Managing Up: How to Do it Successfully

One thing we have learned from years of administering 360-degree feedback assessments is that people can be perceived in vastly different ways depending upon who is giving them feedback. People receiving a 360 assessment benefit from understanding the different perspectives provided to them from various groups. As a 360 company, we have seen the benefit of understanding gaps in perception and how to close those gaps. One troubling gap that 360 participants occasionally see is a gap between how they see themselves and how their manager sees them. When coaching an individual with lower scores from their supervisor compared to everybody else, we have conversations about the importance of managing up.

Many people may feel—in a perfect world—that the concept of managing up would not exist. Most people want to assume that any difficulty, hardship, or success they encounter would be noticed and recognized by their managers without having to say anything. People may also wish to have complete trust from their managers to make impactful decisions without having to check in. In reality, even the most dutiful and trusting managers will have difficulty fully recognizing and buying into the efforts of their employees without help.

5-15 Reports: Your Success is Your Manager’s Success

The founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard, created a system of managers gathering reports from their employees each week. He called them 5-15 Reports. Each week employees take 15 minutes to write about their current work, progress, challenges, and general feelings about how things are going. Managers then take 5 minutes to review each report. Managers then create their own 15-minute report to send to their managers, incorporating the information in the reports from direct reports. By doing this, information flows upward in an organization, and employees keep leaders informed about and bought into what is going on. You can use Patagonia’s system for upward feedback as a template for managing up.

Assume your manager cares about your ability to successfully navigate and manage your work. Your success is your manager’s success. This means, like Yvon Chouinard, most effective managers will care about critical aspects of your job. Using the Patagonia system, you might think about what sorts of things you ought to consistently communicate to your manager. You might also think about how and when you should communicate those things. Here are some ideas:

  1. Major or impactful decisions you have made or will make
  2. Challenges or roadblocks you are facing
  3. Progress you have made on major projects or initiatives
  4. Your personal accomplishments

Let’s look at each of these categories and examine why and how to communicate them to your manager.

Major or Impactful Decisions

Your manager is ultimately responsible for your performance. A major part of your performance will be based upon the decisions you make. That does not mean that communicating every decision you make to your manager is part of effectively managing up. In fact, for the most part, you should work to build enough trust from your manager that most of your work decisions will be made without their knowledge or consent.

Choosing which decisions to communicate and which decisions to keep to yourself is more art than science. Here are some questions you might ask yourself before determining whether to communicate a decision to your manager.

  • Would your manager disagree with the decision you made?
  • Does the decision have significant impact on profit or loss in your area?
  • Does the decision directly impact other departments or leaders of other departments?
  • Are you having difficulty making the decision?

Simply communicating decisions to your supervisor does not qualify as managing up. You should communicate these things with the purpose of building buy-in from your manager, and to solicit support for the decision you have made or will make. You might also communicate prior to making the decision to make sure your manager’s opinion is considered when you ultimately make the decision.

Challenges or Roadblocks

Part of managing up is informing your supervisor of the challenges you face. You do this for two reasons. First, when you inform your manager of a challenge or roadblock, you also invite them to help solve the issue. Your supervisor likely has authority or relationships you do not have. Communicating challenges allows your manager to help solve the problem before it drags on for a long period of time.

The second reason to inform your boss of challenges is to make sure they understand what could prevent you from delivering optimal results. Ensuring that your boss knows the degree of difficulty you experience is a critical part of managing up. Without that context, your manager may unfairly judge your performance to be unsatisfactory. The key to presenting any challenge or roadblock to your manager is to do so with a solutions-oriented approach. You may solicit recommendations from them, but you might also think about providing your own recommendations for how to clear the roadblock.

Progress on Major Projects or Initiatives

As you manage up, remember that your boss also needs to manage up. Equipping your manager with the information they need to effectively communicate with their managers or peers should be a part of your managing-up strategy. Your boss needs to understand the progress you are making on major work projects or initiatives, so they can communicate that progress to other stakeholders in the organization. By regularly communicating progress on major projects, you proactively hold yourself accountable to the timelines and milestones you set for yourself. You also provide your boss the opportunity to provide input and to support what you are doing.

