By Rachel Kee
As of May 2018, only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women (See Fortune's MPW List for 2018 here). To explore this phenomenon from an education standpoint, the recent Women’s Forum Singapore 2018 brought together a strong panel of representatives from university institutions such as Evelyne Kuoh, President of HEC au Feminin, Ilian Mihov, Dean of INSEAD, Kevyn Yong, Associate Dean of Execution Education from ESSEC Business School APAC; and also from McKinsey & Company – Diaan-Yi Lin, Managing Partner and Zenaida C. Maglaya, Undersecretary from Department of Trade and Industry of the Republic of the Philippines.
The panelists started by sharing a few factors behind this under-representation of females in corporate CEO roles. Firstly, it is about the roles that women play within the organisations. As females are overrepresented in clerical and support or functional roles without significant P&L responsibilities, they don’t gain exposure to career pathways to CEO positions as readily as their male counterparts do. Without the exposure to large line management responsibilities and business P&L responsibilities, women trend towards roles as CHRO, CMO or CFO in the few instances (all still admirable and influential leadership posts), but are not filling the ‘top of the funnel’ for CEO succession specifically.
The other reason is the number of women in senior management roles which has a direct impact on the probability for more women CEOs. In Japan, less than 1% of senior managers are women. In India, it is 5%, and in Philippines, Australia and Singapore, the number increases to 20% to 30%. There are unique societal norms that tend to impact women, meaning there’s a variety of different factors causing this trend in each Nation or sector. For example, women tend to be less prominent in industries like ICT and STEM, as educational institutions have not prepared a pipeline of females in these sectors since kindergarten, and consequently, if they do arrive as qualified professionals in these sectors, such high-growth business environment are typically less supportive to women’s motivators and lifestyle considerations.
Lastly, women themselves also play a part. There are many highly talented women who choose to opt out from senior roles due to personal lifestyle choices which they don't believe they can balance with the demands of a senior role, or because they simply lack the confidence to take on CEO roles. It is also highlighted that women tend to hold back from relocating to other countries due to family priorities, and this indirectly affected their business understanding, exposure, worldview and vision, which are all essential competencies for a successful CEO. Also, women are very good at negotiating and supporting others who work for them, but not for themselves.
There was a rich conversation about the complex combination of all these factors above that results in the low percentage of women CEO’s. So what can be done to improve this situation at the system level?
Firstly, companies can start by educating everyone, especially Leaders and Managers, about the unconscious biases that lie within us. Here, companies should take a creative and experiential approach, as typical bias training is woefully missing the mark. They can also be more determined to support women in their workplace by setting up fair processes in the recruitment, appraisal and career progression systems, and setting clear targets to ensure women are given equal opportunities within the organization.
Second, set up structures for female role modelling to take place, both within companies as well as business education programs. As there are fewer women in leadership to start with, it is crucial to have such role modelling programs in place to intentionally build younger female executives up to be confident and successful in their work and life. For example, within the HEC alumni network, there are 450 mentoring groups to help support women executives to grow in their career.
Third, most of the top education institutions now have designed executive programs targeting women and men in businesses and society that seeks to empower women leaders with positive impact on their organisations and community. For example, INSEAD has a Women Leaders program that equip influential female executives to increase their leadership impact and create lasting personal and professional change.
Companies can also tap on programs like INSEAD’s online Gender Diversity Program which would help business leaders develop strategic and practice plan to reach gender balance.
Finally, as a society, we can start educating our next generation from early childhood to reduce any unconscious biases setting in from a young age, and increasing their awareness of gender equality.
As a HR practitioner, I agree that there is much more that can be done within the organisations to increase the awareness of unconscious biases and rethink our management and leadership decisions so that women can be given more equal opportunities. This remain an important topic today, as equality in society should be represented in the workplace, and vice versa, creating a balance of perspectives and therefore more sustainability for our businesses as we reach the next industrial revolution. Conferences such as the Women’s Forum Singapore 2018 are fantastic for opening dialogue amongst key leaders of various sectors (like governmental, large corporations, social enterprises, entertainment), demonstrating the business case for equal gender access, and networking highly capable people with the latest thinking and collaborations. And yet this is only the tip of the iceberg – the real change happens in our organisations, and leaders have to be committed to this agenda.
