Each week we scour the web to find you the most informative, inspirational, and insightful articles about Employee Engagement, Motivation, Leadership, Followership, Strategy and Culture.  Then we turn them into bite-size chunks, so you get the essentials without any fluff. Here are this week’s must reads;

[Editor’s comment – we start with a thought provoking and somewhat longer than normal piece]

6 Ways to Challenge Your Leadership Assumptions – 18th March

Eric McNulty describes six distinct differences that are useful for examining leadership assumptions. He came across them in a paper written almost two decades ago by Miles Bryant, a professor of education administration at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, in which he compared Western leadership beliefs to those of Native Americans from six Plains tribes. He writes;

  1. How does hierarchy fit into your view of leadership? The first difference Bryant found between Western leadership beliefs and those of the Plains Tribes was around leaders and hierarchy. Whereas mainstream Western thinking holds that a group needs someone in charge if it is to accomplish its tasks effectively and efficiently, the Native Americans Bryant documented saw each person as important, with a distinctive contribution to make to the success of the group. “No single entity supervises other individual entities in some hierarchical fashion,” he wrote.
  2. As we navigate the Anthropocene age — so dubbed because of the impact humans have had on the environment — how might the Native American view of a leader’s value inform how we think about our relationship to the larger system in which we operate? The second variance that Bryant identified was around the leader as a source of wisdom versus a creator of organizational value. He found that the Native Americans he studied saw value in all things and that a leader grew into that role through lifelong study of how the world works. It was not about the ability to exploit resources for tangible value, but rather the ability to understand the system and how to thrive in harmony with it.
  3. What does your approach to development say about the level of trust you have in others? Bryant also found a distinction around the leader’s role as a developer of others. While it is common for us to think of leaders as active builders of the skills and knowledge of those around them, the Native Americans Bryant studied took a hands-off role even when they saw the need for their involvement. Responsibility for development was entrusted to each person and a leader would only intervene when asked for help. This is related to the lack of hierarchy. But it mainly happened because non-interference was seen as a matter of trust: The leader trusts others, hoping that a person “will come to the desired level of understanding,” Bryant wrote. Pressure on an individual to improve came from the culture, not from other individuals.
  4. As a leader, are you most concerned with yourself or the achievement of shared goals? The Native Americans Bryant interviewed prized modesty in their leaders. Unlike executives who demand larger offices with fancier furnishings as they rise, the Native American leaders deflected credit and sought not to stand out. Bryant noted that one had to look “very carefully” to find the lead person at a powwow.
  5. How much of your leadership time and attention is focused on tomorrow, and how attentive are you to today? Bryant found a distinction around the concept of time. Western leaders, he said, perceive their value as “reducing future uncertainty through an ability to predict future events” with strategic planning, vision setting, and other activities. In contrast, the Native American leaders were deeply invested in the present. The timing of their actions was set by natural cycles or by sensing that people were ready to undertake a certain task.
  6. How intentional and transparent are you about which decision-making models you choose and use? Bryant’s sixth and final distinction was related to decision making. Decisiveness is prized among executives — the mark of a true leader making tough calls. Decision making in the Native American tribes was a more collective enterprise, with participants arranged in a circle and all free to speak. Though there was a cost to speed and efficiency, the process was designed to draw upon the strengths and perspectives of each person involved.

By being thoughtful about your assumptions, you can become better aware of the options you have to most effectively exercise your leadership.

McNulty isn’t suggesting that either set of beliefs is “right” (nor did Bryant). Rather that the variances are simply a catalyst for thinking more deeply about what makes for an effective leader.

Employee Engagement Top Global HR Issue: Deloitte study – 17th March

According to Ruth Holmes, writing in Relocate Global Magazine, Deloitte’s newly published ‘Global Human Capital Trends 2015’ study finds that lack of employee engagement is the top challenge for nine out of ten HR and business leaders.

The survey examines the key talent, leadership and HR challenges of 3,300 HR and business leaders in 106 countries, and found that employee engagement has become more of an issue over the last 12 months, increasing to 87 per cent from 79 per cent last year.

“As demand for talent picks up, the balance of power in business is rapidly shifting from the employer to the employee,” commented Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP. “Moreover, workers are becoming more mobile, contingent, and autonomous, and as a result, harder to manage and engage. In this new world of work, organisations need to re-imagine the way they manage people and come up with new, out-of-the-box ideas to make themselves relevant.”