Accomplishments

As you can imagine, managing up effectively requires that you find ways to appropriately inform your manager of your accomplishments. Many people struggle to walk the balance between keeping their managers informed of successes in the workplace and coming across as overly pompous or arrogant. While nobody wants to be seen as overly arrogant, you might think about how being a little loud and proud about your accomplishments might positively impact your career and your relationship with your manager. So much of the narrative that is built about you in your organization comes down to anecdotes. Other people form opinions about you based upon a few meaningful stories. You can gain experience by overcoming obstacles and accomplishing great things, but you can’t build your reputation unless other people know about those accomplishments.

Sharing anecdotes about the things you accomplish will help build your brand with your supervisor and with others in the organization. Informing your manager of your accomplishments provides them with positive anecdotes about you that can be shared with other people in the organization. You cannot manage up effectively without regularly informing your manager about your accomplishments.

Conclusion

The perceptions of critical stakeholders around you have significant impact on your ability to succeed. One of your most important stakeholders is your manager. You can significantly improve your manager’s perception of you by effectively managing up. You can manage up most effectively when you consistently communicate the right things to your supervisor at the right time. Create a regular process for yourself to keep your supervisor informed and appropriately involved. Managing up will improve your managers perceptions about you, and it will help you move your career forward.

Are Growth Opportunities Important In Your Job?

measuring growth

Are growth opportunities important in your job? Employee engagement is essential to a thriving and effective organization, and growth is one of the most important keys to employee engagement. If people aren’t challenging themselves and learning new skills, complacency takes over and the infection of disengagement creeps in. The growth opportunity definition can be described as the chance to grow significantly. Whether that growth be in your career, personal life, or hobbies. Opportunities to grow are key to overall satisfaction and success.

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.” – Harvey S. Firestone, founder of Firestone Tire & Rubber Company

Growth, as it relates to employees and work, is being stretched and challenged in ways that result in personal and professional progress.

According to the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: Five Keys for Engaging People, Leaders, and Organizations, Growth is the third key and the one that injects life into the employee engagement formula, Meaning, AutonomyGrowthImpact, and Connection.

Opportunities in the workplace give employees a sense of getting better at something and always expanding into new areas. It is a universal human need. We become bored, distracted, and disengaged when we feel that our work is routine and repetitive. People crave work experiences that challenge their minds and their skills, and that offers them the chance to rise to the occasion and excel even in high-stress situations.

How Organizations Promote Growth Opportunities – 8 Examples From People Who See Growth as Essential in Employee Engagement

Kyle Wente, EcoEnclose

To promote personal and professional growth opportunities, we organize monthly knowledge-sharing workshops. The topic of each workshop is left entirely up to the employees and can include both professional, as well as personal ‘life’ skills. Some of these workshops have included topics like advanced Excel tips and an intro to Adobe Creative Suite. However, we’ve also devoted a monthly workshop to team-building activities including an introduction to rock climbing seminar. As long as there is enough interest and an expert available to lead the workshop, no topic is off-limits.
Employees have really enjoyed the growth initiative and challenge of working outside their current areas of expertise while learning new skills and engaging with colleagues.
 

Alex Buck, Taher Food Services Management

At Taher, we have multiple programs to help our employees grow personally, physically, and professionally. We have access to our licensed dietitians for input on meal planning and what foods to eat. Included in that is our Healthy-is-the-new-cool initiative that encourages employees to volunteer. The program also exposes them to new foods and experiences like our visit to The Fish Guys to show where we source some of our seafood and try some amazing new dishes!

Cristian Rennella, oMelhorTrato.com

We are a technology company composed of engineers, programmers, and designers. In the last 9 years, we have tested 27 different techniques, from tradeshows, brainstorming sessions, motivational speakers every 2 months, and more, to encourage the professional growth of each person who is part of our team.

After all these years and experiments, we concluded that the best opportunities for personal growth and commitment to the company are in educating employees on new technologies that will improve their careers and our organization.

Recently our company has encouraged every employee to better learn Artificial Intelligence through online training at Udacity. Once the course is complete, we allot Fridays to work on newly learned skills, personal interests, and projects that will benefit the company.
Through continuous education of new technologies and the challenge of putting them into practice, employee engagement and growth have noticeably increased within the organization.
The results we have seen with this technique have been amazing.

Matt Collins, Loans Now

At our company, we constantly put in the effort towards helping our staff become more skillful and better equipped for their careers. We often assess our team to define which skills we lack that could make our business more efficient or effective. Instead of hiring new specialists to target one specific skill, we empower our current employees and pay for their advanced training in the areas that would be most beneficial to our business. Not only is this much less expensive than bringing in someone new, but our most engaged employees typically jump at the chance to learn a new skill, as it gives them a way to increase their career development with no personal expense.

