By: Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden
Adapted with permission of the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., from Contented Cows Still Give Better Milk: The Plain Truth about Employee Engagement and your Bottom Line by Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden © 2012
Some organizations have people who do seem to “get it.” We wanted to know what makes the difference between these places and the average organization.
The Root of Employee Engagement
If your people know (really know) what you’re all about, how did they find out? What did you, as a manager, have to do to help them realize it?
We have asked these questions of hundreds of business leaders over the past 15 years, and the answers (where there were cogent answers) are about as unsexy and unimaginative as it gets.
We had hoped perhaps to hear of some ingenious, idiot-proof techniques guaranteed to inject the milk of human understanding into every living thing under the corporate roof, but there weren’t any. Instead, we heard repeatedly from organizations whose people do seem to get it -- and get it good -- that you simply tell them, over, and over, and over again.
In fact, you practically carpet bomb them from day one with the same simple, clear-cut, credible message. Then, you back that message up with deeds.
However, what did surface from these conversations were some very definable conditions that impede companies from getting people to see and support the big picture -- such as:
1. The Event Syndrome: In all too many cases, any attempt to communicate these priorities, goals, and so on, takes place only once a year, or maybe every three or four years, usually after some mountaintop retreat or strategic planning session.
Someone -- or some group -- produces a wonderfully crafted letter, speech, pamphlet, or video. Everyone endures the obligatory “viewing” and then promptly goes back to what they were doing, safely assured that the topic won’t come up again for at least another year.
In one organization we know, the senior management group returned from its three-day mountaintop experience in Moses-like fashion, bearing (get this) real stone tablets with the newly minted corporate goals inscribed on them.
With phrases such as “competitively superior, highly integrated, broad-based networks” inscribed upon them, we’re fairly certain that more than a few of their people couldn’t even pronounce some of this stuff, let alone understand or remember it. Fortunately, those rocks made pretty good paperweights.
2. Message of the Week: In other cases, companies somehow expect all those thoughtful, intelligent people they call employees to buy the notion that this week they’re a “Market Leader,” knowing all the while that next week they’ll be the “Most Operationally Efficient,” “Lowest Cost Producer,” or some other arbitrarily chosen superlative.
Come on; get real! It’s almost as if many executives are suffering from the very same attention deficit disorder that grips a lot of our school-age children. (Maybe there should be a Ritalin prescription for the boardroom.)
3. “Misaligned Bellybuttons” or “Talk Is Cheap”: Basketball players learn early in their careers that the best way to anticipate movement when guarding an opponent is to watch the other person’s midsection, as it reliably predicts where the rest of the person is going.
The same is true off the court as well -- and in some companies we find that executives’ bellybuttons are pointed in one direction and their mouths in another.
4. “Mission Statement” vs. Sense of Mission: Comparatively speaking, executives spend entirely too much precious time and energy crafting precisely worded company mission, vision, and value statements. This is time and effort they should be investing in making darned sure every human being on their payroll truly understands and appreciates what all that stuff means.
In case after case, Contented Cow companies are the ones doing the better job of helping their people see, feel, and appreciate where the business is headed, why it is going there, and what role they are expected to play. Although their efforts aren’t usually the slickest or fanciest
(no stone tablets, to be sure), they are clear, consistent, and “udderly” compelling.
Your Company Brand: Make It Sticky
Some of the better examples we have seen involve health care companies such as Medtronic and Genentech, who routinely use patient-staff interactions as a very impactful way of reminding their people why they have a job.
Indeed, buildings on Genentech’s South San Francisco campus are adorned with huge murals containing pictures of patients, emphasizing the reason those buildings exist.
Another company that manufactures intravenous bags and tubing occasionally takes workers to a neighboring county hospital to witness the very real impact of their labor firsthand. Others make effective use of corporate legend, stories, and recognition programs to shape and reinforce the big picture for their staffs.
High expectations create a company environment where both individual and company growth can take place. Each and every one of us wants desperately to be a winner. However, people often don’t know how to win in their jobs.
Their managers have to show them or get used to the fact that everyone will lose while they stand idly by.
Winning is too often defined in terms that are overly dry, sterile (take a look at your own company’s strategic plans or “vision statements”), or completely irrelevant to the intended audience (Company X wants to achieve ROCE of 16.2 percent).
It’s time to get real! After all, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t launch an entire movement with the words “I have a strategic plan,” did he?
Bill Catlette is a thought leader in the arena of leadership and employee engagement who has spent his entire career helping build highly successful organizations. Co-author of Rebooting Leadership and the Contented Cows leadership book series, he coaches and advises managers worldwide on leadership and employment matters.
Richard Hadden is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) with a focus on leadership and employee engagement. He is co-author of Rebooting Leadership and the Contented Cows leadership book series. Since 1990, Richard has addressed more than 800 audiences on five continents, making the business case for having a focused, engaged and capably led workforce.