This must be the week for epiphanies.
Saturday I went for a run (8 miles of trails, getting ready for a marathon in September, mid-October). About mile two I settled in to an easy pace, easy breathing, a pace that lets me review the week and my checklists and to-do’s. Inevitably, as it always does, threads of blog posts to be written or those I’ve read join me for a few miles.
I wrote about one of these themes a few days ago.
And as I mulled over that post I remembered there’s something called maya, an illusion of reality whose hold on our minds is so strong we forget Truth. We become slaves to maya’s duality, enabling it with an infrastructure we create filled with pretty colors and shiny, spinning things.
Employee disengagement is such an illusive duality. It exists because ... we created it. Now we’d rather meet about it, than do it. (Yes, I guess, blog about it.) We’d rather survey employees than engage with them. We’d rather throw a trinket, like those on a Mardi Gras float to gawking crowds, than have coffee with our colleages and hear what is meaningful to them. Too many rules and policies are in place to make sure employees are unable to engage with each other or with their work. As executives move up the corporate ladder they pull that ladder up behind them, creating layers of management and lines of reporting.
It’s like we’re sitting in a dark room and everyone’s coming up with a plan to ‘get rid of the darkness.’ There’s plans to push that ol’ darkness into a corner. There’s new terms, Discretionary Effort is my favorite, to describe the darkness. There’s new ways to slice it and qualify it, percentages to rate it. Surveys are taken to measure the darkness. Naturally being in the darkness ... well, that Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle applies here with less gunfire than it's applied in a TV series.
Occupants are asked which of them feel their part of the room is the darkest, which of them feel the darkness has made their work more difficult and Who here loves the darkness? Yay! There’s always a cheerleader in the crowd. And there’s always the deniers. We don’t need the light. It’s always been dark in here, why’n we need to change. Huh?
All of these conversations and meetings are held where? Right, in the dark with the special group that helped create it. By doing so, they reinforce the duality of us - the engaged vs them - the disengaged. Consultants are hired. They have tools and programs to help see in the dark, meet in the dark, survey in the dark, manage the dark.
Oh, and don’t forget the awards for the survivors, those who’ve suffered, survived the longest.
Nobody talks about the light switch on the far wall. Someone turned it off awhile ago. Incentives are aligned to discourage anyone from flicking it on. You’re told to forget it or there’s so many meetings about the darkness and surveys to issue and results to tabulate there’s no time to flick it on.
That light switch is ... get away from our desks, leave our offices and go engage. Step out of the darkness and go meet with those not invited to the meetings you hold ‘about them.’
Ask them questions about their work, their dreams, their tools and training. Ask them about their life outside of work, where they’re engaged. You’ll begin to understand where the gap is created. One tip: if this is your first outing in a long time, go slow. Maybe start with a smile, an introduction and a request to interrupt their day with a question. Then be quiet.
Please. Don’t hide behind the ‘Well, you can’t expect the CEO or the CFO or the COO ... to meet with all the employees ... ‘ because they have ‘important’ things to do. Engaging employees, not meeting about their disengagement, brings such outstanding financial results regardless of industry, company size, stage of growth, that there’s no excuse. In the above metaphor, that’s like saying please don’t expect us to step out of the darkness. The light is so bright out there.’
But I’m practical and pragmatic. The C’s can meet with their direct reports, setting the example, leading by example. ( The elephant in this room is that the C’s behavior set the priorities, and the rewards for those who mimic’d their behavior carved it in stone. Or, said another way, the C’s turned off the light and dared anyone to turn it back on. Harsh. But ... ) The C’s can explain the importance of this time investment, how it keeps a direct line of sight with the company’s goals, purpose and mission. Equally important will be the learning in these conversations. That builds bridges, closes gaps. Languages are learned and perspectives translated, understood and finally merged into something ... bigger, better. Oh, and then there’s no ... duality. No us vs them.
There are any number of tools to help engage remote workforces. These can work here, too. That is if anyone’s willing to connect their use with the company goals and purposes.
In the meantime, Namaste and Om Shanti and have a good week.