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Performance and engagement: Why the workplace is evolving


Job sat­is­fac­tion is one of the bug­bears of the 21st cen­tu­ry. We’re awash with sta­tis­tics which tell us that west­ern economies are plagued with unen­gaged work­ers, plod­ding glum­ly to the office to do the bare min­i­mum possible. 

On top of this, we know that our soci­eties are age­ing. We’re hav­ing few­er children.

No longer can we look for­ward to an ever-grow­ing pro­ces­sion of bright young minds to refresh our work­forces. We need to do more with what we have. 

These are not HR issues. These are CEO issues. Organ­i­sa­tions need to think care­ful­ly about how they attract tal­ent, how they devel­op new lead­ers and the oppor­tu­ni­ties they offer. To do this, they need to get to grips with engagement. 

This plays into an old pre­con­cep­tion about what peo­ple find engag­ing and moti­vat­ing, and it’s some­thing we’ve been talk­ing about for a long time. His­tor­i­cal­ly, the assump­tion is that pay moti­vates peo­ple. And while we all get up in the morn­ing with the ulti­mate aim of pay­ing the mort­gage and feed­ing our­selves and our fam­i­lies, research tends to show us that pay as a moti­va­tor offers dimin­ish­ing returns of engage­ment. Now, in 2019, we know that the world of work has an awful lot more to offer us than an annu­al 3% pay rise, if indeed we’re lucky enough to get that. We see — even if we’re not offered it our­selves — that some organ­i­sa­tions take work/​life bal­ance seri­ous­ly; they offer the chance to work remote­ly; they pro­mote recog­ni­tion and give clear and fre­quent feed­back. These things are almost the exact oppo­site of the annu­al review (where ten­sion builds for weeks and ends either with the short-term fil­lip of a raise / bonus or dis­ap­point­ment). This is about get­ting the envi­ron­ment right, and remind­ing your peo­ple, every day, that they’re val­ued and that the organ­i­sa­tion needs their sup­port to achieve its wider goals. 

If you cre­ate the right envi­ron­ment for peo­ple to thrive, the rewards can be sur­pris­ing. The Utrecht Work Engage­ment Scale looks at three cat­e­gories in cal­cu­lat­ing how engaged peo­ple are with their work: Vigour, Ded­i­ca­tion and Absorp­tion. Vigour looks at ener­gy, pos­i­tiv­i­ty and resilience in the face of set­backs; Ded­i­ca­tion looks at how invest­ed and proud you are of the work you do; and Absorp­tion explores the extent to which you’re able to immerse your­self in your tasks. Even a cur­so­ry glance at these should be enough to con­firm their impor­tance. They’re the oppo­site of cyn­i­cism and detach­ment. They’re can­did, open and pos­i­tive feel­ings. Who wouldn’t want more of this, both in their own life or those of the peo­ple them employ? 

The advan­tage we have, as a per­for­mance man­age­ment busi­ness, is that we already pro­mote many of the behav­iours that cre­ate this can­did envi­ron­ment. We sug­gest that man­agers meet reg­u­lar­ly with their team mem­bers to encour­age open dia­logue. We sug­gest that check-ins be future-focussed and designed to help the employ­ee achieve what mat­ters most (both to them­selves and to the organ­i­sa­tion). We believe that real clar­i­ty, both on employ­ee goals and the wider busi­ness objec­tives they’re linked to, is the best way to pri­ori­tise work on an ongo­ing basis. As Josh Bersin said in a Brighttalk webi­nar recent­ly, always-on per­for­mance man­age­ment serves two vital busi­ness func­tions right now: help­ing com­pa­nies with non-tra­di­tion­al net­work struc­tures to get peo­ple lead­er­ship-ready; and devel­op­ing engage­ment with the individual. 

When you ask peo­ple what mat­ters most to them at work, the answer is pret­ty con­sis­tent. It’s not free food, or bring your dog to work’ day, or mas­sages. They want the actu­al job to be bet­ter and more ful­fill­ing. We shouldn’t be try­ing to make peo­ple for­get about that nasty job they’re sup­posed to be doing every day by ply­ing them with treats. We should be mak­ing the job bet­ter: clear­er, more reward­ing and with the chance to see real pro­gres­sion. This is engage­ment for the every­day. It’s not a one-off ini­tia­tive, it’s a culture. 

Yes, it’s also a com­mit­ment. It means man­agers need more time to man­age and lead­er­ship needs to share clear strate­gic goals. But it approach­es the chal­lenge of dis­en­gaged employ­ees in a holis­tic way. If your peo­ple are strug­gling — with work process­es, with their work­load, with under­stand­ing the strat­e­gy — you need to know this. And you need to know it now, in real-time, rather than six months after the event. This is where per­for­mance man­age­ment and engage­ment become two sides of the same coin. The one feeds the oth­er. Cre­at­ing that loop may be the most moti­vat­ing and reward­ing thing you do for your busi­ness this year. 

Learn more about employ­ee engage­ment and performance

The key to employee engagement

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