When happy workers become complacent, work suffers. Simultaneously, demotivated workers are a substantial threat to business viability. A blueprint of empowerment exists.
Not long ago, many C-Suite leaders displayed skepticism when advised that ‘happy workers are productive workers.” To a limited extent, this skepticism served them well.
Per definition, motivation is a reason for behavior. The most widely accepted longstanding theories, such as Maslow and ERG, force us to question if “happy” is in fact the absence of motivation. If “happy” equates to Maslow’s self-actualization stage, why would happy workers be motivated to excel? Furthermore, is “happy” an effective measurement and business criterion?
Decades of studies have validated the pragmatic human capital approach to talent management, yet certain extremists are still peddling a “puppies and sunshine” approach to business. While “happy” workers are not necessarily a meaningful target, and are certainly not a lawful target, let’s explore a more prudent target.
Is “Happy” a Meaningful Criteria?
No astute business leader will ignore today’s five to seven-figure risk of incorporating terms like “happy” and “attitude” into performance criteria. Mood disorders are specifically protected by the EEOC, especially via the Americans with Disabilities Act and its subsequent amendments. Therefore, evaluating happiness can be discriminatory per both statutory and case law. All performance appraisal toolsets that previously carried this language are no longer safe to deploy and require recrafting. With expert guidance, updated terminology equally protective of workplace outcomes is available.
Highbrow thinkers often characterize “happy” in the same realm of “utopia,” where “happy” exists as a non-sustainable target rather than a constant state of being. That being true, optimum productivity exists in the individual who can achieve fleeting happiness in the workplace and finds that work excellence is the path to attainment. That worker, in the proper performance management system, then repeatedly pursues the fleeting sense of “happy” through positive work behaviors, well-aligned with the organization’s goals. This assumes the worker is at socio-economic level beyond basic safety and security needs. An employee whose food and shelter are threatened may throw “happy” out the window quickly for extra money or job security.
Today’s expert business leader recognizes that motivation cannot happen without hope and incentive. Demotivation occurs when employees are not properly rewarded for positive performance. An employee who exceeds expectations may not repeat the excellence if behavioral reinforcement is absent. Rewards, however, must be commensurate with the performance. Both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards collaborate together in a well-aligned system, refraining from impinging upon the other’s efficacy. A bonus for only adequate performance, for example, strips intrinsic motivation and creates a derailing reward system. A bonus for no performance, as today’s federal government often promotes, most certainly strips motivation and threatens productivity.
A Relaxed Mind is a Productive Mind.
More meaningful than the elusive “happy” is cognitive ability. Productivity and creative problem solving are increased when negative noise is averted. The noise of fear, anxiety and negative emotion shut down the capabilities of most, while a few might benefit from a brief adrenaline rush through sympathetic nervous system response before crashing. Where a team member believes he or she can succeed and shall receive betterment as a result, and where the negative noise is quiet, the team member is exponentially more likely to demonstrate positive work behavior.
Quality of work life deliverables which facilitate problem solving are frequently deployed by companies who depend upon invention and creativity. Work campuses and work days designed to unlock mental energy flourish. Wellness is a powerful human asset which translates into positive corporate output.
And the Answer Is…
The discussion of “happy” workers is not only an irritant to many business pragmatists but also lacks legal risk management and, quite frankly, lacks tangible meaning. The real discussion is about workplace productivity as defined by motivation, environment and leadership. Again, motivation is a reason, and complacency will not do. Failure to deliver proper incentive will also not do. We advocate and deliver lifelong learning for leaders, accompanied by proper crafting and delivery of performance management systems. New leaders do not instinctively know how to lead and require solid formal training, often in a kinesthetic learning environment. In any talent-intensive organization, getting the right people doing the right things is the heartbeat of success. Keeping talent management at C-level authority is critical.
Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, May 14, 2015
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Let’s take a trip down memory lane, and recount the mindset of our society:
The year is 2009. The economy is in a massive struggle, and it is still trending downward. We see several busts, crashes, and every conceivable angle at which our financial sector could fail. Most Americans are either about to lose or have already lost a significant chunk of their life savings. Things look grim. Remember what that felt like? I’m sure you do…all too well.
It is at this time that a decree is handed out to corporate America, “Every business shall either adapt…or fail.” In order to survive during these crumbling economic times, a company had to scale back and had to become lean. Unnecessary waste and, more harshly, “unnecessary” jobs, had to be cut in order for the majority to survive and maintain their livelihoods. We all remember these times, and, chances are, most of us are still feeling the effects of these changes just a few years later.