Holmes points out that 60 per cent of the survey respondents said they do not have an adequate programme to measure and improve engagement, which Deloitte suggests indicates a “lack of preparedness” for addressing this issue.

[Editors comment: This supports the recent experience of a colleague, who was with about 40 HR professionals many of whom were not focused on the issue of employee engagement at all – perhaps surprising given how important it is.]

She believes that the majority of organisations are also still failing to take action to improve their culture in support of the new world of work. In the context of the four major themes emerging out of the report – leading, engaging, reinventing and reimagining – only 12 per cent of HR and business leaders have a strategy in place to define and build a strong culture. Fewer still (7%) rate themselves “excellent” at measuring, driving and improving engagement and retention.

[Editors comment: Food for thought? We’d love to hear stories and experiences of what your organisation is doing to increase engagement.]

Engage Your Long-Time Employees to Improve Performance – 16th March

James Harter provides an analysis of recent Gallup data to show that the employees with the longest tenures in your company are also the least likely to be engaged.

He makes the point that this is actually YOUR problem, because their specialised experience counts for a lot in today’s knowledge based economy.

Retaining long-tenured, highly capable employees might be challenging, but minimizing their turnover is more practical than churning through new hires who, even after costly training, might or might not turn out to be a fit for the complex requirements of a role.

The article is detailed and specific, so we have only highlighted a few key points from it here.

  • Gallup’s data suggest that the highest performing individuals in companies have three things going for them: (1) they have tenures of a decade or more in their organizations; (2) they are engaged in their work; and (3) they are in roles where the expectations of the job align well their natural talents. Each variable affects outcomes on its own, but the highest performance comes from the combination.
  • But here’s the unfortunate fact: in the typical company among the hundreds we’ve studied, this combination exists in just 5% of individual contributors.
  • What kind of managerial interventions can increase engagement? Here’s a strong hint. Our past research shows clearly that employees have the best chance of being engaged (and staying with their companies) when they also report that their managers understand them and give them the chance to do what they do best every day. Managers can help employees find ways to do more of what they’re good at.
  • Employees who hit the trifecta of tenure, engagement, and talent perform 18% higher than the average employee and 35% higher than a worker who goes zero for three. For skilled, production, and support staff, this equates to a financial impact of $6 million and $12 million, respectively, per 1,000 employees. For highly educated professionals, the economic impact essentially doubles from $12 to $23 million per 1,000 workers.
  • The most important thing that companies must do to get the most from their workforce is to align their talent, engagement and tenure strategies.
  • And pairing talented employees with great managers helps to boost and sustain engagement, increasing the likelihood of retention. This leads to a longer, more meaningful tenure for employees and, ultimately, a more productive and valuable workforce poised to support high organizational performance.

Be swift to recognise employee engagement opportunities – 13th March

Gary Cattermole suggests that professionals in industry can learn a lot from the charms of pop starlet Taylor Swift.

Why her in particular? Because she excels at the kind of self promotion that appears altruistic in its approach. She knows how to engage with her fans on a personal level, secures their buy-in and loyalty and gains column inches in the process – all of which appears positive.

Swift communicates with her fans on a consistent, reliable and open basis – she is always ‘switched on’ because she knows that her fans are too. A string of well crafted promotional activities amount to a recent campaign that somehow made her appear nothing short of virtuous.

So what can CEOs and MDs learn about how to engage with people in order to create and maintain an engaged audience and a positive public image?

  1. Make it personal. Engage with your staff regularly and share something of yourself with them – be visible and be human. It’s hard to relate to a name plate on a closed door.
  2. Get your staff to buy into your journey. Leadership comes from the top, and heads of business need to get their staff to buy into the journey their company is making – make them feel like they are part of the journey and engender a desire in them to make it to the end as an important part of a winning team.
  3. Listen to your staff. There is more to them than what is listed on paper under the title CV. Effective engagement is a two way street.
  4. Be consistent. Do what you say you’ll do and stick to your message. Re-establishing relationship and recovering loyalty requires twice the work.
  5. Work hard to engender an honest working environment where initiative is encouraged and rewarded and blame isn’t bandied around like a big stick. Encourage an environment where mistakes are seen as the stepping stones to success rather than as a shortcut to unemployment. Fear stifles creativity.
  6. Share your success. When your business does well, make sure you acknowledge the role your team has played in its success. Not so much a grand gesture – just be genuine.

