Let’s pretend we’re married – Getting engaged

Let’s pretend we’re married … “Prince” attempts to forge a strange relationship with Miss Haversham and Scrooge

Employee engagement – what does it mean really?  Do more engaged employees do more and better work for longer?  Is engagement some kind of secret code for ‘in company dating’ or a causal relationship between casual workers and casual sex?  And so on… I attended an academic meeting on the vexed questions of employee engagement at the University of Kent the other day.  I took the opportunity to extract the gems from all the World Class speakers who presented.  But not before we take an insight from one of Rock’s Honorary Professors, none other than Prince:

What’s this strange relationship

Starting with Professor Paul Sparrow, Director of the Centre for Performance Led HR.  I’ve summarised Paul’s most compelling insight from his opening keynote:

Engagement is needed in the current age for three reasons:  When the world outside changes incrementally or radically; When you want to change the rules of the game for disruptive innovation or; When you want to become more fluid / adaptive

The last reason reminded me of Chris Argyris’ and Peter Senge’s work on learning companies – see the post on Britney Spears for more on this.

Dr Amanda Shantz from York University, Canada offered us some great insights into what to do with disengaged employees.  Dysfunctional relationships are at the heart of such problems and therefore part of any potential antidotes.  Once again Prince offers us a gem of wisdom via his piece “what’s this strange relationship, ship, ship, ship, ship” .  I did have a video of “strange Relationship” here but his purple holiness asked youtube to remove it – damn! :-(

Amanda more or less just regurgitated  some good old-fashioned job design ideas courtesy of Hackman and Oldham.  Despite this, I confess I found myself enjoying these since they align well with ideas I presented in Punk Rock People Management.  Just because Hackman and Oldham are a bit untrendy, does not mean that they should be displaced by a “7-dimensional model from a trendy HR consultancy firm”.  Click on the PUNK ROCK HR link to get a free copy of the book and some wholesome common sense on job design and engagement.

A no-nonsense guide to people management for busy people

On to Professor Rob Briner from University of Bath, who posed the ‘Morrissey question’:  How bad an idea is employee engagement?  A jolly good question in my view ! :-)  He provoked the audience in a very skilled way to question the notion that engagement is actually a good thing, supported by a good deal of well researched data.  Rob demonstrated eloquently the problem of HR gurus such as Gary Hamel, who seem to mouth the word ‘engagement’ at HR conferences more times per minute than Robert Plant used to sing ‘baby’ in the average Led Zeppelin song.  Rob’s wonderful talk ‘forces’ me :-) to play Morrissey’s great hit on person-job fit and the HR ‘happiness’ agenda:

Dr Brad Shuck from the University of Louisville looked at the ever-present dilemma of measurement.  We are able to measure almost everything these days and many businesses do just that.  Just because you can measure everything doesn’t mean you should. One quote from Kahn stood out “The fragility of engagement is a function of how vulnerable we feel, and are, when we risk being fully present in a situation”.  Feels more like a poem or a lyric than a management consultancy concept :-)  I later found out that Brad is an avid jazz and country musician which explained a lot for me.   A great treatment on a troublesome topic which has spawned a whole industry of people feeding off the measurement dilemma.

Professor John Purcell posed the thorny question “Is embedded employee voice an essential pre-requisite for engagement”.  But what did it mean?  He was really talking about reciprocity.  In Punk Rock HR terms this translates to “What do I get?” i.e. If I give you something, I will expect something in return.  I think that is a handy definition of engagement although I don’t think it is well understood in the business world.

