The New Buzz Phrase: Employee Engagement

Examining employee commitment to organizational priorities isn’t necessarily a new concept but it’s definitely one that is trending in 2014.  It has even left one writer even asking “is employee engagement the new black?”

After seeing the headlines in so many places, I can’t help but wonder, why now?  Management 101 fad or cultural paradigm shift? In a world where the job market is still tough, it’s not necessarily an employer’s market.  Company culture, benefits, perks, and overall brand are still major factors for job seekers to consider.

So, what gives? Why now?

Is it the new generation of millennials entering the workplace that are influencing the way we do business?
Is it that technology has forced work and life to merge more than it has in the past and therefore we need more out of our work?
Has the emerging dotted line between profitability and employee happiness simply become a strategic advantage business can’t afford to ignore?
Have we redefined leadership for 2014 and beyond?

In his book, The Purpose Economy, Aaron Hurst, asserts that  “purpose has now become a business imperative. In today’s world, running an organization without an intentional emphasis on purpose for employees and customers is like running an organization in the early 1990s and failing to implement technology.”   Alum Arthur Woods (B’10), Co-Founder of Imperative recently presented on the subject via the ACS webinar program in January.

A few case studies:
Zappos has an entire website about their culture:  http://www.zapposinsights.com/The CEO of Zappos often discusses corporate culture and has been quoted as saying “So many people when they go to the office, they leave a little bit of themselves at home, or a lot of themselves at home. And they have to put on this different persona in the office, especially in corporate environments. And our whole…there’s a lot of talk about work life separation or balance and so on, whereas our whole thing is about work life integration. Its just life.”
Google donates $50 for every five hours an employee volunteers. Last year a new program sent employees to Ghana and India to work on community projects. (Not to mention they provide kitchens stocked with gourmet food and onsite laundrey services!)
Recreational Equipment (REI) uses social media to offer an online “company campfire” providing associates and executives the ability to share their thoughts and participate in lively debates and discussions.
Dreamworks Animation headquarters is visited by fresh-juice trucks to distribute free smoothies, and employees are given stipends to personalize workstations.

We want to know: What have you noticed about employee engagement trends in your workplace? What is your employer doing to engage you in the mission and culture of your organization? 

Further reading:

Employee Engagement is  A Leadership Commitment
Create  a Vocabulary That Inspires Employee Engagement
It’s Time to Rethink the Employee Engagement Issue
5 Secrets to Better Employee Engagement
5 Ways to Improve Employee Engagement Now

 

Image source: http://www.miniworkshopseries.com/highlights/?p=776

 

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Starting A New Job? Tips for Making the Transition

Starting a new job?  The first few weeks can be a combination of being overwhelmed and bored all at the same time! It’s not always possible to truly “hit the ground running” – you may not own your projects fully quite yet and you haven’t learned just how to get things done in the company or organization.  Here are a few tips to hopefully make the transition a bit smoother.

1. Listen.  If you jump in too quick and forget to listen and learn first it can really rub people the wrong way.  Take a bit of time to learn the ropes, hear about the history of various projects, teams, and initiatives, and understand your stakeholders.  You need to do a little market research before you can make an appropriate and informed impact. 

2.  Learn the culture.  It’s the little idiosyncrasies of company culture that  can be tough to pick up on… So don’t be afraid to ask.  For example, how are meetings coordinated? Are people more apt to use email or phone for quick questions?

3.  Go on tour.  Meet with key stakeholders, members of other teams you may interact with as well as teams you may not interact with as much.  Learn the entire organization so you can understand the big picture of the impact of your work.  Start with those closest to your role and then go from there.  There may be opportunities for collaboration and innovation that haven’t happened in the past.

4.  Learn the language.  What office lingo do people use or not use and what does that lingo mean in this particular organization (it can vary slightly from company to company).  Learn the acronyms. Learn the stock phrases.  Learn the voice of the organization.

5.  Get to know your boss.  What is most important to them?  What are their pet peeves and preferences?  Don’t be afraid to ask those questions! Check out our post on managing up to learn more!

6.  Play the “new” card..  Use it as an excuse to learn and connect with people across the organization!

7.  Be entrepreneurial.  While you’re waiting to fully “own” your projects figure out smaller ways to make an impact.  Prove your value by identifying some problems and solutions.  In the absence of work or direction in the first few weeks, don’t just check facebook! Keep busy by creating your own projects and concept papers to be presented later.

8.  Find other newbies.   You can learn the ropes together.

9.  Look around. Notice people’s schedules, the dress code, what people do for lunch, how people interact.  Just paying attention can teach you alot about the organization.

10.  Ask questions. But not too many.  There is definitely a balance between asking questions so that you learn what you need to know for your new position and being able to seek that information out and learn on your own.  Our advice: try to find the information first or, at least the person with the information, before you ask your manager. Managers value those who do research and are autonomous when appropriate.

When all else fails, baked goods can always help make a few friends!  What are your tips for navigating the first few weeks of a new job?

Meetings… And Meeting About Meetings…

We’ve all been there… Another meeting on our calendar… Another seeming waste of time.  Meetings. Meetings about meetings.  We all have so many meetings to talk about our work that often it doesn’t leave us enough time to actually do our work.

The Year Without Pants talks about the culture of the corporate offices of WordPress.com and how they do their work and think about their work.  Most meetings are online which is somewhat of a different beast, but, for the most part, the same issues prevail. A few highlights from the book specifically about meetings that I found interesting:

“If what is being discussed is important, people will pay attention.”

“If the people in a meeting think its a waste of time, then either they’re the wrong people or what’s being discussed is not important enough to justify a meeting.”

“A good sign as a leader is when output is high and meetings are short.”

Here are some tips for leading your next meeting… Keep in mind these apply to everyone, including you!

