Archives for posts with tag: organisational culture

I was chatting with an old colleague the other day, they being from the comms side of things, and we discussed, among other things, difficulties we had experienced getting organisations to put out employee surveys.
Actually doing employees surveys is now so par for the course I’m amazed when I come across organisations that are still afraid to ask, but it seems that sometimes leaders just don’t think it’s the right time. My chum and I went through a few of the excuses we had come up against over the years – there were a few, but here’s the top 5:

  • We know what they think anyway
  • Everyone is miserable so why bother asking
  • Money’s tight, this is a nice to have not a necessity
  • We’re going through too much change, so no point asking until things get settled
  • It’s just an excuse for people to have a whinge

Let’s have a look at these in detail, shall we?

“We know what they think anyway” Really? Really? Everyone in the whole organisation? Hmmm… Now, I always say that if a team leader is surprised by the survey results for their team, then they aren’t really leading that team, but that’s for another blog, another time.

But if you’re the CEO or other senior leader in any organisation of more than, say 50 or so people, then chances are you aren’t close enough to people to really know what they say. And, chances are, if you are, and you do go out and about, visiting the troops and ask people how things are, they might, when  put on the spot, tell you what they think you want to hear. An anonymous survey may give them chance to say what they really feel, which may be something different.

“Everyone is miserable so why bother asking” A classic “how do you know if you don’t ask”. I worked with an organisation who took this approach once, and I worked with a group of change champions across the business, speaking to them on a pretty regular basis on how things were; the picture was far more mixed than senior leaders thought. What came through, after a bit of digging, was that lots of people were very role engaged – they loved doing their job, got a lot of fulfilment from it, took meaning and satisfaction from doing their best and doing it well – and where they had the autonomy and authority to do those jobs, they were very happy. What they lacked, on the whole, was engagement with the organisation as a whole.

Even if you think you know that everyone is unhappy, and they are, it’s handy to have that in writing, with evidence, so that you can do something about it. After all, aa survey shouldn’t just tell you how people are feeling, it should give you some insight into why they are feeling that way. Again, we can discuss further in another blog.

“Money’s tight, this is a nice to have not a necessity” I know the recession is over and things are on the up – but I’m not sure that is really felt out there in the big wide world, you know? Anyway, money is tight, especially in the public sector, and likely to remain so, so this excuse will be in favour for a while to come. What I say is, can you afford not to? Disengaged employees are more likely to cost your organisation a lot more in absence, lack of productivity, poor quality work, mistakes etc than the cost of a basic survey – for some facts, check this. Bottom line for your bottom line: engagement = mo’ money.

“We’re going through too much change, so no point asking until things get settled”. Two things: (a) when aren’t you going through change and (b) that is exactly the time you need to know how people are thinking and feeling: the success (or failure) of the change depends on it, believe me. Again, another blog (in fact, I feel a series coming on…) for more, but if people aren’t engaged with the change, it’s unlikely to deliver the benefits you hope to get.

“It’s just an excuse for people to have a whinge” Guess what? They’re going to whinge anyway, probably at home, down the pub, at the water cooler, to their colleagues; why not give them a platform to do so, and then do something about it. That way, they might stop whinging.

I may revisit these excuses in more detail and real life examples in future blogs, but, in the mean time, have a think: are you putting off your staff survey? If so, why? If you have another excuse, let me know and I’ll explain why that’s a bad idea too…

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Innovation has been much in my thoughts recently. In fact, someone asked me about it this morning, and I recently attended a briefing on how to help small businesses become more innovative.

There is a wealth of material online about innovation and how to do it, but I thought I could give some thought to a couple of things – the role of employee engagement in innovation (and vice versa) and what a culture of innovation might be.

Firstly, engagement and innovation. Let’s go to first principles about what engagement is, and see what that can teach us about innovation, eh?

I use a couple of  models to describe engagement which have worked pretty well over the years. One I borrowed with pride from Macey and Schneider, from a study they did for the Journal of Industrial and Organisational Psychology a few years back (why not take a look here, get your academic groove on). They had reviewed much of the existing research on engagement and posited a three-stage model, thusly:

  • Trait engagement – people needed a mindset by which they would become engaged
  • State engagement – people needed to be in an environment whereby their emotional state was one of engagement
  • Behavioural engagement – people with the right trait in the right state then behave as engaged employees

Let’s have a think about just one of these aspects – trait engagement. This requires the individual to be conscientious, proactive and to possess an autotelic personality. No, look it up.

