Employee engagement efforts, ownership values and empowerment behaviours must meet at one point. It’s simple, not terribly controversial, based upon the most solid foundations of behavioural sciences, and yet incredibly forgotten. It is the connection between work (activity) and (personal) impact.
If work is an input to a black box in which a myriad of opaque algorithms may end up enhancing shareholder value, don’t be surprised with a shocking system of employee disengagement
The connection between what I do and the impact that I make, small or big, is fundamental. However we design many jobs that define and craft an input for which the consequence of the output is not clear. There is no clear reinforcement mechanism available and ready. The input is blind
Producing growth, becoming market leaders, winning prizes and improving industry rankings are not good enough. Granted, some people may have a longer horizon. The Chemist in a pharmaceutical lab may be working to an overall ‘improving health goal’, but, most likely, day to day motivation comes from the relatively close and even intimate visualization of an outcome in the Lab, not ten years later in the market place. I use the pharmaceutical example because it is an extreme case of people working in extraordinarily long development cycles. From initial discovery of a molecule to a medicine in the hospital may be a 10 to 15 year gap. Statistically, in a fast moving skill market, many of those chemists will never see ‘their product’ in the market, whether because of produce development attrition or because they have moved to another company.
There is a fault line in any CRM system, for example, that, banking on everybody inputting, does not give close feedback to the person who did the input: ‘thanks for your last week inputting of new customer insights; as a result of that, the sales force in X has now created a new segmentation of costumers and are considering to do Y’. Not rocket science, zero cost, not done.
In my long battle to plug in behavioural change management (Viral Change™ platform) into failing Customer Relationship Management systems, I have always seen very little of the above. In the old days of Viral Change™ we even created a behavioural term for that fault line: blind input. I make the efforts, input data, send stuff and, as District Sales Manager put to me moons ago, ‘I hope somebody will do something with this; for the time being my motivation is based on faith’.
Work design needs to include a way for people to see, feel, visualize, and mentally connect with an impact. If personal impact, even better. If personal impact in a way that nobody else could have done, much much better.
This applies to anything form producing reports, crunching numbers, making project team decisions, hiring, or packaging goods. The longer the distance between personal work and personal, visible impact, the greater the problem with engagement and ownership.
People use expressions such as ‘making a difference’ for a reason. Many frustrated good employees in large organisations migrate to small ones, not because the work was bad, but because they did not feel they were making any personal impact, and many inputs (ideas, actions, contributions, advise, decisions, steering, deliverables, pieces of management within their teams) were lost in the Bermuda Triangle of ‘the system’. A waste of human imagination.