Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Build Your Strengths, Manage Your Weaknesses


By Chris Atkinson, HR Consultant, Organizational Strategy, CPS HR Consulting

At work, do you think it is more important to focus on improving your weaknesses or leveraging your strengths? The conventional wisdom would indicate that truing up your weaknesses would lead to higher employee engagement and productivity. However, research from Gallup would indicate the opposite. They found that people who use their strengths every day are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, 8% more productive and 15% less likely to quit their jobs.

The employee engagement survey question that Gallup used to assess the extent to which employees were using their strengths was “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day." Having an opportunity to do "what I do best," every day, is tied to the integration of a person's talents (naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that can be applied well), skills (what he or she is able to do), and knowledge (what he or she knows). Talents are the patterns that can't be turned on and off at will; they are ingrained in us. Without natural talent, a lot of hard work will yield little return. Therefore, when considering where to invest one's focus, Gallup research indicates that the best place to start is in an area of strength.

When employees are using their strengths at work the work itself is naturally more intrinsically rewarding. This intrinsic reward leads them to work harder which in turn leads to higher productivity.

To the extent possible, leadership needs to create a culture where employees can regularly be working in their areas of strength and further developing those strengths. Here are some things that leadership can do to help employees live in their strengths:

  • Create an inventory of employees' abilities, experiences, and goals to better understand the needs of individual employees.
  • Ensure that managers/supervisors discuss with their employees how their skills and abilities can best be used. This can be part of a performance management/evaluation discussion.
  • Consider approaches such as reorganizing work groups to better use the unique skills and abilities of employees. 
  • Provide opportunities for employees to work on tasks that are slightly outside of their job description if they have skills they would like to develop, and there is an organizational need. 
  • Provide opportunities such as job rotations to allow employees to use their full range of skills and abilities in different jobs.

While the focus should be on encouraging employees to work in and develop their areas of strength, weaknesses should not be forgotten entirely. Weaknesses should be managed so that they do not sideline employees. 

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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Flextime May Be Low-Hanging Fruit to Improve Employee Engagement


By Janelle Callahan, Principal Consultant, Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement, CPS HR Consulting


Flexible schedule, also known as "flextime," is a work arrangement allowing employees to decide their own start and finish times. Part of the workday is required (e.g., 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.), and the other hours are “flex,” when the employee may decide work times (e.g., 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.). Flextime employees still work the total hours required. The only difference is that they have some freedom of choice at the beginning and end of the day. For example, flextime can be helpful to employees who would like avoid heavy traffic during a commute. Employees who are care givers may also appreciate flextime to help meet those personal obligations.

In our national poll of public and private sector workers, we found that 40 percent overall say they have a flexible work schedule.* Private sector workers are more likely to report having this flexibility. Forty-four percent of private sector employees surveyed use flexible schedules, compared to only 37 percent of public sector employees.

Workers who have a flexible schedule are also more likely to be “fully engaged,” with an average score of 4 or higher (out of 5) on our employee engagement index. In the public sector, only 34 percent of those with no flextime are fully engaged, whereas 44 percent of those with flextime are fully engaged. Likewise, in the private sector, only 39 percent of those with no flextime are fully engaged, in contrast to those who have flexible schedules, where 50 percent are fully engaged.

This finding lends support to the notion that workplace flexibilities are likely associated with higher levels of employee engagement. Although flextime may not be feasible for all types of positions, our results suggest that offering flexible schedules when possible may be low-hanging fruit for an organization striving to improve employee engagement.

*Driving Employee Engagement: Results from a National Survey, 2016 Report. (In Press). CPS HR Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement: Sacramento, CA.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Tracking to Employee Engagement on the Road to Mastery

What Drives Employees? A look at how Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery at work leads to increased motivation and employee engagement - Part 4 of 4

By Chris Atkinson, HR Consultant, Organizational Strategy, CPS HR Consulting

In this series, we have been examining three factors at work that can lead to increased engagement and motivation: purpose, autonomy, and mastery. These factors, identified by Daniel Pink in his book Drive, also align with items in our nation-wide employee engagement survey. Check out the first three segments in the series here. In this segment, we will examine Pink’s third factor, mastery, which aligns with our survey item “I am sufficiently challenged by my work”. 

An important aspect of employee engagement is helping employees find their work interesting and challenging. Related to employees’ desire to be sufficiently challenged is the urge to master their work and improve their skills. As a means to support this objective, employers should create an environment where employees feel that they can pursue mastery. Pink suggests that there are three laws of mastery. These laws can help frame our understanding of mastery and how it relates to employees’ pursuit of mastery in the workplace.


