“With my nature overpowered by weak commiseration, with a mind bewildered about duty, I supplicate You. Tell me for certain that which is better; I am Your disciple. Instruct me who have taken refuge in You.” – Bhagwad Gita, Arjuna asks Lord Krishna
When we did a small but significant social experiment at a Business Centre in one of the IT Hubs of India, we got some amazing insights about how we as organizations never use the data we have, to benefit us in the long run. We went to the business park with a simple question: “If you had a magic wand that helped you address challenges, what would be the two workplace challenges you would want to address?” The responses that we got from over 100 professionals from different organizations were about issues around “Culture of the organization”, “Communication flow and inefficiencies”, “Leadership”, “Growth”, Inefficiencies in operations”, “Wellness”, “Work-life Balance” which come across as extremely mature inputs from them and may also lead people into thinking that they are so engaged at work. But the important part here is that close to 100% of the professionals spoke about these issues in relation to how these impact them and their performance. Now, if we do the same activity for an organization, the next step would instantly be to prioritize and solve for them. However, we believe that adding one more step to the process will go a long way in understanding the employees and their alignment with the goals of the organization. And that one step is to understand “What do the questions and issues raised by your employees say about them???”
All organizations in the modern-day corporate are investing significant amounts of resources to understand and solve the questions and issues their employees bring to the notice of the Leadership. Through repeated discussions and interventions these organizations try to understand what they can do to help their employees perform better. This leads to the organizations’ focusing on what needs to be done to remove the bottlenecks, where many-a-times the bottlenecks are the mindset of the employees itself.
The nature of questions and issues raised by any organization’s employees say volumes about them, and we do not necessarily seem to deep dive into them. The responsibility of any evolved leadership necessitates them to get to resolving issues and getting answers to people, and rightfully so as it is a leader’s job to unblock people. The one thing that we miss doing though is generating insights into what those questions really mean as far as the engagement and motivation of employees are concerned.
Most of the employees linger around operational issues and never attain a point in their career where they focus on asking questions that lead to “how they can create value in their capacity”. Their issues do not go beyond how the environment, people and situations are impacting them and their performance. Even when they talk about Culture, Office Politics, Communication and Leadership, it all about how they impact them. It clearly talks about the employees taking the identity of “Self” and not that of a ‘Team” or the “Project” or the “Organization”. Those employees’ level of engagement and motivation towards the overall purpose of the organization are very low and fluctuating based on what rewards, hikes and promotions they earn.
An employee who is actively engaged and intrinsically motivated by the purpose of what his/her organization is set out to achieve would never raise concerns around “Lack of appreciation”, or “Frequency of change in deadlines” etc. They would like to understand “Why the organization is doing what it is doing” and “How can he/she create value and help the organization achieve its purpose”. These are the people who would learn and un-learn as per your business needs and would develop themselves to stay relevant. It is an absolute necessity for any business to invest in such employees and give them the right opportunity for growth. They will appreciate it, but very quickly move on to what needs to be achieved next.
For example from one of our research, one of the organization’s leadership was looking to create a new User Experience team, when the idea of such a team was very nascent. There were two voices that could be heard from within the organization: One that said that the client is not even asking for UX expertise, so why are we putting resources to build such a team and second that was curious to understand UX and how that kind of expertise will help create an amazing customer experience. A couple of the latter voices went on to learn UX as a skill and became one of the very first few team members.
Why is it important to gauge what the employees are actually saying?
Most of the Employee Engagement and Employee Experience surveys are designed in a way that they can be dodged to prove that there is high percentage of engagement. What they give us is data that is skewed in real terms as it does not necessarily show us the correct picture. Since these are events and conducted once or twice a year, people are very conscious about their responses and hence they may not be actually true.
Whereas, when an employee raises a concern or asks a question during regular routine, it is something that he/she really cares about. Hence, it is these questions that need to be documented well and corroborated over a period, not only to fix issues but also assess the level and zones of high and low engagement. The ones who seem to be intrinsically self-motivated need to be engaged by throwing at them opportunities and challenges. While the ones who do not seem to motivated by the purpose or goal of the organization or team need to be coached to get to find how they fit in that purpose and what potential value they can create. The motivation that we create through Rewards, promotions and Salary hikes comes with expiry dates and sooner or later the motivational energy fades away. Investing in getting your team to be motivated by purpose if the only way to have a team that does not run out of the fuel that leads to exceptional performances, which may still come through some failures and periods of low performances.