The Seven Deadly Sins Preventing Meaningful Work

Prof Katie Bailey

People are more likely to view work as meaningful when it mattered to others more than just to themselves.  In our article, “What Makes Work Meaningful?”, we highlighted some research findings on the qualities of meaningful work.

 

Professor Katie Bailey, from the University of Sussex, and her research team interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations (retail assistants, solicitors, nurses, soldiers, stonemasons, street sweepers, entrepreneurs, priests, artists, writers and academics) and explored what makes work meaningful for them and also, what led to a feeling of meaningless.

 

The researchers found that that there were five key qualities of meaningful work and that times when people found their work meaningful were often intensely personal. Meaningfulness is bound up with feeling a sense of accomplishment and doing a good job.

 

For organisation designers, leaders and managers, it is interesting to investigate the question: What are the factors that serve to destroy the meaningfulness that individuals find in their work?

 

We have all worked in work environments that were dysfunctional in some way, I certainly have.  Tolstoy observed that happy families are alike, but unhappy families are unhappy in their own special way.  It’s similar with organisations.

 

 

Working out why an organisation is not a positive environment is a complex task, but employees working in jobs they don’t find meaningful is likely to be a contributing factor.

 

Here are some of the factors that destroy meaningful work, some of which might resonate with you too?  (Listed in order from most to least grievous).

 

The Seven Deadly Sins of Meaningful Work

 

1 Disconnect people from values

Those interviewed often talked about a disconnect between their own values and those of their employer or work group as the major cause of a sense of futility and meaninglessness. This issue was raised most frequently as a source of meaninglessness in work. A recurring theme was the tension between an organisational focus on the bottom line and the individual’s focus on the quality or professionalism of work. One stonemason commented that he found the organisation’s focus on cost “deeply depressing.

 

2 Take people for granted

The lack of recognition for hard work by organisational leaders was frequently cited as invoking a feeling of pointlessness. For example Sales Assistants talked of bosses who did not thank them for taking on additional work.

 

3 Give people pointless work

Individuals had a strong sense of what their job should involve and how they should be spending their time.  A feeling of meaninglessness arose when they were required to perform tasks that did not fit that sense.  Nurses, academics, artists, and clergy all cited bureaucratic tasks and form-filling not directly related to their core purpose as a source of futility and pointlessness.

 

4 Treat people unfairly

If people feel that they can’t trust their leaders to be fair, open and equitable, then they are unlikely to find much meaning in their work.  Forms of unfairness ranged from distributive injustices to freelance musicians being asked to write a film score without payment.

 

5 Disempower people

Quite often a sense of meaninglessness was connected with a feeling of disempowerment, or overriding people’s better judgment over how work was done.  Lawyers talked about being forced to cut corners to finish cases quickly.

 

6 Isolate people

Feelings of isolation or disconnecting people from supportive relationships at work were linked with meaninglessness. This could occur through deliberate ostracism on the part of managers, or just through feeling disconnected from co-workers and teams. Entrepreneurs talked about their sense of loneliness and meaninglessness during the startup phase of their business, and the growing sense of meaningfulness that arose as the business developed and involved more people with whom they could share the successes.

 

7 Put people at risk

Unnecessary exposure to risk of physical or emotional harm was associated with lost meaningfulness. For example, nurses cited feelings of vulnerability when left alone with aggressive patients.

 

These seven destroyers emerged as highly damaging to an individual’s sense of their work as meaningful.  When several of these factors were present, meaningfulness was considerably lower.

 

For those who are involved in managing teams or implementing digital transformation initiatives, then understanding which features  makes work meaningful for people is important.

 

In my article, The Campaign for Meaningful Work, I shared some thoughts on the “why of work” and the flaws with our past initiatives around improving employee engagement.  One impact of this, is that of ‘displacement’.  In HR, we could have spent the effort and energy (read blood, sweat and tears) on finding out what really does drive employee wellbeing and productivity in our organisations.

 

As an optimist, I believe organisations have the opportunity to solve current organisational issues if it brings in evidence-based approaches and capitalises on the employee/organisational data it has.  With well-designed and funded research programmes carried out by academics and practitioners we have a better chance of  creating jobs that provide meaningful work.

Reference

What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless   Bailey, C. & Madden, A. 2016 ‘What makes Work Meaningful – or Meaningless’.  MIT Sloan Management Review, 57(4): 53-61

(This was a guest post for HRN Blog)

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What Makes Work Meaningful?

Meaningful Work Glass Bead Consulting

 

Thirty seven percent of British workers think their jobs are meaningless, according to a YouGov survey, which is a really shocking statistic if you think about it.

In my article, The Campaign for Meaningful Work, I shared some thoughts on the ‘why of work’ and the flaws with our past initiatives around improving employee engagement.  In the absence of a strong causal link between engagement and productivity, my ‘hunch’ was that ‘meaningful work’ is important for our own personal sanity and well-being.

So the question for leaders in organisations and the HR community, is,

How can organisations provide work that is meaningful?

There are different ways of responding to this question and one source of evidence is to look at the scientific research.

I recently met up with Katie Bailey, Professor of Management at the University of Sussex to discuss her research on Meaningful Work.   A quick review of the scientific literature shows that there is surprisingly little research which explores where and how people find their work meaningful. 

As part of the research the team interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations (retail assistants, solicitors, nurses, soldiers, stonemasons, street sweepers, entrepreneurs, priests, artists, writers and academics).  The group was asked to tell stories about incidents or times when they found their work to be meaningful.  

According to Katie, “the overwhelming majority of people seem to find meaning in at least some aspect of their job. In fact, 86% of people said that their jobs were meaningful”.

The team found that there were patterns of work from their research which they categorised as five qualities of meaningful work.

Five Qualities of Meaningful Work

Self-Transcendent, or working for a higher goal

People are more likely to view work as meaningful when it mattered to others more than just to themselves.   From the interviews, an example is the garbage collector who found work meaningful at ‘tipping point’ at the end of the day when refuse was sent to recycling.  This individual could see his work contributed to a clean environment for his grandchildren.

Poignant

Meaningfulness is not always a positive experience.  We don’t walk around in a euphoric state all day at work. For example nurses use their skills to ease the passing of patients at the end of their lives.

Episodic

Meaning can come and go during the working life, rather than an everyday occurrence.  For example, the lecturer “feels like a rock star” after delivering a good lecture, or the stonemasons leaving their mark into a stone that might be discovered in hundreds or years.

Reflective

Meaningfulness was rarely experienced in the moment, but rather in retrospect and on reflection when people were able to see their completed work and make connections between their achievements and a wider sense of life meaning. One academic talked about research he had done for many years that seemed fairly meaningless at the time, but 20 years later provided the technological solution for touch-screen technology.

