What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part V – the ‘dark side’ of the being of human beings)

We are only falsehood, duplicity, contradiction; we both conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves.”  Pascal

Truly it is an evil to be full of faults; but it is still greater evil to be full of them and be unwilling to recognise them, since that is to add the further fault of voluntary illusions”  Pascal

I have a confession to make.  So far (part Ipart IIpart IIIpart IV) I have deliberately given you a one sided – positive – picture of the being of human beings and thus your employees.  If you have read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novels (especially The Brothers Karamazov) you will get the true richness of the being of human beings.  And that includes the dark side – a side that the enlightenment and the humanistic philosophers and psychologists do not address adequately if at all.   In this post I want to address this darker side of being human in our age, in our organisations.

Why is it so hard to call forth ’employee engagement’?

To create a contexts which calls forth ’employee engagement’ is one of the hardest feats in traditional organisations.  Why?  There are two key reasons.

First, people – leaders, managers, employees – who have worked for more than a couple of years in command & control organisation have accepted and habituated in a particular mode of being and behaviour.  And it is difficult for them to change.  Why?  Because, contrary to accepted wisdom, human beings don’t have behaviours; behaviours have them!  When I write this I am thinking of both categories of people in organisations:  the managers and those who are managed and have come to expect to be managed – one category cannot exist without the other as they co-create one another.

The headmistress of the local Montessori children never takes on teachers that have gone through the traditional system and taught in traditional schools. Why?  Because she has found from experience that it is too hard to arrive at a place where these teachers embody the Montessori philosophy in their way of being in the classroom and the world.  After teachers have been teaching for some time in the traditional system it is practically impossible to get them to leave behind their way of being and making the shift to the Montessori way of being.  In a lots of ways these long timers experience the same kind of experience and success rates of feral children.

The second reason that it is so hard to get ’employee engagement’ to show up is to do with the ‘dark side’ of being human that is always present and which we, with our obsession with the rational image of man, fail to acknowledge, accept and work with.  Let’s take a look at this ‘dark side’  – the shadow that is always with each of us.

The dark side: is this what really drives how human beings show up in the workplace, in the world? 

Peel back the onion to examine human behaviour and you might just find that the ‘machinery of being human’ seems to work to the following ‘four prime directives’ when it comes to dwelling with fellow human beings:

  1. Look good, avoid looking bad;
  2. Be right, avoid being wrong;
  3. Strive for control and dominate, avoid losing control and being dominated;
  4. Justify self, invalidate others.

It is worth pointing out that these four prime directives work at the level of the individual and the level of the tribe.   It is also worth pointing out that the root driver of these prime directives is most likely to be fear.  Fear of being excluded/ostracised like the lepers were.  Fear of being ridiculed.  Fear of being victimized/oppressed…..

How the drive for ’employee engagement’ tends to play out

If these ‘four prime directives’ are not acknowledged and dealt with then the drive for ’employee engagement’ tends to be a wasted effort at best and most often just a sham.  Why?  Because just about everyone in the organisation is first and foremost protecting himself.  That means those in manager roles don’t really let go of control – if they do then things might not work out and this will reflect badly on the manager and put his reputation/future at stake.  On the other hand those in the role of taking orders (including managers – junior managers take order from middle managers…) do not rise up and take responsibility for the fear of being setup to fail, being ridiculed…..  Now this dynamic does not just work at the individual level it also applies at the team level: marketing, sales, customer service, logistics…..  And it applies at the business unit level.  If you want a detailed understanding of the mechanics of this mutually reinforcing behaviour works then I recommend reading Power Up by Bradford & Cohen or The Responsibility Virus by Roger Martin.

In the next post I will share with you an effective process for generating employee engagement that has been used successfully by the corporate arm of Landmark Education.  It has a lot to do with ‘truth telling’ in the context of ‘creating a future that works for all parties at the table, none excluded’.

And finally

It is worth remembering that customers are human beings.  And as such they are also subject to these ‘four prime directives’.  Once you get this, really get it, then you have an access to all the stuff that you are doing as a corporation that is driving your customers nuts.  And how/why they are responding as they are responding.

What does it take to generate ’employee engagement’? (Part IV)

Let’s recap. ‘Employee engagement’ is sought after because engaged employees generate a multitude of benefits that translate into higher revenues and profits.  And I can categorically say that the road to great customer experience travels through the gate of employee engagement.  Yet research shows that only 20% of employees report being engaged the rest are alienated.  This is despite all the talk of empowerment and social business.  What I have argued so far is that the for employee engagement to show up organisational leaders need to create organisational contexts which call forth employee engagement.  And that means letting go of the dominant/ubiquitous ‘concept of persons’ as primarily economic objects and resources and adopting a fuller/richer ‘concept of persons’.  To illustrate kind of results show up when one adopts such a fuller/richer ‘concept of persons’ I shared with you the example of Maria Montessori.

