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January 2008

Confused About Who's Engaged? Try This Handy Engagement Test to Sort It All Out...

My posts last week regarding the concept of engagement and subsequent research on the topic clarifiedKfed a couple of things to me. 

-First, trying to get everyone to agree on a definition of engagment is harder than trying to get Britney Spears to settle down and work it all out with K-Fed.   

-Second, my take on the best way to have an engaged workforce is to a) ensure you hire talent that is already predisposed to be engaged, and b) figure out the best way to create an environment where "engagement fence straddlers" (those who might be engaged if placed in the right type of environment) elect to become engaged...

Of course, being the scientific, progressive manager you are, you want a way to baseline the current engagement level of your team before you start tinkering with the environment.   WOW - you are an achiever, and if I might add, an engaged one at that...

At the risk of being savagely attacked by the engagement community, here's my back of the napkin, "let's wing it" test to determine the engagment level of your current team:

1.  Tell your team that if they can find a way to get their current workload complete in less time, you would like to support the use of 4 hours per week at work to pursue any work-related, professional development project that interests them.  The only rules are that the project has to be work-related and potentially have a payoff to the business - but if the process leads to them developing new skills that adds value to them as professionals, so be it.

2.  Answer your team's questions about what is appropriate related to the project.  You might also get questions about how you will measure whether their current workload is being maintained.  Answer all questions to the best of your ability, without telling them how to do it.

3.  Once you've answered all the questions, don't do anything for 3 weeks.

4.  At the 3 week mark, check back in with everyone on your team in brief 1-on-1 sessions.  Have they started the project time?  What are they working on?

Here's how to score your findings:

-Associates who have taken advantage of your offer and are aggresively moving forward with a project - ENGAGED

-Associates who have developed some thoughts about what they might do, but have not taken action yet - NOT ENGAGED, BUT POSSIBLY COULD BECOME ENGAGED WITH THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENTAL TWEAKS FROM YOU

-Associates who have done nothing, or have excuses for why they didn't take advantage of the offer - NOT ENGAGED AND NOT PROBABLE TO BECOME ENGAGED, regardless of your efforts.

Remember, this is only a test, and an informal one at that.  You might actually have to start being engaged yourself to create the environment where your direct reports are engaged.  One of the things I learned from the engagement community is that according to Gallup, on average, 29% of employees are engaged and 71% are either unengaged (neutral) or disengaged (opposed).

PS - my take on this as a nice informal test of engagement is based on the engagement traits listed in this post...

How many members of your team would you expect to take the offer and run with it? 

Just as important - Would you? 

Yahoo (the Google of the 90's) Announces 1,000 Layoffs...

Everybody loves Google.  The perks, the options, and yes, the backrubs...

So apply today.  If you can't join 'em, feel free to buy some Google stock at $548 per share, because in theYahoo_recession near term, it's probably going up.

Just know that the business cycle is... well, a cycle.  Companies built on 50% growth models ultimately slow down....

Need some proof?  Consider the case of Yahoo, which still is probably a very cool place to work.  It was the Google of the 90's...  And today, it announced plans to layoff 1,000 employees, which is about 7% of it's workforce. 

From the New York Times:

"After announcing a sharp drop in fourth-quarter profits Tuesday, Yahoo issued a disappointing outlook for this year, suggesting that investors would have to wait until 2009 for a turnaround.

Yahoo also said that as part of its plan to revive its fortunes, it would cut 1,000 jobs by mid-February to reduce costs and narrow its focus to its most important businesses.

The company, however, said it planned to invest aggressively in some areas, like advertising technology and selected portions of its Internet portal, as it tries to capture a larger share of online ad dollars. Since some laid-off employees could apply for new jobs at Yahoo, the net effect on the work force, which recently grew to 14,300, was not clear.

Jerry Yang, the chief executive, warned investors of “head winds” this year. Yahoo’s projections for revenue growth and profitability in 2008 were either at the low end of analysts’ expectations or below them."

It's sad when a cool brand ends up looking like a normal business.  Just serves as a reminder that the coolest brands, business models and cultures are susceptible to competition, pressure on margins, and making money...

Why Bashing Hillary or Huckabee is Bad Business for Managers....

I was on the road last week and had the time/location to catch up with a couple of former co-workers.  While politics didn't drive the conversation, we talked for a few minutes regarding the ongoing presidential primaries as part of the banter.  On the flight back home, I was struck by the fact I hadn't had a meaningful conversation on politics, within my workplace, since the primaries began.