Personal

Work that is meaningful, on the other hand, is often understood by people not just in the context of their work but also in the wider context of their personal life experiences.  An example was an entrepreneur’s motivation to start her own business included the desire to make her grandfather proud.

So, what insights can we elicit from this research?

First, it emerged that the individual feels that they have done a good job and therefore experience a sense of achievement or pride. No one said to us, “Hey, I did a really poor job today, but it meant a lot to me.”  For example, the street cleaners talked of looking back along the street they had just cleaned and feeling they had made an important contribution to the neighbourhood. The stone masons explained that they found their work meaningful when they had successfully completed an intricate carving.

Secondly, in most cases it was important that the individual could see they had contributed to their team, other individuals, or a wider cause. Some talked of the importance of a sense of camaraderie or belonging, others talked of times they felt recognised or valued by clients or the public. For instance, the retail workers talked of helping vulnerable elderly customers.

Finally, the times when people found their work meaningful were often intensely personal.  One entrepreneur had started her bakery business to make her grandfather proud of her. A hesitant author was emboldened to embrace her craft following a chance encounter with another customer in a stationery shop who assumed she was a writer. A soldier talked of the importance of her family being present at a dinner held to celebrate her military service.

Over the years I have shared my ideas about making work more meaningful, including linking the work to something bigger, empower people to organise their own work and ditching that annual engagement survey. 

If you really want to understand what employees think about their job, then ask them.  “Feedback is the killer app” for management, as Josh Bersin says.  New technology makes this possible whether using pulse tools or analysing responses to open questions such as Workometry.

For those who are involved in designing new organisations, managing teams or implementing digital transformation initiatives, then understanding which features  makes work meaningful for people is important.  You might also find this article of interest, "The Seven Deadly Sins Preventing Meaningful Work".  Hopefully we will see more workers finding meaning in their work in the future.  I am looking forward to seeing how this fascinating research area develops.

Reference

What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless   Bailey, C. & Madden, A. 2016 ‘What makes Work Meaningful – or Meaningless’.  MIT Sloan Management Review, 57(4): 53-61

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Visualising Relationships at Work

Owen Analytics ONA

We know that successful team dynamics is critical in building organisations, however many of our HR and people management processes are still designed around the individual.

We have embedded ‘institutionalised silos’ such as performance management, employee engagement, induction and  training, that are all geared up to individual performance, but focus much less so on the impact on their team or organisation.

According to Deloitte, 88% of respondents of a global HR survey, believe building the organisation of the future is an important issue.  This is sweet music to my ears, after years of fumbling around the employee engagement survey wilderness, we can start looking at the bigger picture and organisation structures, and ask questions like:

  • How does team cohesion impact performance?
  • Is there a relationship between team collaboration and attrition?
  • Does increased collaboration impact output?
  • Does a hierarchical structure impact retention?
  • Who are the most influential people in our organisation?
  • Can we see what good leadership looks like?
  • Can we detect bottlenecks in an organisation?
  • Which individual are at risk of leaving the organisation?
  • Can we detect ‘silos’ in our company? (the answer is always yes to that one!)

 

What is very surprising is how little analysis and research is done into how our teams operate.  One way to gain a better understanding on these questions is Organisational Network Analysis (ONA).  One method is for employees to complete quick pulse surveys which combine “ME” questions (My opinions count) and “WE” questions (I would like to appreciate the following individuals for helping me in my day-to-day work).  Open feedback questions are also interspersed to understand sentiment and key issues.

The end result is a visual representation of your team dynamics – the example in the image above, is an ONA diagram from OWEN Analytics and was used to understand team dynamics in a pharmaceutical organisation.

In my article on the use of wearables and emerging technologies in the workplace, I highlighted that The Quantified Workplace will be introduced, but only at the speed of employee trust.  Looking at relationship patterns might also give insights into understanding trust.

This type of approach throws up some interesting insights.

Research by Rob Cross, a leading researcher in ONA, found that highly connected people are among the least engaged in a company. So your most valued staff, those go-to people, are often hidden, underappreciated and sometimes over-worked.

Mark Bolino of the University of Oklahoma points to a hidden cost of collaboration. Some employees are such enthusiastic collaborators that they are asked to weigh in on every issue. But it does not take long for top collaborators to become bottlenecks: nothing happens until they have had their say—and they have their say on lots of subjects that are outside their competence.

In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees according to research by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam M.Grant, covered in their article in Harvard Business Review, “Collaborative Overload”.

If we go back to the questions on what causes collaboration, effective teams and higher productivity, then ONA can play a big part in helping us understand what is going on in our organisations. 

Our people management practices are rapidly changing as we move to a world with collaborative teams working with different employment terms in different countries. ONA is a technique that people analysts can add to their tool-kit and help us to uncover the hidden dynamics of team effectiveness rather than the obsession with individual achievements. 

By being able to visualise teams relationships we can begin to build a strong foundation for organisations of the future based on a deeper understanding of effective teams. I am looking forward to sharing more case-studies and success stories at PA World over the coming years.  

(This was a guest article on the Tucana Blog)

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How Will Blockchain Impact HR?

Blockchain Glass Bead Consulting

Of all the emerging technologies, blockchain is the least exciting as a technology, but potentially the most impactful on society.  Blockchain doesn’t converse with you, it won’t 3D print your house or cut out your kidney stones with precision while the surgeon has a cup of tea. In terms of technology, it is about as exciting as relational databases.

When you think of blockchain, you might think of Bitcoin.  Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that requires a maths degree to buy and ownership of a laptop that never crashes. Yet Bitcoin is just one of many different cryptocurrencies that uses blockchain as its core technology.  And blockchain technology is also being used outside of financial services.

What Is Blockchain and what is it’s value?

Simply put, a blockchain is a decentralised database shared among a network of computers, all of which must approve an exchange before it can be recorded. Typically if we want to send someone some money, we would need a third party, like a bank to verify the exchange.  The advantage of blockchain is that it stores an indelible ledger of all previous transactions in a string of ‘blocks’, meaning we know who owns what and who can send what to whom.

Individuals and organisations can use blockchain to:

  • Exchange digital assets without friction – a central ledger is no longer required which is why there is so much excitement in financial services. Transactions between people can happen nearly instantly without any third party.
  • Execute smart contracts – documents can be stored electronically, and be verified as authentic. So we have unbreakable contracts.
  • Store digital records – you can have an electronic ID and all sorts of information associated with it, your verified electronic profile.

 

How a blockchain works - FT

How a blockchain works – FT

To understand more about how blockchain works I recommend this great TED talk from Don Tapscott, “How the blockchain is changing money and business.”

What are the real life uses of a blockchain?

In an era where trust has been eroded in our institutions, politicians and even fellow citizens, anything that can strengthen trust should be viewed positively.  In my article, The Quantified Workplace: Technology vs Trust, I commented that potentially intrusive technology will be introduced in the workplace, but only at the speed of employee trust.

