Why Your Structure May be Limiting Your Growth Potential

There are truly a lot of different ways to motivate or encourage a person.  Some people need help articulating and envisioning a dream.  There are those who need a vote of confidence that they too can ‘do it’.  Still others need a clearer understanding of the steps to accomplish the dreams envisioned.  In all of the types of motivators (many of which are not captured here!) none include the message that thriving is not a possibility, that the possibilities today are the only possibilities that will ever be available.  Organizations development pathways that provide neat, easily organized progress projections worded in absolute terms, however, may inadvertently convey a ceiling for growth or get in the way of other creative solutions.  Rigid definitions can end up boxing in inclinations for further advancement to aim toward the standard norm. The very guidelines that are intended to steer growth and advalimited possibilitiesncement, may inadvertently set a cap on talent growth potential and, subsequently, negatively impact innovation and growth objectives.

Case in point: I hired a top notch physical therapist to help me regain strength in an unstable ankle.  Like many others with joint instability, we found hip weakness was contributing to the problem.  Job well done right?  Not quite!  Before I was ready to go back to running marathons she graduated me, with the reasoning that she had given me all of the tools I needed. I could keep doing those exercises for the rest of my life.  Excuses me, what?  My aims for growth are much greater than that constraining standard!

No revenue driven business means to enforce such a limitation.  While some employees may appreciate a well thought out, standard goal, steering career growth opportunities to industry standards and internally defined  guidelines alone constraints the full potential that may be gleaned from valuable talent development investments.  What’s worse, these arbitrary ‘box walls’ may even discourage employees from pushing the growth and innovation envelope.

Think of our behaviorally advanced HR structures, such as those fosteredLadder into sky by the cultures at Facebook, Apple and Uber.  The element that ties these massively innovative power houses isn’t only the immense talent or generous benefits, it is the openness to changes in  policy, ideas and structure that keep the ‘sky is the limit’ thinking flowing.

Beyond yielding top revenue potential, it is the provision of this agar to the petri dish of the work environment that has changed modern lifestyle in countless ways.  Examples like widespread smartphone, Facebook and Uber utilization alone demonstrate that, with an open, enabling mentality, the sky isn’t even the limit!

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4 Questions to Assess the Impact of Your D&I Strategy

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Much like wellness investments, return on diversity and inclusion expenditure reporting serves a major challenge as these returns are far less easily defined.  While this has been assured to HR professionals for decades, the struggle to quantify this ROI persists.   Without clear indication that the capital and energy devoted to these efforts translate to revenue driving impact, sustaining these programs and industry reputation is compromised.

Although a singular, elegant indicator of the fruit of these high priority investments would indeed be convenient, for HCM investment this search for one or two results actually stifles the full depiction of progress and lessons learned in these areas.  Particularly with D&I where there are two fronts of impact targeted, authenticity and employee engagement as well as innovation and revenue generation, only multiple outcomes and conjoined outcomes can fully convey the impact of these efforts. The real key here is creativity and agility in the analysis of data to match the needs of and impact to your particular population.

Just as one would carefully craft a well-tailored engagement strategy to the particular population needs, so too should impact analysis be conducted.

4 Questions to Assess the Impact of Your D&I Strategy

Does your industry typically recruit diverse populations?

An organization like McDonald’s may already have a fairly diverse workforce, whereas a commercial real estate or financial firm may typically struggle more with diverse recruiting.  When indicating success in this area, be certain to compare with industry standard.  Where progress has not yet reached competitive standards, relative progress to recruitment statistics over time may be a more accurate depiction of impact.

Do you have a network of D&I ambassadors?

Typically termed Employee Resource Groups, these grassroots networks serve as a great tool to cue into the interests of not only employees, but the community at large.  What’s more, ERGs can serve to make valuable business connections in the industry as well.  In the process of organizing and putting on events, ERGs utilize intrinsically engaging elements of workforce identity to drive community visibility leading to potential revenue driving relationships. Engagement in these programs may be used to indicate both revenue potential as well as employee engagement. Be wary though to distinguish engagement with the workforce and engagement with an already existing interest. (See ‘strengthen your conclusions…’ in well-tailored engagement strategy)

Are you aiming to diversify workforce or leaders?

Determine where you are in the cultural transformation process to determine where in your data to look for progress indicators. Recruitment statistics are great for those first efforts, whereas promotion data can indicate a culture conducive to career growth for a diverse population.

How much are managers involved in your D&I strategy?

Manager involvement is most definitely a gold standard in executing D&I initiatives, but isn’t always immediately feasible in change management implementation.  For those far enough along, inclusion of manager rating in yearly review is a great way to introduce this accountability and conversation.  For most that aren’t so far along though, noting the localized, group level progress with engagement survey questions may be used to predict changes in engagement to come

Top Considerations for a Well-Tailored Engagement Strategy

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Particularly for those in the professional services industry, building a well-fit employee engagement strategy is as important of an investment, if not more so, as your marketing strategy.  After all, the turnover, talent and productivity capital on the line is indeed our greatest expense.  With the smart use of your data though, ensuring that your strategy is a well-tailored match for your population is indeed within reach.  Beyond simply determining a strategy, use your data to move your strategy past barely making your operating expense ratio  goals to pushing your performance to soar above book of business standards.