By Alexandra Lamb
Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging may well be the buzzwords guiding 21st century human capital best-practices. There's no shortage of articles and research espousing the positive impact a diverse team can have on business outcomes. Leaders looking to build more diverse teams typically start by looking into the Big 5 indicators - age, ability, gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity – and if they dare to make a quick enquiry into the market, they may be bombarded with a slew of doomsday recommendations around the imperative of improving their hiring and promotion processes on each of these 5 metrics, the importance of implicit bias trainings and even tailored quotas and KPIs.
However, if these surface-level interests in building diversity are not supported by a corresponding cultural shift within the organisation, Managers and Colleagues can become resentful of the bureaucracy and the newly imposed 'rules' that they’ve never had to be watchful of before. This culture shift necessitates not only training and development, but also some high-visibility choices.
To consider diversity within such a narrow conceptual framework does a great disservice to diversity itself and prohibits an organisation from enjoying all the benefits and highlights a truly diverse team has within itis grasp. In fact, recruiting and nurturing a 'diverse' team based on the Big 5 indicators alone is likely to do more harm to a team than good, particularly where the skills required to make diversity pay dividends are not being nurtured..
So what makes a team diverse? Before we answer that question let's take a step back and think about what diversity really is. The trouble with the true concept of diversity is that it is almost entirely unquantifiable, which makes any empirical research into its efficacy quite challenging. Nonetheless, INSEAD along with the Adecco Group and Tata Communications conducted a study into the subject where they went well beyond the mere cosmetic measures that define diversity to understand how inclusion can fuel the future workplace across Nations.
INSEAD's report - now known as the Global Talent Competitiveness Index (GTCI) – defined diversity as 'collaboration between people with different personalities, knowledge sets, experiences, and perspectives'. The value of adopting this definition lies in how it brings us into the space of 'diversity of thought’. While 'thought' cannot be expressed as a number and is therefore not an easy variable to measure, the thesis that diversity of thought breeds innovation, thereby providing an organisation with a competitive advantage, is compelling. Differing opinions challenge the status quo, push teams to think of more wide-ranging solutions, and enable them to consider mitigating strategies for risks they might not otherwise have thought of. This variety of opinions and challenges to set ways of thinking forces a team to evolve, becoming stronger and more resistant.
INSEAD's launch event - Singapore.
Measuring diversity of thought is difficult, but not impossible. Some companies rely on psychometric assessments and select team members specifically for their perspectives when assigning roles within a project or a team. These may include the rabble-rouser, the pacifier, or the devil's advocate. Although ‘personality type’ indicators are widely misused and discouraged by the research community, in broad-strokes we can see that each team member selected with a framework like this in mind, brings something valuable and unique to the table. By providing the resulting team with support in the form of group dynamics coaching, we nurture its collective consciousness. Then, when conflicts arise, as they inevitably will, a Coach or Mentor can come to the forefront to steer the team through their differences, encouraging them to embrace their respective strengths without being affected by the resultant friction.
The question that naturally emerges is - once we've hired and developed for diversity, do we actually work hard enough to develop and nurture it? Existing processes for bias training are notoriously flawed, and can often be critiqued as risk mitigation strategies or emergency response campaigns, rather than a true diversity initiatives. Striving for individual self-awareness and higher EQ across an organisation is a noble goal, but while it’s easy to demonstrate effort and input in effecting this kind of change, showing a measurable and sustainable impact or output is another story. Much like thoughts, emotional capacity is subjective and difficult to measure at the organisational level. Dare we say it, but without the right data we’re simply measuring hearsay and public relations rather than capability.
So why aren't organisations looking towards the skills they need to nurture to make diversity work for them? Why invest in hiring and rotating staff just to leave them out in the cold, without the requisite competencies to make diversity work for them?
INSEAD's report is thick with insights, one of which is a review of performance distributions between diverse groups and homogeneous groups. We're often led to believe that a more diverse group will necessarily show improved performance, however the results, in fact, revealed a 'double hump' in the performance of diverse groups (see image below). This means that a large proportion of diverse groups actually perform worse that homogeneous groups while a small proportion of diverse groups attain high performance.