OK, so autotelic means doing something for intrinsic reward – for the sake of doing it, rather than for an extrinsic reward (such as money). Now my knowledge of psychology is probably on a par with most non-psychologists who ply their trade in this area, but I would guess that an innovative personality is likely to be proactive, conscientious and like to do stuff for the sake of doing something interesting – in other words, someone with the traits of an engaged employee.

Moving on to state, this is where people feel committed, proud, happy and enthusiastic (state positive affectivity is the technical term), they feel involved and empowered with a sense of purpose. Again, these are the kind of feelings I would expect an innovator to have; if I had no interest in the future of the organisation and I don’t want to be there, I’m not likely to want to think of something new to make the company more successful, am I? 

So people with the right traits in the right state will display the behaviours of the engaged employee – things like going above and beyond your role, being proactive and adaptive – fostering change for the benefit of the organisation. Which, to me, is a pretty good description of innovation.

So you are way more likely to get innovation from your people if they are engaged. But what about the other way around? Does working in an innovative organisation make you engaged?

A quick look at those great places to work lists that are all over th’interweb will throw up the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple, those kind of places. Not exclusively, but most of the brands where engagement is high tend to be associated with innovation. Two great examples, which I would advise anyone interested in this field to research in bit more detail are Semco and Gore.

What males many of these companies stand out as great places to work are their levels of employee engagement, and, according to the fine people at Engage for Success only 3% of disengaged people come up with ideas to improve things at work, compared to nearly two-thirds of engaged employees. Great places to work more often than not have the kind of culture which fosters innovation.

Which brings us to the second bit promised all that time ago in the second paragraph, creating a culture of innovation.  This could take a while, and you’ve already ploughed through a lot already, so we’ll save most of it for another blog.

What I will share is my key question when finding out if an organisation has an innovative culture – I ask “what happens when someone makes a mistake?”

If the answer is “the person who made the mistake gets shouted at” or “we try and find someone to blame” or “we try and cover it up so the boss doesn’t find out” then I get an inkling that the culture is not one where innovation shines. 

If the answer is along the lines of “we look at it, we find out why it went wrong and we change things for the better next time” then you are more likely to be in that innovation zone.

So your task for this week it to ask that question: what happens around your workplace when someone makes a mistake? And what does that answer tell you about how innovative a workplace you are in? Have a think.

In my last blog I expounded some of my thoughts on the links between internal communication and employee engagement – and how they were indeed linked but were in no way synonymous. 

This time I have some further thoughts on these two subjects – and the dangers posed to the latter by the former not being done properly.

Some time ago I was working with local management in a big department on their engagement levels. The engagement levels weren’t where they could or should have been, and we were mining the data to make sense of things.

One area which caused the leadership team much consternation were the feelings of people in the department about communications. “We do communicate,” they said. “We do it all the time.”

Well the data didn’t agree, with scores on the employee survey on the quality, frequency etc of communication being pretty poor. I had a look at this, and at the verbatim comments on this area, and also reviewed what had happened in the months leading up to the survey.

To be fair, there had been activity of a communicational nature. Blogs had been published. Headlines had been loaded onto intranets. Briefing documents had been issued to managers and these, in turn, had been passed onto the people in the department. Information, in short, had been given to people.

What had not happened, however, was any communication. There had been a one-way, top-down attempt to send information, but there had not been any attempt to test understanding of the information. 

No matter how well crafted a blog, no matter how expertly drafted an intranet article, there is no guarantee that when it is read it will be understood in the way that was originally intended.

An example – no names, no pack drill. I recall reading a blog by a chief exec which told that a member of the senior management team was recovering after a serious illness and had managed a few holes of golf. In the context he intended, this was a good news story about a generally popular member of the organisation getting better. 

I spoke to a member of staff about the blog who said something along the lines of “I can just imagine what my boss would say if I played golf when I was on sick leave…”

In other words, what was intended in terms of understanding wasn’t what landed – there had been a failure to communicate.

Going back to our local management team: I spoke to staff in the area, to try and get a deeper understanding of the issues. Briefings, which were intended by the internal comms team to be shared at a team meeting with a Q&A session at the end tended to be emailed out to teams. Further investigation showed a real lack of confidence among line managers to deliver the briefings, so they just weren’t delivering what they were intended to do.

Likewise, whenever staff had responded to issues raised in the blogs or intranet headlines, there had been no acknowledgement, let alone response, and people pretty quickly gave up trying to give feedback.

The solution? Some training sessions for line managers on leading discussions, some high-visibility responses to questions raised on the intranet, and kicking off some sessions with senior managers where they sat down with people and had a discussion about the business, how they were contributing to the success and what issues people had on the shop floor.

