Have you ever wondered about the upper limits of what employees could contribute to the success of an organization given the right conditions? I was reminded recently of what people are eager and able to do from a wonderful story on CBS Sunday Morning. Lots of companies spout bromides and platitudes about how “open” they are to people talking initiative and trying out new ideas. But in the end, employees are generally defined by their titles and job descriptions, and they’re rewarded mainly for meeting prescribed expectations.
Depending on the organizational culture, the response to the things people do outside of those constraints varies widely from appreciation to aggravation and a range of reactions in between. Rarely are employees encouraged and supported in making a routine habit of thinking and working every day beyond the boundaries of what they were hired to do. In most workplaces, job one is job done.
In that kind of climate, organizations lose out in two ways. First, it diminishes the potential value that employees can add to the company’s performance and results. Pretty simple. Second, it stifles the inherent drive and desire in every human being to grow, to contribute in meaningful ways and to have a measure of control over their lives. In short, it cuts the heart out of employee engagement.
Here are two vivid examples that make the point – one bad, one good.
Bound by What’s Billable
I was talking to a manager in a professional services firm recently about the value of getting employees tuned in, turned on and eager to go the extra mile – my definition of employee engagement. She said they do good work and management is always open to improvement suggestions, but she admitted that people don’t exert much effort beyond what they’re expected to do.
I asked her about their policy on billable hours. “Naturally, they have to be 100% billable, just like everyone else in our business,” she replied. So I asked her when do people have the time to think about fresh ideas and explore ways to improve how they do their work. “Oh, they have to do that on their own time,” she said. It didn’t take her long to see the blatant disconnect between the “say” and the “do.”
Supporting the Urge to Excel
On the flipside is the inspiring and heartwarming story from another organization that was featured in a recent episode of CBS SundayMorning. This short 2:42 story focuses on Charles Clark, a high school custodian in Euless, Texas. He clearly is going the extra mile above and beyond his job description, making a difference in the lives of students in ways that typically would be totally unexpected. While his special contributions are noteworthy, an understated pivotal point of the story is how the school’s administration endorses and supports that kind of initiative.
You see, the truth is almost every human being wants to make meaningful contributions – it’s part of our nature. Employees are eager and able to do astonishing things far beyond their titles and duties. Another part of human instinct, though, is caution. If we step outside the boundaries of expectations and we get chastised for wandering too far, most people shut down in a hurry. So, yeah, let’s be sure to recognize employees for their special efforts, but let’s also herald the leaders who foster the kind of culture where exceptional contributions from all employees can flourish.
If you’re looking for a proven tool to help make continuous improvement part of the everyday work routine for all employees, take a look at our ImaginAction System. Give us a call at 314-664-6497, and we’ll tell you more about it.
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