As businesses were faced with these decisions, the ones who survived all seemed to make a common decision: just as the company had to become agile and adaptable, so did the workforce. What followed then was a decision to hire young, developable talent (a.k.a., adaptable talent). It was a smart decision; hire the young guns and develop them to be the people you will need in the future. This was not only smart because of the adaptability factor, but also because of the cost factor. Hiring a YP could be much cheaper than hiring a senior level employee.
This was such a smart decision that, as mentioned previously, numerous employers jumped on the bandwagon and made this a national trend. We saw this out of the majority of our clients here at HRS: many wanted to hire the younger, more developable, cheaper talent; it made too much sense to ignore.
Of course, the adverse effect of this was that the senior, higher trained employees became less in demand. At every turn, older workers seemed to be passed over for the younger talent. Employers no longer wanted to pay for the more experienced, more expensive talent. It wasn’t of the same value anymore, and it wasn’t as affordable (side note: this also likely explains the beginning of the YP boom, and also the analysis of the generational gap).
Our country, in unison, made the statement to a segment of our working population that all of their training, and all of their experience, was no longer valued and was no longer part of the equation to better our broken economy. Out of nowhere, U.S. workers who spent their entire career learning specific skillsets were told that they had, essentially, wasted their time. I’m sure you can understand how this would feel – or maybe this even happened to you directly.
Now, let’s fast forward to the present day: it’s 2015 and we have been in the midst of a multi-year discussion about how to fix the lack of talent and appropriate, usable knowledge base in our talent pool.
What happened to those workers we passed over that had that training? What happened to hiring younger talent, and developing them ourselves? What happened to our plan?
Short answer: the knowledgeable workers have become discouraged…pun intended.
Long answer: Our economy, almost instantaneously, went from a place of choosing not to hire the senior employees, and identifying advanced skill sets as “less than preferred,” to a place where suddenly those skills don’t exist, and haven’t existed for a long time.
We went from a place of telling the experienced worker that their skills were no longer valued, to a place of telling them that they never had the skills to begin with. Talk about being discouraged…
One of either two things is happening here, Corporate America: 1) We have forgotten about the discouraged worker, and we are wondering why the young professionals don’t have the hard (or soft) skills of a seasoned professional after only a couple years, or 2) Our demand for workers’ skills is rapidly changing and outpacing our supply. We have become too ethereal and ever-changing with our ideology of the “perfect worker,” and the common population just can’t keep up with the changing trends.
Either way, Corporate America, we have grown impatient. I’m sorry to say it. We signed up for the inexperienced, developable work force. We can’t be upset now that they don’t have the skills we are looking for…when we are the ones who haven’t given it to them. Our economy spent decades’ worth of time, energy, and resources training the workers of pre-2009 to have the skills we needed. Let’s either not let that work go to waste, or acknowledge the fact that we may need a few decades (not months or single years) to embrace the change.
Let’s give our workers a break. They’re not incapable; they’re just trying to keep up.
Matthew Bare - Friday, January 30, 2015
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On the night of August 17th, 2012, Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton stepped up to the plate with his team losing 5-4 to the Colorado Rockies. It was a game between two last place teams well into the Major League Baseball season, and few people around the country were likely to witness what was about to happen.
Stanton was facing a young pitcher by the name of Josh Roenicke who was fairly effective in his role – keeping opposing batters off base. He was even more effective at an even more important role, preventing opposing batters from hitting a home run. He was a valuable piece to the Rockies bullpen, and a valued team member. After falling to a 1-2 count, Roenicke looked to have Stanton exactly where he wanted him…on the verge of an out, and on the verge of meeting his goal.
This is when the magic happened. Giancarlo Stanton sent the very next pitch deep into the bleachers in Left-Center field. The distance? An estimated 494 feet away. The longest home run in the majors since one of equal distance was hit in 2009. The pitch?
Why should it matter that a young player on a struggling baseball team hit a ball so far? Why should we care? This story matters because it illustrates something that we lose focus of all the time…
You don’t need to go after the fastball. You don’t need to swing at that pitch that’s straight and coming right at you. In fact, those pitches can often be the ones that are most enticing for pitchers to get batters to swing and miss at. In essence, they could be a “decoy.” The lesson here is that you don’t always have to lock in on the fastball.
Sometimes, it’s best to swing at the curveball.
Sometimes, that curve is going to give you the best opportunity to get a hit all day. At first, the curveball may shock you. You may not know exactly where it’s going. You may even get scared. However, if you do what Stanton did, if you size that pitch up and roll with it, you can hit that ball further than anyone else has ever dreamed of doing. You can not only meet your goals, but greatly surpass them.