Top Considerations for a Well-Tailored Engagement Strategy

  1. Determine your success markers. As population professionals, we often shy away from data and hard numbers to indicate our success in lieu of feel-good stories, but it is in these numerically backed arguments that we ground our presentations to our CFOs and that we base our requests to the data analytics teams who help us determine the efficacy or failure of our long term investments.  Before embarking on your intervention, get a sense for what data points you have available to you and how monitoring these can help to ensure your strategy is on the right path on a go-forward basis.  Subtle adjustments are typically needed along the way, so a good meter to cue those needs is crucial for long term success.
  2. Leverage unique differences in your population. It can be tempting to look for a one-size fits-all solution, but the best, most impactful strategies are those that hit on sweet spots of your unique talent work force. Rather than seeing those differences as obstacles to employing the more commonly used solutions, instead capitalize on these differences to customize your employee engagement strategy.
  3. Get to know your people and their needs, whether they know them or not. Many employers assume that employees believe that cash is king.  Even when surveying employees, results often indicate this same sentiment.  Nonetheless, countless empirical studies show that long term employee engagement and value is better garnered by the award of meaningful objects and contributions to a charity of choice over even the largest incentives.  Although employee surveys are an excellent way to gain insight on your population, take these insights with a grain of salt!  Make sure to bump your findings against those of authorities like Gallup to ensure broader findings line up with localized, self-reported findings.
  4. Strengthen your conclusions with distinct outcomes. Often our Diversity and Inclusion or Well-being initiatives are utilized to double up as an employee engagement driver.  These are great opportunities for integration and to leverage employee interests for engagement outcomes, however, care is needed when accurately measuring the impacts of these hybrid programs.  Noting and measuring distinct, desired outcomes for each of these objectives can make the difference between a sharp, convincing conclusion and a seemingly muddled one.  Use your data to tease out the true meaning of the results and note where there may be overlap to proceed with confidence.

Employee Engagement Lost in Translation

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When my boss told me I would have to define the word ‘well-being’ for employees and leaders to understand and engage with our transformation from ‘health promotion’ to well-being, I thought it was absurd and reflective of his own close mindedness.  How could anyone not know?  After all, it’s an English word! And yet, there is an invaluable insight to his perspective. In order to gain wide-spread employee attention to initiatives, leader support and endorsement is needed and, in order to get sustained leader endorsement, support of business objectives is a requirement.  However, in the world of business, often we really are speaking a different language, with different nuances and assumptions from spoken language.   Without definition of new terminology and objectives, our key engagement initiatives may easily be lost in translation.

While the alphabet and pronunciation may not differ, this disconnect in expression goes so far as to penetrate even the seemingly universal language most commonly used to discuss business.   Consequently, many key messages and emphases, even when expressed in English, are lost on employees when articulated in ‘business speak’.  Take the phrase “for the love of ___” for example.  In business speak, this sentence would be most naturally completed with the word ‘money’, while most English speakers would automatically complete this phrase with the word “G-d”.  Although mention of spirituality and belief systems may be lightly mentioned in business conversation, mention of divinity is excluded from the business room and left to the dinner table and house of worship exclusively. Although our marketing counterparts have the freedom to adeptly appeal to the wants and language of its target audience, employee group engagement, and thus productivity, often suffers due to this business-to-human language barrier.

While many employers aim to engage employees around those key business objectives that tie the occupations of these colleagues together, the real ‘key’ to ensuring these communication investments yield employee engagement is the genuine conveyance of that connection point on the more personal, human aspect of these invaluable employee-employer business relationships.

Top 4 Communication attributes for True Employee Engagement

  1. Use ‘human speak’ to convey the value of the daily work completed by your workforce. This doesn’t mean adding hearts and the word ‘love’ to your communication, but use the words that you would when having a conversation outside of work.  The word ‘wow’ to express how impressed you are with the great work your team is doing is much more powerful than the business word ‘critical’ and distant word ‘impressed’ for example.
  2. Acknowledge the contributions of individual teams to larger goals.  Aside from the simple pleasure of accomplishing a shared objective, appeal to the bigger, higher purpose of what that input really adds to the big picture.  Recognition of how the sole contribution enables the accomplishment of the broader goal creates a sense of impact ‘greater than oneself’ and purpose, thus driving intrinsic motivation and sustained engagement.
  3. Recognize the ‘human qualities’ behind the benefits to business objectives. At the core of hard work, tenacity, even trustworthiness in sales are the truly human, meaningful attributes of dedication, integrity and sincerity.  Recognition and appreciation of these human virtues taps into, not only the core elements enabling those benefits to the bottom line, but also the core beliefs that employees exhibiting these attributes maintain and take most pride in.  Recognizing these most highly valued ‘human qualities’ provides meaningful recognition and sustained employee engagement.
  4. Expose vulnerability and lessons learned. Often in business we are compelled to put our best foot forward, but a willingness to share some of our concerns or mistakes along the way creates a more even playing field and connectedness via those shared or similar experiences in the inevitable trials that all professionals experience.

Communications that leverage these underlying ‘core’ elements of employee engagement effectively avoid losing the employee work force audience in the translation from business objectives to human connection in the workplace.  This shift in tone in turn, moves the engagement lever beyond employee attendance at company events to true, sustained employee commitment, productivity and the innovative, diverse thought that distinguishes a good work force from a world class organization.