Elephants in the Workplace

An elephant never forgets. We all know that saying. It implies, for some reason, that elephants possess some incredible long term memory. (Apparently though, there is some research backing this up).

There are also elephants at work. Which can be super awesome.  Or sometimes quite dreadful.

On the plus side of the column there’s the “institutional knowledge” guy/gal. I can’t tell you how many times, upon joining a new organization, I’ve relied on the HR or Payroll lady who remembers (with amazing recall) the minutiae of an employee investigation that took place years before or can recollect, with incredible clarity, the ER/EE medical co-pay rates circa 2005.

But, more often than not, these pachydermian recollections are used for evil as opposed to good. Have you ever heard…

  • “Susie is inflexible” (Because Susie didn’t want to change the office hours and start at 8:30 instead of 8:00 back in 1999)
  • “Tom has a bad temper (That one time? He yelled at Stu in Receiving? Remember?)
  • “Trixie provides really poor customer service” (OMG! In 2010 Mrs. Szymanski called and she was so pissed it went all the way up to the CEO at magical-corporate-office-in another-state!!)

Naturally, most of these stories are based on ancient information and, more often than not, very few data points. Any self respecting statistician who claimed to draw meaning from such lackluster numbers would be drummed out of business.

Trixie, (as just one example), in the course of her career with ACME Corp, may have dealt with 20,000 customers. But it’s the 5 (.00025% of customers) who asked to speak to a supervisor or, in 2018, left a comment on the company Facebook page, who have become those data points.

Of course, it’s today. We can use technology and gathering of e-scores to determine exactly what Trixie’s deal is.  We do pulse surveys and NPS and whatnot. Can’t we?

But not all organizations have that technology at their disposal.

So the elephants are consulted

And they … never forget.

The Employee Experience: As Simple as “X” and “Y?”

Sixty years ago Douglas McGregor from the MIT Sloan School of Management presented two theories of workforce motivation he named “Theory X” and “Theory Y.” Over the intervening decades these theories have been used by leadership teams, HR professionals and OD folks as they craft and create HR policies, performance management programs, rewards and recognition, and work space design.

If it’s been some time since you gave much thought to McGregor’s work, here’s a refresher:

Theory X assumes that:

  • people dislike work
  • people want to avoid work (i.e. “people are inherently lazy”)
  • people do not want to take responsibility

Theory Y assumes that:

  • people are happy to work
  • people are self-motivated to pursue objectives
  • people thrive on responsibility

In a Theory X organization:

  • management is authoritarian
  • control is centralized with a belief that people must be coerced
  • a reward and punishment style (i.e. “carrot and stick”) is used; financial incentives (or financial punishments) are believed to the best motivator

In a Theory Y organization:

  • management is participative; employees are involved
  • feedback, especially positive feedback, is continuous
  • it is assumed that control, rewards and punishments are not the only ways to stimulate people
  • people have self-direction and self-control

Simplified perhaps. Because, of course, we all learned in our earliest forays into leading others that management of a team requires some combination of Theory X and Theory Y style.  Every employee is unique.  Yet “simple” is helpful as we tackle what we consider to be the nuanced and complex workplace issues today; decades after McGregor first shared these theories in 1957.

So as I sit here, day-in-and-day-out, and think about the employee experience (which, let’s face it, is merely an amalgamation of previous terms and is now the trendy catch phrase/buzzword for everything else that has come before it) I often find myself stripping all the glam and sexy stuff down to a pretty basic question… “Do you provide an X or a Y experience?”

For therein lies the problem; without asking that question and truly examining a few key principles about how people are viewed, numerous organizations continuously circle round and round in a never-ending journey of futility.  They may telegraph to candidates, applicants and new hires all the Theory Y things they do when, in reality, the policies, rewards and management style exhibited by the vast majority are most assuredly Theory X.

Not to mention there’s a real danger of ongoing confirmation bias; a Theory X organization which operates with control and coercion may find, as time goes on, that employees become so accustomed to punishing behavior (“you’re 5 minutes late! Here’s your penalty!”) that they do, in fact, exert minimal effort and thus confirm all the assumptions that managers have had all along. “See how lazy they are!  You can’t trust people to show up on time. We have to punish them or no one will come to work!”

Let’s be real though; there is not one single HR pundit or “Future of Work” speaker out on the vast global conference speaking circuit touting “Top Ten Ways to Motivate Your Lazy Unwilling-to-Work Employees!”  Nope; that wouldn’t sell a lot of tickets.

Instead, managers from assorted disciplines attend their specific professional development conferences, sign up for the “HR Track,” and take copious notes as some HR consultant/speaker talks about “The New Way of Work.”

And then those very same managers head back to the office, roll up their sleeves, and bust out the Theory X.

Happiness and Engagement: Can’t We All Get Along?

Are you happy at work? Do you awake refreshed each morning? Do you leap out of bed eager to take on a new day? Do you look forward to hanging out with your co-workers as you complete your spreadsheets and TPS reports? Do you find joy and camaraderie with Meghan in the next cubicle whilst doing these mind-numbing and meaningless tasks? If so….why?

On the other hand, are you engaged at work? Do you have an emotional and psychological attachment to your work and your employer? Do you go above and beyond? Use discretionary effort? Do you, as the kids like to say, “give a shit?”

And, if you are, God bless you, ‘engaged,’ must you also be happy? Do they have to co-exist? Should they? Can they?

Questions for the ages.

And we’re going to have a bit of a discussion on Wednesday (June 28th – 2 PM ET) over at TLNT when I’ll be leading a webinar with the super-long title of Happiness and Employee Engagement; Mutually Exclusive or Necessary Partners for Organizational Success? (click here to register). Here’s what I’m going to be chatting about:

Employees make a bargain with their employers upon the acceptance of a job; to complete required job duties, hit assigned goals and, ideally, contribute to the success of the organization, financial or otherwise, through committed actions and endeavors. Meanwhile, employers make a commitment to their employees to provide a safe workplace with a job that fulfills basic human needs and, ideally, allows for some level of satisfaction and professional growth.

Nestled within there however, and often unspoken until the employment relationship begins, is the goal of the employer to have “engaged’ employees and the desire of many employees to be ‘happy’ at work.

But what do these terms really mean, and how can employers and employees work together to foster the most productive environment for business success? In this webinar, our speaker will explore how we measure and promote employee engagement, how employee engagement and business success correlate, and whether “happiness” does, or should, be involved.

In particular, we’ll focus on:

  • The state of employee engagement
  • The role that employee happiness plays
  • The critical importance in defining, clarifying and understanding the differences and the interdependence for organizational success.

So come join us! Sponsored by our good friends at Cornerstone on Demand , this will be a great way to spend Hump Day because, of course, if you’re neither happy nor engaged, all you’re thinking about is how you’re on the downhill slide to Friday at 5 PM!