The Three Laws of Mastery

Mastery is a Mindset
The first law is “Mastery is a Mindset.” Pink discusses the work of Carol Dweck who describes the differences between a “growth mindset” and a “fixed mindset.” People with “growth mindsets” believe that their intelligence can be increased with effort whereas those with “fixed mindsets” believe that their intelligence is fixed. People with “fixed mindsets” typically choose goals more easily achieved, since they believe that when they engage in “hard work”, the fact that the work is difficult for them is indication of their lack of intelligence. In contrast, people with a “growth mindset” believe they can improve if they work hard and achieve mastery. Not surprisingly, mastery is difficult to attain for those with a “fixed mindset.”


Mastery is Pain
The second law is “Mastery is a Pain.” Pink discusses a research study that examined why some cadets passed basic training and others did not at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The research revealed that “grit,” perseverance and passion for long-term goals, were the most important factors. “Grit” was also a stronger predictor of college grades than IQ or standardized test scores. Achieving mastery requires people to endure challenges. Employers can play a part in ensuring that employees feel challenged by allowing them to work on projects that are challenging enough to stretch their abilities. If employees feel that their work is too easy they may not feel the sufficient levels of challenge necessary to be engaged.


Mastery is an Asymptote
The third law is “Mastery is an Asymptote.”  An asymptote is a straight line that a curve approaches but never quite reaches. Mastery can never truly and finally be reached. The joy is in the pursuit of mastery rather than the attainment of mastery. Employees that are pursuing mastery of a skill, or their work in general, will be more likely to be engaged. The balance is in giving employees assignments that are challenging enough, but at the same time not overly challenging. 


Action Planning for Mastery

So, what specific steps could your organization take to meet employees’ needs for challenge and the pursuit of mastery in their work? We typically recommend our clients consider the following actions:

  • Have conversations with employees about how they can best use and develop their knowledge and skills and then support them, even if it means transitioning them to other jobs or even to different work units.
  • Help employees create development plans that focus on growth areas. Include specific time frames and milestones.
  • Provide employees with opportunities to work on projects that align with their strengths and interests.
  • Provide cross training opportunities for employees.

Conclusion
This is the last segment in the series examining how purpose, autonomy and mastery drive motivation and employee engagement. It’s important to remember that purpose, autonomy and mastery are just three factors that along with others, drive employee engagement. To develop, improve and leverage the many benefits of a well-engaged employee base, your organization should aim to conduct a survey to uncover the other key factors that may be driving engagement. Our recommended four step process that was outlined in part two of this series was:


  1. Conduct an employee engagement survey so that you can accurately capture the level of employee engagement in your workforce.
  2. Identify the questions that focus on factors that influence employee engagement the most in your organization through some type of statistical analysis, such as the key driver analysis mentioned in the first article in this series.
  3. Have conversations with employees to uncover root causes behind the responses to survey questions identified in step two.
  4. Create a plan of action to address and improve scores on the targeted questions.

High employee engagement is strongly linked to high organizational performance and a variety of positive specific outcomes. It’s important for organizations to create a culture that provides the necessary conditions employees to be engaged and remove barriers to employee engagement.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

How the 4 Ts of Autonomy Drive Engagement

What Drives Employees? A look at how Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery at work leads to increased motivation and employee engagement - Part 3 of 4

By Chris Atkinson, HR Consultant, Organizational Strategy, CPS HR Consulting  


In this series, we have been examining three factors at work that can lead to increased engagement and motivation: purpose, autonomy, and mastery. These factors, identified by Daniel Pink in his book Drive, also align with items in our nation-wide employee engagement survey. You can view the introductory post here and the second post where we look at purpose here. In today’s segment, we will examine Pink’s second factor, autonomy, which aligns with our survey item “I have a choice in deciding how I do my work”.

Autonomy over Task, Time, Technique, and Team

Pink talks about how autonomy is different from independence because autonomy emphasizes choice. Autonomy is part of human nature—we are wired with a desire for autonomous decision-making.

There are four essentials in creating a workplace that values autonomy. Autonomy over task, time, technique, and team.


Task: Employees want autonomy in deciding what to work on. For example, Google allows employees to devote up to one-fifth of their time to autonomous work. By any standard, it’s clear that they’ve had success with this strategy, in the form of numerous innovative products, including Google News, Gmail, and Google Translate. 


Time: There are numerous studies that show people do better work when they are given autonomy in choosing when to work. Many organizations, including public sector employers, embrace the idea of flexible work schedules when feasible.


