As I have met with organizations over the past month to discuss the results of their employee engagement surveys, one item tends to stand out more than ever before. The topic of discussion nearly always turns to opportunities for development— in particular, one question that we include on the engagement report: “This organization provides attractive opportunities for growth and development.”
While employee engagement scores have certainly decreased over the past two years, we see an even greater decrease in the scores on this particular question. Initially, corporate execs quickly dismiss this as an unfortunate result of the economy, and one that is really beyond their control. After all, a difficult economy means fewer jobs and, therefore, fewer opportunities for advancement. Let’s look at this logically: a poor economy means fewer jobs; fewer jobs means fewer opportunities for advancement; fewer opportunities for advancement means fewer opportunities for growth and development. It’s as simple as that. Or is it?
Our DecisionWise database of several thousand organizations shows a significant decrease in favorable scores in questions relating to growth and development—about 10-12%.
Growth and Development Opportunities in Tough Times
However, during the past 18 months, a number of organizations have actually seen a significant increase in questions relating to growth and development on both employee engagement surveys and 360-degree feedback. The difference? It’s not that these organizations are hiring more people (in fact, the bulk of these have either maintained employee headcount or decreased number of employees). In addition, they are not investing more of their precious training dollars in development (like most companies, their training budgets have been reduced).
So what is the difference? The difference is that these companies with an increase in growth-related scores are taking advantage of the opportunities that these recent trends have created. Rather than lamenting the loss of training dollars, these organizations are encouraging employees to explore opportunities to do more. They have each developed systematic approaches to taking on additional on-the-job development. Employees are encouraged to step out of their current job roles and, as one of our clients puts it, “operate one level up.” Because there are less people to handle all of the responsibilities (the amount of work hasn’t appeared to decrease, even though the available resources have), these employees look at this as an opportunity to learn additional skills.
The key here is not merely in a shift of mind-set, although seeing these new opportunities requires looking at the “problem” as an “opportunity.” It also requires a formal, concerted effort to act on these opportunities. While employees are, to a large extent, responsible for seeking out and identifying these opportunities, those leaders who can consciously formalize these opportunities experience a double-bonus—engaged employees who are engaged and growing, while simultaneously getting more done with less.
Sounds like a win-win proposition, doesn’t it?
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