Given its practical attributes of storing digital records, executing smart contracts and as an efficient exchange, there are many real-life uses and experiments. This ranges from fixing broken business models e.g. Intellectual property in music to the more personal, recapturing our identities, so the ‘virtual you’ is actually owned by you.

There are also examples of blockchain systems being developed to solve problems such as human trafficking, tracking blood diamonds and as a land register.

“Blockchains automate away at the centre. Instead of putting the taxi driver out of a job, blockchain puts Uber out of a job and lets the taxi drivers work with the customer.” Vitalik Buterin, founder of blockchain platform Ethereum

As Don and Alex Tapscott argue in their book, Blockchain Revolution, blockchain could be the great economic leveller – a tool to strip out the middlemen from our economy and reward the makers and doers who truly create value.    So there is definitely a group of political enthusiasts who see blockchain as transforming society.

What’s the potential impact of blockchain on HR and people management?

Given the practical attributes of blockchain promising to cut out middle-men and provide unbreakable contract, what might be the impact on people management, organisations and work?

In Japan blockchain technology is being developed to create a prototype resume authentication database for job hunters with the aim of increasing transparency and in turn address fraudulent credentials.

With a resume authentication database, the verification of official certificates and contracts, which have until now been typically done on paper, could be carried out using the blockchain database” said Osamu Yonetani, CTO of Recruit Technologies.

Imagine having all your employment related details associated with your electronic signature in one block :- security access, insurance, payroll, expenses, work performance, employment history, psychometrics etc.  The employment contracting process would effectively be redundant.  You could work almost immediately, with quick payment.  The role of the recruiter will not be needed, but that’s the least of the disruption.  This raises questions about the nature of the employment contract and the ‘job’ itself. Most of us will then be in the gig economy, enabled by transparent contract and payment mechanisms.

Chronobank.io, an Australian short-term work platform, is developing a Blockchain-based financial system for freelancers or contractors to obtain work and pay them in their own “labour-hour” token. They aim to disrupt the HR, finance and recruitment industries with their upcoming platform.  I spoke with Sergei Sergienko CEO ChronoBank, who told me “Our goal is to make a difference in the way people find work and get rewarded for their labour, doing it decentralised and without the involvement of traditional financial institutions.”  This is potentially transformative, and Sergei’s message to HR leaders was this change will happen, so find out more and work to develop this next wave for your organisation.

As Gary Hamel has said, “our management structures are not suited for a digital age”   In some cases, blockchain software will eliminate the need for many management functions.

Which brings us back to the original question, what’s the potential impact of blockchain on HR and people management?

Blockchain could fundamentally change how we manage people and HR, then the impact on HR is an irrelevant question if some of these predictions come true as we will have moved to very different economic models.

I am looking forward to seeing how this develops, and in our field, and maybe seeing some #disruptHR start-ups pitching blockchain solutions at future HR Tech World conferences.  Be great to hear from anyone out there developing blockchain models and technology in HR.

(This was a guest post on the HRN Blog)

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Let Them Eat Tech

@AndySpence

The HR Tech Congress, the second held in Paris, was yet again a splendid mix of stimulating speakers, great organisations and brilliant technology.  However, the smell of revolution was in the air…

Professor Gary Hamel made a rallying cry that was so loud it could be heard 17km away in The Palace of Versailles,”Kill bureaucracy and you’ll unclog the arteries of business,” whilst Dr.Daniel Thorniley warned us about the economy, and it was not good news.  Debt, low growth and a rising populist tide in politics means soon we will all be working in the gig economy, whether we like it or not.

How will we survive this extended downturn?

“What will we eat?” they ask.

 “Let them eat cake!” the response of the ancien régime.

(Or as Marie Antoinette did not say “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”. But ‘let them eat brioche’ doesn’t have the same ring to it – anyway I digress)

Gary Hamel told the HR audience to “to stop fiddling at the margins” and take up arms against bureaucracy, the biggest barrier to productivity in business.  Hamel even invented a word for this corporate disease “Bureausclerosis

If you can spell it, surely you can destroy it, right?

The symptoms of bureausclerosis Hamel described were: added management layers, isolation of leaders, longer decision cycles, increase in formalized policies, rule proliferation, increase in power of staff groups, organization becomes primitive, loss of ‘voice’ from staff, increase in legal processes, decrease in risk-taking, and the politicization of it all.

Ready or not, here comes the Gig Economy

If Professor Hamel gave us some examples of what was needed to transform business, Dr. Daniel Thorniley provided us with the big picture on the economy.  We are living in an unprecedented period of low growth where 63% of youths in the Eurozone do not have proper contracted employment.  Many will be forced into the Gig Economy, and this doesn’t just mean a nation of musicians and artisans, but also hosts, drivers, plumbers and (of course) humble HR consultants. Many will struggle to make a living or have the security that the previous generation have taken for granted.  I read Thorniley’s latest 46-page report, Global Business Outlook 2016-2020, with the cheery subtitle, “Why there is no future for your children.”

Now all this makes for gloomy reading and we might expect delegates of HR Tech Congress to dust off their Édith Piaf records and get out the whiskey,

but many could be heard asking, “OK, it all sounds terrible, but does this impact me?”

“Mais oui, bien sur!” (my franglais is improving)

In HR, changing business models and global economic drivers will determine whether we are scrambling for candidates, sweating our employees for discretionary effort, or working on clever algorithms to automate work.  I would guess a larger proportion of the 3,500 delegates will be joining the gig economy over the next few years.

One thing’s for sure, we might not be able to guess where the economy is going, but there are plenty of technology developments to get excited about.

Software is eating HR

So, if our business models and organisations are changing before our eyes, this raises some big questions.

How does this affect the way we think of work, organisations, and society?

Do our old people management practices still work?

How does HR respond to this? “New systems anyone?”

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

This message seems to resonate with the HR Technology industry and is especially true now.

My concern is whether we have the right set of people management practices for the type of organisations that Hamel says will flourish?  Are we in danger of simply crystallising the processes that served us well in the last century?

These and other questions present the challenge for HR and the technology industry today.

I had the pleasure of introducing some excellent presentations in the well-attended HR Tech stream, so could not attend as many presentations as usual.  However, my fellow blog squad comrades have done a great job of sharing what they saw.

-> Reinventing HR: 12 key takeaways from #HRTechWorld from David Green

-> My top 10 disruptHR’ers at HR Tech World Congress from Faye Holland

-> Accelerating Gender Balance in Tech from Dorothy Dalton

-> And this is a great resource – all the presentations from Paris (and previous conferences) in one place: HR Tech World Congress Presentations

I was also fortunate enough to look under the bonnet of some of the latest tech tools, and I am particularly interested in the use of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence in solving business problems.  I saw some useful tools that work as a stop gap for current recruiting/ATS software, e.g. tools that help prioritise recruiters workload using simple algorithms.