Technique: Employees want autonomy in choosing how they accomplish their work. Pink notes that in call centers where workers read from scripts, annual turnover in the 35% to 100% range is reported. In contrast, at Zappos.com, workers are given autonomy in determining the technique they use when providing customer service and they report minimal turnover and have a customer-service ranking that competes with Jaguar’s and Ritz-Carlton’s.


Team: When possible, allowing employees to select their work team will lead to higher levels of engagement. Pink points to Facebook which allows new employees to decide the team that they want to join.


It’s important to note that different individuals will place different levels of importance on these four aspects of autonomy.


Action Planning for Autonomy

So, what specific steps could your organization take to increase the sense of autonomy employees feel in their work? If your organization administered an employee engagement survey and identified work autonomy as an area for improvement it would be important to first speak with employees to gain a better understanding of the areas of autonomy that are important to them (i.e. task, time, technique, team, etc.). Depending on information gained from speaking with employees, there are a variety of actions that might be useful to increase employees’ perceptions of work autonomy. We typically recommend our clients consider the following actions:
  • Establish a regular agenda item at re-occurring staff meetings to discuss decisions about the way work is accomplished.
  • Meet regularly with employees individually to discover ways they can be more involved with deciding how their work is accomplished.
  • Have a brainstorming session with employees to discuss barriers to increasing their decision-making regarding how work is accomplished.
  • Allow employees to experiment with a different work method that allows for more decision making. Then meet to discuss the pros and cons of the different work method.
  • Develop policies allowing flexible work arrangements where they make sense for the employee and their job duties. Widely communicate these policies.
Stay tuned for the next and final segment in our series in which we examine how the survey item “I am sufficiently challenged by my work” relates to Pink’s concept of mastery, drives engagement, and the things you can do to increase employees’ sense of mastery in their work.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

How Purpose Drives Engagement

What Drives Employees? A look at how Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery at work leads to increased motivation and employee engagement - Part 2 of 4

By Chris Atkinson, HR Consultant, Organizational Strategy, CPS HR Consulting  


In the first post in this series, we introduced three factors at work that can lead to increased engagement and motivation: purpose, autonomy and mastery. These factors, identified by Daniel Pink in his book Drive, also align with questions on our employee engagement survey. You can view that post here. In this post, we will examine Pink’s first factor, purpose, which aligns with our survey question “The work I do is meaningful to me.” 



Purpose

In Drive, Pink talks about how people who find meaning and purpose in their work are tapping into one of the greatest motivating factors. He argues that people want to have a sense of “doing something beyond themselves." Having a sense that there is a good reason behind your work is what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning and into work with a genuinely positive attitude. Think about jobs that you have had. When you had a job where you could see the purpose and meaning behind what you did every day, weren’t you more engaged than when you worked in jobs where you could not see the reason behind what you were doing?



So, what steps could your organization take to increase the sense of meaning and purpose employees feel in their work, or for that matter, any other area of employee engagement?

Action Planning for Purpose
Before we talk about what you can do to create a greater sense of meaning and purpose in employees’ work, let’s first talk about how to approach increasing employee engagement in general. Without getting into too much detail, there are a few key steps you would need to take at a minimum:
  1. Conduct an employee engagement survey so that you can accurately capture the level of employee engagement in your workforce.
  2. Identify the questions that focus on factors that influence employee engagement the most in your organization through some type of statistical analysis, such as the key driver analysis mentioned in the first article in this series.
  3. Have conversations with employees to uncover root causes behind the responses to survey questions identified in step two. 
  4. Create a plan of action to address and improve scores on the targeted questions.
While it is important to speak with employees to gain insight into the underlying factors and perceptions behind question responses before deciding on an action plan, we also like to give our clients some general action planning tips to increase scores on specific survey items. So, what do you think might be appropriate steps if your organization had identified that "The work I do is meaningful to me" as a question to focus improving responses to? You could consider the following:
  • Help employees identify the types of work that will bring them a sense of engagement and meaning. 
  • Identify the key strengths of each employee and help ensure that their job allows them to use their strengths. When employees feel they are doing what they are good at, they will be more likely to find meaning in their work. 
  • Encourage managers/supervisors to work with their employees to put them in the right situations for them to excel (even if this means that an employee will need to move to another unit ).
  • As part of one-on-one meetings with employees, discuss whether they find meaningful purpose in their work. If not, discuss how to connect their work with important outcomes.