The purpose of this post is to come up with a fuller/richer ‘concept of persons’, one that provides access to generating contexts that allow employee engagement to show up.  If you and I are going to arrive at such a concept, and you are to get value out of this post, then I suggest pondering the following insightful statement:

“To ignore the fact that each thing has a character of its own and not what we wish to demand of it, is in my opinion the real capital sin, which I call the sin of the heart because it derives its nature from lack of love.  There is nothing so illicit as to dwarf the world by means of our manias and blindness, to minimise reality, to suppress mentally fragments of what exists.  This happens when one demands that what is deep should appear in the same way as what is superficial…”  Ortega Y Gasset

‘Concept of persons’: what kind of being is a human being?

I say the being of human being is shaped by the kind of answer that you and I come up with and act on to the question “What kind of a being is a human being?”  Pascal summed it up well when he wrote in his Pensees:

  • “Custom is our nature..” (89)
  • “What are our natural principles but principles of custom?” (92)
  • “Custom is a second nature which destroys the former. But what is nature?  For is custom not natural?” (93)

Ortega Y Gasset said the same thing differently “I am I and my circumstance”.   If you find this goes against the grain of your taken for granted ‘concept of persons’ then I invite you to take a look at the 10 modern cases of feral children.

Why is it the case that the being of human being is so plastic?   Because of a truth that the modern ‘concept of persons’ as rational, autonomous, self-willed individuals does not wish to face:

“..individual selfhood is meaningfully related to others from the beginning.  At the deepest level, human being is relational…… the human spirit arises and develops via the nurture of empathic relationships”  John Firman  and Ann Gila, The Primal Wound

I want to emphasise the central/critical importance of empathic relationships.  There is so much talk about relationships and so little real understanding of the power of relationships – in particular the positive power of empathic relationships and the destructive power of non-empathic relationships.  Think back to the story of the millwright and the question that the folks at Herman Miller ask themselves “Was he a poet who did millwright’s work, or was he a millwright who wrote poetry?”

I say that the millwright showed up as poet for those who related to him as a poet and thus called him forth as a poet.  And he showed up as a millwright who related to him as a millwright and called him forth as a millwright.  If you have a background in physics you may know of the issue of wave-particle duality:  when the experiment is set up to detect electrons as waves then electrons show up as exhibiting the properties of waves; and when the experiment is set-up to show electrons as being particles, they show up as particles!

What kind of a context calls forth engagement from employees?

Let me be blunt:  command and control or employee engagement? choose!   Yes, I know a whole bunch of ‘charlatans’ have promised you the silver bullet – that you can generate employee engagement in the context of command and control.  How is that working for you?   Not great, if my experience and the research provides an accurate picture of what is so.  Bradford and Cohen have even written a book that indirectly deals with the matter of engagement.  It is called Power Up and its fundamental assertion is that leaders/followers/organisations have to move from a taken for granted ‘heroic leadership model’ to a ‘shared leadership model’ if organisations are to access and make breakthroughs in organisational performance.  That’s right: leadership-power-responsibility-accountability of the whole is shared by all, at all levels in the organisation, in all functions and teams.

If you are to generate the kind of context that calls forth engagement from employees then you need to get, really get, the following:

“Throughout his life a person will experience himself as a cohesive harmonious firm unit in time and space, connected with his past and pointing meaningfully into a creative-productive future, but only as long as, at each stage of his life, he experiences certain representatives of his human surrounding as joyfully responding to him, as available to him as sources of idealised strength and calmness, as being silently present but in essence like him, and, at any rate, able to grasp his inner life more or less accurately so that their responses are attuned to his needs and allow him to grasp their inner life when his is in need of such sustenance.” Kohut

Now compare that with the reality of organisational life which is best summed up by the following statement: “empowerment and trust are the rhetoric… the centralisation of power and control are the reality.”   That gives you an idea of the scale of the challenge and why none of the silver bullets have worked despite empowerment coming on the scene back in the 1990s.  Incidentally, it also explains why organisations have put in place ‘social technologies’ and very few employees are actually using them or being social. 

 How are you doing on delivering these five fundamental human needs?

As Kohut says above, if your employee is to function effectively to make the kind of contribution that he is capable of making then s/he needs to get that you show up as a person/organization “able to grasp his inner life more or less accurately so that their responses are attuned to his need”.  Which begs the question, what are human needs above and beyond mere survival? I say that they are:

  1. The need believe in something and to have hope for the future (meaning/purpose);
  2. The need to be loved (attachment);
  3. The need to belong (home, family, organisation…);
  4. The need to be heard (empathy);
  5. The need for self-expression / achievement (fulfillment).

How many of these needs are even on your radar?  How well are you doing on delivering on these needs? And you wonder why your employees are not engaged with their jobs and the organisational goals!

The Quakers got the kind of employee engagement that we are searching for

If you still haven’t gotten it, really gotten it then I leave you with this quote by Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop:  “I am still looking for the modern equivalent of those Quakers who ran successful businesses, made money because they offered honest products and treated their people decently… This business creed, sadly, seems long forgotten.”

I throughly recommend that you check out this article on the Quaker way of doing business.  Why?  Because if you have the listening then you will get a lot of value out of it.  Once upon time the most successful businesses in the UK were run by Quakers!  Why? The Quakers got and practiced the true meaning of ‘social’: they literally saw each human being as a manifestation of God like themselves and they treated each human being decently: the kind of decency that is deserved by a human being fashioned by God in the image of God!  Which is why they got the kind of engagement they got from their employees, their suppliers, their customers…..