1. Start and end on time.  Being late implies that your time is more important.  Value the time of others and the ripple effect one late meeting can have on and entire day’s schedule.

2. Keep it consistent and hold people responsible. Create a process and stick with it.  Use the same form for your agendas, create some consistent themes or practices. For example, have a round-robin in the beginning of every meeting where each attendees states their most pressing issue or project.  Or have employees bring an article of interest and give a 30 second summary.  While it may take a while for everyone to get in the habit of new procedures, if you are consistent and people know you’re serious it will catch on.   There is nothing worse than a lack of consistency.  It makes people unsure as to when and if your next idea will actually stick.

3. Delineate action items. Take it a step further by assigning responsible parties and create deadlines.

4. Send follow up notes.  And within 24 hours. Summarize the meeting and action steps so everyone is on the same page and you create a record of your team’s progress.

5. No smart devices.  Put the smart phones and Ipads away (except for taking notes).  If you’re meeting in person, make sure people are connecting in person. Otherwise it could have been done via email or phone and probably in a shorter amount of time.

6.  Be patient.  We tend to be uncomfortable with silence and fill the room with rambling in order to fill that silence.  Give people time to warm up, think, and respond.

7.  Leverage brainpower. Use meeting time to not only report out but leverage the brainpower in the room for discussing and brainstorming about strategic objectives.

8.  Do you really need to meet?  Think about whether you can accomplish the goal in another way (email? phone? quick chat?) or how you can leverage one meeting for multiple goals in order to maximize time.

9.  Be the scribe.  In Year Without Pants, the author suggests that while this is often seen as a chore, it can help establish your credibility as a leader and inspire the trust of your team.  According to Berkun, your team will see how you think and if/how you summarize things accurately, clearly and concisely.

10.  Share ownership.  Make others feel engaged in the meeting by letting them own a piece of the agenda.

What we’re doing
In a world of meeting after meeting, Alumni Career Services has started “White Paper Wednesdays” in order to focus on the future as opposed to the here and now.  Once a month (the first Wednesday) we block our calendars – there are no meetings and less emphasis on email responses.  We do strategy work the entire day – those projects that are often the most important but we put on the back burner because we are too busy responding to fires.  Similarly, Sarah will post later this month about the book she is reading called Quiet which mentions one company’s policy of “No Talk Tuesdays” where individual work could be done with a thoughtful approach.  For our chatty team, we haven’t quite gotten to these yet!

We want to know: what do you think makes an effective meeting?  What are you biggest meeting pet peeves?

Make sure you check out our upcoming webinar “The Art of Meeting Facilitation” on Tuesday, November 12th!  Register here

The Year Without Pants: Part I

In our blog post a few weeks ago, I talked about the book I’m reading, The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work by Scott Berkun.  I’m a few chapters in and it’s already a really interesting read about company culture, how we work, and how we think about our work.    Here’s what I’ve found particularly fascinating so far…

Customer Service: The Happiness Team

  • WordPress.com calls their customer support team “Happiness” and it’s employees “Happiness engineers.” The author admits that he began working for the company he was suspicious: can you change the reality of an onerous job and often overlooked team by changing a name?   All employees begin their tenure at WordPress with a few day stint in customer support (i.e. Happiness Team).   It puts employees on the front line, responding to customers, and learning the intricacies of their company.
  • The Happiness Team analyzed not only the types of problems coming in to them, but data around ticket numbers, response time and the experience of the customer when they submitted a ticket.  They strategically changed the process by which customers submit issues so that it sets a tone of responsiveness as opposed to interrogation.  They ask each customer, “What did you do?” “What did you see?”  and “What did you expect?” in order to gather the most information.  This thoughtful approach to the process and content of customer service, beyond just providing “good” customer service in terms of response time and problem solving, was very interesting.
  • They also analyze the success of new employees in the support role as data showed that it was an indicator of future performance.
  • The performance dashboard of each support team employee can be seen by all others, instilling a sense of healthy competition, importance, and accountability.

Management Trends: Fads Must Fit

  • “Every year new trends in work become popular in spite of their futility for most organizations that try them.  These trends are often touted as revolutions and frequently are identified  with a high-profile company of the day. Concepts like casual Fridays, brainstorming sessions, Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, matrixed organizations, or event 20% time (Google’s policy of supporting pet projects) are management ideas that become popular in huge waves, heralded as silver bullets for workplaces. The promise of a trend is grand, but the result never is.  Rarely do the consultants championing, and profiting from, these ideas disclose how superficial the results will be unless their places in a culture healthy enough to support them” (p. 29).  Read: We all can’t recreate the Google headquarters, nor should we.
  • It’s easier to utilize the latest trend in company culture than to honestly examine and attempt to change company culture.
  • In the case of WordPress, it was founded based on the principle of open source programming to “democratize publishing.” As a growing start up, this tended to attract like-minded individuals with shared values.  Their philosophy eventually distilled down to Transparency, Meritocracy, and Longevity.
  • “Talent is hard to find, especially at new organizations, which allows leaders to justify rushing to hire people who are selfish, arrogant, or combative” (p. 36). Hiring for immediate needs creates problems in the future.
  • Even their employment offer letters are non-traditional examples of the culture, values, and ideals of the company. They come across as more of an inspirational mantra or manifesto than an offer of employment.

These are just a few tidbits… stay tuned for more blog posts as I read on.  I haven’t even covered HOW employees at WordPress do their work yet (only 1% of their work is via email)!

Questions that have arisen for me as I read have been: How do you change a negative company culture? How do you hire for culture?  How do you know which management trends (read: fads) will work for your company/organization?  What is the role of team culture vs. company culture?

Interested in reading it on your own? http://scottberkun.com/yearwithoutpants/