How could this happen? Imagine you’re in a team where everyone is different in some way – not just the Big 5, but upbringing, beliefs, family make-up, motivations, functional and technical skills, language skills, and traits. You’ve purposely been brought together as a team because the Big Boss has heard that diversity breeds innovation and performance. But small misunderstandings become gross offences, and soon the relationships across the group are fractured beyond repair. Work output goes down, because you’re too preoccupied with the frustrations and distractions happening around you. What do you do? Quit? Grin and bear it, and try to focus on your work? Or perhaps you get caught up and decide to weigh in on the politics? Either way, diversity has been detrimental to you personally, your team, and the business.
A brighter outcome might take place if, under the same scenario, and at the forming stage of the team, skills development and coaching were brought into play. True skills around communication, empathy, informing, negotiation, celebrating, ambiguity tolerance, curiosity… these are the essential keys of a high performing and diverse team. Only with these skills does a team have the keys to unlock the range of perspectives available to them, and truly reach the gestalt ideal, where the sum of all their parts is equal to greater than the whole.
Sounds simple? And how often does it purposefully happen? Even when hiring, we often see businesses assume these skills come part-and-parcel with an experienced professional, but a simple behavioural interview will give a better read on the competency levels required to make diversity work.
This doesn't mean we stop hiring for the Big 5 diversity indicators across the organisation – it’s imperative that people from all backgrounds and perspectives get more exposure and experiences so we have the chance to breed up more diverse leadership teams together at the exec and board levels. This is a simple ‘top of funnel’ logic. But we do need to look beyond tokenism when creating a truly diverse team..
Diversity in the workplace is not a checklist that managers need to tick off. Diversity comes from collaboration, communication and strength based coaching, all of which enable both Leaders and Colleagues to transcend the everyday and create teams capable of the exceptional.
The INSEAD study is a trove of insights that deserve review beyond the scope of this blog. Take a look!
With Sophia Man & Alexandra Lamb
Revisiting an earlier blog post which stimulated some good conversation amongst our clients in Hong Kong, Sophia Man set about to further explore the critical elements of manager engagement as a means to staff engagement here.
Another year, and the RISE conference has showcased some great HRTech in Hong Kong. Here's some of our musings on the event!
By Sophia Man
In today’s workforce, Managers are often criticized for their poor management, committing the cardinal sin such as leading with a big ego, micro-management, showing lack of support for staff development and not communicating openly. And the list goes on and on.
Indeed, when job fulfilment and satisfaction at the workplace is becoming even more important, many employees have become less tolerant of being led and managed poorly. They are increasingly expecting Managers to step up their management game by providing more coaching, feedback, development, communications, etc.
Although companies have taken the popular steps to better equip their Managers, from revamping competency frameworks and re-assessing selection criteria, to providing more management training and exposure, these well-intentioned initiatives have often failed to deliver obvious results.
So, where have we missed the mark? And what else can we do?
When reviewing the strategies to enhance Managers’ capabilities, we often see one common theme across organizations -While companies often tell Managers “how” to manage well by equipping them with the required skills and knowledge through different trainings, guidelines and curriculum, few engage Managers with their “why” - their motivation - the ultimate force that drives them to demonstrate good management day in and day out.
It’s more than a skills problem.
Indeed, this pitfall is quite common. Fundamental Attribution Error in psychology tells us that we as humans have a strong tendency to over-attribute the behavior of others to internal factors, such as opinions, judgements, personality traits and abilities, and underestimate the external environmental and contextual circumstances that might also affect them.
Hence, when diagnosing the cause of so-called “poor management”, companies point to the lack of skills and competencies of Managers, rather than organizational conditions (e.g. culture, environment and policies) that might also be at play. It explains why the traditional paradigm on enhancing management capabilities has primarily focused on the establishment of skills and up-skilling.
While important, focusing on building leadership skills and competencies will not suffice for Managers to show good management.
After all, knowing how to lead doesn’t equate to wanting to lead and acting on it.
Transforming Managers to demonstrate good management, essentially, requires a behavioral change from the inside-out. In this case, understanding the psychology of behavior helps us identify what truly drives Managers to execute good management.
The link of motivation and performance.
Research has long told us that motivation is critical for goal attainment and performance because it serves as a psychological catalyst that guides and drives our behavior.
The importance of motivation is not a new idea. Yet, in practice, few consider its importance and implications for promoting good management behavior.
Some HR peers might say “But it’s Managers’ responsibility to manage others. It’s nice if they’re motivated to do so. But if not, it’s still part of their job!”