When you’re strategizing and laying out your action plan, the standard inclination is to avoid the curves and focus only on what you know – the fastballs. We do this because the “fastballs” are exactly what we know them to be. We know exactly how fast and in what direction they’ll be coming in, and we’ll look to swing for the fences. We’ll look to tackle these incoming hurdles even if they’re well out of our comfort zone, because we know what they are. Sometimes, when you’re at the plate, the fastballs will all be garbage, but it’s the curveball that will provide the greatest opportunity for reward. You need to watch every pitch, you can’t ignore the fastballs, but you can’t ignore that curve.
You may think that it’s a wild card without any rhyme or rhythm, but it may just wind up being a slow, hanging pitch that you can knock right out of the park. The curveball may wind up being your greatest gift.
Let’s look at this using another analogy – language. The average person may be given the best, most helpful advice on the entire planet. However, if the advice were presented in a foreign language, we wouldn’t even blink twice at it. We would let it slip right past us. Why? Because we didn’t recognize it.
We as people tend to stick with only that which we know – the fastballs – and ignore what we don’t – the curve. What we need to remind ourselves of is that we’re missing so many opportunities by ignoring the curves. We may be missing a vital piece of information or a once in a lifetime opportunity that will give us our true “home run.”
We all need to do a better job of recognizing what is coming our way. Don’t just sit there and wait for the fastball when it may never come. Analyze what’s coming your way, recognize your opportunity, and hit the curve.
Matthew Bare - Wednesday, June 04, 2014
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Some believe filling resume gaps by labeling or creating a “consulting” firm is a positive resume builder. More often than not, this adversely impacts one’s ability to be re-employed. To set oneself apart as a freelance “consultant” or company owner can be synonymous with setting oneself apart as averse to taking direction from another… a statement likely to create de-selection from employment opportunities. Top employers will also investigate the legitimate success in engagements during this “consultancy” time period on one’s resume.
When choosing to be a consultant, know beforehand it is not all glamour and glitz. A corporate career as an internal key member dedicated to one corporate environment at a time is NOT preparation for consultancy. Successful consultancy requires the proven ability to simultaneously serve multiple unique organizations through analysis and adaptation... and deep knowledge of multi-employer case studies. Serving one or a few selectively chosen organizations is not necessarily preparation for consultancy. Conversely, consultancy is not necessarily preparation to become an internal expert. Deep knowledge of that organization is the only preparation for that role.
Consultancy requires reporting to many “bosses.” It is a myth that one can succeed in consultancy without subordination. While it is true that many employers are drawn to candidates who have demonstrated the responsibility and ambition of starting a business, employers of choice will carefully screen this situation and select/de-select candidates accordingly.
If not prepared to forever risk livelihood, think twice before abandoning the safe route of remaining steadily and stably employed, creating documented successes as an employee. Embrace consultancy for what it truly is and understand that a great consultant is never “in between jobs.”
Jessica Ollenburg - Tuesday, September 14, 2010
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Emerging from a recession, grabbing opportunity and surviving intense global competition, we cannot be fooled by the dangerous and misleading propaganda... "Work Smarter, Not Harder!" Statements along these lines when misinterpreted can only lead to disaster. The blueprint for success requires balance.
Agreed it can be more effective to work smart than to work hard, in most cases both are necessary. In addition, “smart” can be a matter of misinterpretation in itself. “Smart” can only truly be judged by one who is “smart” in the capacity and criteria to be evaluated. “Smart” can be ill defined. Nonetheless, "Work Smarter" should remain our dedicated target, we just need to lose the "Not Harder" component.
Through study of human work ethic, it is undeniable that many top performers equate “working hard” with “doing your best.” Anything short of doing one’s best is less than adequate. Therefore, working “hard” is always one of the goals. Where and how we channel our energies and how we balance and care for ourselves is a matter of personal choice and commitment.
Nations rich in socialism and suppressed middle class existence present global competition of both working hard and working smart in tandem. Those who wish to compete must rise to the occasion or lose the opportunity to fight another day. While the U.S. is not easily adaptable by history and infrastructure to the socialist principles which have been embraced by other nations, Americans must not think they can exist in a vacuum, especially after centuries of global involvement.
Those proven to offer judgment, accomplishment and commitment to excellence effectively draw upon the “Work Smarter, Not Harder” mantra with astute understanding that successful results require efficiency and sound judgment. These toolsets can lead to quicker, easier and more accurate positive outcomes, freeing our resources to accomplish more in the end. The mantra works best for those already working hard. Those, however, lacking necessary work commitment are adversely impacted and misled by this mantra, using it as an excuse to retract effort.