As a bonus, once an employee has gained knowledge in a new area, they train and assist other team members. This means that for each employee we support in gaining new knowledge, we can ensure that these new skills will be exponentially valuable to our operations.

Cody Clifton, Wholesale Lanyards

We send our employees on business retreats that are designed to provide training as well as a little rest and relaxation. We are also offering to pay tuition for classes that are related to our industry. Additionally, we are sending our employees to national or international conferences where industry experts will be speaking.

By providing opportunities like these, we are showing our employees that they’re worth the investment. Offering growth opportunities like these are valuable to our employees. They understand that expanding their knowledge base and skillsets translates to promotions and increased income. These opportunities also help our employee engagement and our recruiting process. Job seekers see these benefits as a bonus to our other company perks.

Megan Larsen, Arbor Financial Group

I used to work at a public relations firm in Beverly Hills, where I was the definition of MISERABLE. I now work as the Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator for Arbor Financial Group in Orange County.
The difference between the two companies is night and day. Arbor promotes growth. They commonly send their employees to conferences and trade shows to help us network and grow! This past April I was sent to the National Association of Professional Mortgage Women Conference in Las Vegas with two other Female Co-Workers. Two other employees recently visited Michigan for the UWM Fast Track Growth Seminar for Mortgage Professionals and they said it was an amazing experience.

Working for a company that promotes growth and has an open-door policy is truly amazing. The Principal of the company sits each employee down and asks where they see themselves growing within the company. I think it’s a total game-changer working for an employer that is so in tune with employee’s personal and professional growth. I don’t see myself ever looking to leave this company––I’m very happy here.

 Augustin Kennedy, ShipMonk

One thing I’m very grateful for is that our CEO promotes and funds our professional development on the job. We have a program in which we take a course online either in our field or in any niche of our interest, and then we present what we’ve learned every quarter. This opportunity has enabled me to learn things on the job that I’ve never actually thought about, and it has made me a better-rounded employee overall.

Aaron Udler, OfficePro

It’s mandatory for employees to take continuing education classes. I don’t care about the subject matter. It can be business-related, learning a new language, or something else. Being an education company, I want my employees to always be learning new things and keeping their brain active.
We encourage employees to attend tradeshows each year. We either attend or exhibit at 3-5 trade shows a year. I use this as both a bonus and an educational opportunity for members of my team to see what else is out there. It’s usually pretty eye-opening for them to see industry trends first hand.

Growth Opportunities aren’t (ALWAYS) About Advancement

These were all great examples of leaders and employees seeing growth opportunities within their organization. It’s interesting to see that most of the comments focused on intellectual growth or advancing skills. Not many mentioned growth as related to advancing in position or pay.

As stated in the book, ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®, “Growth does not necessarily equal promotion. In fact, when we (DecisionWise) survey employees about growth, their responses aren’t focused on near-term promotions. However, a significant percentage of managers automatically assume that employees equate growth with job promotion and a fancier title.”

Conclusion

Growth opportunities are essential to employee engagement. They go far beyond a higher position or a better parking space, these opportunities enable individuals to grow as a person and become their best selves.

Further Reading

How 15 employees see MEANING in their jobs.
AUTONOMY is crucial for employee engagement.
How employees see IMPACT in their jobs.
Finding CONNECTION in your job.

Do Your Employees Grow or Go?

Lack of opportunity for personal growth or career development is the number one reason that employees leave a company. So what’s it like in your organization? Have you implemented growth into your employee retention strategies? Do your employees grow or go? According to a survey by Glassdoor and Harris Interactive, more applicants—52 percent—wanted to hear about growth opportunities when interviewing for a job than about any other perk. The same survey also found that one-third of employees left a job because of—wait for it—lack of career growth—than for any other reason. Only 8 percent left because of their managers.105

Download employee engagement survey.

When professional growth opportunities are absent in a retention strategy, you get stagnation, boredom, and finally attrition. People work on autopilot. They aren’t present; their minds are not on their work. Errors happen. Quality drops. Indifference sets in. Work becomes routine. It may still get done—how many times have you driven a familiar route mindlessly, only to end up safely at your destination with no memory of getting there?—but nothing new happens. Innovation grinds to a halt.