Nothing too demanding or too difficult, but ultimately transformational in terms of how communication was perceived in this part of the business, and this, in turn, contributed toward improved levels of engagement.

To sum up:

  • Top-down information transmission is not communication
  • Communication is always two-way
  • Once you’ve given information out, you need to check understanding
  • Don’t assume what you mean is what people will get

So, have a think about how you communicate in your business. How do you make it two-way? What feedback loops have you put in place? How do receivers of information become transmitters? How do you help leaders listen? Have a think.

 

This week I have been mostly thinking about communication, and specifically the business of internal communication in a business, and what it means to employee engagement.

Now you may say to me “really? You need to get a life” and I would find it hard to argue with you, but things like this are my stock in trade, my business, and so I do tend to dwell on them.

What prompted this was a few things; I am wont to peruse LInkedIn, that fine resource for all professionals and have noticed quite a lot of jobs advertised as “employee engagement manager”, had a look and seen what they are after is an internal comms manager. I have also seen a few discussions along the lines of “are employee engagement and internal communications the same thing?”. Stuff like that gets me thinking. (To be honest, pretty much anything gets me thinking, I’ve one of those minds; I spend hours trying to find ways of stopping it, and have just passed level 125 on Candy Crush. I even watch ITV unironically sometimes).

Anyway, I have thought and I will now foist the general burblings out onto th’internet, by way of this blog.

Firstly, I will address the s. When I first got a job as an internal communications manager, that was my job title: internal communications manager. With an s. I had a conversation with the boss, went along these lines.

Me: “I want to change my job title.”

Boss: “You can’t do that, you need to go through HR and I’ll have to fill out forms and stuff.”

Me: “I only want to drop the s”

Boss: <makes Scooby Doo noise>

Me: “Communications (with an s) is about channels and mechanisms and tech. It’s not even the medium, it’s the stuff that makes the medium work. We should be about communication.”

Boss: “What the badgery flip are you on about, Lewis?”

Me: “Communication is a process of emotional and psychological change enabled by and exchange of information; it’s not merely the transmission of information from one source to an audience, for which the use of the word ‘communications’ (with an s) in my job title is but a semiotic tag.”

Boss: “Fair enough. Do I have to fill in any forms?”

He didn’t, we just changed it on the structure charts.

Anyway, the minutes it took me to find that sound clip will not have been in vain if my point has been made: communications is about technology and making the media work; communication is a two-way exchange which creates something new. Yes? Yes.

And so, is it the same as employee engagement? Well, in my personal opinion, no. Engagement is psychological state on the part of employees, which evidences itself in behavioural outcomes; if people are engaged those outcomes will be positive ones for both employer and employee – greater productivity, creativity, absorption in work, better customer service, less absenteeism, loyalty and exemplifying the brand, etc etc etc.

If the state is negative you get negative outcomes – absenteeism (or, even worse, its beguiling but mindless cousin presenteeism), low levels of energy, lack of ownership, etc etc etc

As such, communication (no s) is an input – it is something that needs to be done, and done well, in order to create the positive state of mind required to get those positive behaviours, but it is not, in and of itself, engagement.

And here is the crux: communication needs to be effective and two-way in order for that positive state to be achieved. Leaders need to communicate effectively; this means that issuing a memo won’t cut it. 

I recall in my early days in the world of work internal communication from senior management came in the form of the “Chief General Manager’s Briefing”. This was a printed piece of paper stuck on noticeboards and usually contained the latest regulation issued by the regulatory body. People tended not to engage with it. It wasn’t communication.

The move to intranets and social media won’t change things, though, if the things posted there are effectively just the Chief General Manager’s Briefing in digital form. 

What is needed is for leaders to speak, and to listen, and to show they have listened – not just by giving an answer but by changing things in response to what they have heard and then communicating what has changed and why. The last step is hugely important, I call it closing the loop, and it is often forgotten.

Without it, you don’t create that positive state, because the point of communication is not just to inform, but to give the employee the chance to listen and be listened to; people need to feel they are listened to, that they matter, and when they feel this, they feel good. Hence, engagement.

So, have a think about your communication. Is it communications, or communication? Is it a memo (albeit a tweet or a blog or a speech or a town hall meeting) or is it a conversation?

I’ll be rambling on about communication, the channels, the medium v the message and all that in the next few blogs. Book now to avoid disappointment.

By the way, anyone know why I chose the header I chose? Fans of Paul Newman (and, quite possibly, Guns and Roses) send me a virtual postcard…

 

I came across an interesting little piece this morning in which a psychologist bemoans the limitations of the much-used Myers Briggs Type Indicator in the form of a Dear John letter. You can read it here, but I’d rather you carried on reading this.