While this sounds right, this is not how the psychology of human behavior works. Realistically, we can’t just assume Managers will show good management just because they opted into the role, they’re held accountable for it, or they’ve learned the fundamental skills in theory.
In fact, Vroom’s classic Expectancy Theory explained that people are only motivated to behave in a certain way based on the expectation that their effort and performance will lead to desirable outcomes that suit them.
In other words, to motivate Managers to execute good management, it is crucial that they see clearly how their good management behavior would lead to positive outcomes for themselves, their teams, and their culture (in that order).
The message we’ve been telling our Managers.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen, few organizations currently have strategies at a systemic level to incentivize Managers to perform good management. The link between management performance and positive outcomes grounded in personal motivations, as a result, is often blurry or non-existent.
Over time, this sends off a negative message to our Managers’ radar:
“We hear that we’re expected to put in more time and effort to lead, develop and guide our staff, ALL on top of my already heavy workload. And what do I get in return? Is it really worth it?!”
Managing effectively is hard work (and we empathize). When Managers see there are little to no rewards to manage well while juggling other daily demands, even the aspiring ones would feel de-motivated and end up, consciously or subconsciously, putting their management hat at the back-seat.
And this is often the case we see these days.
How we can do it differently?
Now you might say “Okay, it’s not just a skills problem. It’s about connecting management skills with motivation to optimize management behavior. But how exactly do we plant and strengthen the psychology pathway of motivation, i.e. management performance leading to positive outcomes, in Managers’ mind??”
To do so, we need to first identify what motivates individual Managers to lead, then build incentives aligned with their drivers, and reinforce the desired management behavior with active role-modelling, while creating an environment in which they are freed-up to lead.
1. Using design thinking to identify motivations
By using design thinking – the process of designing solutions from the users’ perspective – we root out motivation drivers directly from the Managers’ point of view.
To have a holistic understanding of what truly makes our Managers “tick”, the practice of asking and observing our Managers is crucial.
In fact, companies rarely ask their Managers what motivate them to lead, but rather just assume they know (which we know it is not a logical approach). Alternatively, if we seek to understand first, with empathy and an intention to help Managers succeed in their own journey, we take the powerful first step towards unlocking their real drivers.
Now, not all Managers would feel comfortable enough to openly share their real motivations in a focus group or a 1:1 development session (it could be a sensitive topic after all). And some might not be consciously aware of their motivations and therefore can’t articulate them. Hence, additionally, taking the time to observe how Managers really are when they are “in-motion”- what they do at the frontline and how they interact with their staff on a regular basis, we can gain powerful insights into their management pain points and the blocks that might otherwise go unnoticed or unspoken.
2. Building insights-based incentives to encourage good management
Once we understand what motivates our Managers to lead, here are some considerations when ideating the incentives -
One, motivations to lead are dynamic in nature. Rather than having a one-size-fits-all incentive program, there should be different incentives in place that speak to different motivational needs of Managers.
Two, incentives must be directly linked to the motivational drivers of the Managers. Developing customized, insights-based incentives will appeal to their specific needs.
In psychology, motivations can be derived from intrinsic (internally-driven) and extrinsic (externally-driven) factors.
To incentivize Managers who are primarily driven by extrinsic drivers to lead, organizations can develop a clearly laid-out and communicated “reward system” - both financial and non-financial- such as bonuses, promotion, public recognition, leadership exposure and opportunities to lead key projects, and directly link it to management performance to drive good management.
On the other hand, to incentivize Managers who are guided by intrinsic drivers to lead - whether it be sense of contentment, shaping the future of the company or helping others to succeed –organizations that emphasize meanings and purposes (beyond making profits) at a systemic level will often inspire and bolster Managers’ own internal meanings to lead. Also, embedding other meaning-enhancing building blocks such as connecting company’s vision to Manager’s emotional values, trust and sense of ownership helps nourish Managers’ internal value system that guides them to execute good management behavior.
3. Promoting intrinsic motivations to sustain good management
Indeed, when we focus on nourishing the intrinsic motivations, Managers have a higher chance of keeping up with their good management behavior in the long run.
“Ultimately, an inspirational manager must be able to lead their staff with head and heart,” says Aalok Gupta, former Head of Learning & Talent Development at HSBC. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
While the “head” part deals with using skills, knowledge and strategies to lead effectively, the “heart” part – consistently showing care and support in employees’ work and development - is equally important for Managers to earn their credits of good management in the eyes of their staff.