Finally, David McLeod and Nita Clarke outlined the steps to be taken in partnership with HR practitioners and academics to make high performance a part of ‘business as usual’.  Professor Adrian Furnham’s work on this area is most incisive – see the post on Adrian Furnham for more.  Adrian and I have shared a stage and a few glasses of wine and beer.  He is the ‘boss’ on such things should you wish us to come to present this stuff in an intelligent AND engaging way.  Oh, yes, and don’t forget to ask us for a copy of Punk Rock HR via this slide deck:

We must of course return to Prince for some salutary advice on the psychological contract, reciprocity and discretionary effort.  As usual Prince takes the whole subject of engagement well beyond the usual limits – you’ve gotta love him for it :-)

Let’s Pretend We’re Married

"If I was ur girlfriend, I'd just pretend we're married" - Oh dear I look like Thomas Dolby :-)(  At HRD 2012 with Lauren of www.growthepeople.co.uk

“If I was ur girlfriend, I’d just pretend we’re married” – Oh dear I look like Thomas Dolby :-)( At HRD 2012 with Lauren of http://www.growthepeople.co.uk

Happy talk – Motivation unplugged

"Cos' I'm worth it" - A marketing executive from L'Oreal rocks out at the Marketing Directors Forum in Athens

I was reading the blog of Video Arts the other day on the issue of happiness at work.  It reminded me of the words of honorary punk rockers Rogers, Hammerstein and Captain Sensible, “Happy talk”.  Yes, it’s nice to be happy at work, but that’s only half the story.  We looked at the blues and motivation previously.  The Smiths’ classic “Heaven knows I’m miserable now” is the mantra for people stuck in jobs that don’t fit their skills, attitudes, inner or outer desires.  Let’s check out the dark side of the motivational equation:

What then are the reasons to be cheerful at work?  Certainly NOT because the 360 degree appraisal system has been put online in full colour,  because the team has won a set of fake plastic palm trees inscribed with the company mission statement, or when the HR department places a ‘People are our greatest asset’ plaque in every toilet cubicle.

It may be slightly quaint or even old fashioned to say this, but whatever happened to good old job design, as described by Hackman and Oldham?  They pointed out that people work well when they have well designed jobs.  These include some good old fashioned but not out of date factors:

  • Skill variety – using an appropriate variety of skills.
  • Task identity – being able to see the whole task.
  • Task significance – the extent to which people identify with the task and its importance to something wider.
  • Autonomy – giving some discretion over the way in which work is done.
  • Feedback – gaining an idea of how well people convert effort into performance.

In practical terms, many of the tried and tested methods of improving job design at work still have value.  For example:   vary work where possible to encourage skill variety;  assign work as a whole unit to enhance task significance;  delegate tasks to their lowest possible level to create autonomy and responsibility;   connect people to the impact of their work through feedback.  Some of the world’s best workplaces such as Prêt à Manger use these principles intuitively as they are common sense, although they are not commonly applied.  Others have made significant improvements by just following them as a conscious protocol, such as I have observed in work at The Royal College of Physicians.

My latest book Punk Rock People Management offers us three chords on motivation:

  • Design work according to Hackman and Oldham’s principles.
  • Eliminate pointless tasks from the daily grind that add no customer / stakeholder value.
  • Remember that reasons to be cheerful include: being listened to; doing things that count; understanding why they matter; being part of something; not having to do pointless tasks;  getting meaningful feedback on what you do and so on.

‘Punk Rock People Management – A no-nonsense guide to hiring, inspiring and firing staff’ is available for purchase of as a FREE download via the Punk Rock People Management webpage.  If you like this extract from the book, you will also LOVE my other book ‘Sex, Leadership and Rock’n’Roll’, acclaimed by Tom Peters, the daddy of them all.  Contact us to book your next conference keynote based on our heady mixture of business leadership and music.  Just back from Greece, and shortly appearing in Romania, South Africa and Slough – hardly a Rock’n’Roll schedule I admit! :-)  Read a review by clicking on the picture:

Good companions

I leave not with Happy Talk by Captain Sensible, but with his rather more thoughtful anti-war / eco warrior song “Glad it’s all over” – The Captain ‘extinguished me’ with a fire hydrant at the Marquee during a Doctors of Madness gig, for which I am eternally grateful.