There were some nice looking visualisation tools that sit on top of current HRIS systems showing historic data.  However, I was disappointed that I didn’t find any genuine machine learning or pattern recognition in this space, despite some of the marketing claims.   People Analytics is an exciting area in the early stages of its development.  However we need to overcome some key challenges to be successful, see my recent post, “7 Challenges That People Analytics Must Overcome”

Building the new HR Republic

There were many great stories of companies building the new republic, making progress, solving business problems and embracing technology.   Technology is indeed being used to transform whole industries and the biggest impact on HR will not be on how we operate, but on how we manage work in the future.

For those in HR and leadership roles, there is plenty we can do before we even think of buy new software. We can start by asking, what is the evidence that this practice (e.g. performance, talent, hiring, learning, engagement) works in our organisation now, and will do in the future?

It was a dismal economist who gave our profession the name, Human Resources, rendering people as an asset to manage.

Maybe this term also belongs to the last century along with Bureaucracy?

As with many revolutions, there will be casualties, but change can pave the way for a new order and a better approach to people management.

So when managers in your organisation ask about the conference and the impact on their staff, you might mention defeating bureausclerosis, the challenges of low growth and the gig economy.

If they then ask, “But, what will they eat?”, just simply reply,

“Let them eat tech”.

À bientôt.

(This was a guest post on the HRN Blog)

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7 Challenges that People Analytics Must Overcome

People Analytics - Glass Bead Consulting

7 Challenges that People Analytics Must Overcome

I am excited about the role People Analytics will play in transforming organisations.  I have seen some real success stories where organisations have incorporated more data-driven decisions about people and work. 

David Green highlights some great case-studies in his article, 20 People Analytics case-studies, which includes, Virgin Media, who reduced sickness absence rates from 9% to 4% saving the business £750,000.

There is clearly a journey to be taken where we move from our current starting point, where we often distrust the data we have on employees, to a place where we can better predict sickness absence, attrition and productivity.

Most organisations are already on this journey to some degree. The percentage of companies that believe they are fully capable of developing predictive models doubled this year, from 4% in 2015 to 8% in 2016, according to research by Deloitte, “Global Human Capital Trends 2016”.   However this journey will have some challenges that we will need to overcome.

People Analytics can play a key role in reinventing organisations.  However we need to resolve some of the structural challenges to truly succeed.  I covered some of these themes in my recent presentation, The Role of HR in Reinventing Organisations: Embracing People Analytics, at the Workforce Analytics Summit in Sydney.

Despite the hype, there is low adoption of People Analytics at the moment – here are some of the challenges that I think we need to address and also some suggestions of how WE (in the broadest sense) can overcome these challenges.

As always, I would welcome your views on the challenges, and especially ideas, and examples of how to overcome them.

Challenge 1 – We prefer ‘gut feelings’ to make people-based decisions

"80% of HR practitioners say their company leaders still rely on 'gut feelings' to make people-based decisions"  according to a survey of Human Capital Institute members in partnership with Oracle.

What’s wrong with using ‘gut-feelings’ to make people-based decision?

Professor Rob Briner from Bath University explains in his article What’s the evidence for…Evidence-Based HR?  that “our intuition is a valid source of evidence, albeit a weak source.” 

Daniel Kahneman, in his book – Thinking, Fast and Slow described two main types of thinking well with their inherent biases.

When you are under time pressure for a decision, you need to follow intuition. There is nothing wrong with using our intuition or gut feeling, but as Kahneman has said “you should not take your intuitions at face value”

So back to the challenge for those with skills in People Analytics, if your business customers do not believe that data is useful then they will not ask for it, or use it, or believe in it.  Which is a fairly big challenge!

So how do we overcome this challenge? Maybe there is a middle way between the fast and slow lane?

What you can do:

Make sure the boss ‘gets’ using evidence-based data.  If you are the boss, then make sure your new hires also ‘get’ it.  

Make intuitive decisions more data-based AND our data-based decisions more intuitive

 

Challenge 2 – The Peak of Inflated Expectations

Emerging Technology Hype Cycle - Gartner Emerging Technology Hype Cycle – Gartner

In HR we have always had business problems, statistical knowledge and access to piles of data, so why the hype around People Analytics now?  Well the Cloud and Big Data sales machine is probably talking to your boss right now.  You know the pitch, “Analytics pays $13.01 for every dollar spent”.

Managing expectations on people performance with the CEO should be your job and as mentioned, People Analytics has delivered some good early results, but one of the biggest dangers right now is far too much hype.

Since 1995 Gartner has been measuring The Hype Cycle, the promise of emerging technologies, and shows five key phases of a technology’s life cycle.  Is People Analytics in danger of succumbing to the hype before it delivers benefits?

Peak of Inflated Expectations -> “Early publicity produces a number of success stories – often accompanied by scores of failures. Some companies take action; many do not”

Trough of Disillusionment -> “Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver.”

So what if the CEO gets excited about HR once in a generation you might say?  What happens if we set expectations too high for People Analytics and do not deliver?  It will not be the first time that HR has over-promised and under-delivered based on “best-practice”.  At some point you will need new recruits in a competitive market which needs new software, but there’s only  so many times you submit a business case with a decent ROI.  What you really need is some early positive results.

What you can do:

Set realistic expectations on people analytics – aim low  and over-deliver.

Start with a specific business problem

Learn from the early adopters

 

Challenge 3 – HR doesn’t need Big Data, it needs Big Questions

“Without data you are just another person with an opinion” W.Edwards Deming

But, “Without questions, you are just another person with data”

There is a danger that People Analytics is a solution looking for a problem and in the “scientific method as an ongoing process”, the generation of interesting questions is a key step. 

To do this we need to know the business.

I had a client a few years ago, who trained a group of HR Business Partners as 6-Sigma Black Belts.  After the training, they demanded a data dump from Peoplesoft.  "What problem are you trying to solve?” and the reply was “We don’t know yet until we see the data…”.

The example highlights the need to solve business problems not analyse data.  Strategy is all about making choices, so if you run an analytics team, generate as many questions and hypotheses around a particular problem area as you can by casting the net widely.  

What you can do:

Generate many wide ranging questions and hypotheses which solves business problems

Coach Business Partners and HR into developing hypotheses and sharing the insights back to the business

 

Challenge 4 – We need the right tools to do the job

This paper is worth reading, “HR and Analytics: why HR is set to fail the big data challenge”  (Angrave et al, 2016)  published in Human Resource Management Journal. 

As you might expect from the provocative title, they don’t hold back :-

“the HR analytics industry, which is largely based around products and services, which too often fail to provide the tools for HR to create and capture the strategic value of HR data.”