I guess that means my HR DNA, to avoid all topics divisive to the workplace, is functioning correctly...Nixon_debate

Robert Cenek of the Cenek Report checked in last weekend with a similar post entitled "Political Banter in the Workplace", where he throws out some statistics on the wisdom (or lack thereof) in managers talking politics with their direct reports:

"According to a survey by Vault.com, 35% of bosses openly share their political views with employees, and 9% of workers feel pressure to conform to the boss’ views. Regarding co-workers, 30% of respondents said that a co-worker has tried to influence their choice in an election.

An article appearing at Associated Content reported that 53% of those surveyed believed that politics should never be discussed in the workplace. These results seem to reflect the conventional wisdom that discussions about religion and politics should be off limits during the workday."

To be sure, conversations about religion, politics, race and other sensitive topics are going to happen in the workplace.  The workplace imitates life, so that's just the way it is.

Employees talking to other employees about politics?  Cool, as long as you know that it's a polarizing topic.

The catch comes when those with authority over others begin to flex their opinion muscle as part of their daily banter.  HR people?  Probably need to stay away from polarizing topics, which basically covers any opinion you can have in these areas.    Pick a camp on any of these issues and publicize it, and some folks cease to view you as approachable.  At the end of the day, being approachable by all is a big part of the job.

The same holds true for supervisors.  Pitch a political point of view that your direct reports disagree with, and a change in chemistry is likely to occur.   Let's say 9% of your direct reports feel pressure to conform to your point of view.  That's fine.  What about the other 91%?  They could think that you are 1) wrong, 2) attempting to use your position to influence them (without feeling pressure to conform), 3) telling them in your own way that they don't have a clue, or 4) <insert your own negative outcome here>.

Of course, you could bond with some as a result.  But the negative outweighs the positive in most situations....

HR Press Releases Gone Bad - Wal-Mart Takes Credit for Universal Heathcare and the Internet...

I'm not a Wal-Mart basher.  I shop there, and I'm not bothered by the big box store.   

But I'm glad I don't have to recruit for associates at the store level, because that would stink.  NotWalmart2 because they don't have good candidates coming through, but they have NO TOOLS to close them.  Comp is middling at best, customers are irritable about 90% of the time, and when you walk out the doors after your shift, you have to do that crosswalk dance where you try not to get run over as the Camry with the tunes turned up decides whether to gun it or be a nice guy 5 feet from the door...

But I digress...

The biggest issues impacting Wal-Mart's ability to recruit are Comp and Benefits.  Since I don't have data on the Comp side, let's look at Benefits.  Ever since that nasty memo came out, Wal-Mart's been on a PR mission to say things are improving.  That's a good thing.  But how good are things really?

Here's some data from a recent press release from Wal-Mart touting the fact that 92.7% of their associates have health care coverage:

"Associates surveyed cited the following sources for their health care coverage:

  • 50.2 percent – Wal-Mart plan;
  • 22.3 percent – Spouse;
  • 7.3 percent – Uninsured;
  • 4.3 percent – Medicare;
  • 4.2 percent – Parents, school or college;
  • 3.2 percent – Other/previous employer;
  • 2.4 percent – Individual policy;
  • 2.3 percent – VA or military;
  • 1.9 percent – Medicaid;
  • 1.2 percent – State program other than Medicaid; and
  • 0.7 percent – Another source than those listed above.

Total: 100 percent"

So they have health care coverage.  But about half don't get it from Wal-Mart.  Oh, NOW I get it...

Hat tip to John Hollon on this one.  I had the press release in my inbox, then he had something up two hours later.  That's fast coverage I can't match.  But I agree with his analysis - the title to the press release, which touts 92.7 coverage, is opportunistic at best. 

That kind of stuff gives spin a bad name.  I think Wal-Mart's better than this. 

Pharma Rep Playbook - 4 Minutes with Doctors = 52% Jump in Scripts Written...

I want all of our employees to have the medical care they need.  Let's start there before anyone brands me as a fiscal hawk looking at numbers rather than employee well-being...

If there's one area of Medical care that drives me crazy, it's got to be big Pharma vs. doctors, patientsLevitra, and yes, your local company medical plan. 

Big Pharma gets paid off of blockbuster drugs that they hold exclusive rights to.  That part of the system I get, since there are development costs tied to the R&D effort.  It's the repackaging of brand name drugs, once generics are available, that drives me crazy.  Hey, why take that generic every day?  We've just revamped the brand name equivalent with enough potency to last 5 days.   Uh, yeah... It'll cost your medical plan $1,000 more per year, but who cares?  Your employee contribution is the same regardless.

In case you needed more examples of the power of the Pharmaceutical Rep over most doctors, consider this article in a recent BusinessWeek entitled "Just Say No to Drug Reps":

"Dr. Adriane Ugh-Beman wishes more doctors would greet marketing pitches from drug companies with skepticism. So she is taking her message to medical schools. An associate professor of physiology and biophysics at Georgetown University, she has spent the past six months lecturing med students at Georgetown and neighboring schools on how to resist sales reps' overtures, such as doling out free drug samples to physicians and bringing lunches for office staff.

