Many companies gather employee feedback at this time of year wishing for an engagement score that is an improvement over the previous results. I find that people often confuse employee satisfaction with employee engagement. High satisfaction levels with a current employer do not necessarily indicate that the workforce is actively striving to deliver to the corporate goals with a high degree of emotional investment and willingness to “go the extra mile or more”. Indeed I have sometimes seen a team deliver demonstrate fantastic commitment to the cause whilst simultaneously being extremely ambivalent about the company itself and its declared vision. There needs to be a binding force that propels the team to collective and collaborative success, but that is not always a positive endorsement of the corporate goals. People are complex but team dynamics arguably even more so.
Perhaps the most frequent cul-de-sac I see companies rush into at high speed is to confused engagement with a multitude of technological enabled interaction channels. This particular vice seems most likely when the senior management feels it has to engage with the younger segments of its demographic. A fixation on terms like “Generation Y” or “Millennials” and the imperative to focus on digital world based interaction above all else. Clearly taking advantage of the opportunity presented by social media to engage with the workforce is today an essential step. However it is equally important to have the compelling content to stimulate debate and sell the key messages to the team. At the risk entering a world of clichés the right approach is to have a well-articulated and compelling set of messages conveyed via a communication strategy blending a range of channels to enable individuals to engage, absorb and contribute in the manner most relevant and comfortable to them.
Identifying the behavioral drivers for individuals, teams and entire organisations, and effectively aligning those to the corporate objectives is a key part of the workforce engagement puzzle. Over recent years I have seen a rising number of situations where a key component of a successful engagement strategy has been placing those actions and desired goals beyond personal or corporate gain to having a positive impact on society itself. In short to have a clear link to a clearly articulated corporate social responsibility commitment. I am not discounting the criticality of having an employee engagement strategy with integrity that ensures convergence of vision, values and actions. I am arguing that the truly high performing organisations with highly engaged and motivated employees frequently seem to create a balance between the drivers of the individual, the company and the society within which they sit. My musings along this line of thought were triggered by reading an excellent interview with Adam Grant a professor from Wharton Business School discussing his recently published book “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success”. I think his material does hit on some key themes which need to be contemplated when considering what exactly does employee engagement mean and how is it used as a force for good.
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“So what is the right team to mobilise to deliver a technology enabled business transformation then?” This was a question posed in an email I received shortly after my last contribution to the BVEX site. Just to be irritating I answered the question with a question of my own; “thanks for reading and posing the question but could you not use the comment feature on the site?!”. A critical part of the answer lies within the wording of the question, specifically “business transformation”. My starting point on mobilising any transformation initiative is to understand how the business will engage, how actively and to confirm that it has a clear view on the benefits to be obtained and how they will be measured.
Once I have those parameters defined then I can start to look at the skills balance the team needs to have to be successful. As we will all appreciate the enabling technology must be deployed effectively to provide a solid base before we can then drive the required organisational and/or individual behavioural changes to use it. However, I am extremely wary of having transformation programme leads that are fans of technology or even worse fanatics. My best results have been achieved when the programme lead views the technology as simply a tool and maintains a dispassionate perspective, much like most of us would regard the choice of different types of pen. They just need to understand the technology to a sufficient level to be able to lead those in the team for whom that is their specialist skill.
My primary focus for the transformation lead is to find someone able to communicate the vision underlying the intent and make the business change meaningful to those delivering, engaging or being impacted. Once you catch the imagination of people with the vision then they will commit and provide the persistence that is often needed to achieve success as there are always, repeat always, bumps in the road with any programme with a significant technological dimension.
Personalising the transformation and visibly living the values set is critical and in terms of business engagement, if you can have your CEO provide that role model then you have materially de-risked your programme. You want to build a cadre of committed individuals driving towards the desired outcomes and impact on the business. A key success factor that enables that peer group pressure is well defined measurement; tracking the right metrics both in terms of the delivery of the programme but also in terms of the business benefits derived as you embed the business change. Clearly there will be people that need a deal of persuasion within your programme team and the wider business. It is vital to have a strong focus on the organisational change key enablers as well as having strategies to handle the resisters, including those that are hidden or passive. I recently found an excellent exploration of this area by McKinsey entitled “Tapping The Power Of Hidden Influencers” which is well worth a read.
My key argument is that you absolutely need to mobilise a team that can deliver the enabling technology to scope, budget, deadline and quality. However, to derive the business benefits from that enabling technology you need more than “just” those qualities, you need a team equipped to drive the organisation and behavioural change skills by moving engagement into commitment and then into enactment. The tendency of technology enabled business transformation programmes to fail to deliver the business benefits, even when they succeed in delivering the technology dimension, highlights the multifaceted team that success requires. Even if you do mobilise the optimal multi skilled team you must have answered an even more fundamental question, are the leaders within that business environment are committed to the change and ready to lead from the front as compelling role models? So in short even before start thinking about the optimal skills mix and mobilise the team make sure you have verified that those commissioning the transformation understand clearly what the journey will entail and are able to holistically articulate the destination.
This article was first posted on the Business Value Exchange.
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The very moment I sat down my dinner guest’s agitation could clearly no longer be contained. “A failure, a failure? I have delivered a £15 million IT transformation project to scope, to budget and to deadline! A miracle based on the company’s track record over the last few years! A failure!” he declared bitterly. By the main course the agitation had subsided somewhat and the facts had become clearer and I was beginning to see the nub of the divergence between what he saw as his team’s big success and what his CEO’s viewed as failing. The critical word was the often misused “T” word, transformation. The project was extremely complex and had been a real challenge to deliver across many sites integrating together a number of vendors whilst managing a seamless transition from the legacy platform. However, it became clear the longer we talked that there had indeed been virtually no focus on the wider business benefits beyond that directly derived from the new technology solution. The more I asked annoying questions using phrases like “benefits value chain”, “stakeholder engagement” and “holistic business case” the more obvious it became that whilst the CEO clearly felt he’d invested in a full blown business transformation initiative, his company had actually mobilised and enacted a technology refresh project. There appeared to have been no shared vision of the outcomes expected from the investment and certainly nothing evolved from that vision into measurable successful delivery of the business value. It was clear to me that the project team had worked extremely hard and had delivered what can depressingly be a rare event; a technology refresh project within budget to scope and deadline. I am sure we have all come across variants of this tale during our careers, perhaps even been to some degree in the position of my friend as we learned our trade and worked up to a CIO position. Whenever I hear the word transformation I am now pre-programmed to question the scope, the stakeholder engagement and how success will be recognised at the end of the project. To some extent this is based on bitter experience as I carry some scars from earlier in my career, don’t we all if we are honest? But it is also because there are so many cautionary case studies in the technology industry that arguably there can be no excuse to repeat the history of others. Yet there seems to be a steady flow of new examples of transformational woe and these are not errors made by the slightly dim and deranged, these are errors made by highly capable business and technology leaders. The sparkle of a technologically challenging project can still blind us to the real business drivers and indeed to the truism that mostly the technology is the easier element. The hard part is driving behavioural change in individuals, in teams and in organisations. Indeed I think we can argue that technology mastery whilst often a key element to delivering business change is not the most critical aspect. That label is reserved for the often over-looked element of excellent project management, a viewpoint argued by this interesting article published recently by Forbes. However, equally I could offer up examples of talented managers that don’t seem to grasp how to deliver programmes that do have material technology components but which also demand the ability to deliver a holistic vision and achieve organisational change leading to enhanced business value. So the “T” word needs to be treated with respect and the right team mobilised to truly deliver transformational change rather than just change. Post was previously published on the Business Value Exchange. Image provided by Shutterstock