We analyzed survey results from over twenty thousand employees who had left a large biomedical company and its subsidiaries during a period of five years. We compared attrition numbers with engagement scores, and the results were intriguing. Typically, employees enjoyed a high level of growth during the first six months of employment. However, at the nine-month mark, these companies experienced much higher than average levels of attrition, and engagement levels plummeted. What was happening?

Upon further investigation, we learned that during the first six months, these employees were constantly learning. This made sense; the job was new to them. However, at about the nine-month point, employees had learned the basics of the job and were no longer as challenged as they were during the first six months. At that point, their levels of engagement dropped sharply.

What was even more interesting was that once employees hit the fourteen-to eighteen-month mark, engagement and retention increased again until the two-year mark. What was happening at each of these points in time that impacted both engagement and retention? Simple—it was about growth.

Employees were learning and growing the first six months, but at about the nine-month mark they stopped. They also had little concept of where to go from there. They couldn’t see any growth opportunities awaiting them. They felt stagnant. Those who stuck around for fourteen to eighteen months suddenly began to be presented with further growth opportunities, such as new assignments, promotions, and different team roles. They were, once again, growing. Engagement increased.

This pattern remained constant until the two-year mark, at which time employees began looking outside the organization for new opportunities and challenges. Some of those who remained fell into the same patterns of stagnation and disengagement.

For these companies, the solution was clear: Step up efforts to create growth opportunities at the nine-and twenty-four-month marks. Employees, in turn, had to choose to take advantage of these opportunities. Those who did showed clear levels of engagement. Those who did not generally left the organization. That, reasoned these companies, was “good turnover.”

Among some organizational leaders—executives and managers alike—there’s a great deal of fear that by helping employees develop professionally, they’ll only be preparing them to leave for greener pastures. It’s the “help them grow and watch them go” syndrome, and it’s simply not valid. As Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni write in Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go,106 career development has become the “killer app” of employee engagement, which in turn leads to higher revenues, greater profitability, increased innovation, and a host of other happy outcomes.

Giving employees an environment where they can elect to develop professionally is very much the lesser of two evils. Is there a risk that by doing so you’ll merely train your best people to leave for better jobs? Of course. But consider the alternative. Would you rather have unmotivated, unskilled people, numbed by routine, at the heart of your company, interacting with your customers?

Doesn’t it make more sense to help your people develop skills that make them worth keeping—and then hold on to them by creating a culture in which they have the autonomy, respect, and freedom to see how far they can stretch without fear of failing? Based on our research, it’s not even a choice: While some growth-minded employees leave, most engage and stick around, and the organization benefits.

Employees in hip office space

A growth-positive workplace is especially important to Millennials, who will form the next-generation workforce. A 2012 survey of nearly eight thousand college students conducted by Achievers and Experience, Inc., showed that the most important factor to them in choosing a place to work was career advancement opportunities, beating salary 54 percent to 51 percent. Also, “interesting and challenging work” tied with salary, 51–51, as the most important factor.107

Clearly, while pay and other hygiene factors need to be there, employees want growth and development not only to advance their future career prospects but also because it makes work more enjoyable and rewarding. Human beings are curious individuals who want to learn, adapt, and evolve; the circumstances don’t matter as much.

Even hourly employees want to be challenged and grow through their jobs. In a 2012 study of 2,743 employees in an international manufacturing company, our team found significant differences between the attitudes, beliefs, and values of hourly versus exempt employees. For example, only 51 percent of hourly employees felt that they had a voice in the organization and could speak up without fear of retribution or negative consequences, compared to nearly 70 percent of exempt employees. Only 39 percent of hourly employees reported receiving counseling in their careers, compared to 54 percent of exempt employees. Yet consider how important the role of the typical hourly employee is to a company’s well-being:

  • Hourly employees often represent the majority of customer-facing roles.
  • They are directly involved in production.
  • They directly impact quality.
  • They are advocates of safety.
  • They know where the problems are, and how to resolve them.

When was the last time a manager in your organization worried about training an hourly employee so well that he became too employable to stay?

Yet by denying growth opportunities to all workers because of this irrational fear, some managers are preventing some of their most valuable people from getting better at their jobs. It doesn’t make sense.

These days, we’ve noticed a trend we call the “tour of duty.” A person comes to an organization, finds tremendous opportunities for professional and personal development, becomes more valuable, and leaves. However, because management encouraged his growth and gave him what he needed to get better, the relationship remains strong. A few years later, he comes back for a second tour, occupying a higher rung on the corporate ladder and often bringing with him an even better skill set.