Hence, rather than the extrinsic motivations, it's the intrinsic motivations - naturally laden with purpose and meaning - that connect to the “heart” of the Manager, inspiring them to emotionally connect with their teams, and allowing them to consistently show genuine care and support to their staff throughout their management journey.
4. Reinforcing with role-modelling and freeing up Managers to lead
While a clearly-developed link between management performance and positive outcomes can incentivize good management behavior, an ongoing reinforcement is equally important for its sustainability.
Role-modelling from senior management deeply affects good management culture in organizations. “Senior management must be able to walk the talk,” said Chester Nam, Regional Training Manager (North Asia) at Abbott Diagnostics Laboratory, “if Managers are urged to spend more time coaching their staff, for instance, but their direct supervisors and senior leaders never use coaching in their daily management, most Managers are not likely to bother.”
When senior leaders consistently show up as people leaders, modelling the leadership behavior that they expect from Managers, they set up the management standards for Managers to align their management behavior accordingly. The top-down effect takes time, but the impact is long-term and infectious.
Realistically, many Managers - even for the ones with the best intention to lead and develop their staff - find themselves spending a significant amount of their time handling other non-supervisory responsibilities, dealing with meetings, tackling team-based problems and other administrative tasks. Lacking the time to lead has become a real motivation-killer for many.
Here, organizations can help Managers “gain” back their time to lead by reworking internal processes and delegations, and re-evaluating their current job responsibilities. Freeing up Managers from the unnecessary tasks and responsibilities will allow them to focus on what matters most in their role – to be a true leader with the time, the skills and the desire that guide and inspire their teams to move towards company’s direction while developing them individually.
Hence, poor management cannot be merely solved by more skills-enhancements for Managers. Looking at the issue from a psychology framework helps us see the necessary, yet often ignored element for cultivating good management behavior in organizations – motivation.
Just as our favourite scientist Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”. If we want to re-gain our sanity over the epidemic of “poor management”, it’s time we looked at the problem more holistically.
And this time with a motivational lens.
By Rebecca Grover
Hot topic alert …
To deliver accelerated business growth, talent acquisition (TA) needs to make rapid impact. Hiring velocity, sustainable talent pools & hire quality are all critical to achieving strategic business goals.
Hiring the right people at the right time is imperative for any business, however many of the HR & Talent Leaders I’ve spoken with recently feel they’re facing tradeoffs in TA; too much focus on hiring velocity can impact hire quality, and when quality becomes a foremost goal, there’s a risk to time-to-fill. They find themselves asking: what’s worse for our company - the cost of a swift but bad hiring decision, or the impact of an empty seat on revenue/growth!?
Through my experience in designing acceleration programs for clients, I know first-hand that businesses and TA teams don’t need to compromise. Material impact comes down to alignment, forward planning and a multifaceted mobilization strategy;
Any accelerated TA program needs upfront preparation to help define exactly what’s required. Reflecting on previous success stories, I’ve identified that accelerated impact was realized quicker as a result of structured due diligence; ‘Assess’ > ‘Plan’ > ‘Listen’ > ‘Evaluate’.
So, you’re on the back foot, how can you easily pivot to adopt a more strategic approach to talent acquisition?
The answer is, dedicate resource to this agenda! Investing in the right resource and developing a focused acceleration strategy that you can later evaluate/dovetail BAU activities into, ensures you strike that balance between current/future hiring velocity and hire quality, without causing operational disruption.
If hiring budgets hinder your ability to leverage any of these 5 steps, you can still keep pace with an accelerated business growth plan by just shifting your talent acquisition approach (and mindset);
Next post; ways to ‘Modernize’ talent acquisition for commercial impact.
In-mail or email me if you would like to explore the ‘art of the possible’ for your organization. Click to In-Mail or email; Rebecca.Grover@kabloomgroup.com
by Rebecca Grover
While the concept of ‘Talent Acquisition Nirvana’ may sound audacious, it’s fair to say that I’ve met many exceptional Recruiters and Leaders who’ve honestly said: “based on where we are now, any improvement would be heaven!”
Whether you’re setting the pace for the market, or just establishing baseline practices with your Talent Acquisition function, our Improve > Accelerate > Modernize series promises to meet you at your current state, and showcase a few simple ideas to stimulate the step-change you’re looking for.