In other words, our HR Systems, data and reporting tools might not help us answer the business questions we have.  Many HR operational systems were simply not designed for analytics, and although they are improving, I expect to see more sophisticated analytics functionality in subsequent software releases.

What you can do:

Keep discussing your needs with your Technology Partners

Collaborate with others in the industry to source great tools

 

Challenge 5 – No confidence in the underlying frameworks

To use a house analogy, there is no point having cameras & sensors, unless the house is structurally sound in the first place.  We need to have a roof, secure doors and running water before we can add sensors that optimise our heating, detect poisonous gas, detect intruders etc

As Max Blumberg says in his article, People Analytics: Who’s fooling who?   “if like most people you don’t believe in your organisation’s competency and performance management frameworks, then you certainly aren’t in a position to believe in the results of statistical analysis based on data generated by these frameworks. As the old acronym GIGO says, Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

What we are crying out for is a theoretical framework to test our hypotheses about people, behaviour, productivity and organisations.  We are not there yet, but I am optimistic that over the next few years we can develop the skills and knowledge to increase our confidence levels in people management.

What you can do:

Stop doing people analytics until you’ve fixed your frameworks.

Collaborate with academia and peers in other organisations

 

Challenge 6 – Show me the Money

The problem is, you can show the C-Suite pretty data visualisations of their organisation showing attrition, gender balance,  and average commuting time, but the hard truth is the CEO will only really listen when you link it to Revenue and Profits.  When it comes to employees, the holy-grail is increasing employee productivity.  We need to link as much as possible to employee Productivity to get ‘buy-in’.

What you can do:

Develop your own internal measures for employee productivity

Try and link your initiatives to improving employee productivity

 

Challenge 7 – Structural issues with HR Operating Models

I have been speaking and writing about some of the structural issues with HR Operating Models for many years (see for instance, Is your HR Operating Model Fit for the Future?  If the supporting structures for HR analytics are not in place, then the probability of success is lower.

A couple of structural issues with HR Operating models that many orgs sill grapple with are:

Working in silos.  In HR we have developed some great experts over the last few years (e.g. talent, learning, reward etc) yet we have also become a function of specialists creating more silos which makes it harder (not impossible) to work together as a whole to deliver HR (Business) strategy.

The role of HR Business Partner.  The role was introduced as a strategic partner and account manager for HR Services, however there have been challenges.  Many orgs are on their 3rd or 4th revisions of this role and HR BPs are key to solving business problems as key customers for an analytics service.   However we are in a transition phase, as described by “Most HR BPs won’t cut it…”   from Luc Smeyers and “Stop Hiring Data Scientists if you’re not ready for Data Science” from Greta Roberts.

We will never have the optimal HR Operating Model with managers, systems, HR experts working seamlessly together.  However we can strive to continually improve the model using People Analytics to help rethink many of our HR programmes and influencing how we deliver our people management.

What you can do:

Learn some of the lessons from others in HR Transformations over the last few years

Ensure Business Partners have good analytical skills and are inquisitive about the business. Provide coaching on basic statistics and people analytics where needed.

Continually evaluate the efficacy of our HR and Management initiatives

My “gut-feeling” is that People Analytics will help reinvent organisations.  We are in the early stages of a journey and we can all help by sharing methods, learnings and positive results.  We need to keep an eye on some of the near-term challenges as we move forward.   One key action within our control is to set realistic expectations and solve specific business problems.  This can get our business partners more interested into a different way of working.  The technology industry will probably evolve to roll-out improved offerings with time.  And our evidence base should get better as we improve data quality and start to ask better informed questions.  Although the ecosystem I refer to is complex, with diverse vested interests, we should continue to encourage sharing and collaboration as much as possible.  

Here is a presentation on "7 Challenges that People Analytics Must Overcome" I gave at HR Congress Amsterdam in November 2016.

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BPaaS Rising HR Outsourcing in the Cloud

BPaaS Rising HRNWhat is the impact of SaaS on HR Outsourcing?  I have written how BPaaS (Business Process as a Service) might provide a “Silver Lining for HR Outsourcing”.

One of the pioneers of BPaaS is OneSource Virtual, who are well known in the US as one of the largest Workday implementation partners.  They recently opened their Derry European Service Centre in Northern Ireland and plan to create 290 jobs by the end of 2017.  This is great news for Derry and also for prospective and current Workday customers in the UK and Europe.    I am delighted to share a conversation I had with Wesley Bryan, President, COO and Co-Founder of OneSource Virtual, who will be at HR Tech World in London next week. 

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Wesley Bryan, President, COO and Co-Founder of OneSource Virtual

Tell me a little bit about how One Source Virtual came about and what you do?

OneSource Virtual supports the automated delivery of Business Process as a Service (BPaaS) and supports the delivery of solutions exclusively for Workday. We empower organizations of all sizes by providing Workday deployment, consulting, training and in-application payroll services, benefit administration, finance and accounting outsourcing, and application management services.

It is exciting news about your new Customer Centre in Northern Ireland, why did you choose Derry?

Because we knew the next phase of our business was to launch our UK HRMS and Payroll services, we knew it would be strategically beneficial to have a service centre in that area.  After a long selection process, we finally settled on Derry because of its labour market, stellar talent, and the positive relationship its government has on businesses. The talent and workforce in Derry is absolutely unbelievable. We certainly haven’t regretted our decision.

What services will you be providing in the UK this year?

OSV provides UK AMS Consulting, Workday Deployment, UK Payroll and Tax Services, and will be launching an Employee Service Centre that will assist with Workday Helpdesk, Workforce Administration, Benefits Services, Document Management and Administration Services. In the latter part of 2017, we will also be providing AP Processing in the UK.

HR Outsourcing gets a mixed reception due to some tricky relationships in the last 20 years, is BPaaS less risky for organisations?

Absolutely. When BPaaS is used to outsource, we don’t have to go into a company’s system and takeover the maintenance of the software like a traditional BPO.  Through BPaaS, a company is able to outsource services within their system of record. This makes it less risky to the customer because their system is already in- house.  A customer can decide at any time to bring an outsourced service back in-house and we can make that change without altering their structure.

You have done 870+ Workday projects (initial deployments and add-on engagements). What is the no.1 tip you can give on a successful implementation?

Don’t underestimate the complexity in deploying the software. It is imperative to bring in a partner that can help you design and think through how you will utilize and configure the software.

At what point in the HR software buying/implementation cycle would an organisation consider BPaaS?

Typically and ideally during the buying cycle. The BPaaS delivery model is very different from your traditional BPO service model and if you want a true BPaaS offering, you have to be careful to choose a true multi-tenancy SaaS provider who can deliver a range of services that can be standardized across a variety of customers and ultimately be more cost–effective. If that is important to you, it should be discussed during the buying cycle.

Finally, what do you think is the most exciting trend in HR Tech in the coming years?

