Tag Archives: employee engagement

Boosting Employee Engagement: Let Employees Hire the Boss

Manager employee relations can be challenging
Manager / employee relations can be challenging.

One of the main problems with the typical manager/employee relationship is that one person is the boss, and the other … well … isn’t.  Let’s face it, not many adults like being told what to do.  That’s true to some extent even when the boss is really great.  It’s especially true when employees don’t have the option to say no – or even to negotiate a mutual agreement.

Information Should Trump Rank

Aside from the interpersonal tension that kind of imbalance of power can produce, it isn’t optimal from a business standpoint either, particularly if you’re interested in effective continuous improvement and change management.  In the end, decision-making should be based not on who has the highest rank andmost authority, but who has the best information and greatest knowledge about the subject at hand – regardless of “status.” Good managers follow that principle as a matter of course, and it’s an integral part of how they tap into employee motivation. But not all managers are that good.  So the question is how to get it ingrained in the management culture throughout the company.

One way organizations try to “equalize the balance of power” in manager/employee relationships is with the 360-degree appraisal process. Others try to generate employee input through efforts like town hall meetings, employee luncheon roundtables, senior leader blogs, open-door policies and a host of other employee engagement activities.  While well-intentioned and occasionally effective, those efforts are typically pretty feeble in promoting a decision-making culture that’s systematically based on the “best information” rather than the “most authority.”

Give Employees Input into the Hiring Process

So how do you make sure decisions are based on knowledge instead of titles? Here’s one way to do it.  Let employees hire their boss.  “What?” you gasp. “You’ve got to be kidding, right?”  Maybe a little, but not much.  Here’s how it works.

When you’re ready to hire a new manager, you begin as usual with crafting the job description.  Instead of just having it reviewed by the manager’s manager, though, appoint a representative group of the employees who will be reporting to the new manager to look at it, too.  That way, you get their input on what it takes to manage the function effectively from a day-to-day operations perspective.  Then you go through the usual drill of selecting candidates and conducting interviews with qualified prospects.

After that, here’s where you do something radically different. Instead of picking just ONE person for the job, pick TWO or THREE who meet all of the qualifications that management has set for the position.  Then you let the employee representatives interview those top candidates, and THEY make the final selection of the person they feel is best suited for the position.

It’s a Win-Win All the Way Around

Crazy, right?  But think about it.  That way you get the best of both worlds – someone who makes the grade for management, as well as the “informed” people he or she will be managing.  What’s more, think about how it sets the tone for more balanced decision-making in the manager/employee relationship from day one.  It also sets the stage for more effective communication going forward.

Granted, the final decision and the ultimate responsibility for both performance and results on any team rests with the manager.  But how you get there matters.  If you want take full advantage of team insights in decision-making … and if you want employees who are willing to step up, take charge, and be held accountable for their performance … you have to treat them like adults who “have a say in the matter,” not children who “are to be seen and not heard.”

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A question of degree.

It’s rare these days to find a rational manager who doesn’t have at least a modest appreciation for the value of effective employee engagement.  It’s more a question of degree.  How much of it do you want … how much do you appreciate its impact on business outcomes … how far will you go to get it?

One company, OTTO, has set a standard that’s hard to beat.  What’s more, they’ve proven the kind of results it can produce on the bottom line.  Based in Carpentersville, Illinois, near Chicago, OTTO is a highly successful manufacturer of high-precision electrical controls and communication components.

Just how far has OTTO gone to engage people – inside and outside the company – to create that success?

Beginning with Basics
For starters, they offer employees an array of development opportunities including instruction in blueprint reading, math skills, GED preparation, English-as-a-second-language courses and more. They’ve also created a culture of idea generation among employees that produces a constant flow of product innovations.  For a lot progressive companies like OTTO, though, that’s just table stakes. 

Investing with Vision
Several years ago, the company did something extraordinary that raises engagement to a whole new level.  President, Tom Roeser, decided to invest in the housing and commercial real estate market – not as a speculator, but as a visionary.  His goal was to produce a three-pronged benefit for the business, for employees and for the community at large.  He saw an opportunity with the flood of foreclosures on the market, and the company purchased 80 homes and town houses.  Then they gut-renovated the houses and put them up for sale – many for their own employees.  Making it even easier for people, they also provide short-term financing, working with Kane County which provides interest-free loans up to $20,000 to help new homeowners get started.