And finally

No human being wishes to see himself or relate to himself merely as a resource or a tool at the command of another.  Each of us has a deep need to live a life that matters.  And to be in an empathic relationship with our fellow human beings.  So the challenge for you and your organisation is to a) stand for something noble rather than being in the game to line your pockets and those of your absent/invisible/illusory shareholders; and b) to treat your people decently respecting the dignity that is so fundamental to the health of the human being.

What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part III)

This is the third post in series of posts centred on the human side of the enterprise and ’employee engagement’ in particular.  In the first post I shared the story of the millwright and drew attention to what Max De Pree calls the ‘concept of persons’.  In the second post I shared with you what I say is the dominant ‘concept of persons’, as practiced in just about every organisation, and how it fails to hold up to reality of the human condition.  In this post I want to continue the conversation around the ‘concept of persons’ and bring Maria Montessori into the picture.  Why study her?  Because she achieved extraordinary results by generating extraordinary engagement in the process of learning.

What can we learn about/from Maria Montessori?

Maria Montessori was an italian physician and educator who is famous today for her educational philosophy (and method) that bears her name and is being used around the world.  She is famous because she achieved extraordinary results with the least promising material: ‘idiot’ children that society had locked up in ‘insane’ asylums and normal children from deprived backgrounds:

“Such indeed was her success that a number of idiot children from the asylums learned to read and write so well that they were able to present themselves with success at a public examination taken together with normal children.  A chorus of applause greeted this seeming miracle….”

To get present to this miracle it is necessary to get present to the children she was working with:

“To this school were brought, from the various day schools in Rome, all those children who were regarded as hopelessly deficient.  Later on, to this same institution were transferred also all the idiot children from the insane asylums in Rome.” 

Think about your business.  Are the people in your business as ‘deficient’ as hopeless as the children that Montessori worked with?  No, then why are you not generating extraordinary results through extraordinary engagement?  Could it be that the issue is not with your people but with your ‘concept of persons’ and your managerial/organisational practices that arise and are in tune with that ‘concept of persons’?

How was Montessori able to achieve these extraordinary results?

Montessori as able to achieve extraordinary results for a number of reasons.  First, she was a physician and not an educator.  And as such, she had not been indoctrinated into the dominant educational concepts and practices.  Second, as a physician she literally saw the world differently.  Third, she used her heart as well her head.  Here is an example:

In one of the lunatic asylums she came across a number of these unhappy children herded together like prisoners in a prison like room.  The woman who looked after them did not attempt to conceal the disgust which she regarded them.  Montessori asked her why she held them in such contempt.  “Because,” the woman replied, “as soon as their meals are finished they throw themselves on the floor to search for crumbs.”  Montessori looked around the room and saw that the room was in fact absolutely bare.  There were literally no objects in their environment which the children could hold and and manipulate in their fingers.  Montessori saw in the children’s behaviour a craving for a very different and higher kind than for mere food.  There existed in these poor creatures, she realised, one path and only one path towards intelligence, and that was through their hands. Instinctively the poor deficient mites had sought after that path by the only means in their reach……. It became increasingly apparent to her that mental deficiency was a pedagogical problem rather than a medical one……”

I invite you to open yourself to the possibility that the lack of ’employee engagement’ is not to do with ‘deficient’ employees but to the managerial/organisational practices that you have put in place.  I urge you to get present to the unity of the context and the behaviour that shows up in that context.  Put differently, situations matter, they shape human behaviour without us even noticing that human behaviour is being shaped by situations.  As Werner Erhard put it so elegantly “The context is decisive.”  Put bluntly, stop working on the ‘deficiency of your employees’ and start working on the context/situation that calls forth disengagement rather than engagement.

Montessori makes a remarkable discovery

“The world that Columbus discovered was a world without; Montessori discovered a world within – within the soul of the child…. her method is but a consequence of her discovery ….

What exactly did Montessori discover about children ‘under her educational care’?  She discovered that children possess different and higher qualities than those we usually attribute to them.  This is how she described it in her book The Secret of Childhood:

“I set to work like a peasant women who having set aside a good store of seed corn, has found a fertile field in which she may freely sow it.  But I was wrong, I had hardly turned over the clods of my field, when I found gold instead of wheat: the clods concealed a precious treasure, I was not the peasant I had thought myself.  Rather I was like the foolish Aladdin, who without knowing it, had in his hand a key that would open hidden treasures.”

Is it possible that the people in your organisation also possess different and higher qualities than you usually attribute to them?  I refer you to the story of the millwright which I shared in my first post. Is it possible that you are also like the foolish Aladdin, who has the key to the hidden treasures of your people and yet  do not know it because you are gripped by the dominant ‘concept of persons’ which I described in my second post?

What did Montessori learn about young children because she was not trapped in the existing concepts and practices?

Allow me to share what Montessori got present to by working intimately with children free from the normal taken for granted educational concepts, settings, practices, tools and traditionally trained school teachers:

Amazing mental concentration.  When the children worked with that which interested them and were allowed to get on with it, they showed amazing mental concentration.