That’s why the “grow and go” mentality is self-defeating. In the end, growth leads to engagement, and employees who find deep, satisfying engagement in an organization are more likely to form mutually beneficial long-term relationships with that organization . . . even if they’re working somewhere else.

105 Glassdoor, Harris Interactive, “The Age of Social Recruiting.”

106 Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go:Career Conversations Employees Want (New York: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2012).

107 Jacquelyn Smith, “What Employers Need to Know About the Class of 2012,” Forbes, April 3, 2012.

The Link between Growth and Employee Engagement

High Employee Turnover

The tours-of-duty concept spotlighted in the May 27 issue of Chicago Tribune and the June issue of HBR is fascinating.  Back when I was in my prime (i.e. childhood), employees hoped to stay with one employer for many years—if not life.  Life-long employee-employer relationships were not only desirable, but also common.  Today’s global economy—both job and fiscal—is much different than that of our parents’, which has forever changed the way employers and employees cooperate.  From an employer’s standpoint, expecting employees to be with the company for life is unreasonable, even illogical, and potentially constraining.  To employees, staying with one company for an entire career would be both personally and professionally disadvantageous.

At DecisionWise, we have witnessed the tours-of-duty concept first hand.  One of our employees first joined our company in 2006.  Around the end of 2008, he took on different projects and opportunities with a different company (no hard feelings).  When February 2012 rolled around, this employee rejoined the DecisionWise team and was handed what he calls a holy-grail opportunity for someone in his industry.

When I sat down to talk to this employee about his tour with our company, and his career path afterward that eventually led to his return, I was expecting to hear an echo of the HBR article: that during his time with us he had been able to see a project through completion and wanted to start working on newer, bigger projects.  And that’s basically what he told me, but not for the reasons I expected.  You see, this employee—and likely millions of employees just like him—would rather not leave a company after seeing a project through completion.  Employees are looking for consistent growth; if they can find it in your company, they’ll stay.

When I asked our returning employee about his opinion of the tour-of-duty concept, he explained, “Tours of duty have a lot of overhead.  A better solution would be to find another challenge for an employee.  Smaller companies can switch an employee’s projects or tasks; bigger companies can move employees to new teams.  Jumping from team to team would be more effective.”

Employees are looking for challenge, for growth, and for continued development.  Just because today’s companies are failing to provide adequate growth levels does not mean that tours of duty are the new ideal standard.  Au contraire, if companies want to hire and maintain human capital—the most valuable resource (and quite possibly the highest expense) in nearly every company—then they need to start promoting continual growth and development within the organization.

Growth is also one of the five essential elements for employee engagement, which explains exactly why the average employee-company monogamous lifespan has been steadily declining over the years: employees are becoming disengaged.  Engaged employees are those who find a healthy portion of meaning, autonomy, growth, impact, and connection in their jobs.  Employee diets deficient on any of these five ingredients are recipes for disengagement.
Are you currently receiving an engaging level of growth and development opportunities in your job? 

Respond to the following statements, with ratings from 1 to 5, 5 being strongly agree and 1 strongly disagree:

  1. I feel challenged and stretched in my job.
  2. My job offers enough variety to keep me challenged.
  3. I feel challenged and stretched in my job to increase my abilities.
  4. My job stretches me to be the best professional I can be.
  5. This organization provides attractive opportunities for growth and development.
  6. My work gives me opportunities to learn and grow.

Share your results in the comments; we’d love to hear your stories.

5 Keys of Employee Engagement White Paper

Hourly vs. Exempt Employees: Who is more valuable?

