What is Usually Missing and Stops Employee Engagement?

November 7, 2011 § 1 Comment

I visited a client this past week.   I conducted leadership training for a Human Resources team in a large organization.  I asked them to give their impressions about their customers (the employees). I was astonished at their answer.  I can summarize with this statement, “You can’t
fix stupid.”

Why would a professional organization that must provide service to its employees feel they are stupid?  Are they?  Certainly not!  Is the HR department flawed?  Have they hired the wrong people?  Certainly not!  This belief (feeling) is a symptom of the quality of leadership at the top.  The senior leaders have failed to include one of the most important things managers need to do a good job, to feel joy in work and to be engaged.  They failed to fully empower employees to manage their own processes.  They are attempting to manage from the top instead of leading from the top.

I have identified seven key initial conditions to create an engaged workforce.  The article can be found at:  http://ezinearticles.com/?The-7-Initial-Conditions-to-Achieve-Employee-Engagement&id=6555104.  I won’t take the time here to repeat all seven.  The empowering of employees to remove their own barriers is usually missing and that is what stops employee engagement in its tracks.  Empowering employees to solve their own problems is only paid lip service and rarely fully implemented.  That is one of the key root causes of the “You can’t fix stupid”
attitude.   If leaders truly trusted employees to study and improve their system interactions, this poor attitude would quickly disappear and would be replaced by joy in work, improved productivity and profitability.  It is the lack of empowerment that causes a feeling of frustration which leads to blaming the very people should be served, the customers.

I want to answer two questions.  First, why do senior leaders only pay lip service to this important responsibility?   Second, how can senior leaders begin to shift this responsibility to the employees?

First, why do senior leaders continue to claim employees have empowerment and yet they still withhold full responsibility?  We have all been taught that the person(s) in authority is all knowing.  It all starts in school where we think the teacher has all the answers because they are the ones who tell us what to study, what questions to ask, how to think, and the answers to all the tests.  They are the ones who grade us.  This naturally follows into our organizations.  It is consistent with managing from the top and not leading from the top.

Also, we have policies that continue to reinforce this idea including the performance review and the pay for performance policies.  The managers grade our performance and control how much we get paid based on how they score us in a performance review.  This role played by our teachers and our managers dies hard.   It is thoroughly ingrained into our brains, reinforced in our language, and supported by our policies.

Second, how can senior leaders begin to make this shift to push responsibility toward employees?  The key lies in making a shift in thinking.  I recommend the study of Dr. W. Edwards Deming.  More than ever we need his Theory of Profound Knowledge.  We can embrace his appreciation for systems thinking, his theory of how knowledge is accumulated, and his theory of psychologyProfound Knowledge is the most effective way to think about how an organization works.

Leaders can also begin to build trust with each and everyinteraction.  This requires trusting employees first.  It requires the realization that employees really want to do a good job and they want to develop trust and pride.  They are not, in their hearts, looking for shortcuts.  They only
look for shortcuts when they are encouraged by flawed policies.

Senior leaders can begin to build trust by trusting first.  A good way to show trust is to stop the policies of performance reviews and pay for performance.   These can be replaced with policies that reinforce trust and systems thinking.  Building trust and embracing Profound Knowledge is an example of leading from the top (not managing from the top).

Finally, senior leaders can start small and allow a small group of employees to take responsibility for one process at a time.   They can teach them simple and powerful tools such as The Six Thinking Hats by Edward DeBono (www.sixthinkinghats.com).

Senior leaders can read about systems thinking and begin to use the principles to build up trust.  This will begin to eliminate the symptom of “You can’t fix stupid.”

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