about open office space designs. If you’ve ever worked in this type of environment, you probably do too. I like the energy of being in open space around other people working. I like that accessibility that it creates. But, I strongly dislike the lack of privacy and constant distractions.

The organizations using workplace design to drive employee engagement have embraced that different people and different kinds of work require different types of workspaces. They recognize that private offices and open office space can be both good and bad depending on the context.

Those leaders not trapped in binary and best practice thinking are creating innovative spaces for work designed to provide options and flexibility. An example that I wrote about in my book is Hudl, whose new headquarters includes a mix of different spaces designed for different types of preferences and needs. Most employees at Hudl don’t have an assigned desk. Instead, they choose their workspace based on their needs that day.

Thinking in binary terms (i.e. Is this is good or bad?) is crippling our ability to innovate and move forward. It’s hard to resist this thinking since it’s everywhere. In politics, you are either with me or against me. In pop culture, a movie is great or it sucks. When we encounter someone, they either agree with us or they are an idiot.

We must resist this thinking. We need to break free of the “this or that” trap.

The path to growth and innovation lives in the messy grey area in the middle. Because here’s the reality, open offices are both great and terrible at the same time. Performance management can be both good and bad.

The choices are false. THE ANSWER is a lie.

Our mandate is to embrace the complexity of working with humans. Each one of us is different and unique. That means that any group of us is almost infinitely complex. There are many right answers. There are many effective solutions. Never just one.

Do the work to find what’s best for your organization and your people. Ask more questions. See all angles. Push back on arbitrary options and dig in.

Not only will you end up having a much greater impact, but you will learn a lot more along the way.

Not sure what questions you should ask? We should talk.

 

 

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!

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Why Performance Management Still Sucks
Why Performance Management Still Sucks 395 120 Jason Lauritsen

I’ve spent a large part of the last year writing a book about performance management.  

One of the big questions I wrestled with was “how did we get this so wrong?” That question isn’t all that hard to answer when you look at the history of management and discover that it was based on a contractual, compliance-based model.

This helps explain how we ended up with compliance-based processes like the annual performance appraisal and performance improvement plans. They make sense in the historical context in which they were created. 

But times have changed. And work has changed. A lot. 

Performance management hasn’t. 

A majority of organizations are still running these same compliance-based processes today. Taken in the context of our climate of work, they make little or no sense.

Employees hate it. Managers cringe at the mention of performance management. And HR keeps running the system despite knowing that it doesn’t really work.  

It’s glaringly obvious that it’s a broken system. It’s been obvious for decades. Why is it taking so long to fix?  

This might be the more important question. 

Performance is the lifeblood of any organization. Without it, the organization withers and dies.  What could be more important than the management of performance?

And yet.

No one owns it.  

Everyone participates. Everyone is impacted.

No one owns it. 

Managers are charged with the day to day responsibility of ensuring employee performance. Leaders are broadly responsible for organizational performance.  And HR is where the formal, compliance-based processes for the appraisal of performance.  

But who is responsible for designing and deploying and maintaining a system for managing performance across the organization? 

Certainly, HR is the assumed answer. 

But, I think I’ve only met a handful of HR professionals in my life who’s primary job role and function was performance management. 

This fall, I facilitated a panel of HR leaders at the HR Tech Conference to discuss the evolution of performance management. I asked each of them how performance management fit into their overall HR structure. Each of the four companies was different. 

In one case it was part of total rewards (i.e. benefit and comp). In another, it was viewed as part of employee engagement. In another, it was under the banner of employee relations (i.e. compliance). 

In two of the four cases, the main reason HR undertook the process of changing performance management was that executive leadership demanded it.  

It’s crazy. 

A well-designed performance management system should be the operating system for your organization. It ensures a sustainable and consistent employee experience that unlocks individual and team performance. Most organizations today are still running a performance management operating system written in the 1920’s.

It’s way past time for an upgrade. But, that upgrade will never happen unless you make it a priority.  

Every organization should have a role or team dedicated to performance management systems. If you don’t like the phrase “performance management,” then call it performance enablement or performance processes.  

It can be in HR or it can be elsewhere. It will depend on your organization. 

We would never let something like sales or financials or technology go without an owner who has the responsibility to ensuring process effectiveness.