Often, the audience starts out belligerent, Ugh-Beman says, protesting that they're "too smart to be bought by a slice of pizza." But that changes when "we correct them with the numbers," she says. A doctor who spends just one minute with a sales rep typically ends up prescribing 16% more of that rep's product than he or she was prescribing before. And a four-minute encounter is likely to prompt a 52% jump in prescriptions, says Ugh-Beman."

I didn't dig around on the net for the white-paper behind Ugh-Berman's claims, but I am assuming if it made BW, it's legit research.

Let's assume programs like this can prepare doctors for the drug rep pushing product.  No sweat to Big Pharma, because they've got an even more powerful marketing tool.   It's called the demands of their patients after watching 20 Pharma ads every night during American Idol... What's a busy M.D supposed to do when someone brings him an ad for Paxil during a routine visit?  Prescribe (gasp) exercise? 

Every seen a Viagra ad?   All they have to do is create a market with a couple of Billion dollars worth of ads, and all of a sudden the pressure is on to pick up the full tab for each new class of drugs that's introduced... 

Man, am I tired of scrambling for the remote during a basketball game on the weekend or during prime time when the Viagra ads come on (hello? kids are watching when these things run!).  But those guys throwing the football sure are accurate throwing it through that tire in the back yard... 

IBM Responds to FLSA Suit by Cutting Base Pay for 6% of Workforce....

Here's an ugly one for you....

In 2006, IBM got hammered in a FLSA suit, and was ordered to pay 65 million in unpaid, overtime, back payIbm to workers included in the suit, who were deemed to be incorrectly classified as "exempt".

With that in mind, you expect a company like IBM to reclassify those employees as non-exempt and start making them OT eligible, right?   

As expected, the good news for those workers is that IBM now plans to grant them non-exempt status so they can collect overtime pay.

The bad news: IBM will cut their base salaries by 15% to make up the difference.

IBM's taking this path with 6% of its total workforce...

In a move that is legal but full of employee relations potholes, IBM apparently looked at the entire situation, and decided to remain cost neutral by cutting base pay of the workers upon the transition.  That way, if the expected amount of OT comes in, the workers will be earning the same total compensation.

That's hardball from a compensation perspective.  Glad I'm not the HR Manager handling those conversations - "Ricky, we're moving you to hourly/non-exempt status.  As a part of that, we've taken your salary and converted it to an hourly rate, then reduced it by 15%, since that's the average amount of compensation we project you'll earn through overtime this year".


The Patriots and Cheating - Can You Label an Entire Workplace Due to the Actions of a Few?

Last week I threw up a post telling all HR pros they should love the NFL's New England Patriots.  Great culture - no emphasis on stars, results through teamwork.

The feedback was immediate and split down the middle, with two camps chiming in:Cheaties

Camp 1 - I agree with the assessment.  Patriots rule and they have a great workplace culture!

Camp 2 - You can't give the Patriots credit for having a team-based culture, because they were caught cheating during the first game of the season

First up, I get why Camp #2 reacts in that fashion.  The whole scenario of the Patriots taping to try and steal signals is unseemly, at best.  It's cheating, pure and simple.

But, I can't judge a whole workplace culture by the actions of a few.  In my article, I present the opinion that the Pats are different for four reasons - they use motivational fit to figure out the best talent that fits their organization, they can assimilate outliers, like Randy Moss with no disruption, their management is focused on results, not drama, and their whole culture is team-based.

All that remains true.  You can't label an entire organization on one incident, and the factors listed above are independent from that. Should we all be branded by the Accounting person who embezzles money from our company? By the Sales person who booked fake sales at your shop until he got caught?   

I'm glad I'm not judged solely by the outliers who have had legal trouble in the organizations I worked for in the past. That might be ugly as I look back. The Pats are 18-0, and "spygate" didn't propel them to that.  Their team-focused culture did...

PS - I offer up the mock "Cheaties" box for entertainment purposes only.  Amazing what low-cost digital tools allow consumers to do these days....

I Just Tried to Define Employee Engagement - Now I Need a Nap...

I thought a follow-up post was needed regarding "The Key to Employee Engagement - Don't Hire Clock Watchers". 

Point #1 - I obviously stirred up a hornet's nest by talking about engagement without trying toAsleep define it for the syndicated audience (note - you can have one reader on feedburner and call it syndicated - cool!); 

Point #2 - I browsed around looking to define employee engagement, and as a result;

Point #3 - I now need a nap. 

WOW!  Was that some painful reading.  Not since a Fortune 500 corporate team I was on in the 90's came together to deal with the OFCCP required, "Definition of an Applicant", have so many said so much, yet so little.