Yes, a certain level of time, resource, and capital investment is required to realise true benefit from your talent initiatives, and as with any critical business function, the first step before making that investment starts when you pinpoint your highest pay-off activities.
Last week’s article, ‘Building a case for talent acquisition investment’, focused on why talent acquisition maturity is important and outlined a few commercial pitfalls for non-adopters. There, I gave some suggestions on where to start building your business case and identifying those high pay-offs for your business. This week’s baseline of practical recommendations will help you to create an initial ‘how’ framework – especially if your organisation has a newly created or developing talent function.
I know What I need to do. The question is: How?
I often get asked for advice around how an organisation can make that leap in its talent acquisition maturity. The answer is different from organisation to organisation, however there’s some ‘universal truths’ as well.
As a keen follower of the thought leadership brought to our industry by Josh Bersin, I’ve been among those practitioners who have benefitted from the beauty of a good Bersin model. Bersin’s ‘High Impact Talent Acquisition’ (HITA) research quantifiably connects functional performance to better business outcomes (and is a good reference point when you’re making your aforementioned business case!). Often these models are accompanied by high-level ‘how’ recommendations that Consultants like myself salivate over, however I do hear from my clients that they still need more guidance to operationalise and contextualise these great insights. Of course! Although there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to getting your how right, I’ve included below my first 8 steps to improvement … with my top 3 recommendations to help get you on your way …
With your ‘how’ map in place, there’s still a considerable amount of magic that needs to happen in iterating, executing, reviewing, communicating, integrating and extending. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this with you in person.
Next week’s post; ideas that will help ‘Accelerate’ talent acquisition for strategic impact. Email me if you would like to explore the ‘art of the possible’ for your organisation: Rebecca.Grover@kabloomgroup.com
by Rebecca Grover
The focus on talent acquisition (TA) ‘maturity’ is prevalent, directly connecting the level of TA sophistication to organizational growth, revenue and productivity. Broader disruption in the talent & HR space makes time and spend investment a prioritisation challenge for organizations, and us as practitioners.
Every organization's journey towards “TA utopia” is situationally unique – I have found agreeing on strategic design principles before formalising your plan of attack really helps pinpoint critical programs of work – example below;
Over the next few weeks, I will release a series of recommended programs of work to help provoke thinking & create that required step change towards a higher level of TA sophistication – whatever the starting point!
Trailer for what’s to come ...
To Improve Functional Impact;
Recommendations will resonate if your current TA maturity model is deemed transactional. Suggested programs of work will create a step change towards a more focused and impactful level of functional maturity.
To Accelerate for Strategic Impact;
Recommendations will resonate if you require a noticeable shift in mindset and TA approach to meet accelerated business growth needs. Also relevant if your organization is entering new markets and needs to make a rapid competitive impact.
To Modernize for Commercial Impact;
Recommendations will resonate if you already have a performing TA function and now need to demonstrate bottom and top line commercial impact. Further integration into your organization and thinking laterally will ensure your TA function delivers competitive advantage at every touch point of the talent supply chain.
The question then turns to RoI – how do you get that much-needed investment to drive required programs of work?
Firstly, I focus on the cost of not doing anything! My 7 ‘go to’ commercial pitfalls for consideration ...
Talent acquisition food for thought!
Contact me through our contact page if you would like to request program recommendations now or if you would like to discuss further.
by Sophia Man
Many organizations in Hong Kong struggle through a love-hate relationship with employee engagement.
They see the business value of a highly engaged workforce, aspiring to receive the “love” from their employees in order to directly compute it into a productivity measure. Yet, they are often discouraged by the lack of positive results they find when analysing the sometimes elaborate and always well-intentioned initiatives to engage their staff. Despite the costly investment to improve engagement, many employees in Hong Kong remain disengaged. According to the 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards (TM&R) and Global Workforce Studies (GWS) conducted by Willis Towers Watson, less than one-fifth (19%) of Hong Kong employees are highly engaged, while as many as 38% are disengaged.
Why aren’t we harvesting the desired engagement levels?
The question, while fundamentally important, often seems under-discussed or mis-diagnosed.
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, there is an underlying message of paradox that we see generally across our clients.