Committing to Community
Aside from making housing affordable for employees and others in the community, the initiative has stabilized neighborhoods and eliminated gangs that were squatting in abandoned houses.  But there’s more. Roeser also led an extensive effort to renovate the historic buildings where the company houses its manufacturing operations.  He made that decision even though he could’ve torn them down and put up a new factory for half the money. Then he took it a step further and renovated other historic structures near the downtown district.

Benefiting Business
Just a nice guy with a big heart bent on making people happy? Maybe a little.  But the main reason he does it is because it’s good business.  The company is marking its 50th anniversary this year, and they’ve got plenty to celebrate.  With a workforce of 530 employees, company sales this year will be near $100 million. What’s more, they’ve been profitable 49 of their 50 years in business.  The future looks just as bright as their storied past with longtime blue-chip customers lined up like Deere, Motorola, Caterpillar, the Secret Service and others.

Call it a coincidence, but to me it all adds up to one clear conclusion.  If you want people inside and outside the company to go the extra mile for your business, you need to take the lead by doing extraordinary things for them.  Or to put it another way, what goes around comes around – usually many times over.

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At Landes & Associates, we help companies align employee engagement and marketing communications with our unique approach.

Interested in learning more?  Send us an e-mail or call us today at 314-664-6497.

Making culture a leading indicator.

What is your corporate culture?
What is your corporate culture?

Unless you’ve been holed up in a cave for the past few years, you’ve probably had some kind of brush with a quirky company called Zappos. You may be one of the millions of fanatically loyal customers who buy shoes from them over and over again. Or you may be a salivating investor who’s watched the company skyrocket from zero to over $1 billion in sales in less than 10 years. Or you may be like me – one of the lucky few who’ve had the rare opportunity to visit the corporate headquarters in Las Vegas and witness their wacky and wildly successful culture.

Whatever your experience with Zappos, the company is the real deal – a living tribute to the title of CEO Tony Hseih’s new book,“Delivering Happiness: A Path to Passion, Profits and Purpose.” During the past couples of years, I’ve read quite a bit about the company and watched reports and interviews with Hseih (pronounced shay) on numerous TV programs. But none of that quite prepared me for actually being there and seeing the business in action.

Why this Whimsical Workplace Works
Before I even entered the building, several “Zapponians” greeted our group of visitors outside with the kind of upbeat playfulness you’d only expect at someplace like Disneyland. (BTW, I’ve been to Disneyland, and they could learn a thing or two from Zappos).

When you get inside, you discover that the initial encounter with the greeters is just a glimpse of the craziness you find in every cubicle and corner of the business. People are wearing silly hats and glasses … blowing horns and whistles … playing arcade basketball and competing in pinewood derby races. To the conventional business person, it can seem over the top and a bit off-putting in its cult-like merriment. But if you look closely, you can see something else. Even though employees are marching to their own drumbeat, they’re also working in close synch with one another – and they’re intensely focused and engaged in the work they’re doing.

Despite the legendary tales of the raucous Zappos workplace, it’s not the wackiness that makes it work. It’s more about the absolute clarity and purpose in everything every person does, all being driven by one prevailing principle with two core tenets: create a work environment where employees have control and love their work – and you’ll produce a company culture where customers love doing business.

A classic example of how those two priorities come together is the company’s policy on handling customers. Employees have the freedom to do whatever they feel it will take to meet the customer’s needs – i.e., to make the customer HAPPY.  What’s more, there’s no limit on how much time a call center employee should spend on the phone with each customer.  Some employees have spent literally hours on a single call – all to fulfill their guiding principle that links employee happiness with customer happiness.

You Can’t Fake Culture
It’s easy and appealing to subscribe to that kind of philosophy – and lots of organizations claim to live by it. But for most, it’s a shallow charade that shows up like a short-term promotional event. At Zappos, it’s the true essence and heartbeat of everything they do – and it’s captured wonderfully in the company’s annual “Culture Book.” It’s their traditional collection of stories gathered each year from employees, customers and vendors about their experiences with the company. In the 300-page 2010 edition, Hsieh makes a point that illustrates the emphasis they place on culture as a conscious business strategy. The company is very clear about its brand, and as Hseih puts it, “The brand is simply a lagging indicator of the culture.”