When Employee Engagement Turns Into Employee Burnout – March 13th 2015

“Is there a company of any significant size that doesn’t seek and venerate ‘employee engagement?’” asks journalist Tony Schwartz, writing in the New York Times.

He explains how dozens of studies have reported a correlation between high employee engagement and performance, and that nearly every large organisation now administers some form of engagement survey to its workers. So what’s the problem? he asks.

Schwartz takes the definition of engagement as “the willingness to invest discretionary effort at work” which, he says, sounds good if you’re an employer. But too often, it refers to employees who get to work early, stay late and remain connected at night and at weekends. Put another way, “willing” does not guarantee “able.”

He cites the 2012 survey by Towers Watson — involving 32,000 employees in 29 markets around the world — which found that high engagement as it has been traditionally defined is no longer sufficient to fuel the highest levels of performance. Towers Watson use the term ”Sustainably engaged” to describe employees who felt their companies energised them by promoting their physical, emotional and social well-being. The top two drivers of performance were having leaders who built trust and having manageable stress levels, with a reasonable balance between work and personal life.

The reports revealed that companies in which employees reported feeling well taken care of — including not working too many hours — had twice the operating profit margins of those with traditionally engaged employees, and three times the profit levels of those with the least engaged employees.

According to Schwartz, the “elephant in offices all around the world is that people are running on empty.” He continues: “I’m familiar with many of the companies on the Fortune Magazine list of the top 100 companies to work for;” he says. “I’m not aware of a single one that isn’t struggling with the issue of employees who feel exhausted and pushed to their limits.”

If you are expected to work 60 or 70 hours a week or to stay connected in the evenings and on the weekends or you can’t take at least four weeks of holiday a year or you don’t have reasonable flexibility about when and where you work, then your company can’t be a great place to work, suggests Schwartz. [Editor’s comment: often true, but not necessarily; it largely depends on what’s most important to the individual employee.]

That said, Schwartz was recently encouraged to discover that many chief executives were recognising their responsibility for more than the financial interests of their shareholders.

He continues that it’s not realistic to expect employees to invest in a higher purpose if their employers aren’t meeting their core needs. In mission-driven organisations like hospitals, schools and social service agencies, people are highly inspired to go above and beyond in their work on behalf of others, but they’re rarely supported by their own organisations in taking care of themselves. Over time, many begin to suffer from a syndrome called “compassion fatigue” — another version of “willing but not able.”

Schwartz describes a senior executive who worked long and hard; he was plainly fully engaged, but at what cost, he asks — not just to himself over time, but in the message he was sending to everyone else in his organisation?

So, says Schwartz, what companies really need to measure is not how engaged their employees are, but rather how consistently energised they feel. That means focusing not just on inspiring them and giving them opportunities to truly add value in the world, but also on caring for them and providing sufficient time to rest and refuel.

What we need now, concludes Schwartz, is chief executives truly willing to make the care of people their highest priority, beginning with themselves.

Who will be the first?

Infographic: The rise of employee engagement: from buzz phrase to bottom line – 11th March

Charting the continuing rise of Employee Engagement, this latest Infographic highlights the impact of engagement on the success of a business – the bottom line – with contributors including Towers Watson, Aon Hewitt, London Business School and Pfizer.

How Understanding Behavioral Psychology Can Help Your Business Blossom – 10th March

John Rampton suggests six ways to use behavioral psychology to help you in your business;

1. Be aware of the six human needs. These are;

  • Certainty/Comfort: assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure
  • Uncertainty/Variety: the need for the unknown, change and new stimuli
  • Significance: feeling unique, important, special or needed
  • Love/Connection: a strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something
  • Growth: an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding
  • Contribution: a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others

2. Personalization makes people happy

3. Do unto others…You’ve probably been reminded of the Golden Rule throughout your entire life: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

4. Provide a novel experience. Always remember that people have a need for the unknown. This explains why people wait in line and pay hundreds of dollars for a new iPhone even when they already have a perfectly functional model. They want the newest features and a novel experience.

5. You can’t always get what you want. Think about the early days of Facebook, when it was only for college students. Very quickly, buzz surrounded the social network due to its limited availability.

6. Tell a story. Human beings have always told one another stories — whether through cave drawings, Shakespearean plays or the latest Hollywood blockbusters. Stories don’t just take us to another world, they are able to activate the parts of the brain that are associated with our senses, such as sight, sound, taste and movement. And they light up our emotional brains, which can impact buying decisions.

