Problem: Unengaged and Uninspired Employees
Industry studies show greater performance by companies who seek to align employee behavior to expressed company values. Most companies fail to achieve this alignment, however, suffering measurable damage as a percent of target performance, or as a measure of direct costs for recruiting and training. Recent surveys show the number of employees who know a company’s vision, mission, and values to average only 42%, with only 29% of employees being fully engaged.
“But, what if the medium was the message, and YOUR mission was the addiction. Oh, the possibilities.”
The Power of Alignment
In their 1997 book, The Power of Alignment[i], George Labovitz and Victor Rosansky set forth the proposition that “growth and profit are ultimately the result of alignment between people, customers, strategy, and processes.”[ii] Or, as attributed to former Netscape CEO, Jim Barksdale: “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing!”[iii]
Almost two decades later, the importance of ensuring that employees understand the vision, mission, values, and objectives of any organization is unquestioned. Companies who achieve this objective have been shown to have dramatically better results than those who do not intentionally manage the culture of an organization. Comparing 200 companies that intentionally managed the corporate culture to similar companies that did not, one study[iv] found:
- Revenue increased 682% vs. 166%
- Net Income increased 756% vs. 1%
- Stock Price increased 901% vs. 74%
So at a time when virtually every employee is connected in one way or another to friends, if not to their co-workers, why do so many employees report that they are unengaged at work. Why do so many employees fail to relate to a company’s values?
“At a time where everyone is virtually connected, why is there a lack of engagement?”
In an article entitled “The Attention Economy: Marketing to the Next Generation and the Power of Choice,”[v] the authors at the Aspen Institute noted:
“The relationship of consumers to technology has shifted in fundamental ways, according to Ted Cohen, managing partner of Tag Strategic. Thanks to a variety of new technologies, the “physics of the media world” are changing—from a world in which attention was abundant and content was scarce to a world in which content is superabundant and attention is scarce. With so many competing options, the individual’s attention is now the most valuable commodity….
In this world of ever-expanding choices, “quality” of content is no longer the critical factor in determining success. What matters most now is relevance.”
The question facing today’s leaders is how do they make the company’s values “relevant” to each employee, and to the organization at a whole.
” The question facing today’s leaders is how do they make the company’s values ‘relevant?'”
Placing Values at the Core
Making company values relevant to each employee can be a challenge in today’s market. Bombarded with well-polished content from email campaigns, websites, SharePoint sites, and smartphone Apps, employees often struggle just to keep up with information, or stay current with the latest “messaging” effort.
Employees are today faced with the challenge of an abundance of new tools, systems, policies, and general information as they seek to carry out the particular tasks for which they are responsible. In the face of never-ending “new” systems and messages, a company’s core values can get lost.
“The answer isn’t a new “silver bullet” program. It’s found in aligning your message to your core values.”
A good example of this challenge is found in the recent report on Governance, Risk, and Compliance (“GRC”) platforms by Forrester Research.[vi] Forrester surveyed 66 GRC customer organizations and found that 44% had more than one GRC platform, highlighting the difficulty for employees with the following description:
For example, after a recent implementation that took more than a year, one financial services organization with tens of thousands of employees now has six GRC platforms in production, including one that the vendor no longer supports and another that the company plans to phase out. Similarly, a compliance manager for a large energy company also described an environment with at least four GRC platform implementations, two of which were separate instances of the same product.
The answer for today’s leaders lies not in a new “silver bullet” system or program, but in an effort to align the various programs, efforts, messages, or systems to the core values, mission, and objectives that they serve. Booz Allen Hamilton recently suggested that organizations could successfully build a culture of performance by following six primary guidelines[vii]:
- Define what success is for customers/stakeholders
- Strive for simplicity in performance measures
- Build on the systems and tools you already have
- Focus on the skills that matter
- Recognize that effective performance management is a dialogue, not a directive
- Foster continuous improvement by using the business performance review process to facilitate dialogue
Creating a Dialogue to Align and Engage
Like any dialogue, participants must be engaged in order for the conversation to have any energy, meaning, or value. In today’s hyper-connected environment the issue around engagement is, again, about relevance. Today’s leaders cannot take it for granted that an employee will view something as relevant simply because it has been published in a newsletter, email, website, or App. Simply publishing information, or even “seeing” it in an email or some online system does not equate to true engagement.