Love of repetition.  Young children tended to repeat the same thing over and over again, an exercise that they already knew, could do and enjoyed doing.

Love of/for order.  “Montessori realised what they really wanted was to put the things back in their places themselves.  So she left them free to do it.”.

Freedom of choice.  “She realised that these children, who already knew how to use the materials, were – just because of that knowledge – in a position to choose some materials in preference to others”.

Preferred work to play.  Montessori was gifted some costly toys including elegant dolls, doll’s house, crockery and kitchen.  And she discovered that the children never chose the toys even after they were taught how to play with them.  The children showed an interest for a time and then went back to work, they preferred work that absorbed them.

No need for rewards and punishments.  The children were good and orderly as long as the work was stimulating and they learned how to work.  Naughtiness was found to be due to constructive energies not finding an appropriate outlet. It was found that punishment did not work.  Allowing the naughty child to pick the work that attracted him/her worked.  Put differently, the right work was its own reward and punishment was rarely required. And where it was, it was enough simply to not allow the child to use the materials and have to sit and observe other children working with the materials and enjoying doing so.

Lovers of silence.  The popular conception is/was that children love to be noisy.  Montessori found that “deep down in their souls, children have a great love for silence.”

Children refused sweets.  After particularly arduous tasks Montessori rewarded the children with sweets. Time and again she found that the children refused them.  And she was moved to remark “Was it from a feeling like that of monks, who flee from ease and such outward things as are useless for the true good of life, once they have risen in the ladder of spiritual life?”

Sense of personal dignity.  After showing the children how to blow their noses Montessori received heartfelt applause from the children.  Montessori got that adults had constantly been putting the children down on this matter.  And yet no one had ever shown the children how to do it without criticising/attacking them at the same time.  Through similar kinds of experiences Montessori got that even very small children have a profound sense of personal dignity and if adults failed to respect this need then “their souls may remain wounded, ulcerated and oppressed in away adults seldom recognise.”

Spontaneous self-discipline.  “As the weeks went by and the children became accustomed to this new mode of life, a happy and extraordinary change came over them….. They began to exhibit an extraordinary self-discipline; and with it a serenity of spirit, and a great respect for the rights of others.”

What is it that I am striving to point out?

Am I telling you that what Montessori found to be so for the children under her care is true for the folks that turn up at your place of work, your employees?  NO.  Young children differ from older children and adults differ from children.

My central point is that Montessori was able to cultivate extraordinary engagement because she:

  • was open to and able to see what others indoctrinated in the existing way of conceiving of children and educating children could not see;
  • she expanded her ‘concept of persons’ when it came to the persons of young children as and when new stuff showed up; and
  • she modified her behaviour and developed educational practices and materials that were in tune with / worked with the modified ‘concept of persons’.

Incidentally, it occurs to me that some of what Montessori found to be true of children is also true of us adults.  For example, it occurs to me the issue of human dignity is not given sufficient attention/consideration.  In the next post I will layout what I consider to be a richer/truer ‘concept of persons’, one if embraced will allow you to generate the context, the conditions, for ’employee engagement’ to show up effortlessly.

What does it take to generate ‘employee engagement’? (Part II)

This post is the second one on a series of post that will deal with the human side of the enterprise and in particular ’employee engagement’.  Why? Because you cannot have a customer-centric organisation that ‘stages’ great customer experiences if you do not create the context that enables your people to show up as ‘being great with customers and enabling greatness with customers’.  You can find the first post which introduced the ‘concept of persons’ here.

The idea is the absolute or why the ‘concept of persons’ is crucial

Let’s kick of the conversation with a quote from the Jose Ortega Y Gasset:

“.. the twelve hundred pages of Hegel‘s Logik are just the preparation that enables us to pronounce, in the fullness of its meaning, this sentence: “The idea is the absolute.”  This sentence, so poor in appearance, has in reality an infinite meaning; and when one considers it as one should, the whole treasury of its significance bursts open suddenly and it illuminates for us at once the enormous perspective of the world…”

If this quote occurs as too philosophical for you then let me share the words of a respected management thinker with you.  Here is what Herbert Simon says:

Nothing is more fundamental in setting our research agenda and informing our research methods than our view of the nature of human beings whose behaviours we are studying…. It makes a difference to research, but it also makes a difference to the design of… institutions”

What is the dominant ‘concept of persons’ when it comes to organisations and institutions?

What is the organisational reality that pervades organisations of all kinds?  Command and control is ubiquitous: in government, in public institutions, in businesses… – in organisations of all kinds.  Look at your experience, not the rhetoric, and you will find that just about every organisation has managers who are conditioned to command (issue orders) and then do all that is necessary (control) to make sure that those orders are carried out.  That is the very definition of a good manager – in practice, not in rhetoric.

What does this unconceal (if we leave aside the interpretation that some people love to exercise power over others) about the ‘concept of persons’?    I say it unconceals the assumption that people cannot be trusted to figure out the right course of action nor to execute that course of action.  Peeling the onion further, I say it unconceals a fundamental distrust of persons / gloomy picture of us as human beings.  I call it the negative/diseased ‘concept of persons’.  You could argue that this issue is related to the lack of competence – that people lack competence.  It goes wider than that, let’s take a look at that.

