Monday, May 19, 2014

Meet the New Boss; Same As the Old Boss?

Over the weekend I read a news article on employee engagement.  It claimed that based on surveys conducted in Q1/2014, roughly three quarters of all workers in the United States were either "not engaged" or "actively disengaged"  Three Quarters, as in 75%

Frustratingly, I could not find that same article, but it turned out not to be important.  Just about three years ago there was a similar article that claimed about 74% of American workers were "passive job seekers".  So, in three years, not much has apparently changed.  Being ever skeptical, I went in search of other data that could either debunk or corroborate these numbers.  One of the things I found was a very detailed study published in 2013 by Gallup, entitled "State of the American Workplace".  On page 12 of the downloadable .pdf, embedded in a number of interesting charts and graphs, was a similar number.  Gallup stated that about 70% of American workers are disengaged and that this fact is causing a massive drag on the economy.

As many of you read what I've just said, these numbers will probably resonate with you on some level.  Statistically, three out of four of all of you are dealing with some level of disharmony with your employer.  But why?

I normally do not like to pull block quotes from other sources as material for this blog.  However, I read something in Forbes online that did a great job of summarizing the point that I'd like to make.  Here it is:

Creating a high performance work environment is a complex problem. We have to communicate a mission and values, train managers and leaders to live these values, and then carefully select the right people who fit. And once people join, we have to continuously improve, redesign, and tweak the work environment to make it modern, humane, and enjoyable.

As I have stated in past blogs, in order for a team to really "click", or work together, it must share the same values.  Don't believe it?  Think, then, what happens when six people are given an assignment and just one of the individuals does not pull his or her own weight.  Pretty soon, the whole group gets tired of carrying the slack and most everyone becomes apathetic.
Let's take a look at what it means to be "modern".  The Baby Boomer and X generations were taught values like "Respect you elders" and "Know your place".  The Y and Millennial generations don't work that way.  I overheard a Gen Y'er say this quote the other day about a non-performing boss: "I don't care what title he <the Boss> holds.  If he acts like a tool then I'll treat him like a tool."  The takeaway from this statement is that, unlike with past generations in bygone decades, today the world is moving from valuing titles to valuing results.  That's just the modern way of doing things.

On the subject of being humane, things have changed as well.  As we see reflected in the political climate and even popular culture of today, the United States (and 1st world) has become a "kinder and gentler" place.  To that end, what do you do as a leader when someone makes a mistake?  Do you drop the hammer or do you make it a teachable moment?  When dealing with correcting behavior,  people are less and less tolerant of naked force in favor of a more collaborative approach.

As leaders, we must realize that employee engagement starts with us.  That doesn't mean that we can reprogram people to be more happy or more "plugged in" all by ourselves.  But at the same time, we have to modify our styles so that we can be:
  • More approachable
  • More tolerant of different approaches to accomplishing work
  • More appreciative of risk taking
  • More understanding that, unlike the days of our parents, people can and will walk away from us if we are tyrants
I am most definitely not advocating a weak approach to leadership or an acceptance of sub-par work.  What I am saying is that our people are often only as engaged as we let them be.  If you want to be better and hence more effective at leading them, you have to be more a part of them.  And they must be more a part of you as well.

As organizations shrink in the name of efficiency and necessity,  the distance between leaders and the people who work under them must also shrink.  It is no coincidence that the more engaged your people are the more you will be as well. 

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