In the article the author points out that the science behind MBTI is, at best, not terribly scientific, and asks that the people behind it do the math and move the tool along to be a bit more in keeping with proper psychometrics.

All well and good, I am as keen on rationalism and scientific rigour as the next chap, but, for me, the article misses the point ever so slightly on what MBTI can be used for – rather than a diagnostic tool to understand your personality, it gives people symbols, metaphors, if you like, and is a great way of developing teams.

I have blogged previously on this, and don’t see the need to bore you with it further, but suffice to say it can be useful to know that a team has a Ginny Weasley as well as a Sirius Black and a Hermione Granger, for example. Also, a quiz, here is a list of six characters who, apparently, share my MBTI type – a prize* for the first commenter to correctly identify me:

  • Hermione Granger  off of Harry Potter
  • Professor Fring off of The Simpsons
  • The holographic doctor off of Star Trek (DS9/Voyager era)
  • Billy off of Adventure Time
  • Wall E off of Wall E
  • Sherlock off of Sherlock (my personal favourite – I’ve always considered myself a text-book high-functioning sociopath, it’s no wonder I work with people…)

MBTI is, of course, based on the thinking of Carl Jung, Swiss analytical psychotherapist, dream interpreter and all round polymath. Jung is a man for whom my passion for rationalism and scientific rigour happily gets parked; he worked, as far as I can tell from my admittedly limited reading of his work, off instinct and insight rather than the statistically tried and tested tools beloved of those who spent their youth watching rats run around mazes in search of cheese.

My work, too, is based largely on the examination of data and the drawing of insight from it in order to help organisations to become more effective; having worked in financial services with cool people like actuaries, I know how important it is to have done the maths (yes maths, with an s on the end) when presenting anything to people who need evidence for doing anything.

But there is still, I think, room for the Jungian intuition in developing the insight you need to engender change. Data can take you a long way, and talking to people to deepen that understanding helps as well, but you still need to do something to make that jump from data to insight.

This process can take place in any number of ways; in a workshop, bouncing ideas around, in your head as you are putting together your report and associated slide deck, it can be communal or individual (although, let’s hark back to MBTI and Professor Jung here, extroverts tend to enjoy doing it with others and introverts like to do it by themselves), but it requires a human thought process which takes data and translates it into something different and meaningful.

Going with the gut feeling, making a decision based on intuition and instinct are generally frowned upon in the world of business. My recent adventures studying change management and process improvement are firmly based on using data, evidence, statistical analysis as the basis for decisions to be made in a business.

In my experience, however, people rely much more than they would probably admit on instinct and gut feeling. Any insight or data or evidence you give to people will always pass through their mental filters and be adapted into their own world view before they make any decision on it, and they are more likely to take a course they wanted to in the first place.

An example – in an organisation I worked with, people said they wanted more leadership visibility. Leaders took this to mean getting out and about in town hall meetings and generally doing more formal communication activities. 

What people actually wanted was a more personal connection with their leaders – they wanted better recognition and clarity that their leaders understood what life was really like for them on the shop floor. They wanted managing by walking about,m they wanted to know leaders were really in touch.

The leaders, however, found this kind of thing difficult; they found the kind of instinctive, informal and spontaneous contact their people needed was too hard, and they chose, instead, to go with a safer, more formal and safer way to tick the leadership visibility box, and then were surprised and upset when people told them their leaders were still out of touch.

A more intuitive perusal of the data may have lead them to a different conclusion and more effective leadership behaviours.

So, have a think – be rational about the rationality of your decision making. Do you go with brain or gut? Or is there a bit of both? Which is the braver option? And which is more likely to be effective?

*There’s not really a prize. Sorry.

I did a presentation this week where I explained my thoughts on what Organisational Development is, and what it consists of in practice.

The previous evening I attended another session where the speaker gave some good tips on presenting, one of which was to use images rather than bulleted lists, and I took that advice and hit Google image search for some appropriate images.

Organisational purpose? Some cartoon people building a jigsaw towards a sign saying success. Employee engagement? More cartoon people, standing in interlinked circles. Organisational cultural diagnostics? An iceberg, to illustrate the visible and invisible aspects of culture. Change management? A butterfly emerging from its cocoon. Leadership? Easy. This one:

Image

I remember going on a leadership course a few years back – one of the best things I have ever done, it was literally life-changing – and the very first activity in the first session was people choosing their ideal leaders. In my group, more than half chose Sir Alex Ferguson. (I chose Gary Neville, then the captain of Manchester United, for reasons I’d be happy to explain if you ask me).