Turner worker working on drill bit in a workshop

Last week I had the good fortune to work with a very successful organization that has operated in the retail space for over 100 years.  The average tenure of the company’s executive team is 15 years, with its Vice President of Operations (let’s call him David) having been at the company during the extent of his 25-year career.
David told me a remarkable story of joining the company as a janitor (his official title in 1988), working as an hourly employee during the night shift.  I asked him about the factors that contributed to his advancement, to which he responded, “I have always had good bosses that believed in me.”  In his 25 years within the organization, David not only advanced but also held various positions that allowed him to see every side of the business.  Because of his experiences, David is able to quickly relate to both the hourly maintenance staff and the board of directors.  The point of this story is that hourly workers comprise a potential pool of talent that is too often overlooked and underdeveloped.
In a 2012 study of 2,743 employees within an international manufacturing company, my team and I found significant differences between the attitudes, beliefs, and values of hourly verses exempt employees.  For example, only 51 percent of hourly employees felt that they had a voice in the organization and could speak up without fear of retribution or negative consequences, compared to nearly 70 percent of exempt employees.
Relating to growth and development, the differences between hourly and exempt staff members are more pronounced: only 39 percent of hourly employees reported receiving counseling in their careers, compared to 54 percent of exempt employees. More interesting still, hourly employees perceived more career opportunities than their exempt counterparts.
The results of this study bring to light two fundamental realities:  (1) hourly employees, who often have the most insight into the day-to-day operations of an organization, think that their voices don’t matter; and (2) hourly employees have desires to progress in their companies, but they are not receiving the guidance needed to advance their careers.
Engaged and committed hourly employees can have a significant impact on an organization’s success.  Keep the following characteristics of hourly employees in mind:

  • Hourly employees often represent the majority of customer-facing roles;
  • They are directly involved in production-line;
  • They directly impact quality; and,
  • They are advocates and supporters of safety.

The reasons above suggest that engaging hourly employees is essential in gaining competitive advantage in markets where hourly workers are a significant demographic.  Organizations that provide the conditions for these hourly employees to thrive wll experience lower talent-acquisition costs, improved operational performance, and best-in-class customer experiences—they will be known as employers of choice that provide opportunities for people like David to advance.
Related Webinar: Employee Engagement and the Hourly Employee
Related White Paper: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: The Five Keys of Employee Engagement

The Employee Engagement Sky is Falling!

The Employee Engagement Sky is Falling

“70 percent of employees are looking for other jobs.

“2 out of 3 workers are looking for new jobs.”

“Seventy-one percent of all employees are disengaged.”

“70% of employees hate their jobs.”

“Survey: 63% of workers not engaged.”

Ouch.  Yes, these are actual headlines.  For those not receiving these regular alerts in your inboxes, a quick internet search will verify the proliferation of similar warnings.

It makes me want to throw in the towel.  Has two-thirds of my workforce (and yours) really checked out permanently? Quick! Hire additional security.  Change all of our passwords.  Change the locks on the building. Warn your customers!

Not so fast…
Let’s separate fact from predictions of total chaos, corporate anarchy, and Employee Armageddon… at the very least, misinterpretation or bad employee data collection.

The Employee Engagement Facts
Most of these headlines are based on surveys of a few hundred or a couple thousand employees, and most of them do not include more than a few companies.  Even if these results were truly accurate interpretations, we certainly can’t extrapolate these findings to represent all employees in the United States, let alone the world. Let’s take a more comprehensive look, using the DecisionWise 2012 employee engagement database of over 12 million responses (across 60 countries).

We have found that the numbers above are actually fairly accurate—to a certain point.  We have also found that, on a 5-point scale, only 30 percent of employees are “Fully Engaged” in their jobs.  This means, they scored an average of close to “5” (Strongly Agree) across ALL survey questions (we typically like surveys in the 35-40 question range).

However, another 46 percent score in the “4” or “Agree” range.  These are your “strong and steady” employees.  Just because they didn’t mark “5” on all questions, are they really disengaged?  Hardly.  Yet, statistics like the headlines above lead us to believe that those employees not currently interviewing elsewhere are building arsenal bunkers and making preparations for mutiny.

Now, the reality…
When we look at those employees who are truly disengaged—those that provide average favorable responses between “1” and “2” (Strongly Disagree and Disagree) on a 5-point scale across all survey questions—we find that less than 8 percent of employees fall into the category of being Actively Disengaged.  This leaves another 16 percent as our “undecided vote” (we call them the “opportunity group”).  Hardly the end-of-companies-as-we-know-them scenarios the headlines seem to indicate.

The Employee Migration

So, what about the employee exodus?  Are two-thirds of my employees looking for other jobs?  Probably.

I work very hard to ensure we hire “the best” (as your company probably does, as well).  At DecisionWise, we average over 80 applicants for each person we hire.  I work even harder to ensure we create an environment in which they can choose to be engaged.  They are, truly, the single biggest factor in making this company succeed, and I’ll do all I can to keep them on our team.