In Hong Kong, strategies in many organizations merely aim to measure engagement, or offer generic solutions at the system level. They fail to have a lasting impact on nourishing the “engaged feelings” inside employees at an individual level. Many employees remain uninspired, as their personal values and the meaning they make of their work hasn’t been addressed.
Here we dig deeper into what we see as the three main challenges underlying this trend.
1. Organizations Equate Engagement Surveys as the Be-All and End-All Strategy
Conducting an engagement survey has become a norm these days. While it should be used to measure engagement level, the survey itself has somehow become synonymous as “the main tool” to engage employees in many organizations. Here we can see we are mixing up the measuring stick with the strategy itself.
Surveys are typically conducted once a year (or every other year) as a means of ensuring that senior management and front-line managers can demonstrate their overt intention to listen to their employees. While the intention is good, the action often stops there. After the survey, the timeline to implement action plans is often loose, accountability is vague, and follow-up plans are unfocused. This leaves employees feeling more disappointed than engaged.
Placing an engagement survey as the figure of the picture, rather than the frame of the picture, risk organizations having the wrong focus point. Although many HR leaders might say “Leaders and Managers should be engaging staff year-round, and we have other initiatives in place across the board – the engagement survey simply serves to test how we’re doing”, and this is indeed correct in theory. However, the experience and reality for many employees is that the survey experience is the loudest, clearest message they get about engagement. The very process of running a formal survey shifts conscious attention to the measurement of rather than the true sensation of engagement, which can only truly be measured through observation.
2. Organizations Do Engagement at Their Employees
Many organizations shower their employees with affection in the form of extra fringe benefits, treats, freebies and the odd ping-pong table. They give their staff Appreciation Day, Birthday Leave, Casual Fridays, free gym, drinks and snacks, standing desks, community days, team retreats etc., in the hope of being reciprocated with their engagement.
In Hong Kong, however, we tend to be a bit hard to please and have high expectations for our employers (the spoil factor!). While most employees are happy to receive these engagement benefits, they only serve to continuously escalate the baseline expectations. These solutions are often an adrenaline shot to boost engagement - short-term and temporary- and are not enough to keep employees engaged. They are a “top down” and “one size fits all” approach to engagement. While not bad initiatives, these perks haven’t had the impact on engagement rates and productivity that was anticipated, and often leave leaders and HR at a loss as to how they can maintain and continuously top.
Again, a savvy HR leader might say “We have asked our employees what they want, and we have aimed to deliver what we can”. However, this relies on the assumption that employees themselves know what truly engages them. In fact, as humans, most of us are not aware or cognizant of how we find meaning and connection at work, and a large-scale survey will not allow us to tap into this.
3. Employees Often Do Not Feel Accountable to Engage Themselves at Work
A dynamic and healthy relationship has the right balance of give and take between the two parties. With engagement initiatives in the workplace, however, employers often seem to take accountability to initiate engagement, pushing and sustaining the agenda, while employees expect to sit back and be engaged. Many leaders and managers point this out with distain, aiming to solve by hiring staff who are naturally motivated due to their personality type, yet few business heads truly know how to create the conditions whereby “average” employees lean in to engage themselves.
Meanwhile, there are many individual employees who constantly feel “stuck” at work, regardless of their job role, pay and seniority. They feel uninspired by their company, their managers and their work. In the worst case scenario, they stay suspended in motion, unable or unwilling to take accountability for their own career satisfaction and success. This group comes to be known as “parked cars” or “dead wood”. They often do not feel motivated enough to engage themselves at work, not to mention to be engaged by their employers. While on the other hand, those employees who do take accountability for their satisfaction in their roles may take control by changing jobs, continuously searching for a boss and company where they find a natural fit. These staff come to be known as “job hoppers” and experience the wrath of recruiters and the media everywhere. But can we blame them when indeed they may simply be the proactive ones, willing to uproot themselves in the search of career satisfaction and engagement? Employees vote with their feet, and this is why the behaviour indicating attrition is a noisy measure, but highly correlated to engagement.
If we want to ramp up the engagement level in the workforce, both organizations and employees obviously need to approach engagement differently.
True career engagement, by and large, is an inside game. It is an emotional bond and commitment that employees have for their organizations, their professions, their teams, and their bosses. Therefore, to have any chance of boosting engagement, we must ignite the flames of engagement from the inside – the heart of the employees.