His success as a manager is unparalleled, and I am a lifelong United fan, so that image, iconic for his hunger for success and his instilling in teams the desire to keep going and never give up, that leapt from the image search and into my leadership slide.

And this was before I read this article in the Harvard Business Review, about a study by academics of the lessons to be learned from his leadership.

It’s a great article and I highly recommend you read it in full, but there are eight key lessons, namely:

  1. Start with the foundation – build from the bottom for lasting success
  2. Dare to rebuild your team – see what needs changing and evolve as necessary
  3. Set standards high and hold everyone to those standards
  4. Never, ever cede control
  5. Match the message to the moment
  6. Prepare to win
  7. Rely on the power of observation
  8. Never stop adapting

I could, and doubtless will, do a blog on each of these lessons, but as I said last time I would be doing a few blogs on the whole change thing, then I will look at three specific ones this time around – because they speak to me about the role of leaders in change. Those lessons are 1, 2 and 8.

Lesson 1 – start with the foundation – in the article, Fergsuon explains how he changed the culture in the club to one of developing the best young players. In its way, it was a return to the values of the last great manager at the club, Sir Matt Busby, whose young teams established Manchester United as the force it is today in world football. The lesson for leaders here is that change needs to be sustainable – you need to think long-term and plan for long-lasting success, not just go for the quick win. Too often in recent times business have focused on the quick profit at the expense of the long-term. Leaders need to take the long term view and lay foundations for the future in order for their organisations to succeed again and again, as Ferguson did with his teams.

Lesson 2 – dare to rebuild your team for me has two key things; firstly, the importance of people in successful businesses and successful change; change can’t happen and businesses can’t succeed, without the right people doing the right things in the right way. Secondly, it is about having courage, as a leader, to make the necessary changes. In his time at United Ferguson saw off many high-profile and popular players, as he sought to develop and improve his team, and bring in the right players as his tactics and approach developed. Leaders need to drop products sometimes, change their route to market, and, of course, change their personnel when need be – which leads neatly to…

Lesson 8 – never stop adapting. Football changed massively during Ferguson’s time at United, and David Gill, the CEO, speaks in the article of the manager’s capability to adapt as the game changed. Leaders need to look outside and be aware of how their world is changing or else their organisations are being affected. Change is constant, and it’s not even a question of “like it or not” – you just have to accept it and make sure your organisation can adapt in order to survive.

How leaders lead change is fundamental not just to the success of change projects and programmes, but to the survival and success of the businesses they are leading. No leader can call themselves a leader if they cannot change, and lead change, and this is why Sir Alex is the exemplar, for me, of the leader.

So, who are your exemplars? Who are the leaders you see as the best at leading change? How do leaders in your organisation manage change? Are they building foundations, making the courageous decisions and adapting as the wider world changes? Or are they avoiding change and hoping steady state will get them through? Have a think.

I was mucking out the rabbit this morning (not a euphemism) and for some reason I thought of a session I once ran for a group of managers in the legal department of the organisation I was part of at the time.

I was feeding back my insight from their employee survey, in the hope of gaining their perspective and together agreeing a way forward to address the issues raised and improve engagement levels, making their department more effective in future. The usual. These four were great; highly experienced and intelligent and, because of their training as lawyers, I assume, generally adversarial. It was like playing four games of chess at once. While riding a unicycle.

With the support of the head of department and the local HR business partner I survived unscathed and we all went away wiser and better for the experience. I ran many such sessions for a wide variety of audiences over the years, and there was always a wide range of reactions from the various teams I spoke to. I thought I would use this blog to examine some of these reactions, to see if anyone found them familiar and had any thoughts on how to deal with the various reactions.

Before going in, I think it is important that anyone going into part of an organisation with any insight or communication is responsible for that information and how it lands. There is a great cop-out to this, called “assuming positive intent”, which is a rule applied to the receiver of the information which basically means “if this upsets you, it’s your own fault, not mine”. In this, as with a great many other things, I find myself more on the side of Leonidas, King of Sparta, in 300 when he gets a message from King Xerxes via a messenger. The news is not good, and it doesn’t end well for the messenger. Clearly Leonidas should have assumed positive intent and the whole nasty business could have been avoided.

Anyway, as in Sparta, when I go into a room and tell a leadership team what it’s like to work there, you can be damn sure I take full responsibility not only for that information, but for how it lands.

