A tale of possibility, progress and the promise of winning
This is the second in a trilogy of articles.
An inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the fact that high levels of disengagement in the global workforce have remained largely unchanged since 2009, is that all the constituents have got used to it.
The dreamers - business owners and executives - have factored this dimension of tolerated reality into their forecasts and reports. The workers have become used to the work environment being miserable, draining, dissatisfying or diversionary. What will move the lethargy and the acceptance, by all, of the status quo?
How about the basic energy in business: to increase revenue, reduce costs, improve profitability?
So let’s see where we are:
In an uncertain and potentially hazardous socio / economic / political environment, the reaction of business is to conserve what it has, and not to make investments into a risky marketplace. Consequently, treasure chests are full, markets are volatile and businesses are moribund.
Most downsizing and restructuring plans are either fully implemented or are well in progress.
In this scenario maybe the only path to profit improvement is towards the impact that full employee engagement will have on financial performance. Ground breaking research in the USA, published in 2015, showed that enterprises whose leaders scored high on characteristics designed to produce high employee engagement, returned 4 to 5 times more on assets employed than those with a low score.
Going from low to high levels of workforce engagement seems to be a powerful generator of profit improvement. It does not require mega-investment and incurs no appreciable risk.
Another powerful motivator for change is the arrival in the workforce of Millennials (b.1982 to 2002).
People in this generation do not view the principles of command and control as imperatives. They have zero tolerance for systems that do not deliver to their values. They look for outlets for their positive energy that will benefit them; and they want to contribute proactively to teams, groups and organisations that share their values, beliefs and purpose.
In any association, including their presence in the workplace, modern and post-modern commercial contributors (previously known as employees) are looking for the “why” before becoming engaged with the “how and the “what”.
In order to fully empower and engage this workforce the present day business owner / executive is required to understand and act upon a fundamental process. This process is designed to take an enterprise from where it is to where all the stakeholders would like it to be.
The article “The way things are done around here” describes some general characteristics of the workplace that are experienced by the majority of would be commercial contributors.
These characteristics are impediments, obstacles, barriers to the achievement of optimal engagement of the contributors in the business enterprise.
Unless and until business owners and executives are aware of these hindrances and are prepared to remove them, the journey to full engagement cannot begin.
The rallying point around the “why” can now be created. What is the purpose of the enterprise (as distinct from what it does and how it does it)? What is the purpose of each commercial contributor? Where are the gaps? How can these be closed so that the business and the people working in it can come together?
As a result of working with the methodologies and tools that provide the framework within which these questions can be answered, strategy (how to get from where we are to where we want to be) emerges. This strategy has not been produced in ivory towers, boardrooms or bosberaads, but through processes that have involved everybody in the enterprise. Ownership of strategy has become “bizversal”.
The challenge that now emerges is how to sustain the consistent effort of everybody at work in the business towards the implementation of the bizversal strategy.
There is a globally recognised, effective set of tools that continuously motivates, measures and displays the status of strategy implementation in the organization.
It is no longer necessary or desirable for commercial contributors to conceal their activities, nor for owners / executives to “manage performance”.
The awareness and alignment that has become the spine of the organisation supports the productive activity in the business in a natural, nourishing and remedial fashion.
One respondent to an IBM survey of 1500 USA based CEOs in 2009 said, “The only certainty in the future will be uncertainty”.) In an environment of continuous change the natural human aversion to change requires that for change to be productive the change processes need to be well supported.
Qualities of leadership need to be developed at all levels of the enterprise; activities need to be integrated into open and supportive structures; risk and reward need to be equitably distributed.
This whole complex transformation requires a strong but flexible support structure to sustain it.
Happily, the global community of business schools, coaching academies and creators of facilitation methodologies have designed and continue to refine these strong but flexible structures. As in all things, discernment and good judgement need to be applied in the selection of such structures. One size does not fit all: poor selection is costly in time and money.
Christopher Columbus reputedly said. “If you want to go to other places, you must first conquer the fear of losing sight of the land.”
To move away from traditional methods of people performance management requires courage and a genuine desire to find a new basis for relationships within the enterprise.
The transformation from systems based on command and control principles to open, participative, inclusive systems is a long journey. It requires a genuine commitment from the leadership of the organization to get it started.
Like all major projects, the risks are apparent but manageable with expert guidance and support.
By using efficient principles such as fail fast and agile, it is possible to construct a transformation programme that is modular, safe and relatively inexpensive.
The land that waits to be discovered at the end of this journey is a highly desirable place. It is here that the triple bottom lines of profit, people and planet are realised and optimised.
It is from this place that an empowered and engaged workforce delivers competitive advantage, operational efficiency, excellent financial management and the realisation of dreams and aspirations.