This is an essential organizational development topic to be safeguarded by employee education, policies, practices and daily performance management. The ambiguity of related remarks is polluting team members’ understanding of workplace expectations and the blueprint to security and advancement. Consider this both a “call to action” and an opportunity of betterment for organizational leaders at all levels.
Jessica Ollenburg - Saturday, January 09, 2010
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Until we learn otherwise, we tend to believe others think and behave as we do. Sometimes that learning comes with a thunderbolt and leaves us with our “jaw on the ground.” Pillared on more than 30 years experience in leadership coaching to a wealth of Fortune-rated and emerging employers alike, this evidence does not falter. Consequently, it is easy to conclude that common sense does not actually exist. Coaching requires understanding motivation, capability and learning style. Without these, the ability to transform is challenged.
If you ask a self-starter why he or she is a self-starter, you shall often encounter uncertainty. According to Bob Galvin, retired Motorola chairman, self-starters and leaders can be spotted by age 14. Being a self-starter derives from intrinsic motivation (coming from within), not nearly as easily influenced as extrinsic motivation (impacted by external variables). Self-starters rarely understand those who are not self-starters, and most individuals are not self-starters. This lack of understanding creates a barrier to audience adaptation and coaching effectiveness.
Employers tend to promote top performers, usually self-starters, to leadership roles. These promotions often occur for the wrong reasons. A self-starter with the right leadership training can lead by example and deploy certain tactics, yet he or she can be challenged in ability to understand and coach those without intrinsic motivation. Leadership is a lifelong learning commitment. Without learning and adaptation to new audiences, we stunt company growth and can only hire a small percentage of the available applicant pool.
Those who study leadership recognize leadership is not a natural progression, but rather a distinctive and precise skillset. Many self-starters are completely disinterested in coaching; however, they accept the role as a title award and advancement strategy. Self-starters are often admittedly more interested in managing processes than people. Employers who create advancement ladders not necessarily tied to supervision are able to truly gauge commitment to coaching and creating transformation. Self-starters often view themselves as self-transformed and therefore may not be inclined to transform others. A supervisor, trainer or coach who fails to create transformation also fails to provide betterment to employee productivity. If the employees are not better for the supervisor’s impact, why is the supervisor retained? Assuming the talent acquisition process is doing its job, successful coaching creates transformation and improves workplace productivity through improved employee performance.
By its very definition, extrinsic motivation is volatile, affected by the employer. Motivation is, in its simplest terms, a reason. Understanding what transformed you to improved performance is a valuable toolset to transforming others. This means looking beyond intrinsic motivation. Those who were “transformed” can be highly influential and motivational success stories for others.
HRS deploys these validated studies in globally recognized assessment and kinesthetic coaching programs, serving employers in more than 100 countries plus world respected academic and certification institutions. Programs are augmented through learning style surveys having earned more than 3000 global responses to date. Typical program methodology includes leadership assessment to pinpoint coaching style, transactional/transformational effectivess and learning opportunities. This analysis is most frequently followed by audience adaptive kinesthetic workshops proven highly successful in transforming leaders, entry through CEO and BOD, into transformational coaches. Please visit AskHRS.com for more information regarding learning survey findings, validation studies, leadership assessment and kinesthetic workshop offerings.
Jessica Ollenburg - Thursday, October 15, 2009
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Amidst organizational change employers deploy a wealth of employee assessments in a scheme of cost-benefit analysis. Some overspend the outcomes and then don’t even understand the data. Some sales-based assessment organizations inundate prospective clients with “high brow” tricks while brow-beating them into pretending they understand. What’s just as important as data integrity is simplified and universal buy-in… and the ability to attach meaningful cost saving action. Crazy labels and “smoke and mirrors” are not the keys to predicting success. If you don’t understand, your employees won’t either!
Employee assessment, training needs analysis, legal compliance and leadership development remain at the forefront of today's critical employer issues. Employees and leaders at all levels must be ready to adapt quickly and assume responsibilities, potentially for the first time with limited up front training. Employers can manage 5-7 figure risk with a 2-3 figure implementation before the change. This awareness continues to expand, and the demand for the right employee assessments explodes!
As a follow up to our research essay published by SHRM in 1999 and countless essays since including a Forbes interview a few years back, let’s review the changed environment. A wealth of assessment exercises is now available on the open market, and we endorse some but certainly not all of them. While HRS proprietary instruments are clearly our favorites (shameless plug), we have welcomed the most valid, reliable and meaningful instruments of other vendors into our catalog. Those we exclude and caution against are the many, many instruments that fall short of data integrity, legal compliance and assessor/assessee buy-in. For instance, validity does not exist if you cannot prove test performance directly correlates, within acceptable statistical margin of error, to workplace performance. This includes both positive and negative performance. A common pitfall here is to sample assess your top performers against the instrument and be fooled that good performance on both test and appraisal constitutes validity. That’s only part of the argument. Before assuming complete validation, test your poor performers and potentially those who weren’t selected for hire.
