One Hundred and Fifteen Million

Posted by Bob Fangmeyer

No, that is not the latest Powerball Lottery jackpot, the daily addition to the budget deficit, or the number of times Charlie Sheen and Lindsey Lohan have been arrested.

That is the number of employees who would beg to differ with the author of a recent article found in the on-line version of Inc. Magazine.

Steve Tobak attempts to make the case that employee engagement is not important. In fact, he claims it is nothing more than a fad and money making racket. Why? Because the data don’t clearly indicate that employee engagement surveys and strategies directly impact the bottom line.

Now, before you jump to conclusions like I did, it is important to listen carefully because I believe Steve is 100% correct… about the problem: most employee engagement efforts fail to improve satisfaction, morale, commitment, or the bottom line. My disagreement is with his answer to the problem.

Steve characterizes the approach many organizations take to employee engagement as follows: “You just hire Gallup, do a survey, announce some strategies, and poof, instant engagement.”

This is analogous to someone trying to lose weight by eating a random selection of subs at Subway. Subway worked for Jared, it should work for me!

Engagement requires a lot more than a satisfaction survey and handing out Employee-of-the-Month awards. Moving the needle on engagement is not quick or easy… thus the problem. Weak, half-hearted efforts like these will not improve engagement, much less the bottom line. As Steve notes “Half the time it backfires because they’re not measuring the right factors, they don’t make the right changes, they fix one thing and screw up another, or they don’t follow up at all. In reality, there’s a high risk of actually losing credibility with employees.”

Amazingly, Steve doesn’t advise organizations to figure out the right factors to measure, the right changes to make, and to do so from a systems perspective. Instead, Steve’s answer to the problem is to give up. Don’t waste your time.

Back to our analogy, this is like telling a person to not bother trying to lose weight because most people aren’t successful at it.

What might happen to our un-fit friend who just does nothing? High blood pressure; diabetes; heart disease; heart attacks; blood clots; strokes; joint problems; osteoarthritis; sleep apnea; respiratory problems; cancer–including breast, colon, gallbladder, colon, and prostate; and elevated blood cholesterol… quite likely a premature death. Losing weight might be hard, but it is definitely worth doing.

The very same thing is true for an organization that doesn’t address the need for employee engagement. It will present itself in a variety of organizational health issues that will quite likely lead to a premature death.

So rather than give up, I say get serious. Get advice. Do some research. Really understand your employees’ needs and expectations. Fix the things that matter.

Where can you turn for help? Well you can start by attending the Quest for Excellence conference and learning from organizations that have figured out how to move the needle and can articulate the benefits of doing so. If you would like a larger list of organizations to benchmark, try any of the other Baldrige Award recipients that depend on an engaged workforce to help them achieve their outstanding business and operational results!

What about your organization? Is good enough really good enough? Or are you willing to strive for excellence and outstanding results? Are you serious about your strategies or just paying lip-service?

I see the Baldrige process as a powerful set of mechanisms for disciplined people engaged in disciplined thought and taking disciplined action to create great organizations that produce exceptional results.

    – Jim Collins, best-selling author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t

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6 Responses to One Hundred and Fifteen Million

  1. Bryan Zak says:

    As I have grown older I have found that running is tough on my hips and knees but I have rediscovered swimming. Yes, swimming is a little more boring but the health results of being back into a solid exercise program keep me going to the pool.
    As with our own physical changes employees needs change and without keeping them engaged the company will suffer but will not know how badly it is suffering and is why some companies remain good while others become great!

  2. Avey says:

    Tobak’s suggestion for organizations to give up on workforce/employee engagement is glib.

    Why not simply lock an employee in a room without contact from the outside world 8-10-12 hours a day?

    I’m sure he/she will get a ton of work done then.

    In reality, an employee is no different that a finely tuned sports car. He/she will need periodic overhauls (training), will need to be idled and then driven fast (performance checks), will need to increase/decrease output based on various market drivers (competitiveness), and needs to be provided periodic feedback on capabilties (evaluation).

    All of these are part of the total workforce/employee engagement process. If organizations do not embrace these in their long-term strategies they are doomed to be mediocre at best.

  3. joseph King Jr says:

    When management asks for an apple, engaged employess give a bushel:) (Extra ordinary results…..

  4. Dean Bondhus says:

    Bob, I like your blog. So many critics are quick to point out the flaws in someone elses methods, but slow to offer solid proven solutions. It happened with TQM before Six Sigma and Baldrige came along. Many leaders gave only partial effort to the pieces they felt comfortable with and when ‘IT’ failed, they blamed IT and quit, rather than understanding why – and adjusting their approach. I saw it with many organizations that tried to apply Deming principles back in the day too. One in particular was Zytec. When they won the Baldrige and discussed their journey, they admitted making this mistake early on. Then they woke up and learned to apply each key dimension of the proven method as part of a system. Amazingly enough IT WORKED! We tend to look for quick fixes, the easy way out of our problems. Sustained excellence or a healthy lifestyle take sustained effort applied to the system ‘holistically’ with cycles of improvement.

    PS – I hope to meet with you at Quest!

  5. Barry Johnson says:

    Bob, great op ed.

    Engagement, like all Baldrige concepts, cannot be achieved through superficial approaches that are not tailored to the workforce.

    I followed the research trail behind this article (in Psychology Today and Gallup) and found even deeper support for the need to use systems perspective and a sytematic approach.

    Do it again, Bob.

  6. Robert Fangmeyer says:

    To Avery- I can’t be sure if Tobak was being glib or sarcastic. I thought he might have been, but he was pretty clear that he was not joking.

    To Barry- I too had followed the research trail behind it and noted the support for a systematic perspective and approach… but the supporting material was pretty far down in the Psycology Today article. Much of it was supporting Tobak’s view until the last paragraph or two. And, as noted, the problem IS real, but there is also real benefit to achieving high levels of employee engagement.

    I really think that Tobak believes it is not worth the effort.

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