What excites me the most is the way systems are being built today.  It isn’t uncommon to see various platforms sharing information in real time. For instance you can log in to one platform by using your Facebook credentials. The possibilities with that type of technology are endless because you’re not limited to the information that is only in your database.

This was a guest blog for HRN Blog, "BPaaS Rising – HR Outsourcing in the Cloud"

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The Quantified Workplace: Technology vs Trust?

Glass Bead Consulting

Jo, an Account Manager is being taken to the office in a BUG, a BeemerUberGoogle driverless car.  She is discussing her day with her automated coaching partner, Sirius.   “I notice that you had less alpha-rhythm sleep last night.   I suggest you have some breakfast, to increase your energy levels. At 11am you have a meeting with the new Client Executive.  She is usually sceptical initially but warms up.  Remember to ask an open question, and smile to help her feel at ease.  I notice that Lee, your Insights Manager, has a different socialising pattern and lower productivity since coming back from sick leave last week – might be worth checking in with him today while in the office?”

This futuristic scenario requires you to suspend your disbelief!

Firstly, it meshes different data sets that we don’t measure at the moment – on performance, location and personal biometric data.

Secondly, it assumes we have a robust framework for the prediction of behaviour, and we are not quite there yet.

And finally, it assumes employees, like Jo, are willing for employers to use their personal data on movement, diet and performance in this way.

All currently outrageous, but could this type of insight be possible in the future?

People Analytics and Social Sensing Technology

In his book “People Analytics”, Ben Waber, President and CEO of Humanyze,  explains how Social Sensing Technology could transform business.

His team use Sociometric badges which they ask employees to wear for workplace experiments.  The badges are like a large ID card stuffed with sensors that can measure movement, face to face speech, vocal intonation, who is talking to whom and for how long.  The experiments all require employee opt-in, and have produced some interesting insights already.

Jos De Blok, CEO of the innovative community care organisation, Buurtzorg, was asked,

“What is the optimal team size?”

His answer was 12. Why? 

“Because we don’t have bigger tables.”

A witty and pragmatic answer, perhaps, but this makes assumptions about office design and team effectiveness.  

Using Sociometry badges, for example, Humanyze assessed whether a redesigned office boosted employee collaboration, or employees were actually using that treadmill in the gym they had lobbied so hard for.   When we have choices on the design and layout of our offices, we can actually use employee movement data, in addition to other communication data, to analyse collaboration patterns of employees.  In Office Design, there are many questions where this kind of approach can help. Do campuses actually yield better interaction patterns than offices with thousands of people on different floors?  When is open seating better than having your own desk?  Should we put long or short tables in our offices?  The use of physical space is underused as a tool for changing patterns of collaboration and behaviour.

Waber gives plenty of other examples of using the Sociometry badges in the workplace. For example, Corporate Epidemiology, when you get a dose of “man-flu” (this is a disease btw) do you tough it out, or stay at home?  Employee tracking can help guide the best workplace policies and practices to reduce employee sickness. 

Thanks to those ‘perennial office guinea-pigs’ working in call-centres, a study on Employee Burnout with Bank America found that strong cohesion was linked to lower stress levels.

Waber also approaches the question, How to encourage Innovation?   Who is more creative, the team behind Bart Simpson or Eric Cartmen?   Both very funny cartoons, but did you know an entire episode of South Park is conceived and animated in 6 days, whereas, an episode of The Simpsons is produced over the course of 6 months using a Korean animation studio?   Waber outlines the very different creative processes and declares South Park the winner based on ratings – Doh!  He studied three R&D teams to understand creativity in general, and found the amount of time spent interacting with team members was positively correlated with creativity.

Swipe right for better data

The workforce data we hold at the moment is often static, out of date and relies on self-report rather than actual behaviour.   Data on our actual behaviour is far better than our self-reported data.  All of us have completed the obligatory annual Employee Engagement survey at least once in our life, by circling 4 out of 5 on every item, without even reading the questions.  And if it wasn’t you, your colleagues have done this.  An example from online dating illustrates the relative value of self-reported data vs actual behaviour. 

“People might list 'money' as an important quality in a partner, but then we see them messaging all the artists and guitar players," Amarnath Thombre, president of Match.com. 

Match.com tries to get around this by basing recommendations on people’s activity and actions rather than solely on their answers to the questionnaires.  (from Bernard Marr’s article, Can Big Data Find Your Next Valentine?)

Using sensor data in combination with other data sets has great potential for learning about employee behaviour and providing insight on organisational and business choices.  A natural next step is to link our employee data with our customer data.

Designing a better Customer AND Employee Experience

Many organisations are experimenting with using sensor data to understand customers’ behaviour.  Amazon have plenty of online data on customers, but this is a challenge for high street retailers.  There is a movement by retailers to gather data about in-store shoppers’ behaviour, using video surveillance and signals from their smartphones and apps to learn information as varied as their sex, how many minutes they spend in a particular aisle and how long they look at merchandise before buying it. 

Another futuristic scenario from retail…

30% of your shop sales employees agree to wear the sociometry badges.   Over a few months, you gradually test your hypotheses, run experiments and work out how to increase sales, and gather more accurate information on customer preferences which positively influences the next fashion buying cycle.  Your employees start to see the benefits of the approach and more “opt-in”.  The cycle is positively reinforcing over time, prospective employees who are not comfortable don’t apply, you bring in new employees who get up to peak productivity quicker.  You roll-out this model through your 500 shops.  Customers are happier.  You beat the competition. You win.

Designing our customer experience based on insights from actual behaviour and linking to employee behaviours could reap great rewards for some organisations.   Or from an employee perspective, this would mean designing our employee experience based on insights from actual behaviour with customers.

From Quantified Self to Quantified Workplace

Quantified Self is the movement to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person's daily life in terms of inputs (e.g. food consumed, quality of surrounding air), states (e.g. mood, arousal, blood oxygen levels), and performance (mental and physical).  It is a big industry, think Fitbit, Apple Watches etc.   BYOW – Bring your own Wearables is an emerging trend, see Putting Wearables to Work form Salesforce.com, which expects nearly 3x growth in wearables across the enterprise in the next two years.

The Quantified Self movement has a strong set of disciples, you are probably close to one.  The reported results are impressive in health, fitness, managing chronic disease, sleep, mood and habits.

My view is that if free wearables are offered on a voluntary basis in certain workplaces, you would get three broad groups, those with absolutely no interest, those interested for a while, and those who love the idea and utilise the tools.

Squaring The Circle

What happens when wearing tracking devices becomes compulsory for employees? 

We are already starting to hear about cases where capturing personal data on location has gone too far for employees.  For example the case of the woman in California fired after disabling here GPS on her work phone.  Another example was the outrage after The Daily Telegraph, in the UK, put sensors under the journalists desks.  Lesson learned – always get permission from employees first, especially when your employees are journalists!