Why do we allow it with something as vital as the management of performance?

Let’s change that. 

Designing Employee Experience (A “How To” Series)
Designing Employee Experience (A “How To” Series) 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

As I’m seeing more and more discussion about employee experience, I’m not finding a lot of content about how to activate and do the work.

The reason I’m so bullish about the concept of employee experience is that it is proactively actionable whereas traditional employee engagement practices are largely reactive. Organizations can intentionally design the employee experience to improve engagement and performance.

Over the past two months, I’ve been writing a series of posts for my friends at PeopleDoc titled “How to Design the Employee Experience.” If you have been pondering employee experience and how to get started, I urge you to check out the series.

  1. The Impact of Experience 
  2. Applying the Design Process
  3. Getting Started with Discovery
  4. Define Your Ideal Employee Experience
  5. Delivering a Great Employee Experience
  6. Using Technology to Enhance the Employee Experience

I hope you enjoy the content and find it useful. My new book, Unlocking High Performance, will dive even further into this when it’s available in October.

 

UK Pre-Order NOW! US Pre-Order July 28th

 

 

Does your company discourage vacations?
Does your company discourage vacations? 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

A few weeks ago, I had an interesting chat with my Lyft driver on the way to the airport in San Francisco.

He was a career business development professional who uses Lyft to supplement his income. Our conversation turned to company culture and work experience (shocking, I know).

He told me about how he had changed jobs and moved his family to Sacramento because he worked for a company that consumed every moment of his life.

When he wasn’t traveling, he was expected to attend client events in the evenings. His wife and family hardly ever saw him.

Then there was the whole issue of vacation. He shared a story with me about a time early in his career when he’d qualified for a company-paid sales incentive trip to Hawaii.

He invited his girlfriend to go along. She agreed based on one condition–that he leaves his laptop at home. She knew that if he brought it, he’d work much of the time. He knew it too but didn’t feel like he had a choice. He chose the laptop and ended up making the trip alone.

At this same company, he described the ritual guilt trip that would be applied by management every time he tried to request vacation days. They’d always say the same thing, “We’ve got so much going on right now, can’t you find another time to go?”

He felt so tied to his work that he couldn’t disconnect, ever.  And, it had an impact on him and his family. Thus, he finally left.

I wish his experience was a unique one and that he just happened to work for a company that was getting it wrong. But, I know too many people who have had the same experience to think that’s true.

And, the data seems to suggest the same.

According to the 2018 Work and Well-being Survey recently published by the American Psychological Association, despite 76% of respondents saying that taking vacation time is important to them, only 41% reported that their organization’s culture encouraged taking time off.

That’s 6 out of 10 organizations where the employees feel like they are discouraged from taking a vacation. Let that sink in.

So, it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that 65% of respondents reported that the positive benefits they feel as a result of taking a vacation (when they do take it) either disappear immediately or within a few days.

This is crazy.

And it’s symptomatic of much deeper cultural and performance issues. If you feel like you cannot be gone from work for fear of lost opportunity or what might happen while you are out, that suggests a teamwork or trust deficiency.

If you don’t want to take vacation time because you feel penalized by a backlog of work that occurs while you are out, that’s a process and work design problem.

If you don’t want to request vacation because of how guilty your manager makes you feel about it, that’s a leadership failure.

The pace and intensity of work have increased steadily over the past couple decades thanks largely to technology. We spend more time connected to work than ever before.

That makes vacation time more important than ever before. People need time away from work to rest and connect to the things that are important in their life (family, friends, travel, etc.).

This weekend, I’m leaving for a week of summer vacation with my family. I didn’t realize how much I needed the time away until it started to draw near. It’s been a pretty intense year so far and I have not unplugged in a long time.

Time away from work is necessary to recharge.

Organizations should encourage employees to use their time off, even require it if necessary.  And, when people leave for vacation, expect them to disconnect and give their full attention to whatever they do while they are out.

Your organization’s posture towards vacation is a good indicator of how well you are tending to an employee’s overall well-being and engagement.

If you aren’t sure how you are doing, take a peek at how much vacation time is being used. Or even more simply, go ask some employees if using vacation time is encouraged.