Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Engaging your employees

Every organization wants to excel in its specific domain and be a world leader. To this end, senior leaders burn midnight oil and pots of money, and try to reach the holy grail of realizing their corporate mission. But, despite hiring the best employees, employing the latest technology, and adopting the best practices across the industry, not every organization makes it big.


Why? One may ask. Well, if you bought all the parts to make a sports car, assembled them together, painted it bright red, and hoped it would win the next Formula I Championship, you would be justified in thinking so. But, what if your state-of-the-art engine is not delivering full power?


Jim Haudan, in his book, “The Art of Engagement” aptly describes employees as “true engines of business”. He reiterates the point that unless employees give their buy-in, even the most brilliant of business strategies will fail.


Obviously, the next question is – what prevents employees from engaging with their jobs? Why do companies that are leaders in HR practices, and even good paymasters at a loss on this front? There are various reasons that can be ascribed to this:

1. Information overload – Employees typically hate being carpet-bombed with communication pertaining to strategies, plans and processes. Beyond a point, they may even automate the process of sending all these files to the ‘Junk’ folder.

2. Incomprehensibility – If someone were to send you a technical paper on mitochondrial synapses that affect ATP/ADP breakdown in humans, you would not be particularly enthusiastic (unless of course, you have an interest in molecular biology). So, you can well imagine the plight of an employee to whom your structures and frameworks are nothing but ‘rocket science’.

3. Fear factor – Unless an organization creates an environment that promises to support sharing of ideas without fear, employees may just have the mindset of finishing their allocated tasks and moving on without participating in any value-adding suggestions.

4. Big picture – Working on small, allocated tasks without understanding the deeper significance might make their jobs sound meaningless and unengaging.

5. Ownership – Rather than dumping the strategy on their heads and asking them to work towards it, a better idea would be to treat them as shareholders and consider their say before implementation.

6. Integration – If the organization’s planning, organizing and controlling arms are working in silos, with little or no interaction, it is unlikely that their strategy will ever yield results.


All these factors are fairly simple to fix, but can have far-reaching negative consequences if left untreated. To make the most of their human capital, organizations must:

1. create line of sight – You cannot allocate a portion of the field to each football player in a team with crisp, clear instructions about what to do in various situations. Everyone must know the broader goals, and be able to contribute towards them.

2. connect goals – A football team’s objective would be to win the match. If a player who plays in defence runs ahead, wanting to score a goal instead of preventing the opposition from scoring, it could lead to a disaster. Hence, it is important to ensure that individual goals and organizational goals are in sync.

3. develop capability – If a defender does have the ambition to move up ahead and be a goal-scorer and the team needs goal-scorers, it may be a good idea to equip the defender with the necessary skills to do so. Better opportunities must be promised by the organization.


It is of course, one thing to applaud a game as a spectator and a totally different one to be out there, helping the team win. As a team manager, ensuring that you have a set of charged, motivated people, ready to go out there and win is your responsibility. Take it!

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