The Right (and Wrong) Way to Network – 10th March

Dorie Clark has asked the experts how to network successfully and comes up with the following tips;

“Networking — meeting with the goal of building a robust set of connections over time —”

  • Research in order to find a commonality. If you happen to meet someone at a conference, you can steer the conversation and try to dig for possibilities. If the meeting is pre-planned, the do some on-line research. Starting with a commonality, and then branching into some thoughtful prepared questions about them and their business, will ensure the discussion gets off to a good start.
  • Meet in person if possible. In a globalized world, geography often intervenes. A phone call is a good start, Video conferences are slightly better, but wherever possible, find out when the person will next be in your city (or vice versa) and make a plan to connect then to cement your new tie.
  • Arrive with a hypothesis on how to help. In advance of the meeting, formulate a hypothesis about how you can be helpful to them, and throughout the course of your conversation, test it with subtle questions.
  • Don’t ask for favors. It’s fantastic if someone proactively offers to help you – and people often will — but it’s essential they feel it’s their idea, rather than something they’re coerced into doing.


Cancelling One-on-One Meetings Destroys Your Productivity – 9th March

Elizabeth Grace Saunders gives the following reasons why it is a mistake to think you can substitute your one-on-one meetings with your direct reports with email exchanges or an open-door policy.

  • Not having a predictable scheduled time with you can lead employees to work on something incorrectly, which can cause unnecessary emergencies and wasted time fixing errors.
  • Or it can lead to a decrease in productivity because employees are confused and unclear about their priorities and therefore don’t accomplish much.

But it’s worse than that;

  • They may start sending you lots of e-mails because, as questions come up, they’re unsure of when they will meet with you next.
  • They may hover outside your office trying to catch you in between meetings. This is not only a waste of their time, but also this leads to you feeling no sense of control over your schedule.

She recommends you get in place weekly or biweekly recurring meetings. Make a commitment to do whatever possible to keep them, even if it means you connect by phone.

  • Then, as you increase your level of commitment to your employees, require that same level of commitment from them by holding them accountable for the effectiveness of their interactions with you.
  • Request that tracking documents are updated in advance of your meetings and reports on action items are sent in advance for you to review quickly.
  • And start to close your door at times, when you need to concentrate.

10 Important Leadership Qualities – 7th March

Dan McCarthy has drawn up his list of the qualities that make for great leadership. Here is the summary;

  1. They bring out the best in others. Great leaders don’t just get extraordinary results as a result of their own contributions. They have the ability to elevate the performance of everyone around them.
  2. They inspire. Great leaders have bold visions and audacious goals, but they also have the ability to communicate in a way that inspires others to act.
  3. Authenticity. Great leaders know who they are – their core values, their strengths and weaknesses, and their beliefs.
  4. Presence. Great leaders have a way of being “in the moment”, both in group setting (on stage) and in individual interactions.
  5. Trustworthiness. Great leaders inspire trust. They say what they mean, mean what they say, and do what they promise to do.
  6. Accountability. Great leaders are accountable – they admit their own mistakes and don’t point fingers, make excuses, and blame others. They also hold others accountable.
  7. Results focused. Great leaders set bold visions, audacious goals, have a handful of critical metrics, and never take their eye off the ball.
  8. Positive and confident. Great leaders have the ability to balance optimism, passion and confidence, without ignoring reality, and letting their confidence turn into hubris.
  9. They drive change. While this somewhat overlaps with results focused and inspiring, they also understand the dynamics of organizational and individual change.
  10. They empower. They are comfortable delegating, they push decisions down to the lowest level, and understand the motivational power of giving people control.

About Emenex

We help you make your people great.

Emenex enables organisations to get the best from and for their staff. Leaders approach us when they have challenges associated with motivation, productivity, retention, talent management and succession planning. They know that addressing these critical issues can deliver higher levels of profit, productivity and customer satisfaction. They also know that a more progressive solution is required – one that enhances their brand with customers and staff alike. The solution our clients are choosing to implement is the extraMILETM Employee Engagement Programme.

The extraMILETM Employee Engagement Programme delivers all the tools and skills leaders need to clearly define and communicate organisational priorities to employees. For employees, it ensures they are prepared and able to align their personal and career goals to the priorities of the organisation. The continued growth and development of both teams and individuals builds loyalty, commitment and engagement. It builds an organisation better able to meet future challenges and leads to higher performance and customer satisfaction.

The result? Individuals and their organisation excel. Get in touch to find out more.

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