First up, there is the blank looks and complete acceptance. The information is taken at face value and accepted fully and without question, as though I were some guru or sage, whose words are gospel. Now this is an issue, because wise, sagacious even, I may well be, but I have only a limited amount of knowledge, based on my exploration of data. I will have done some homework too, usually a chat with the local HR people prior to the session, but I cannot know all the operational and strategic issues at play in every part of the business at the time of the survey. For the department to move forward requires genuine insight, and this can only come from analysis of the data combined with the local context; any recommended actions based on data alone are unlikely to succeed, despite the warm glow you get from speaking to a group of people who nod heartily after every sentence and agree with all you say as though you have some preternatural ability.

My approach in such cases is to drop the data as soon as I see that things are being taken too easily, without questions and fire out a few myself. “What were the big issues at the time…” “one of the comments mentions such and such, can you explain what that was all about?”, that kind of thing. If you have any tips, let me know.

The other end of the spectrum is outright hostility: this is my department, these are my people, you know nothing about them, you can add nothing. Again the data goes into the back pocket and it’s into a coaching conversation to get underneath the behaviours; have they got something to hide? Are they worried what I will think of them as leaders? The trick is not to challenge back but engage in a dialogue; my favourite answer in one such sessions was “I would be a better leader if I had better people” – I invited the leader who said that to have a think about it and what he, as a leader, could do about this, which made for a somewhat better conversation.

Hostility usually comes from fear, in my experience, and so it’s about the conversation, openness and reigning back on any inclination you may have to be a smart arse. Just me? OK then.

My personal favourites in terms of reaction is the one I eventually got with the lawyers – challenging but in a positive and engaged manner. It started feeling adversarial, but I realised they were challenging not the data but the validity of the process; this is where having a good knowledge of that process and its validity comes in handy; and also having a lot of confidence that the data is valid. Fail to prepare, and all that; homework is vital as is really good process and project management prior to the survey.

Once I gave the reassurance they needed, backed up my models with the right level of academic rigour, the dialogue about the data took place and genuine insight was achieved, actions put in place and engagement levels improved.

Other reactions fell at various stages along the spectrum from complete acceptance to complete hostility, and all improved over time as I got to know the audiences and the likely reactions and prepared myself better.

So, if you are preparing something of this ilk, have a think. How is this news likely to go down? Will people challenge you, or the process, or the data from which you drew your insight? Can you be completely confident in the validity of everything you intend to say, and do you have all the sources and background likely to be needed to meet any such challenges? After all, you don’t want to end up being kicked into a well by a bad-tempered monarch.

I have been racking (wracking? No, it is racking) my brains about how to shoehorn today’s reasonably welcome announcement about the improvement of cycling facilities in many cities across the UK into this blog which is, essentially, about employee engagement and organisational culture.

This got me thinking, and, as often happens when I get thinking, I wandered off on a neurological tangent, and ended up at a place where I was in a cycle shop and there, in front of me in the queue, is a trainee accountant clutching a cycle to work scheme voucher in one hand, and a full-suspension mountain bike in the other, all ready to start his daily commute.

This is not the forum to explain why Henry, our trainee accountant friend, should get a road or hybrid bike for commuting (unless he’s commuting to the upper slopes of Snowdonia), but it is just the place to have a think about cycle to work schemes. In my last blog I talked about flexibility when it came to reward and employment packages and how to communicate them. This time I wanted to ruminate on why you would encourage people to cycle to work and other methods of driving engagement through reward and recognition.

First let us go back in time, back to the middle of the last decade, when businesses were beginning to look seriously at this whole employee engagement thing. I was an engagement manager in a big company, and having a conversation with the head of the reward team, who sat in the next bank of desks. A fine bunch of people, they were the only team in the whole company who scored 100% favourably for the question “I believe I am fairly rewarded for the work that I do” in the annual survey. Fact.

Anyway, Head of Reward chap said to me “The best way to engage someone is to pay them more”. He was big believer in this, and had research to back it up. Made sense, certainly, people come to work to make a living, so the better the living they can make the, well, the better. Or so I thought until I got hold of some research of my own.

First up I looked at the rest of the organisation to see if they felt they were fairly paid. Very few thought they were, but this had absolutely no link whatsoever with their levels of engagement. Then I looked at the actual pay – generally the higher up the organisation you went, the higher the engagement score was. Except there was a dip, just before the top, where some pretty well-paid people were less engaged than people paid less than them.

And I looked at other research that real academic researchers had done, and it told me that it was far more complex than my chum the reward bod thought; reward plays some part in engaging employees, but then so did recognition and non-financial stuff. I went back to my data and  looked at recognition schemes across the business – and found some pretty firm linkages between engagement levels and how well embedded and managed recognition schemes were in various bits of the organisation. These ranged from a formal recording of a job well done in an email to awards nights with posh frocks and tuxedos, but they were all about making people feel good about the job they had done. Among the most effective were in the customer-facing areas where they were explicitly linked to customer service and feedback.