What is the ‘concept of persons’ that economics takes for granted and propagates?  Homo Economicus: the ‘concept of persons’ as rational self-interested maximisers.  Put differently, people are selfish and act always to do what is best for this self interest irrespective of the impact of their actions on others.

Yet, this dominant ‘concept of persons’ is incomplete – we have yet to factor in Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs:

Maslow gave physiological and safety needs primary importance.  In effect arguing that once we have achieved  bodily well being, ensured our survival and accumulated the right property then and only then does the human being concentrate on the meaning of his/her life and spiritual well being.

So the dominant ‘concept of persons’ became and continues to be:

  1. people are intrinsically selfish so they will look out only for their personal self interest;
  2. people lack the competence to figure out what needs to be done;
  3. people cannot be counted on to do what needs to be done as they are lazy and/or selfish (see 1 above); and
  4. the way to get people to do what you want to do is through the right combination of fear (threaten their survival, belonging and self-esteem needs), reward (money and promotion), and training (to increase their competency).

Is the dominant ‘concept of persons’ in accordance with reality?

Leaving aside the issue of competence (which is easy to deal with) I wish to grapple with the ‘concept of persons’ as intrinsically selfish and whose primary needs are around bodily well being and survival.

The ultimatum game clearly shows that the human being is a social being who takes others into account – indeed he has to take others into account.  Put differently, the ultimatum game vividly demonstrates that the human being is not only self-regarding – not just Homo Economicus!  In the real world, the ‘concept of persons’ needs to envisage the person as self regarding AND other regarding AND process regarding.  That is to say people as real human beings-in-the-world consider others (other regarding) and are acutely sensitive to process especially social processes that mediate relationships between people –  acting fairly, punishing cheaters, one good deed deserves another.…. And as such the ultimatum game should make us question that which economics, management theory and organisation practice takes for granted: the ‘concept of persons’ as Homo Economicus.

Now let’s take a look at Maslow and his hierarchy of needs.  I say Maslow’s hierarchy is at best misleading and at worst wrong!  I draw your attention to that which is so, the thing in itself, unclothed from theory:

  • people risk and/or give up their lives to save others including strangers; and
  • people destroy their bodies and/or kill themselves including people who supposedly ‘have it all’.

Let’s listen to Martin Seager (clinican, lecturer and advisor to the government on mental health) and what he says on the matter:

“The selfish gene theory cannot explain the majority of suicides, where no one else is protected.  Nor can it explain the majority of human self-sacrifice which takes place for wider religious and political causes, rather than the protection of small families, groups or tribes who might share genetic material……

All of this means that Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy is, if anything, the wrong way around.  Maslow argues that, once we have achieved bodily wellbeing, we can then concentrate on the meaning of our lives and our spiritual wellbeing.  If this were true, then suicide would be almost unheard of; it would be a fundamental violation of the primary survival instinct.  It is truer to say that if our mental and spiritual needs are not met then a mere physical existence is not enough for our species.  Great physical hardship can be endured if there is a spiritual purpose, but without such a purpose a physical existence is often given up….

And finally

I say that the human being is a being who, at some point or another,  is confronted with the question: “Is this all there is?”  That is to say the human being is a being that has an built need to live a meaningful life (a life that matters) with others.  And that includes an urge to sing his song –  to put his natural self-expression into the world.   I say the access to ’employee engagement’ lies in creating the context that allows the employee to get access to his song, sing it, and to do so in the service of a cause/stand that shows up as worthy, as noble, as meaningful.

In the next post I will take a look at fundamental human needs and will bring in Maria Montessori to show what possibilities open up when one shifts one’s concept of the being of the human being.  For those of you who have made it to the end of the post, I thank you for your listening to my speaking. And I invite you to share your experience, your perspective.

What does it take to generate ’employee engagement’? (Part I)

This post is the first in a series of posts in which I will be exploring/grappling with the what it takes to call forth the best from the people in your organisation.   Some refer to this as ’employee engagement’ which in itself suggests/implies that the default state is that of disengagement.

Everyone wants ‘engaged employees’ few create the context for this to show up

If you want your organisation to come up with attractive products and to generate the kind of customer experiences that leave your customers happy, occasionally delighted, then you have to get the people /culture part right.  Getting the people part right, arguably, starts with attracting/recruiting the right people into your organisation.

Once you have the right people, the challenge is to call forth the best from your people.  It is a challenge that most companies fail.  Research and experience suggests that many if not most companies are failing to  call forth the best from their employees; most employees simply show up and do the minimum that they need to get through the day, the week, the month and collect the pay check.

Why is ’employee engagement’ lacking? 

Let me start answering this question by sharing a zen story.

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

I say that if we are to come up with insightful answers to the question of ’employee engagement’ we have to be willing to empty our cups of that which we already know about employees and ’employee engagement’?  I say we have to go further and radically examine our conception of the person: the being of a human being.