Engagement Starts with Finding Meaning in What We Do
According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, engagement at work is a form of self-fulfillment for employees (the highest level of need to achieve). Without meaning in the “doing”, there is the slow death of self-fulfillment. Instead of doing engagement from the top down “at” employees, organizations must first instill in the organisation structure some opportunity for employees to connect with their own values, define what success means to them, and explicitly connect those personal realizations with the tasks of the role and mission of the business.
Therefore, we need to create an ongoing narrative dialogue with our staff, actively giving them opportunities to articulate why their work matters, why the value working in their role and team, and what they are proud of in the organization. Only when employees know their own “why” can they clearly connect it to the “why” of their business, and express engagement in their own terms.
And it is when employees are constantly inspired to recognize and identify with the meaning of their work, the mission and values of the organization, they will be motivated enough to engage themselves at work to achieve their full potential, working beyond just the pay check and benefits.
This sounds logical when you think about it – right? But HOW do you do it, and at scale?!
A Culture of Trust Promotes Engagement
Employees’ emotional commitment is also conducive to their trust in organizations, particularly in their leaders and managers. Compassionate leadership, therefore, builds trust and promotes engagement.
Compassionate leaders lead with both mind and heart. They see what employees see and feel what they feel. They know their employees simply cannot feel engaged if they are only asked about how they feel once a year (in the form of a survey), and understand engagement is more than a score.
Hence, they have an ongoing communications strategy to bond and build trust with their employees.
The leaders encourage their team members to share their own thoughts on a regular basis, articulating in a personal forum how they connect their own values with the objectives of the team or business, and in return these leaders show a genuine interest to listen actively, and to communicate openly. Leaders and managers who have a mindset of engagement for themselves are able to create the forum for dialogue where staff can find their own meaning too.
When employees feel that their leaders truly “get them”, through active and empathetic communications, they naturally develop an emotional commitment with the company that is hard to replace. Not all leaders and managers are this way inclined, but by approaching engagement with a targeted coaching, mentoring, and workshop approach to values-based exploration, the organisation can help its leaders to make the connections that they in-turn can pass on to their teams. This trickle-down effect in engagement takes time, and requires a disciplined approach, but means that organisations can hyper-personalize engagement at scale through the management network.
Solving Engagement Issues at the Core Helps Sustain the Business as a Whole
Instead of applying different band-aid interventions to “fix” the surfacing engagement issues, we should aim to identify and address the underlying causes.
When employees feel that their work is not recognized, for example, they often need more than free lunches and “job well-done’s” from their managers.
Instead, managers should dig out the causes of “work un-recognition”, by understanding how employees feel performance management and career development are being handled and communicated, then implementing actions that address the causes. Only by addressing engagement issues at the core we will speak to the heart of the employees.
Here, we recommend the use of Design Thinking principles to root-out insights, and re-shape the employee experience to be based on engagement as a guiding principle. By workshopping trends seen through the engagement survey, and via close collaboration with managers on the ground, talent teams and leadership can completely re-shape initiatives to get to the subconscious level of employee engagement. In making these bold efforts, businesses truly have a chance at enabling human capital to impact productivity and sustainability.
Using Influencers and Coaching to Franchise Engagement
And you might say “Well, it can’t all rest with Managers and HR – you said this was an inside job!”. And that’s true. We have seen that by identifying influencers within your organisation – those who have the widest networks of connections and who use their platforms to share information and sentiment to impact their colleagues – HR and leadership are able to infiltrate the employee base and encourage engagement from the grass roots. If influencers receive coaching, have opportunities to workshop their values and are given multi-media internal channels to voice the meaning they find in their work, then engagement has a chance. When employees see others finding their individual meaning, and using their voice to articulate their career satisfaction and success, it drives others to go on their own quest and make their own meaning too (or simply borrow someone else’s – so in this case, give them enough positive role models!). The coaching method, by nature of its hyper-personalized approach, is money well spent in connecting individuals to their higher purpose and then setting them free to rub off on their colleagues.
Hence, for the above reasons, it is time we stopped making engagement efforts that just touch the surface of the issue and yield little results. Beyond all the good intentions, process, formality and “the doing” of engagement, is an opportunity for both organizations and employees to look within themselves, facing heart-to-heart, which is where the real engagement lies.
Let’s re-set and make the difference, should we?