“Leaders must realize a message isn’t relevant simply because it has been published on a website or newsletter.”
Today’s academic leaders are learning this lesson and rapidly moving to an “active learning” model that emphasizes reading, writing, and discussing new material to increase engagement and learning. Huntington Lambert, Dean of Harvard’s Division of Continuing Education, describes the new goal in terms of “engaging” people so that they are “mentally active” when presented with important concepts[viii]. An active learning approach is much more effective at actually getting people to learn key material or concepts and results in a more fluid, conversation-based experience.
A recent article describes this kind of approach at the Mayo Clinic when it needed to engage employees in the face of financial pressures.[ix] Using a combination of videos, webcasts of meetings, real-time reporting, and updates on Mayo Clinic activities to encourage staff comments and feedback on its “Mayo Effect,” campaign leaders found:
- 88 percent of Mayo Clinic staff are very or somewhat aware of The Mayo Effect.
- 84 percent said they are very or somewhat aware of the strategic plan’s mission, vision and core business statements.
- 56 percent provided comments about what The Mayo Effect means to them.
Leaders attributed this success to the fact that the discussion was woven into tools and locations that employees visit on a regular basis. Commenting was easy and reinforced the fact that the conversation was about them, and for them. The overall effect was to make employees a part of the communication, and part of the conversation.
Culture is a Result
Culture is the result of behavior that is rewarded. This is the essence of alignment. Strong culture translates into improved performance. Shared values foster the commitment to a common purpose, which leads to higher quality, service, and productivity.
In his 2011 book, The Culture Cycle, James Heskett describes it this way:
“Engaged managers and employees are much more likely to remain in an organization, leading directly to fewer hires from outside the organization. This results in lower wage costs for talent; lower recruiting, hiring, and training costs; and higher productivity. Higher employee continuity leads to better customer relationships that contribute to greater customer loyalty, lower marketing costs, and enhanced sales.”[x]
Depending on where an organization begins, the definition of core values may be simply a matter of reaffirming those that have slipped from prominence. In other cases, the process may be more involved, beginning with change at the very top of the organization[xi].
Regardless of whether there is currently a gap between the desired behavior and the existing culture, leaders must recognize that alignment is an ongoing and personal journey, as well as an institutional one.
Engaging employees in an active conversation centered on the company’s key values allows leaders to assess and evaluate whether a gap exists. Actively reinforcing key values, aligned to organizational goals, objectives, and metrics will result in an organization in which employees not only know what is expected, but where each person increasingly “walks the talk.”
Novareté: Walk the Talk
Novareté is a cloud-based application that the people of the organization use to actively align their behavior to what leaders hope employees know is expected. Leaders in the organization use it to “shape” the shades of gray that invariably exist alongside every policy or regulation. It helps everyone “walk the talk.”
Novareté helps each organization achieve this result through active engagement with a variety of people, media, content, messaging, and different interaction models — including the ability to “anonymously” discuss key issues, ideas, or dilemmas.
Novareté uses proven, classical “active learning” techniques (repetition, recognition, curiosity, debate, anonymity, and competition) to involve employees in on-going activities that produce real results:
- Weekly dilemmas are posed to gauge an understanding of company values, sparking debate
- Kudos allow peers to recognize each other for performance related to company values
- Social posting tools let employees share photos, quotes, videos, and news relevant to company values, objectives, and goals
- A gaming system that awards points for participation engages employees and management alike
Opportunity: A tool employees actually use to align themselves
To employees, Novareté appears to be a friendly, intuitive, and engaging tool that connects them to co-workers and the organization in much the same way that each person would stay connected to friends through other social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Beneath the friendly interface, however, is a patent-pending “Ethics Engine” comprised of hundreds of terms that frame the “vocabulary” for ethics. Along with modern “Big Data” analytics, this provides Company Leaders, Change Agents, and Individuals with insight into how individual behavior aligns to company goals, objectives, and expressed values. The friendly interface reduces the risk of introducing a new system, and the structure begins to provide leaders with immediate insights.