But, someday, they will leave.  And I hope to be able to help them do so.  Here’s why…
If my Chief Technology Officer, Dave (who is a rock star technologist and employee), were to get the call from Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, offering him the top technology spot, would he entertain the idea?  I would at least hope so.  If our project and client services head honcho, Kristin, were to be offered the lead position in solving the North/South Korea situation, would she jump ship?  Of anyone, Kristin could probably make a resolution happen.  So, she’d be feeling pressure from me.

People on the street

In fact, which of us wouldn’t leave if all conditions—including environment, pay, duties, location, team, title, family impact, schools, company, clients, etc.—were perfect elsewhere.  Who wouldn’t, if it became available, take the spot as the Zamboni machine driver at the local ice rink (okay, maybe that’s just my thing)?

It’s called “growth.”  It’s called “being responsible for my own career.”  Hopefully, my team (and yours) can find that internally.  But the fact is, someday, every employee will move on.

Engaged or disengaged?
Lest I be branded a heretic and booted out of the profession, I need to be clear.  Should we be concerned about employee engagement?  Absolutely!  Is it even more of a concern than in the past?  Without a doubt!  Do we need to focus on and measure it?  Clearly!

So, does this mean the headlines about employee engagement are lies?  Not quite.  It means they are misinterpreted and misapplied.  Apply some common sense to what you’re reading.  Walk out onto the shop floor or past the cubicles in your office.  Do you really think that 2 out of 3 of your employees are doing all they can to get out of there because they hate their jobs?  Not by a long shot.

Give your team the benefit of the doubt.  They “get it.”  They want to succeed, and want to be part of a successful organization.  You may be surprised at what happens.
Employee Engagement Survey
Related Post: Are Employees Really that Disengaged in Their Jobs?
Related Post: How Disengaged Employees Could be Sabotaging Your Company’s Success
Related Webinar: The Profile of a Disengaged Employee

Are You Challenged Enough to be Engaged at Work?

Working In The Warehouse

Here’s a challenge . . .
I bet I know you. I can even predict your behavior. I know what you can and can’t do, even though you and I may have never met.  How can I be so sure? Well, I can’t. But I have a pretty good idea.
Let me show you what I know . . .

  1. Most people, including you, find themselves “faking” confidence. You don’t always know what you are doing, but will try to get others to think you do.
  2. It is impossible to breathe through your nose while sticking out your tongue. It is simply physically (and psychologically) impossible.
  3. You just tried point #2, but only after re-reading it to ensure you understood what was being said.
  4. When you did point #2, you realized it is possible, but you look like a dog.
  5. You just smiled when you realized I do, in fact, know you.

So, when this challenge presented itself, did you react?
There is one basic commonality that is instinctive for all humans—the desire to succeed. We tend to gravitate toward a challenge. When faced with a challenge, our natural reaction is most often to find a way to address the challenge.

This need has been with us for as long as man has been around. While reaction to challenge is a natural part of self-preservation (“Saber-tooth tiger! Run!”), it goes deeper than simply a survival mechanism. We have an inherent psychological need to be challenged—and to prove our ability to meet that challenge.

Consider how you would respond to these two questions that we use on our employee engagement surveys:

  • My work offers enough variety and challenge to keep me engaged.
  • Most days, my job provides me with opportunities to stretch beyond my comfort zone.

Based on the responses to these questions we have found a very clear correlation between growth and challenge, and overall levels of employee engagement.

Are You Challenged Enough to be Engaged at Work?

Cartoons and business sitcoms portray workers that simply “get by,” investing as little as possible in their jobs. In fact, humorous media often depicts most employees as expending more effort in avoiding work than they would if they had actually done the work.

Our experience shows just the opposite. People, in general, not only want challenge—they need challenge. Employment situations are no different. We work with numerous organizations where challenge is not a problem. In fact, “Overcome today’s challenge” could certainly be listed as Bullet #1 in many job descriptions.

While challenge and growth are a part of everyday work life in these organizations, we also see many where the organization or the supervisor is afraid to provide “stretch” assignments to their teams. Innovation muscles quickly atrophy, as does overall engagement.

Remember, positive response to challenge is instinctive.
So, smile, put your tongue back in your mouth, and don’t be afraid to challenge your team. They (and you) need it.

Related White Paper: ENGAGEMENT MAGIC®: The Five Keys of Employee Engagement
Related Post: The Link between Growth and Employee Engagement
Related Post: “Flow” and Employee Engagement