According to recent survey (to which 3000+ responded), advancement is the primary employee magnet and motivator, yet nearly half of incumbent managers miss at least 45% of the opportunities to be successfully transactional or transformational in leadership tactics. Self starters are proven not naturally inclined to transform others, and are therefore challenged as leaders. Incumbent call center employees are proven to miss more than half of follow through opportunities when presented with task to resolve rather than route. Nearly half of those excelling in external customer service roles underperform with internal customers, creating disharmonious team environments and unnecessary efficiency waste. In the HRSAC SR2 simulation, analytical adaptability consistently reveals itself as the most challenging criteria when employees are asked to assume a changed job condition. In short, job knowledge can hide logic, problem solving and trainability. Change for some can create disaster. Assessment results should pinpoint the “why” and the learning goals behind the performance ratings, present and future. When top performers are competing for promotion, 3rd party objectivity and buy-in are essential to ensure every top performer walks away feeling valued and empowered with tools to win that promotion next time.
What Can Be Assessed?
Leadership Styles/Tactics, Customer Service, Critical Thinking, Analytical Adaptability, Multi-Tasking, Attention to Detail, Problem Solving, Group Presentation Dynamics, Teamplayer Orientation, Time Management, Workflow Planning, Conflict Resolution, Change Advocacy, Negotiation, Persuasion, Natural Abilities and Natural Roadblocks can be measured at a minimum, and are certainly among the most popular. Some erroneously call these the “soft skills.” While there’s nothing less common than sense, I attest these are the “hard skills.” Crafted reliably, in-baskets can predict job success according to any identified job description. Skills tests are available with endless functionality.
Selecting the Right Assessment Instrument(s)
Examining validity and reliability is not as complex as it sounds. The assessment administrator who has an instrument of meaningful integrity will proudly take you through this explanation and may demo the instrument for you. Ask the following questions when choosing the instrument…
1. Inquire regarding validity and reliability studies. This includes pass-fail and/or both positive and negative ratings.
2. Investigate margin of error and resolution thereof.
3. Be convinced the instrument and its scoring report will be meaningful and gain buy-in from all parties. Be convinced the outcomes point to meaningful action.
4. Ensure the instrument’s content, delivery method and criteria support the job description for both meaningful information and legal defensibility.
On-line assessment grows in popularity due to convenience and has its important place, but for those not required to deliver such communications on the job via Internet, validity and data integrity are compromised. The testing environment should relate to the work environment. For those allowed to deliver key communications on-the-job in discussion, why force only Q&A or multiple choice based tests? Allow essay and/or conversational feedback modules. Such modules should not be computer scored. In short, the testing method and environment must be consistent with the job conditions.
In labor intensive or talent based organizations, success is largely impacted by human accuracy or error. Advancement is a key motivator, and a blueprint is essential. With the appropriate tools, employers can maneuver the right people doing the right things. Employers still promote great implementors into leadership, assuming this is the natural progression. Management is not natural progression but rather its own professional skillset and a lifelong learning commitment. The same is true for project management. For those who already buy in to the assessment center method, it remains challenging to differentiate between assessment instruments.
Having endured great cost in creating and validating precisely job specific instruments so obviously on the mark and easily understood that even assessees immediately buy-in, it’s difficult to watch others throw some meaningless crapshoot of a “smoke and mirrors” tool onto a website and pummel advertising at the public held hostage.
The best assessments gain buy-in upon inspection and discussion of scoring outcomes. The HRSAC has validated our proprietary assessments over 26 years working with hundreds of organizations from 10 to 100,000+ employees including global operations. Baselines have been established over these years for job-related criteria across countless demographics and fields. The scored analysis of the job-specific instrument reveals more precisely how behavioral traits would actually manifest themselves in a specific job setting. Probabilities for successful corporate training efforts coincide with these baselines. As interest surveys, personality profiles and integrity questionnaires continue to move out of utilization, job-predictive assessments continue to move in. Reputable assessment instruments come with validity and reliability studies, so don’t hesitate to ask! Sample reports should be proudly presented. Both employer and employee should be convinced. The key to success will be actionable findings, easy to understand with trust that ratings are accurate, job-related and meaningful in career-oriented decisions without bias. If your assessment doesn’t meet all the goals described herein, you haven’t found the right tools. Contact HRS… we’ve got them!
Jessica Ollenburg - Sunday, May 24, 2009
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