How best to illustrate what I am pointing at here? Allow me to share a story as told by Max DePree in Leadership is an Art.

The millwright dies

“In the furniture industry of the 1920s the machines of most factories were not run by electric motors, but by pulleys from a central drive shaft.  The central drive shaft was run by a steam engine.  The steam engine got its stream from a boiler. The boiler, in our case, got its from the sawdust and other waste coming out of the machine room….

The millwright was the person who oversaw that cycle and on whom the entire activity of the operation depended.  He was key person.  

One day the millwright died.

My father, being a young manager at the time, did not particularly know what he should do when a key person died, but he thought he ought to go and visit the family…….

The widow asked my father if it would be all right if she read aloud some poetry.  Naturally, he agreed. She went into another room, came back with a bound book, and for many minutes read selected pieces of beautiful poetry. When she finished, my father commented on how beautiful the poetry was and asked who wrote it.  She replied, that her husband, the millwright, was the poet. 

It is now nearly sixty years since the millwright died, and my father and many of us at Herman Miller continue to wonder: Was he a poet who did millwright’s work, or was he a millwright who wrote poetry?”

What can we learn from this story?

Here is what Max De Pree has to say about the story (bolding is my work):

“In addition to all the ratios and goals and parameters and bottom lines, it is fundamental that leaders endorse a concept of persons.  This begins with an understanding of the diversity of people’s gifts and talents and skills. Understanding and accepting diversity enables us to see that each of us is needed…”

What do I say?  I say that we have to radically rethink and get present to the being of human beings. And it is only when we get to grips with the being of being human beings that we will get an insightful answer to the question of employee motivation, ’empowerment’ and ‘engagement’.  Put more simply, and using Max De Pree’s term, we have to take a fresh, penetrating look at our concept of persons.

Is the being of a human being in the same domain as the being of a computer?  Put differently, are employees, our fellow human beings, simply tools to be used as we wish?   Or is there something more, something unique, that shows up when a human being, an employee, shows up?  Is it possible that it is our taken for granted concept of persons does not honour that which is essential to the being of human beings and thus is the source of the lack of ’employee engagement’?

Instead of jumping to the ready made answers and techniques, which clearly do not work, I suggest that you and I sit with these questions and ponder the story of the millwright.   And let’s continue this conversation in the next post (in this series).  In that post, I intend to take a fresh look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Customer Insight & Analytics Exchange: highlights from the first day

Today I wish to share with you the key points that I took away from my participation in Day1 of the Customer Insight & Analytics Exchange conference taking place in London.

Are you measuring the Customer Effort Score?

Moira Clark of the Henley Management Centre for Customer Management made the case for measuring the effort that the customer has to make in doing business with your company.  She argued that the Customer Effort Score (CES) is more predictive of repeat business and higher spend than NPS or CSAT.  This clearly suggests that customers favour those companies that take the effort out of doing business with them.

If you want to grapple with getting a handle on and reducing the amount of customer effort then Moira suggested mapping the customer journey.  The objective being to identify what level of effort is experienced at the various stages of the customer journey.  And to figure out where to intervene to reduce the customer effort.

Which dimensions of effort should one consider? Cognitive, Emotional, Time and Physical.

Customer Journey Mapping: what does it bring to the table?

The panelists (from Orange, Aviva, RSA) agreed that customer journey mapping is an effective way of generating insight.  It can give people access to what the customer goes through; the customer’s perception of the experience; which touchpoint matter to customers; where touchpoints/interactions/processes are broken; how much money the company is ‘losing’ as a result of service failures and lost customers……

A danger that was highlighted is that of confusion of customer journey mapping with business process mapping.  That is to say that it is all too easy to take an inside-out approach (focussing on what matters to the company as opposed to the customer) whilst thinking that you are taking an outside-in approach.  For customer journey mapping even to cross the threshold and enter into the margins of the outside-in orientation it is necessary to get access to/involve customers in the mapping and evaluation of the customer journey.

What are you doing about engaging your employees?

Derek Brown of Vovici made three great points.  First, employees do have valuable feedback on what matters to customers and how the customer experience can be improved.  Second, ultimately any insight has to operationalised and that involves the employees – especially those that serve/interact with customers.   Third, there is value in connecting feedback from customers and feedback from employees. It was interesting to note that only about half of the participants said that their companies sought to gain feedback from their employees.

Analytics: does the real power lie in business model disruption? 

Chris Roche of Greenplum (EMC) made the point that the real power of data mining/predictive analytics might just lie in business model disruption.  For example, by harnessing breakthrough in human genome mapping and the power of predictive analytics it is possible to identify who is at the risk of which disease.  Which in turn allows a complete transformation of the the NHS (National Health Service) in the UK: from treating acute disease to encouraging/enabling wellness.    Another example is insurance companies.  They can put a device in the customer’s car, record/analyse driving behaviour, come up with a personalised risk profile and thus provide a premium tailored to the risk profile of each individual customer.

What is the future likely to look like?  According to Chris the incumbents are likely to use analytics to make incremental improvements.  And so the task of business model disruption will fall to new entrants who do not have an installed base / revenue stream at risk.

