Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Nice To See You, To See You, Nice!

It wasn’t actually that long ago when many of us had regular get-togethers with colleagues from other parts of our organisation, often held in a central, off-site location. And no, we didn’t always enjoy these meetings that much: the journey could be tiresome, location uninspiring, agenda too full; the list of ‘groans’ is potentially endless. 
Yet, winding the clock forward to today, some of us may actually look back to those meetings with a degree of melancholy. As the age of the ‘Virtual Meeting’, combined with inevitable cost-cutting to survive one economic downturn after another, means that rather than getting together in person, we increasingly ‘meet’ in front of a screen. “Hello Singapore, can you hear us?”. No, I am not going to discuss the pros and cons of ‘virtual’ versus ‘real’ meetings here; I am sure all that can be said about that has no doubt found its way onto the Internet already.
What I do want to discuss is how we run meetings when, as seldom as it may be, we DO decide that meeting in person is the way to go. Let’s start by accepting the challenges (time, cost, location, access, diaries, etc.) haven’t really changed that much. If anything, these may have got worse. There is never an ideal time to do it, or place, cost is always an issue, and people will complain they don’t really (really don't?) have the time. What often happens in response to these issues is that a compromise is reached: let’s book a venue at or near a central airport, let’s have a programme from breakfast all the way through to 6 o’clock, and allow people to arrive late/ leave early if their flight time requires this.

Just read that again! Now consider the effort the organisation has made to get people together in the first place. You have spent a shed-load of money, you’ve made people travel for hours, you’ve upset schedules, I could go on. And yet, despite all of this, and in the face of the fact that these people may not actually meet again face to face for a long time, you decided it was right to cut corners, make compromises, pull together an unrealistic programme, and allow some (key?) people to miss part of the programme. Why? Just so your SVP Eastern Europe could be back home at midnight that day? Or so your Sales Director EMEA would have a full day in the office before travelling to the meeting, getting to your venue an hour after you all kicked off? I ask again: why?
Or let me ask it this way: given we have fewer and fewer of these potential moments of ‘quality time together’ (and I consciously inserted the word ‘potential’), shouldn’t we do all we can to make sure it makes the best possible use of everyone’s time? It really isn’t that hard:
Ensure people stay the night before and (especially in case of a one-day event) the night after your event. It costs little, yet means that everyone attends the sessions organised from start to finish, and – critically – means people have some informal time together, essential for a whole raft of reasons, not least helping the team spirit
  • Have a well thought through programme. This includes a realistic expectation of what can be achieved during the time available, a good ‘flow’, some scheduled ‘e-mail / phone call time’, a few proper breaks, and where at all possible, an external facilitator who ensures the day stays ‘on track’, helps summarise and minute 'what's next?'.
  • Get people to come prepared. Send each delegate one (1!) cleverly collated and manageable pack of pre-reading, and strongly encourage them to read it. This ensures that everyone has sufficient base level knowledge of the points discussed that day, allowing for a smooth running of the sessions and good use of time. Again, having one person in charge of this (rather than delegates receiving endless documents from various contributors) helps a great deal
  • Build in an activity. This can be an evening event, or even something as simple as a short walk after lunch. Something that helps build your team, that clears the mind, and makes people remember the event by. It can be the glue that pulls it all together. And ‘building a team’ doesn’t always require a typical, potentially exhaustive and expensive, team-build event. A round in a bowling alley or an hour of karaoke might just do the trick.
So please, when you next manage to get your team together, give it some (more) thought, and don’t give in easily to people’s moans and groans. It really isn’t that hard to do well, yet, its rewards are huge!

Ruud Jansen Venneboer
Managing Partner
Think the Unthinkable

Monday, 9 March 2015

Can you ever have too much of a good thing?

When your organisation may not want high ‘engagement’

If you read this, then chances are you work for an organisation that uses some form of tool to measure Employee Engagement. You yourself may even be quite involved with the measurement and analysis itself, in which case the mantra ‘High Levels of Engagement are Good’ is likely to be firmly etched on your brain.

For the benefit of mutual understanding, it may be good to just briefly define what I mean by (employee) engagement. Employee Engagement in my book is an individual’s focus on their organisation's goals and values, motivation to contribute to its success, and a sense of pride to be part of this.

The way organisations measure engagement varies, but frequently includes asking people about their understanding of, and buy-in to, the organisation’s strategy, goals and values, some sort of measurement of ‘willingness to contribute / go the extra mile’, questions around pride to be associated with the organisation (aka ‘willingness to wear the T-shirt’) and last but not least, whether they see their medium to long term future with this employer.

In an ideal (fully engaged) situation, an employee responds positively to all of the above. And given that there is – seemingly – a strong correlation between these individual aspects of engagement, you’d be forgiven to think that as far as employees are concerned, it is usually all or nothing. Or in other words: they are either fully engaged, or they are not. Reality however, is often a lot more complicated.

If, as many organisations do, you first and foremost judge your levels of employee engagement through an average score based on all aspects of engagement, you may well be rather pleased when your score has gone up versus prior years, or is higher than your benchmark(s). Yet, chances are you should be concerned.

Because what may be happening is that your (average) score is ‘propped up’ by high levels of ‘desire to stay with the organisation’, whilst levels of strategy buy in, pride and willingness to contribute are average at best. If that looks familiar, what you need to ask yourself is: “what makes these people want to stay?” “Are we paying significantly more than elsewhere in our industry? Have we provided them with golden handcuffs?” In other words: is it really beneficial to have a workforce which is loyal, but which doesn’t necessarily buy in to what you stand for? Does this type of ‘engagement’ really benefit your set up?

Another less than desirable Engagement scenario is where, again, your average score may look okay, but where ‘Pride’ is pulling up the average, with all other elements trailing. Why are staff (still) proud to be with the organisation, when they don’t fully buy-in to your strategy and / or are less than willing to go the extra mile? A scenario like this is more common than you think, and often emerges in organisations or sectors which traditionally carry significant status, yet where management is increasingly failing to ‘take staff with them’ in their efforts to drive change. Or where employees are simply exhausted by the constant change in direction and priorities they face. Good examples of the latter can be found in Education and (public) Health Care.

The best, no, only way to avoid falling in this trap is a simple one: don’t narrow Employee Engagement down to just one number. Only by making sure you look at your employees through all engagement filters available can you judge whether you have a truly healthy level of Engagement, one which will help your organisation move forward. Or is your conclusion that some aspects may need work? Engagement, Pride, Effort and Loyalty should go hand in hand, but where they don’t, best to make sure it isn’t false loyalty that is pulling the cart! And only by having a really good insight in what drives the various aspects of Engagement in your organisation can you work towards improving not just the sum, but all its underlying parts.

Ruud Jansen Venneboer
Managing Partner
Think the Unthinkable