Cycle to work schemes are slightly different – everyone gets to take advantage of these, should they wish to do so – but they are all part of offering a more rounded and flexible reward to your people. They also help reduce carbon emissions, improve the health of your workforce and send a very strong message about how socially responsible your organisation is.

The point I am trying to get to is to have a think about ways you can improve your organisation through having a rounded and flexible reward system run alongside effective recognition processes. In my experience, you need a few things to make such schemes really work, so here are some top tips:

  • Make sure they are inclusive, clear and fair – no room for favouritism or even the appearance of favouritism
  • Link them explicitly to your organisational purpose, values, strategy and brand
  • Combine formal, structured recognition with lots of informal, in the moment recognition
  • Make recognition down-up and side to side,  not just top-down
  • Make a big fuss about them – publicise it when people are recognised, create role models
  • Make sure people are clear why they have been recognised
  • Recognise behaviours, rather than targets met or tasks achieved

Have a think – how do you recognise the behaviours you know will make your organisation more effective? I you don’t know, it may be worth having a scan through some older blogs to check out what I mean by this, and then have another think, and get something in place. Oh, and why not try cycling to work too? Don’t wait for those new cycle lanes, be that change now!

In a recent post I discussed my experiences of the public and private sectors – and how similar they seemed, on the surface at least.

In that blog I said I would return to that point – where you see the same things but they come from different places, and how important this was for cultural diagnostics.

I’ve used a few diagnostic tools in my time, and some of the most useful look at behaviours in an organisation – what people do. Even better is to uncover the behavioural norms that underly these – what kinds of behaviours do people need to demonstrate in order to get on and get along within an organisation.

Regular readers will know that these form part of the Rousseau culture model – layers two and three of the five-skinned onion, in fact. And these are vitally important = you need to know what people are doing so you can compare it against what you want people to do – defined effective behaviours.

For example, if you are (or are striving to be) an innovative organisation, then you need people to be open and honest about mistakes, because you learn from them and build upon them, in order to produce something new. If, however, you have a culture where people hide mistakes, or look to blame others, then you are likely to repeat the same mistakes and you don’t learn – the behaviours are ineffective.

So behaviours = important, yes? Yes.

Now, imagine you are re-organising, bringing new teams together, perhaps. Or even merging two separate organisations. You take a look, and do a behavioural diagnostic and you see similar behaviours in both sides. Great,you think. Job’s a good ‘un, these two will work together seamlessly, off you pop.

But, being regular readers will know that there is more to culture than the behavioural stuff; there are further layers underneath; there are values and there are the underlying beliefs and assumptions that cause the behavioural norms, and, in turn, the behaviours.

Another example, based on real life; two organisations where people take forever to do things. The behavioural norm is to put things off, prevaricate or otherwise delay implementing things. Clearly this is ineffective behaviour, you need to get things done; no point having a strategy if you’re not executing it, is there?

So how do you address this? Tell people just to get on with it? Just, as someone once said, do it? Fine, try that, and see what happens. Any ideas? Yep, the same thing that always happened, ie not that much.

No, what you need to do is look at the whys and wherefores, understand the reasons behind those behaviours and norms; what values are driving them, what beliefs lie beneath them.

In the example I’m thinking of, there were two organisations. Both had long histories, dating back well over 100 years, proud heritages and, apparently, shared values. Those values were only the ones on the  posters and on the corporate intranets, however; they were the stated or aspirational values, not the actual values; the actual values were quite different.

Organisation A was based in a large city, and was about twice the size of the other organisation in terms of headcount, but just another player in the employment profile of the city; Organisation B was based in a small rural town, and was by far the biggest fish in a tiny, tiny pond.

Organisation A was political; people based their loyalties on a series of mutual favours rather than personal relationships; power was based on knowledge and decisions tended to be made in private, outside of the “official” decision-making forums.

Organisation B was entirely based on personal relationships. Generations of the same family worked there, former schoolmates worked on the  same team, and you were as likely to have a chat about work with a colleague on a night out.

In Organisation A things took forever because the decision to do something was made over a brew between two people prior to them going into a meeting where the decision was apparently going to be made; everyone else at the meeting then spent the next few months trying to change things to support their agenda, stopping things going ahead as originally decided; the upshot was that things took forever to happen.