Does the ‘age of the customer’ require a learning organisation?

Suresh Vittal of Forrester made the case that we are in the ‘age of the customer’ and that means customer obsession in term of generating customer insight (‘customer truths’) and taking effective rapid action on these truths.  How many companies are at this point right now?  About 12%.   What kind of organisation is best suited for generating and operationalising customer insight rapidly/effectively?  The learning organisation.  Which group of people are the main obstacle to putting in place a learning organisation?  According to Suresh, it is the Tops.

Which is better for generating customer insight: quantitative or qualitative?

The panelists (from Whitbread, HSBC, JustGiving, Forester) agreed that this is no longer a useful way of thinking about insight.  Customer insight is more useful if both quantitative and qualitative techniques and insights are used.  For example, if you are looking to optimise the customer experience on the website you would start with quantitative to know what is happening on the site and then follow this up with qualitative research (surveys, focus groups, user experience labs) to work out the why.  And with this level of understanding you can take action.  On the other hand it is possible that qualitative research will throw up some customer insights which will need to be validated/quantified through quantitative research in order to decide on whether it is worth acting on the customer insight.

My take on the day

It occurs to me that the customer insight community is grappling with the same kind of issues that it was some ten years ago:

  • How can we get the business to act on the insight we generate?
  • How to make sense of the information from disparate sources to get at genuine customer insights that make a difference?
  • How to convert data into actionable insight?
  • What should we be measuring: CSAT, NPS, something else?
  • How do we integrate the quantitative side (analytics) with the qualitative side to generate rounded insight?

The second ‘truth’ that hit me is that there is huge gulf between the theoreticians and the practitioners.  The theoreticians – analyst, technology vendors – make even the most complex sound so easy.  The practitioners are finding it difficult to get even the simpler stuff done.   One practitioner summed it up nicely when she stated that whilst it sounds easy, it is anything but easy to generate useful actionable insight and get this acted upon effectively and rapidly by the various players in the organisation who have their own agendas/priorities. 

Social Customer / Social CRM / Social Business: snake oil or great medicine? (Part III)

This post is the third post of this series.  In the first post I explored ‘the social customer’ and provided my point of view.  In the second post I explored social CRM to make sense of what it is.  In this third post I take a similar look at ‘social business’.  This is a long post and if you have the patience then you will get value out of reading the entire post.  If you are in a hurry and just want the nugget then the first section of this post is all you need to read.

Social business: the nugget to chew on

If you believe that implementing a bunch of social media and collaboration tools into your business is going to make you a social business then you are deluded.  You are making the same kind of mistake that people just like you made when they invested millions into CRM systems in the mistaken belief that implementing these systems would transform relationships with customers and lead to the ‘milk and honey’ of customer loyalty.  If you load a donkey with all the books of wisdom does that make the donkey wise?  No.  And you would never do that, you would laugh at anybody did do that.  Then why do so many tech oriented people think that implementing social tools (collaboration, social media) will make a business a ‘social businesses’?

Why am I so confident?  Because ‘social business’ requires us (our culture, our organisations, our businesses, us) to get present to and live out of / from a social ontology.   Right now our Western culture, our institutions, our businesses and our behaviour (in the public and private domains) are shaped by / arise out of an atomist ontology.  What is required is a transformation. A transformation that requires a shift from the “I-it” mode of relating to people (employees, customers, suppliers, partners….) to the “I-Thou” mode.   I’ll let RD Laing spell it out for us:

“Persons are distinguishable from things in that persons experience the world, whereas things behave in the world.  Thing-events do not experience. Personal events are experiential….

The error fundamentally is the failure to recognise that there is an ontological discontinuity between human beings and it-beings.

Human beings relate to each other not simply externally, like two billiard balls, but by the relations of the two worlds of experience that come into play when two people meet.”

Put simply it says that when you and I treat a fellow human being as an object (an It) then we are doing violence to his (and our) humanity.  Do you acknowledge her  existence by saying hello or shaking hands?  Do you provide the right work environment, a human one?  Do you allow her to voice her authentic voice? Do you involve her in the decisions that affect her?  Do you use words that acknowledge, teach, inspire or do you use words that criticise, condemn, humiliate?  Is the whole person welcome in the workplace or just that part that is useful for work?  And so forth.

If we get that a human being is an organism that is continually experiencing then everything that we do or do not do matters.  We cannot escape our responsibility to one another. Each of us is like a wave continually interacting with other who are also ‘waving’ and thus affecting us. That is what ‘social’ means in its fullest sense and that is what we expect when we are being ‘social’ and socialising.

So that is the challenge: a transformation in our world view, in our society, in our organisations, in our businesses and in our behaviour. We are speaking about a transformation in how we look at “what it means to be human” – form atomicity and instrumentality (“I-It”) to social and experiencing (“I-Thou”).  Looking for good examples of companies that treat human beings with dignity and built great relationships withe employees who go on to create great value for customers and the company then look no further than SAS (more on SAS later in this post).

First, lets address this question:  how easy is that likely to be for those of us who get what ‘social business’ is really about to bring about the kind of transformation that I am talking about here?