In Dave Eggers novel, “The Circle”, a new employee called Mae joins the World’s most powerful and influential company. Imagine a mega-merger between Google, Facebook and Apple.  The Circle’s goal is to have all aspects of human existence, from voting to love affairs, flow through its portal, the sole portal in the World.  This is the same for all employees, including Mae.  This is where the ‘hairs on your back stand on end’ and we bring in an Orwellian sense of outrage!   The novel brings up some great questions about privacy, transparency and even identity. 

This type of data could be used unscrupulously by employers, “How well it is received by staff will probably entirely depend on the way it is used,” says Bernard Marr, an expert in data and analytics in business.  “If it is used as a disciplinary tool focused on the behaviour of individuals, it is sure to lead to resentment. But when utilised as a way to gain an overview of the company, it will probably generate fewer complaints – and more useful insights.”

So any whiff of dystopia and you lose.  You will not attract or keep employees.

The winning organisations will be those that empower the workforce, are transparent and share the benefits.

The Quantified Workplace will be introduced, but at the speed of employee trust.

Trust Trumps Technology

If we don’t have employee trust, then there will be a backlash on using more extensive personal employee data.

Frederic Laloux describes the future of management in his RSA interview, “How to Become a Soulful Organisation”.  The future of management will definitely not be based on a time and measures study, the focus will be to empower purposeful teams to make the right decisions.

If we don’t have trust or empowered employees, all we will have is Digital Taylorism – a modern version of “scientific management” that threatens to dehumanise the workplace.

This would be a great mistake.   Instead we should provide employees with tools to manage their work, themselves and their machines more effectively.

We need to ditch Industrial Age thinking.  Organisations will thrive if they empower employees to make the right decisions and provide meaningful work.  The idea of the Quantified-Self is about self-improvement.   Whoever gets to the Quantified Workplace with a willing workforce will reap the rewards.  The rewards will be enormous – with greater insight on customer and employee behaviour.

The winners will not be those who enable the technology, but those who construct a new contract with employees, based on trust.

Finally, we catch up with Jo…

“Jo gets taken home from the office in her BUG driverless car and reviews a positive day with Sirius.  She approves an AmazonDrone delivery so her fridge will be topped up before she gets home.  Later on, she puts her feet up, selects an immersive movie, opens a bottle of wine and then the most satisfying task of the day – she reaches for her smartphone and presses the OFF button.”

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HR Robots: Transformers in Disguise?

Transformers-Robots-In-Disguise-San-Diego-Comic-Con-2015-Exclusive-Trailer

At HR Tech Europe last year I was fortunate to meet a very nice robot, called Oscar, who works for Oracle.

In ‘speaking’ to the Robot, I noticed it’s intelligence was limited by the human who was hiding behind the conference stand using a microphone.  It dawned on me that it passed the Turing Test, but in reverse.  As you know, the Turing Test, is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behaviour indistinguishable from that of a human.  So, the reverse Turing Test, is a test of a human’s ability to tell if a robot is really human?

According to McKinsey, the automation of Knowledge Work will have an economic impact of between $5 to $7 trillion dollars by 2020.  (see  “Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy”  which is an excellent 176 page PDF report)

In their book, ‘The Second Machine Age  – Work, Progress and Prosperity in a time of Brilliant Technologies’ McAfee & Brynjolfsson, explain that the ‘first machine age’ gave rise to the modern discipline of management; companies hired armies of managers to co-ordinate the workers who operated the machines, and to organise supply chains and distribution systems.  The ‘second machine age’ will reconfigure the discipline: much of the work of bosses, from analysing complex data to recruiting staff and setting bonuses, will be automated.  The impact on society of this and the age of “peak-jobs” is one for the economists, futurists and gulp……..politicians.  (see for example  “Intelligent” robots threaten millions of jobs warns Ed Balls )

However smart machines impact us right now.

Google’s “human-performance analytics group” uses algorithms to decide which interview techniques are best at choosing good employees, and to optimise pay.

Robots in literature and movies have been used to project our greatest fears. Karel Capek’s R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) (1921) – is credited with coining the term “robot”, which in its original Czech, “robota” means forced labour, and is derived from “rab”, meaning “slave.”

In the context of the automation of work, the visceral fear is not having a job or livelihood, but what we are talking about here is not so much CP30, but rather the general adoption of “smart-machines” replacing traditional white-collar work.

So what is the impact of Robots on HR ?

Firstly, the ongoing transformation of the workforce enabled by technology means our HR strategies are looking increasingly out of date.  We can guess that there may be less workers, probably different contracts of employment and definitely different skills required.  So our annual performance reviews and engagement surveys in a workforce full of freelancers, working 24 X 7 across the globe is looking very last century.

Secondly, even more HR transactional work itself has the potential to be automated.

When we talk about Robots in HR, what we really mean is Robotic Process Automation (RPA).

What is RPA ?

Robotic process automation (RPA) is the application of technology that allows employees in a company to configure computer software or a “robot” to capture and interpret existing applications for processing a transaction, manipulating data, triggering responses and communicating with other digital systems.

What does RPA really look like?

RPA in practice covers process automation, IT support and management and automated assistants.

An ideal set of circumstances in which to apply RPA are rules-based, repeated and standardised work activities.

So in HR, RPA lends itself well to core HR data administration using a central ERP system, payroll, on-boarding and off-boarding.

I have written about the impact of cloud technology on HR and the need for HR to standardise its processes to utilise new SaaS Technology,  “Will HR in the Cloud kill HR Outsourcing?” and Phil Fersht followed up with his slam dunk article, “HR in the Cloud: It won’t kill HRO, but it may kill what’s left of dysfunctional HR”.

There is a trend of reducing HR work, particularly transactional work, and I see RPA as a continuation of this trend.

When we review a HR function, we look at all HR work activity with different lenses.  So for HR work that is not subsumed by HR in the Cloud, we now look to see whether we can eliminate, automate or outsource – and now RPA can play a key role here in automation.

What are the benefits for HR ?

Howard H Nelson, Founder and Managing Director of Honhr Ltd, writing on the Genfour Blog,  suggests the following :-

“RPA will initially make significant in-roads into the transactional HR activities and eventually become the feeder of business intelligence into the higher-end activities and will impact all processes.  Robotic costs are already massively beneficial when compared to equivalent full-time employees (£2,000-3,000 of robot power can displace £20,000-30,000 of employee costs) the maths of the new proposition have already made a paradigm shift. “

See also my interview with Hayley Lange at Genfour, "Where does RPA sit in the wider HR transformational landscape?"

The term ‘Robot’ is probably not helpful, and may fall by the wayside after a few years.  However RPA will fill a gap in current HR Models until we all move to the promised land of HR in the Cloud with easy to use HR Technology.

The implication for HR and future Operating Models is that we often look at areas of HR which are core and strategic; those that need to be kept in house and those areas which could be outsourced.  Now we have a new string to our bow – which activities can we give to robots?

