A recent study regarding “Employee Engagement” shows that more than 85% of employees worldwide are currently not fully engaged at work. Even more troubling is the fact that almost a quarter of these people are actively disengaged, meaning that they are less productive than and even sometimes undermine the work of their engaged colleagues.
When looking at the numbers from Western Europe, it becomes clear that this is a global problem and not just an issue for lesser developed countries.
While these numbers are concerning, it helps to put them into perspective using a simple analogy. Say we have a football team with eleven players on the pitch. If the same statistics mentioned previously apply to their game, than there would be less than two players who really want to score a goal and help their team to win. Seven players would, in general, want to support their team but tactically may not know how to do so – they may not even have a clue which goal is theirs. The last two players would either be just hanging around doing nothing, or actively trying to undermine the efforts of their hardworking teammates. I’ll leave it to you to guess how many games a team like this is going to win.
The question is, why do we readily call out such behavior as wrong on the football field, and yet accept it in our daily working lives? The only way to become a winning team is if all the players are motivated and engaged. Instead of similarly working to motivate and engage employees, employers and organizations are compensating with higher workloads, faster response times and shorter time-to-market requirements.
One key issue in this dilemma is the question of workplace satisfaction. While it’s great to do work that makes you happy, one must ask oneself deeper questions such as: is this work fully allowing you to reach your full potential? Are your tasks aligned with the overall goals of the organization? Are you able to try new things and are you allowed to fail? Are you learning new things every day, every week or at least every month? If you can answer all these questions with a definitive “yes”, than you are very lucky indeed. The majority of people do not work in such an environment.
In my opinion, the only way to tackle these challenges is to find new approaches to work that not only solve the challenges of the employer but those of the employee as well. Jurgen Appelo, a pioneer in the field of engaging work places, has defined five qualifications for future companies that ensure a higher level of motivation and engagement within the workplace while at the same time enabling organizations to succeed in the long run. These qualifications are purpose, autonomy, connectivity, transparency and safety.
- Purpose: Often referred to as a “vision” or “mission statement”, this is the reason for a company’s existance. It should be something that all employees understand as important and can agree upon. Coming back to the football team – if the purpose is not clear (to win the championship, to stay in the league, etc…) to each and every team member, the goal will not be reached.
- Autonomy: Employee empowerment is an idea that everyone has heard of and all workplace experts agree upon as important, yet very few people know what it means or how to implement it. The goal is for self-organized people and self-directed teams manage and lead an organization from bottom-up. While the football team has a coach, in the end players need to be self-confident enough to make their own decisions as well as be able to adapt quickly to new situations.
- Connectivity: While organizations are usually defined as hierarchies, they are essentially a network of people. In order to get things done, informal contacts almost always work better than going through the formal chain. Furthermore, lateral communication fosters collaboration throughout different parts of the organization, leading to creativity and innovation. Without direct verbal and non-verbal communication on the pitch, the football team would not be able to run passing combinations over multiple stations.
- Transparency: The core issues in play when discussing how transparent a company should be are fear and envy. When an organization provides a clear picture of everything that goes on internally, it strengthens common goal alignment and generates trust. Furthermore, it supports peer learning in that everybody knows what the person before and the person behind in the value chain is doing. In the football analogy, it is clear that while all team members require different skills, the whole team has to attack or to defend together to be successful.
- Safety: Running experiments and trying new things is often hindered by a fear of failing. Creating an environment in which employees feel safe to and are rewarded for exploring and learning will lead them to feel safe to voice their own ideas and opinions. This, in turn, will eventually lead to the creation of new and innovative things. If a football player is unsure as to whether his team has his back and are able to pull together to right a mistake he may make, he may not feel secure enough to make that risky move that leads to the goal which wins the game.
Based on my experience, these 5 qualifications are the keys to successful companies and have always guided my actions when trying to improve organizations I have worked for. The first major initiative I worked on was the implementation of a Scrum process at Continental Automotive. While it was a step in the right direction, I later realized that the Scrum approach in itself does not fully allow room for solutions to be customized to fit different project requirements.
While looking into alternative methods I stumbled upon Lean and Management 3.0. While asking myself how and why all of this actually works, I added bits and pieces of management-, complexity- and queuing theory, psychology, neuroscience and systems thinking to my toolkit. Building on this foundation, I defined and created a custom process for the development team. The results were astonishing upon implementation. The development time of the first release was reduced from 21 weeks to just 13 weeks. Problems found in the software decreased to 24 as compared to 150 found in the previous release, in turn cutting down rework time from 6 weeks to 1 week. In addition, team members who were very skeptical in the beginning, found that they loved the new approach and said that they never wanted to go back to the old way of working. The only criticism I received was from the test engineers who jokingly complained about having no major problems left to find.
After implementing several more of these initiatives in Austria, Germany, Romania, the United States and India, I realized that I wanted to lend my knowledge and experience to companies around the globe. By sharing my vision of creating better work environments, I hope to touch as many people as possible and help them to reach personal fulfillment both at work and in their daily lives.