Staff Engagement – Some Questions To Ponder

Staff Engagement – Some Questions To Ponder

I’ve always been fascinated with what motivates someone to jump into their day!

There were plenty of Glaswegians born in 1959 but not all chose a path of education to become a Scottish CA, run to London as the ink was drying on their CA qualification to take up a group accountant role at Thomson (now Thomson Reuters) at 23.
Why are some people driven, engaged in the ambitious pursuit of being better at something? Why am I driven to do the best I possibly can, every day? If you start with little money does that help, maybe. Of course accountancy is a fascinating subject but I knew the salaries were attractive to a young professional! One of the first professionals I hired when I moved into Investment Banking, in my my late 20’s, was an exceptional individual who did not need to work, at least for financial reasons. The hardest working man I’ve seen on deals. He almost worked as hard as me! No it’s not purely about money.

Why people come to work is a fascinating subject. Dan Pink wrote a best seller called Drive, which I highly recommend you read. It’s based on all the relevant social science. Money is not the highest priority (after base level bills are paid).

Here are some questions on the subject of Staff Engagement and what motivates people to come to work and give their best. I’ve noted Dan’s view on the answers and my observations covering the last 35 years.

Why should Chief Executives care about staff Engagement?
Starting at the top, chief executives should be focused on people, strategy and the balance sheet. People is a core CEO responsibility and never forget that. The pressure to build a great team has never been greater on a CEO. Recruiting is expensive and new hires don’t always work out, and so engaging existing staff is the most efficient use of the leadership team’s time

Why do people come to work?
In Drive, Dan Pink explains, once you’re beyond the ‘paying the bills’ level of salary, employees place money lower down the priority list of why they come to work. The three big reasons employees come to work are autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy in the sense they want to be left to do their role with limited intervention, mastery talks to the need to get better at what they do and purpose addresses the reason their role is important. When employees understand how the business works and their role in the business, they’ll feel part of a bigger team and have more purpose. Once you understand why people come to work, you can start to put together strategies that make sense. Purpose can be linked to changing the world or to something as basic as understanding how different roles fit into the business strategy.

How do you achieve Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose?
In my view autonomy is about allowing someone to execute their role to agreed performance standards with the right level of management supervision. To achieve this desired state therefore, we need to first reject Job Specifications and instead, embrace Performance Profiles. Think of the parallel world of marketing. We’ve moved beyond features and benefits language and instead successful companies talk about outcomes, value propositions they achieve for customers. Outcomes based thinking has replaced inward “features & benefits” thinking. Similarly Performance Profiles focus on what a role can achieve for the team, for the company. What outcomes are expected from the work done by this role? Secondly, to achieve autonomy we need to get the management supervision piece right. Too much oversight, and the feeling of autonomy is lost. So each autonomy situation requires judgment on the part of management. The entry level Java developer requires a different form of management from the experienced financial controller.

Now to mastery. In the context of many private companies, does this just mean putting in the hours, year after year? I don’t believe so. I think it’s a mindset to continually improve. To continually embrace new changes to your area, perhaps externally driven, such as technology or legislation. It requires a passion to get better by practice but also a curiosity as to how the task is connected to others. It requires a desire to stay up to date by reading papers, blogs, books to inform. That’s why I’m a big fan of the internal training program. I call it the university model after the famous Pixar example and you can create it at little cost in small, medium sized businesses to create mastery. My full blog post on how I did it with a small sub 100 person software group I led is here. One of the surprising benefits to building an internal university is the massive respect that is created overnight, by people realizing the difficulty of their colleague’s job!

Finally, purpose and how to achieve that for each member of staff. For me this is the key to achieving high levels of energy and passion within a team. As the leader of your company, your story should be compelling not just to prospects, not just to prospective job candidates, but also to each and every member of staff. It doesn’t have to be corny or a platitude, it just has to be real. Your positioning statement should define what you do, why you’re remarkable at it, the outcomes you achieve for customers and why that’s believable. The secret is then to connect that person’s role, their Performance Profile with the achievement of that Positioning Statement. Employees need a purpose bigger than themselves, they want a cause. I don’t care if it’s the junior payroll clerk or the COO. Everyone’s role matters. Think of any role in the company and ask yourself as CEO, what would happen if that role was done badly? That will quickly remind you the importance of the junior payroll clerk!

How do you spot potential employees who will possess High Engagement levels?
I think there is a symbiotic relationship between the characteristic if curiosity and the capacity to sustain long periods of engagement. Low curiosity in a person will rarely lead to someone being passionate and ultimately engaged in a task. The pace of technological change today demands a curious mindset. Always be learning is a leadership trait not always seen in leaders. So in interviews gravitate to the smart questioner. We are defined by the questions we ask.

What’s the impact of High Engagement on Company Performance?
I’ve written in previous blog posts about scaling successful private or public companies. It often comes down to working smarter not harder. Working on the right stuff. Companies with high levels of engagement have staff who know what they’re doing, refine their skills and understand why their role is key to success for that company. The effect of engagement on a team is pretty clear in that you become much more competitive, smarter, and you worry about the value you add to your customer. When engagement is high, you become aware that your actions are focused on a common purpose and that alignment of action with strategy is a game changer.

The Portfolio Partnership (TPP) is an operational consultancy that scales businesses organically and by acquisition. All of our work has two common themes, we deploy our services through a Fractional C-Suite model using our successful tools and process that we know work. Our desire to work with a client is based on the ambition, openness and humility of the management team and rarely the sector.

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