Welcome to the eighth instalment of Unlocking Motivation! Last week, we looked at the history of engagement in the workplace and why it is so important as a step forward in thinking about employee satisfaction, happiness, and productivity. Here’s a quick recap:
Engagement is based on a ‘psychological contract’ between the employee and employer.
Engagement is the opposite of ‘scientific management’ or Taylorism and is about enriching the employee’s work life by honouring the psychological agreement.
The consequences of failing to engage staff are DIRE!
Today, we’re going to discuss the three main barriers to engagement and productivity that one faces, particularly in a large scale organisation (but it can happen in small ones too).
“These barriers are so big, so threatening, so apparently insurmountable, that unless we address them squarely and head-on, we are unlikely to make any further progress. And there are three main ones…” – Mapping Motivation for Engagement
1. Buy in from Senior Management Team (SMT)
Sadly, for many senior management people, engagement programs are more of a tick-box exercise than an actual attempt to motivate and engage staff. Many of them will see engagement exercises as a frilly extra that can be purchased with some extra cash sitting in the company account. They think it makes them look good to be running these kinds of programs, regardless of the result. This is completely the wrong approach and will lead to fruitless endeavour. When a company expresses interest in engagement, it must come from the very top. Not just HR or another department, but senior management themselves. They must believe it, want to be involved in it, and seek to directly implement it. They have to perceive the strategic value of engagement and the impact it can have on the bottom line. They have to want to make that happen. In any other scenario, engagement exercises, however well executed, will ultimately fail. We call this ‘buy in’ because the SMTs need to not only financially but emotionally buy in to the program, the mission, the course, whatever form it takes. We outline a seven step program in Mapping Motivation for Engagement, which we will cover in our final article!
2. Sufficient resources to undertake the program
There are nine core resources to consider: money, time, equipment, people skills, knowledge, right attitude, information, space/environment and agreed co-operation. Phew! That is a lot of potential barriers. However, we find the one that comes up most often is ‘time’. This is because most companies, really, are in survival mode. They are churning out a product or service as fast as they possibly can in order to keep up with themselves. If they stop for one moment, catastrophe might occur! There is no room in these kind of frantic operations for strategy and long-term planning. Or, to put a finer point on it, improvement! How can you improve a service or product or whatever if you never actually stop doing it, step back, and think: Am I missing something? We have an attitude in the West in particular that every spare moment must be occupied by work. But the reality is that we do our best work when we have space around that to think. Looking at it another way, all creative outputs require ‘waste’ and ‘dead time’. I like to consider the universe in this regard. In theory, the universe is full of ‘wasted space’. The black emptiness stretches for a literally unfathomable distance. However, there is this one pinprick (as far as we are aware), called planet Earth, that harbours life. Could Earth exist without the wasted space? Mathematically, no! Any invention requires wasted time and effort. The endeavour of engaging employees is no different. We need downtime, time to contemplate, reflect, think, and feel. Most companies will not afford that space, or give time out of their schedules, for their staff to go through this process.
The other resources are important to consider too, but we find time is the most cited one, so…
Consider how you might mitigate the barrier of time. When we run engagement programs, we like to ask staff themselves how they can create ‘capacity’ and time to run the program in their busy schedules. The answers can be surprising. How would you go about de-cluttering your daily tasks and making room for thought and reflection? List three things!
3. The human ego!
“In fact, one of the reasons why our first barrier may never be overcome – that is, we might not get complete buy-in – is because of the egos of the management and leadership. It is, if you like, the flaw in human nature that has always been there, and management writers have noted it from the beginning.” – Mapping Motivation for Engagement
It might sound like I am being very harsh towards managers here, but I do not mean to single them out exclusively. We are all capable of becoming enamoured of control or of getting locked into certain behaviours. However, most of the time it is people with a degree of power that are most susceptible to what Professor Brown in the 1950 called ‘petty Hitlerism’. In other words: ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’. When we get control, it can go to our head. We don’t want to relinquish that.
The reality is that we can never achieve ‘buy in’ from senior management if, secretly, they like things the way they are: top-down, command and control, a hierarchy. We have to be really honest with ourselves here and make an honest call about where we think our leadership is at. Is our current leadership capable of buying in to employee engagement, and the necessary ambiguity and complexity it brings? Rewards, yes! But complexity too, because now staff, right down to the grass roots level, are going to be influencing decisions, engaged with the company practice, and able to have their say. It’s scary for some people, who are used to their fiefdom.
The idea of engagement, is to get people so thrilled about their work, that they want to go the extra mile. We cannot ask them to give that extra mile without giving something back, and without loosening the reins. If we want people to truly engage, we have to be prepared for the results of that, we have to be prepared to hear what they think, and we have to put our money where our mouth is.
In the next and final article, we will be exploring the seven steps towards employee engagement!