Morpheus speaks wisely when he says

“The Matrix is a system, Neo.  That system is our enemy.  But when you are inside you look around, what do you see?  Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters.  The very minds of the people we are trying to save.  But until we do, these people are still a part of the system and that makes them our enemy.  You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged.  And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.”  Morpheus, in The Matrix, 1999

What does the latest Deloitte Research tell us?

I came across this piece today which talks about a new global report by Deloitte Research provides guidance organisations should consider on how they can significantly improve bottom-line results by fostering and promoting connections in the workplace.  Here are some of the key points that got my attention and are relevant to the whole notion of a ‘social business‘:

“We are more technologically connected than ever before, being addicted to our computers, cell phones, and PDAs. Ironically, today’s technology-saturated environment can actually weaken the quality of people’s connections that enhance performance.

“…people’s jobs are much more complex, technology can be both a distraction and an asset, and workforces are increasingly more diverse in terms of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and generational differences. The report concludes that these changes have made it very difficult for today’s workforce to make quality, value-adding connections.”

Employers need to become connected to their employees to deliver on what they need and want in the workplace, such as interesting work, career development, and flexibility in exchange for their highly sought-after capabilities.

“…it’s critical for employees and employers to foster three primary types of connections:

  • Connecting people to people to help promote personal and professional growth; 
  • Connecting people to a sense of purpose to help build and sustain a sense of organisational and individual mission; and
  • Connecting people to the resources they need to work effectively, such as managing knowledge, technology, tools, capital, time, and physical space.

In my view this research validates my point of view:  tech tools are not enough, we have to work on building the connections between us and our fellow human beings.   Lets take a look at a master at this game: SAS.

What can we learn from SAS?

The Deloitte Report (Connecting People to What Matters) illustrates its reasoning through case studies.  Of particular note to me is SAS (the business intelligence software company which which has experienced 29 years of continued revenue growth and was recently named in FORTUNE magazine’s annual list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the tenth year in a row. What makes it so special, what can we learn from SAS?

Our corporate culture is based on trust between employees, customers, and the company,” said Jeff Chambers, Vice President of Human Resources for US-based SAS. “We care about employees’ personal and professional growth, which inspires them to do great work. Employees who solve our clients’ biggest problems yield happy, committed customers. It isn’t altruism. It’s good business.”

I don’t buy that at all.  Looking into the company and its founder, I am clear that it happens to be both altruism AND good business.  The altruism came first and was the direct result of Jim Goodnights personal experience – how he was treated (an object, an “It”) when he was employed.  Here is what the net throws up:

“When Goodnight founded SAS, he already knew that work environments affect employee productivity and retention. He has also stated that he believes the work culture is key to the creativity inherent in knowledge work. Earlier in his career when he worked for a NASA subcontractor on the Apollo program, he observed the dismal environment of employees working in cubicle farms and how it contributed to annual employee turnover of around 50 percent. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see the negative effect that work environment had on organisational performance”

This point of view is corroborated by this article in Inc, the key points that speak to me are:

“The fact that we’re private means that we can make long-range decisions,” says Goodnight. “We don’t have to be worried about quarterly profits or about pleasing Wall Street. We just please our employees and our customers………..  So when the economy forced most other companies to lay off employees in 2001 and 2002, Goodnight took a contrarian’s approach. “We decided there were so many people looking for jobs that we should take the opportunity to bring in some really first-class people,”……

“Those new employees landed more than just jobs. They gained entry into one of the most progressive corporate cultures in the country. SAS’s headquarters in Cary, N.C., looks more like a college campus than most college campuses do. There’s a 77,000-square-foot health and fitness center, playing fields for soccer and softball, an on-site medical clinic, a dining hall with live piano music, two daycare centers, an eldercare referral service, unlimited sick days, and a masseuse who makes the rounds several times a week. Goodnight’s explanation for this largesse is fairly simple: “If we keep our employees happy, they do a good job of keeping our customers happy.”

Final words

The challenge of ‘social business’ is not one of technology.  It is one of creating a culture, a work environment, like SAS has done where people matter and they know they matter – where they feel trusted and valued as human beings not just interchangeable cogs who fulfil roles and execute specific tasks.  Companies like this address the fundamental question (coming from employees) for a ‘social business’: why should I participate in all this social stuff?  Once again, lets listen to profoundly wise words:

“Why Mr Anderson?  Why do you do it?  Why do you get up? Why keep fighting?  Do you believe you are fighting for something?  For more than your survival?  Can you tell me what it is?  Do you even know?  Is it freedom?  Or truth?  Perhaps peace?  Yes?  No?  Could it be for love?”  Agent Smith, in The Matrix Revolutions, 2003

Just in case you don’t get it then let me spell it out for all of us.  The ground of our existence is survival – we wish to continue to exist – and there is an awfully lot we will do to earn that paycheck that allows us and the people that count on us to survive.  However, we will only go that extra mile for a) people we love; and b) causes that occur as noble and which stir our hearts and light up our lives.  Does that remind you about the key points from the Deloitte report? The need to foster connections: people to people connections; and people to a sense of purpose?  Without these connections investments in social technologies are a waste, a fool’s errand.