In Organisation B  decisions were made by consensus; everyone involved had to be happy with every aspect of the decision, every sharp corner had to be smoothed off, because the person who might have caught the sharp end could be bad-mouthing you in the pub on Friday night; everything was gone through in detail and over and over again, each iteration being run past everyone again to make sure they were happy with it; the upshot was that things took forever to happen.

So, they looked the same, but the reasons they happened were very different, and so needed addressing in different ways; where it went well leaders looked to pull out the positive aspects of both and I ran quite a few workshops on decision-making, demonstrating the value of dialogue over debate and how decision-making by consent tends to be more effective than decision-making by consensus. You could tell which workshop attendees were Organisation A people and which were Organisation B people just by how they related to this workshop, which was fascinating in itself.

So how did we get this insight? That would be telling, suffice to say I have more tools in my toolbox than just behavioural diagnostics. What I hope to demonstrate from this blog is the advantages you can get of going that bit deeper into the layers of the cultural onion.

Have a think, then, about different parts of your organisation, where you see similar behaviours. What lies beneath? Not the schlocky film with Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer, but beneath those behaviours. Is it the same thing? Or is it different values, different beliefs, driving similar outcomes?

It’s important, because if those behaviours aren’t working out for you, then you need to change them, and to do that, you really need to understand what’s causing them, don’t you?

In my most pretensions blog to date I wrote about the importance of authenticity among leaders, and drew on the help of French philosophers in doing so.

In this blog I will eschew such intellectual fripperies and make some similar but more down to earth and accessible points.

In the first of this miniseries of bloggage about the four enablers of engagement we discussed the importance of the strategic narrative, in order to help people make the link between success in their role and the success of the organisation.

Alongside the strategy, an organisation needs explicit values, ways of doing things which are common to all parts of the organisation, understood by all and, more importantly, lived by all.

For me, this is the heart of organisational integrity: when the values make the journey from a poster on the wall, or a section on the intranet, into the hearts and minds of its people.

To do this, everything, and I mean everything, must be explicitly and deliberately aligned to the values.

Does your organisation have some kind of performance management process? A capability or competency framework? Role profiles? They all need to be explicitly and deliberately aligned to the values.

Do your employees have objectives? Align them to the values, and use the values as the framework through which those objectives are measured.

Got a recruitment campaign? Make sure those values are running through it – which is why it is important that your values are aligned to your employer brand and, of course, your commercial brand.

Fine words, you say, fine words indeed, but how do you do this? Give us examples, make it real for us.

All right. Let’s take a value, one that may well be found in an organisation: “we will delight our customers”.

Pretty simple for customer-facing staff. You reward behaviour which delights customers. Simply find a way to measure customer delight (Net Promotor Score is used by such organisations as Apple Retail, the most profitable retail network per square foot there is, and a hotel chain, who, helpfully, in an establishment I have frequented on a recent contract, had a little sign up telling customers which boxes to tick so their NPS targets were hit), then build those measures into your performance management systems for customer facing staff.

Away from the shop floor it may be a bit trickier, but it still can be done. HR? Make sure their attraction, recruitment and on-boarding processes get the right people serving your customers (as measured by your customer delight scores). Make sure the reward systems, policies and development offered keep making sure those people delight more customers in future. 

Finance? Ensure the money goes towards things that delight customers and away from things that don’t. IT? Design your service level agreements so that your efforts are optimised for the customer, or customer-facing people, rather than internally.

I could go on, but the thrust is this: this requires a systemic and pervasive approach. You can’t do it piecemeal or by sticking a poster with the values on the wall of an office where no-one has any reason to live to those values.

I’ve been involved in getting values up and running in organisations, and seen various ways of trying to get them embedded, some more successful than others. Here are my tips on getting organisational integrity:

  • Involve as many people across the organisation as possible in choosing what your values should be – don’t impose some from the top, make them meaningful to people
  • Values need to be generic enough to make them real for everyone in the organisation but also specific to your brand, vision and strategy
  • Just have a few values, four or five should do it; simplicity and straightforward is key
  • You need a vision and values – that should be enough, you don’t need to add a load of other statements
  • Your values and vision are everybody’s – you don’t need a separate vision for your HR department, or different values for the engineering division
  • Align everything in your organisation to your values (which is why you need to link it into the brand)
  • Test everything; do they fit with the values
  • Measure what your actual values are (and these may well be different in different parts of the organisation)
  • Find people who live the values and make them your role models – celebrate them and reward them
  • Get in the habit of aligning in the moment recognition to the values – “that was great, you really put our customers first there”, those kind of comments

 Simple, see? Well not really, it is really difficult but also really important. Jack Welch reckoned it took 20-odd years for General Electric to get the values embedded – but everyone I’ve ever me