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Every two weeks we bring you opinion, news and research on Employee Engagement, Leadership and Organisational Performance, along with some thoughts on practical workplace applications.


Editorial: How Intelligent is Your Engagement?

In an interesting HBR article, Emma Seppala and Julia Moeller suggest that there is a down-side to engagement that is rarely discussed: “While engagement certainly has its benefits, most of us will have noticed that, when we are highly engaged in working towards a goal we can also experience something less than positive: high levels of stress.”

Recent research published by Yale University has questioned the concept of engagement as being a purely beneficial experience. Admittedly, the research shows an ‘optimally-engaged’ group (about 40%) – those who are highly engaged and also show low levels of stress; but the study also revealed an ‘engaged-exhausted’ group, who were very passionate about their work but because of the pressure they had a higher turnover rate than disengaged employees.

One differentiator between the two groups is the balance of resources (e.g. support from manager, rewards, etc.) and demands (e.g. workloads, bureaucracy, stretch-goals, etc.). Among the engaged-exhausted group, 64% reported high levels of demand alongside high resources, whilst the optimally-engaged group, whilst well resourced, experienced lower demand.

Seppala and Moeller conclude, “But what we want is smart engagement — the kind that leads to enthusiasm, motivation and productivity, without the burnout. Increased demands on employees need to be balanced with increased resources — particularly before important deadlines and during other times of stress.”

Otherwise, even our most engaged employees could suffer burnout. So line managers may need to develop a different approach if they are to grow as people-engagers (and thus contributed ton increased productivity); failure to do so may be counter-productive. If you’re really serious about raising productivity and performance through better engagement, it’s time to develop a more intelligent approach to engagement.

Steve Short – Emenex


Blog: Is Your Performance Management Approach Agile Yet?

As many organisations have moved from traditional development to implementing the principles of Agile development in the delivery of products and services, so there has been a need to rethink the approach to performance management to complement this shift.

The implementation of Agile principles breaks down the delivery of products and services into much smaller ‘chunks’ of ‘minimum viable products’ (MVPs) that results in employees being involved in multiple ‘projects’ rather than one continuous stream of work.

This shift lends itself to a ‘real-time’ reviewing of performance and associated development needs on a more regular basis, particularly at the completion of each Agile work module.  In turn, this places new demands upon line managers.  Read more.

Alistair Aitchison – Emenex


Algorithms at work signal a shift to management by numbers

In the quest for more efficiency, companies should be wary of losing the human touch

‘This call may be monitored for training purposes’. It is the perennial call centre disclaimer — but monitored by whom, asks Sarah O’Connor writing for the Financial Times? The answer to that question is beginning to change. A call centre worker in the US tells her she used to be monitored by a team of people listening to her calls. Now a computer program appraises her performance, based on what she says and how she says it. Her bonus now depends on how much she can impress the algorithm.
The notion of gathering data about staff to make management decisions is far from new. Frederick W Taylor, the father of “scientific management”, was prowling around factories with his stopwatch more than a century ago. But advances in artificial intelligence have presented new opportunities to manage by numbers, from performance management in call centres to recruitment in investment banks.
About time, some might say. Human managers are riddled with biases, both conscious and unconscious.  O’Connor’s full story here.

Busting The Bureaucratic Iron Cage: How To Win Support For Change

Conventional change management theory (described in this author’s first post) ignores a concept, he says, that is central to organizational psychology: employees’ performance is influenced by how well the organizational environment satisfies employees’ basic psychological needs. This oversight explains why the topic of employee resistance looms large in the conventional theory and practice of change management.

In this piece, Carsten Tams, writing for Forbes, argues that change can become a spontaneously emergent property if we design organizations around human needs.  Or to examine things differently, how can we design a change management process that accounts for the basic human needs of autonomy, competence and relatedness?


Changing the Conversation: Shifting Attitudes About Career

Attitudes about career are changing, and what individuals want from career discussions is something different than what they had in the past.  The goal of establishing a “multiyear plan” for career is long gone. Employees want greater frequency and less formality in their career conversations.  This research paper from Blessing White explores the need for organizations and managers to think differently about career and the important link between career and engagement.

Key findings:

Point at a need to look at career through a new lens and frame the conversation differently. Key highlights include:

  • Career support has some impact or greatly impacts employees’ levels of engagement
  • Employees want to have more frequent career conversations with their managers
  • When employees engage in career conversation with their managers, they want to talk about what’s most important to them – their values and how they can do work that satisfies them
  • The primary drivers for employees are meaningful work, interesting work, and work/life balance
  • Employees will stay with their current employee if they can try new things and develop their skills

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