How Do You Feel?
It's interesting what makes babies tick. A small bump on the head causes confusion and then the need to communicate. For babies, crying is communicating. Depending on what he or she wants to say, the crying could be short or it can be long and loud.
As adults, we're not too different from this model. We too look to communicate and for someone to say, "haaappeey." Also as adults, we're quick to prevent people from crying. But even after a person stops crying, how do we know if he or she is really happy? or still sad? They might say so. We might ask them to tell us. But, it may be what they think you want to hear.
Truth is, we have no idea. We've spent the past hundred years studying psychology. For the past sixty, we've been studying employee psychology. But we're still learning.
From Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to McGregor's X and Y Theories, from Vroom's Expectancy Theory to Gallup's Q12, we spend a great deal of time trying to get into our employees' head. The goal may be stated that it's to make employees happier. But what we really want is for them to be productive and for them to keep that productivity in our organizations.
At the TLNT Transform conference two weeks ago, Gerry Ledford spent over an hour speaking about engagement and how organizations need to create environments that allow for high performance. It's not enough to act like Santa Clause giving them gifts and expecting them to be happy. Ledford points out there is nothing to support the notion that job happiness equates with job productivity. It's quite possible to hate your job and continue to be a high performer. Thus he questioned, is engagement more of a by-product of performance, instead of the cause of good performance?
In his February 20, 2012 TLNT article, Ledford expounds,"PDE [Performance Driven Engagement] requires a careful analysis of the needs of the organization as reflected in its business strategy, organization design, technology, and desired culture. PDE also requires an understanding of the many levers that can drive performance and engagement, including compensation, benefits, work design, development opportunities, selection, performance management, and a sense of affiliation with the organization (leaders, supervisors, and peers).
A good strategy involves selecting a few things to do very well, not trying to make changes using all of the levers at once. Blindly copying the practices of competitors is lazy and likely to fail as a competitive strategy. A good strategy also seeks competitive advantage by doing a few things superbly that competitors are not doing or are not doing well."
This is a start in the right direction. But I still think something is missing from this equation. It's the employee.
Employees Are Adults
Too many conversations about engagement make it the employer's responsibility to create and maintain employee engagement. There's nothing wrong with external triggers from the employer. But no matter what employers do and say in lieu of these triggers, employees choose to acknowledge these triggers and choose to act upon them. Thereby, making all efforts questionable.
This is not to say as employers we shouldn't try to engage, or create environments that induce high productivity. I'm saying as adults, employees make their own decisions. They make their own decisions about their engagement. They make decisions about when they want to be engaged, how much they want to be engaged, and how long they want to be engaged. During the course of a day, levels of engagement increase and decrease, hour by hour, sometimes minute by minute.
Think about your own engagement. Are you engaged 100% of the time, all day long? I know I'm not. I like my job and feel engaged. But I'm not as engaged on Monday at 9 am as I am on Thursday at 3 pm. Furthermore, that low engagement on Monday might last hours. It might last minutes. On Thursday, it could be the same pattern. Or it could be the complete opposite.
But all of my engagement has nothing to do with my employer. It has to do with me. On Mondays, I chose to create a situation where I didn't sleep enough the night before. Hence, on Monday I need more time to readjust to my job environment. On Thursdays, perhaps I'm realizing that if I don't kick myself into high gear, I'm going to have to work on the weekend.
Furthermore, it's unrealistic to believe my employer knows about all of my engagement levels that I have all day long. This is why I focus on the work outcomes. This is why I tell managers to let employees make their own choices and focus on the overall production. This is why I call my method Choice Management.
Choice Management: A Snapshot
Choice Management simply focuses on treating employees as adults, instead of parents or children. Considering this simple triptych archtype, adults make choices for themselves. Whereas parents decide choices for others, and children have choices made for them.
Treating employees like adults means to create a work environment where they're assured of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness*. From there, employees as adults choose their levels of engagement. Management gets out of employees' heads and doesn't focuses on their internal engagement. They only focus on creating an adult work environment and work outcomes.
When I think back to my nephew and the unfortunate bump, I had to treat him like a baby. That's because he was one. But I don't want to treat my employees like this. And where they fit into the equation is they don't want to either. They are adults. They want to be treated as adults. They want to make choices.
It's time to start treating them as such.
*David Rock, author of "Your Brain At Work", SCARF model