OK, I'm back.   Lucky for me, one of the emails I received was from a guy who actually understands the different definitions.  His name is Tim Wright, of Wright Results (aptly named).  Tim's spent enough time thinking about engagement that he can actually compare and contrast engagement theories.   Spend 10 minutes googling "employee engagement" and you'll understand why that's significant.

For a great rundown of employee engagement theories, hit Tim's blog here.

I had two favorite definitions from Tim's post.  The Gallup G12, and Tim's own definition of engagement. 

Here's the Gallup G12, which lists traits of engaged employees:

  • Consistent levels of high performance.
  • Natural innovation and drive for efficiency.
  • Intentional building of supportive relationships.
  • Clear about the desired outcomes of their role.
  • Emotionally committed to what they do.
  • Challenge purpose to achieve goals.
  • High energy and enthusiasm.
  • Never run out of things to do, create positive things to act on.
  • Broaden what they do and build on it.
  • Commitment to company, work group, and role.

Here's Tim Wright's definition:

The individual’s investment of energy, skill, ability, and eagerness in the work performed. Engagement includes “involvement” and “commitment” yet goes beyond to include observable behaviors such as:

  • Attention to task detail
  • Commitment to assignment completion
  • Involvement in special projects
  • Communication willingly, effectively with others
  • Demonstration of personal/professional improvement
  • Initiation of problem-solving and/or conflict resolution
  • Innovation regarding processes and procedures

I bolded the characteristics that closely matched my (cough) unscientific definition.  In any event, these two trait-based definitions were, by far, better than anything else I found.

Hit Tim's web site to learn more.  He's apparently pursuing a practice revolving around employee engagement, which makes him a) brilliant, b) a masochist, or c) both.

Check it out and answer that question for yourself....

Employee Surveys - Good Tool or Corporate Noise? Depends on the Questions and Follow Up...

In my HR career, I've been in organizations that did an employee survey every year, and in organizations that never used the traditional employee survey.  Along the way, I've heard compelling arguments on both sides of the divide.  I've also been in great companies/units that never surveyed employees.

The pro-survey crowd is usually focused on the assumption "we need to ask employees what they thinkEmployee_survey_2 and how they feel".  Hard to argue with that on the surface.  The logic is strong and as American as apple pie, baseball and Toyota Chevrolet.

It's the factions of the pro-survey crowd that do a survey because "it is the right thing to do" that hurt the cause.  Too often the item writing for the survey is lacking, with the focus on breakrooms, parking and perks employees would find valuable if the company could afford them.  Additionally, the employee survey as an "event of the month" without rigorous follow-up and action plans on the manager level, provides an easy target for those who don't see the value.  After all, you have to have the stomach for the journey and be willful and transparent in your follow-up, if you are going to ask employees what they think via a survey.

Jack Welch (formerly of GE and now riffing at BusinessWeek) recently listed four issues he thinks must be included if you decide to do an employee survey.  Among the areas Jack deems critical are the following:

1.  Do employees truly buy into the company mission?

2.  Do managers at the company "walk the walk" related to organizational values?

3.  Do employees feel the company is performing in areas like technology, innovation and other areas that drive customer acquisition, satisfaction and retention?

4.  Does the company create a culture where top performers are rewarded and valued?

That's a pretty good list, even if it doesn't include whether animal crackers are offered in the snack machines.  To hear more, download the podcast to your iPod here.

I'll end this post with this.  Regardless if you are a Fortune 500 or a 20-person startup, surveys can be a good tool,  But don't do a survey until you are positive you are ready to take the time to probe as an organization.  There are things worse than not asking - including letting the data sit on the shelf after you've asked your talent what they think....

Don't Just Pay Me - Pay Me Like A Rocket Scientist...

Remember that common cornerstone of childhood mocking growing up?  "What are you, some sort of Rocket Scientist"?

If you persevered though the taunts and actually became a rocket scientist, I bet you thought it would pay a lot more than it does.Rocket_scientist   From the Wall Street Journal:

The job: Aerospace engineer

The pay: The average annual starting salary for recent bachelor's degree graduates is $54,008, according to a National Society of Professional Engineers survey. Those with 25 or more years of experience average $121,679, the trade group says.

The hours: Eight-hour workdays, Monday through Friday, are common, though overtime may be necessary for time-sensitive projects.

Other incentives: "You get to see a lot of cool things a normal person would never get to see," such as stealth fighters and test sites, says Jonathan Nikkel, an aerospace engineer specializing in navigation theory for Raytheon Corp.

That's still pretty good pay for a college grad.  It's just that after hearing the intelligence-challenged openly mocked as "rocket scientists" growing up, I would think the market would bear more for this position.  After all, it's the standard by which raw intelligence (or lack thereof) is measured....