The classical learning techniques of repetition, engagement, debate, feedback, recognition, and competition employed by Novareté are today referred to as the “Active Learning” model.
While Novareté begins with ethical dilemmas as the subject matter for personal interaction and anonymous debate, it can serve as an Active Learning Platform for a wide variety of other structured learning materials from personal development to training or compliance.
No More “Snapshots” of Behavior
The core of the Novareté system is a patent-pending Virtues-Ethics Engine that maps a detailed structure of almost 400 terms, each within a particular context, and tied to one of the four classical virtues of Temperance, Prudence, Justice and Fortitude — the same framework relied on for centuries as a baseline model for understanding human behavior, from Aristotle’s time to our days on real-time always connected interaction.
Alignment of these terms, including synonyms, within clearly stated contexts (short descriptions), but including deep descriptions to convey a rich understanding of how each tie to the other, enables Novareté, and the Company Leaders, organizational development teams, industrial psychologists, Change Management professionals or consultants who use it, to engage each employee at a far deeper level, gaining deeper data and insights to be used in aligning the desired behavior to organizational values.
This is made actionable through anonymous interaction about “Dilemmas” that are presented to everyone using the Novareté system — leadership and employees alike. Short descriptions of the Dilemma take seconds to read, and then each person is presented with four answers. After selecting an answer, the user then sees how that answer aligns with those of others in the organization, and against the description of how the experts who wrote the Dilemma judged each answer, including a deep description of “why” they viewed the answer that way.
Shaping the Gray Areas
The sophistication of the Ethics Engine, configured by the organization’s leaders to align to its specifics values and goals, and reinforced by the active engagement of each employee through postings, and Kudos, and anonymous conversation around Dilemmas, produces the ability to fine tune organizational behavior and performance.
For example, a Dilemma might pose a question that revolves around the difference between volunteering information to help a customer understand a better option, although it might be less profitable transaction for the organization. The organization, however, may want to encourage that behavior because its leaders know that the positive word of mouth from the customer, and enhanced reputation for the firm that this produces, is worth far more in “lifetime value” than any difference in the profit on that transaction.
Describing this “gray area” of judgment for the employee is difficult, if not impossible, in the black and white text of a policy. It becomes clear, however, in the context of a Dilemma where the organization’s “values” can be used to define and reinforce the right choices:
- Golden Rule: Treat as you would like to be treated
- Truthfulness: Be truthful in words and deeds
- Not Lying: Avoiding falsehood in word and deed
Deep Insights from Deep Data
The concepts, precepts, and best practices of organizational design, behavioral management, and leadership development could have been considered “soft” science last century. This is clearly no longer the case as the tools of “Big Data” analytics are now well understood and well-employed to produce clear insights on the invisible actions of people.
Novareté is born of big data analytics and incorporates this structure and rich analytical tools to mine it, producing a powerful tool for organizational leaders.
Engagement for a Purpose
While employee engagement is important — and is now the focus of so many organizations given the attractive distractions employees face from their own terminals, laptops, tablets, or cell phones — the real benefit to the organization comes from having employees engage in a way that reinforces the values, goals, and objectives of the organization. Novareté was designed with this as the goal for engagement.
In order to give a “Kudo” to a co-worker, the User has to “label” the reason for the shout-out. The labels are chosen from the list of words tied to the organization’s values. The “best” answers to each Dilemma is configured to match to behaviors the organization seeks to encourage. Everything ties together.
Make YOUR MISSION Addictive
The standard refrain heard today is how “addicted” each person is to phones, or social media. But, what if the medium was the message, and YOUR mission was the addiction. Oh, the possibilities.