Stay tuned for the next segment in our series in which we examine how the survey question “I have a choice in deciding how I do my work” relates to Pink’s concept of autonomy, drives engagement, and the things you can do to increase employees’ sense of autonomy. 




Wednesday, July 26, 2017

What Drives Employees? A look at how Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery at work leads to increased motivation and employee engagement - Part 1 of 4


By Chris Atkinson, HR Consultant, Organizational Strategy, CPS HR Consulting  

There are a variety of different factors that motivate and engage employees. One of the hotly debated topics for decades has been whether extrinsic or intrinsic factors are more powerful in motivating employees.  One of the leading business thinkers in the realm of work motivation, Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, makes the case that using extrinsic motivators (such as money) is not the most effective way to motivate employees in today’s work environment. Rather, the key is to tap into employees’ internal reward system, their intrinsic motivators. He has identified three specific intrinsic motivating factors through his research that drive performance in today’s work environment: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.
  • Purpose: The desire to do something that has meaning and is important 
  • Autonomy: The desire to be self-directed 
  • Mastery: The urge to get better skills
You can hear more about these three factors in Pink’s TED talk , one of the top 25 most popular of all time.
The results of our national study examining employee engagement in the public sector support Pink’s theory. Our results show that one of the consistent key drivers of employee engagement across local, state, and the federal government was the “My Work” survey question category, which measures personal experiences related to the job. It is considered a key driver because from a statistical standpoint this category has some of the greatest influence on organizations’ overall engagement scores. In other words, this factor, if improved, will likely move the needle of engagement. 

Three of the questions in the “My Work” survey category include “I have a choice in deciding how I do my work”, “I am sufficiently challenged by my work”, and “The work I do is meaningful to me”. 
The motivational factors that Pink espouses tie very well to three of the questions in the “My Work” survey category.
  • Purpose: “The work I do is meaningful to me”
  • Autonomy: “I have a choice in deciding how I do my work”
  • Mastery: “I am sufficiently challenged by my work”
Throughout this four-post series, we will be diving deeper into each of these three questions to explore what they mean and things organizations should consider doing to promote greater feelings of purpose, autonomy, and mastery in employees. Stay tuned for the next post where we will dive in deeper to the first motivational factor, purpose, measured by our survey question, “The work I do is meaningful to me”.









Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No Half Measures: Bring Your Whole Self to Work

By Janelle Callahan, Principal Consultant, Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement, CPS HR Consulting

There are many different definitions and measures of employee engagement, and in fact, there are far too many conflicting perspectives out there, which can make it difficult to decide what to do. For this reason, we at CPS HR’s Institute for Public Sector Employee Engagement offer a practical solution to measure engagement. One of the six questions in our measure of employee engagement is, “I feel comfortable being myself at work.” This question is designed to measure the connection between the employee and the organization, and this item hones in on inclusion, e.g.,do you feel like you belong here? Do you feel accepted and appreciated for who you are?

This question comes from the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) 2016 Merit Principles Survey. MSPB’s policy and evaluation team publish practical and insightful studies of employee engagement. MSPB is a small federal agency with about 200 employees, and its mission is to uphold federal merit systems principles, including adjudicating employee appeals of personnel actions, and complaints under laws like the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Google also uses a variation of this question in its own cultural assessments. They compare responses on this question by demographic (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, cultural backgrounds). In a re:Work guide, they note: “The Google team is working to understand how unconscious bias affects people’s beliefs, experiences and attitudes at work, and promote a climate of inclusion and a sense of fairness… Comparing responses to questions like – ‘I feel comfortable being myself at work, even when I am different from others,’ and, ‘Google is a place where all types of Googlers (e.g., all genders, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds) can succeed to their full abilities’ - allow analysts to assess those feelings of inclusion.”

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is well-known for promoting this principle of feeling comfortable at work: “A lot of people [act] different on the weekends versus the office. It's like they leave a big part of themselves at home. We encourage our employees to be themselves. We want them to be the same person at home and the office” (Entrepreneur).

There are some awkward things with this ideal, however. One person’s comfort may be another person’s discomfort. During a training session, I heard one manager, imagining her employee’s negative response to this question, jokingly remark: “She could be comfortable and still wear her shoes around the office.” This example of someone who takes their shoes off at work is a little silly, but it highlights how there are all kinds of situations to navigate at work having to do with individuals trying to be themselves.

According to results from our national study, about 80 percent of government and private sector employees say they feel comfortable being themselves at work. State government employees reported slightly lower levels of agreement – 77 percent, while local government employees registered slightly higher rates – 83 percent.

Join us for a webinar in which we will further discuss this question and measuring engagement.