Maybe robots will turn out to be better guides than your humble consultant, but surely that’s taking it too far !

Get in touch and let me know what you discover @AndySpence and #HRTechWorld, and I will hopefully see you in London or Paris in 2016!

This post was orginally posted on the HR Tech Europe Blog as a guest post.

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The Campaign for Meaningful Work

david graeber pointless jobs tube poster

This week I am thinking about the “why of work” for a few reasons.  Firstly, I am going to the Meaning Conference in Brighton, where I live, a gathering for people who believe business can and must be a force for positive change.  Secondly, the same evening I am seeing one of my favourite  bands, The Fall, who have been going strong since 1977.  As the late John Peel explained, they are “always different, always the same.”  Thirdly, I also have a 20 year reunion with friends I started work with back in 1995. 

If I apply the why of work to each situation, why has the lead singer of The Fall, Mark E Smith, churned out an album nearly every year since 1977?  Why is there still a bond between people who long stopped working or socialising with each other?

Work is clearly more than paying the bills, it fulfils a much bigger human need – to be part of something bigger than ourselves.  Through our work, we seek a sense of purpose and a connection with others.  Yet, there is a crisis in the modern workplace, from YouGov research that shows “37% of British workers think their jobs are meaningless” to David Graeber’s article, in STRIKE! magazine,  “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs”.  Quotes in David’s article were used by activists to plaster the Tube in London with posters. 

The workplace is a fragile balancing act between employee’s needs and employers’ needs. There is a  relentless pressure on employers to get more out of staff, and increasing employee productivity is the holy grail.

Over the last few years, employee engagement has been pushed as the solution with an assumption that increasing employee engagement increases productivity.

Organisations can spend massive amounts of energy and cost on initiatives to increase employee engagement with the belief that (1) it will raise productivity and (2) it is the right thing to do.

However, there are some glaring flaws with this:

We don’t actually know what employee engagement is.

Definitions typically point to many factors – see here for a good example of employee engagement which shows 9 factors.  This makes it far too complex to analyse, and definitely too difficult to convert into actions that make a positive difference.

We don’t know what actually causes employee engagement.

There are lots of studies which show correlations between engaged and productive staff, but it is very difficult to isolate cause and effect relationships. 

There is a correlation between organisations with high employee engagement and better performance.  However this does not mean employee engagement causes higher performance.  For example, we might also find that high employee engagement is correlated with older workers, taller workers, those that live nearer the place of employment etc.  In other words, it is very difficult to say one factor causes higher performance and this is a classic ‘chicken and egg’ debate.  Read Flip Chart Rick’s take on this  “Employee engagement hyperbole” or Professor Rob Briner, “Don’t believe the hype of employee engagement”

So we might spend time and energy on creating a happy, engaged workforce – but this raises another question:

Who needs ‘engaged workers’ doing the ‘wrong’ work?

You might have happy workers but it won’t necessarily help your organisation achieve its goals unless work is linked to the goals of the organisation.  This is much harder to achieve than ‘raising the engagement survey score by 2% every year’.

I believe employee engagement is a fad for a low wage environment – herbal teas and fresh fruit in the office is cheaper than an across-the-board 4% pay rise.  As wages increase I think businesses will focus on measures that will actually increase productivity.

So why are employee engagement initiatives still so popular?  This needs a fuller answer, but my views are:

  1. They are easier to do than root cause analysis and great job design
  2. An industry has been built up around engagement solutions – a massive sales push! #NuffSaid

 

The Campaign For Meaningful Work

 “He who has a ‘why’ to work can bear with almost any how.”  Nietzsche

Without a strong causal link between engagement and productivity we are simply left with a hunch or intuition.

Well here’s my hunch.

Meaningful work is important for our own personal sanity and well being, and so says Mark E Smith,  Marx, Maslow and my grandmother.  To me, it makes intuitive sense.

So what can we do to increase engagement, work happiness and possibly productivity?

Here are some of my suggestions to help make work more meaningful.

Link the work to something bigger

If you work as a CEO, a carer or a cleaner in a hospital, you are just as important in helping people to recover from illness as the nurses and doctors.

Why do I work? I help make organisations better places to work.  How do I do this? By working with HR teams to improve people management and the workplace.  This purpose gets me out bed in the morning (along with a strong cup of Yorkshire Tea).

By linking every persons’ job to the main goal of your organisation – whether that is to heal the sick, make people feel good, make organisations better etc you help create meaning.

Empower people to organise their own work

Some of our organisations are creaking under industrial age structures that haven’t changed since the 1950s.  The tools we use to collaborate at work are being revolutionised.  We now have an opportunity to reinvent how we work, and to empower teams to have a major say in the design.  I am not suggesting that we can all design our organisations like a start-up, or Zappos or Google – but we can start using some of the principles.  If you have had a say in designing your teams’ work then it should become more meaningful.

Show your organisation’s impact on customers

Medtronic are a specialist in medical devices, and make amongst other things prosthetic limbs.  Many of their employees do not have direct contact with their end customers.  Medtronic shares stories of patients who have benefited from the company’s products with its employees and meet customers at its regular ‘town-hall meetings’.   In the words of a senior executive,

Our people end up feeling personally involved in our company’s mission to restore people to full life.  They can see the end result of their work. Many are profoundly moved by the patients’ stories.

This has a much greater impact on morale than going through the quarterly earnings report.

Keep learning about what motivates us at work

Despite the glib books and 100 page academic reports, this is a complex area.

There are lots of misconceptions about what motivates people at work from financial bonuses, bowls of fruit, Christmas hampers or a pat on the back – take your pick?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn't just about the money, but it's not exactly about the joy either.  It seems that most of us thrive by making constant progress and feeling a sense of purpose.

Here are two videos worth watching on what motivates us at work.

Dan Ariely, a behavioural economist gives a TED talk – “What makes us feel good about our work?”

But, why have one Dan when you can have two?  Dan Pink, the author, illustrates  “The surprising truth about what motives us” with the help of an RSA Animation.  This has had over 14 million people view this on YouTube, make sure your Reward Manager is one of them!

“Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose” REPEAT “Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose”

Finally, ditch that annual engagement survey!  Unless in your heart you know that improving aggregated self-reported survey responses will really help you design and maintain a great place to work.

Put some of these things in place and watch the results – maybe in the emotional commitment employees have for your organisation, maybe the spring in their step as they travel to work, or just possibly in their productivity.  I will be listening and learning at the Meaning Conference, rocking to “Dead Bead Descendant” by The Fall, and as always irrepressibly tweeting @AndySpence.  It would be great to hear your views on the ‘why of work’ and how you make more work more meaningful.  

See also, What Makes Work Meaningful? and The Seven Deadly Sins Preventing Meaningful Work

 

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