The corollary, of course, is that the culture is a leading indicator of the brand. As quality improvement experts point out, it’s hard to control lagging indicators. They’re the outcomes that result from the actions you take – from the leading indicators you CAN control. Most organizations, though, are so fixated on outcomes and results that they fail to take the same disciplined approach in managing the indicators that lead to winning the game – like culture.

The math is simple. Employee happiness by itself doesn’t automatically equal business success. But it clearly adds up to a better customer experience – and as Zappos has proven, it also will put big smiles on the faces of happy investors.

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I want some control, dammit.

Giving employees some control gives them confidence.
Giving employees some control gives them confidence.

A couple of years ago, my sister found out she had cancer – the same kind that took the life of Farah Fawcett. It happened about the same time, so all the media coverage on Fawcett’s death made it that much scarier for my sister. At the risk of stating the obvious, her treatment wasn’t a pleasant experience. Everyone knows about the usual stuff – hair loss, nausea, etc. But that was only half the story for her. Because of where the cancer was located she had limited control over basic bodily functions throughout the six months that she underwent her treatment.

Trying to be a helpful big brother, I told her one day that I had found some high protein drinks that would help make sure she didn’t get too weak from insufficient nutrition.  When I told her, she said, “Make sure it’s not sweet.”  She’s one of these rare people who didn’t get the sweet-tooth gene.  “You’ve got to be kidding,” I said.  “I know you don’t like sweet stuff, but your life is on the line. Get over it.”

She immediately shot back at me, saying that one of the worst things about her cancer was that she had no control – no control over what she did about it, no control over the treatment or the schedule for it, no control over the outcome, no control over anything.  Everyone was telling her what to do, and that made her feel helpless and angry.

“Don’t tell me to get over it,” she said.  “The enjoyment of food is very important to me.  Some people eat to get full.  I eat to savor good food, and if I can’t control anything else in my life right now, I’m not going to give up control of eating what I like, dammit.  So I’ll tell you again, make sure it’s not sweet, or I won’t eat it.  That’s at least one thing I can still have some control over in my life.”

Employees Without Control Can’t Take Responsibility
I was mad at myself for not being sensitive to her feelings from the beginning – partly because it relates to crucial counsel we give our clients.  Her reaction speaks volumes about what fosters employee engagement – and how that ultimately affects the way a company shows up in the marketplace.  Just like my sister, employees in many companies often feel powerless because they have little control over how they do their work. Unlike my sister, though, they rarely decide to take charge of a situation and go beyond explicitly what they’re told to do. They’re more intent on following directions and “doing their job” than taking responsibility for outcomes – and for good reason. Otherwise, they might lose their job – something most people aren’t willing to risk, especially in a tough economy.

When that kind of culture takes hold, the effects are predictable.  Employees pass by obvious problems that need to be fixed, and say “That’s not my job.”  Or they know there’s a way to make things work better, and they remain silent because “No one wants to hear my opinion.”  Or a project goes bad, and everyone points their fingers at “the other guy.”

Powerless Employees Can’t Serve Customers Well
Invariably, all of that denial in the workplace makes its way outside in the marketplace.  Frustrated customers can’t get their complaints resolved because customer relations employees say things like, “I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.”  Then the company starts losing business, and who takes the heat?  The answer usually depends on who is most adept at dodging accountability, which becomes a higher priority than producing a good outcome.

A typical management response is that employees have a “bad attitude.”  And guess what?  They’re right – but only about the behavior, not the source.  They lay the blame on employees – just short of senior management’s door where it belongs.  Truth is, crap really does roll downhill.  If attitudes stink at the bottom, it’s usually because of what got shoveled down from the top.  And if the problem is pervasive, it’s not because employees are lazy or uncaring.  It’s because taking control and “breaking the rules” to do the right thing gets punished more often than rewarded.

Managers in companies like that typically live by the old bromide that if you give employees too much control, the “inmates” will wind up running the “asylum.”  In the end, though, employees don’t want their organizations to operate like a free-for-all anymore than management does.  For the most part, they just want enough personal control over what they do and how they do it to be able to do “the right thing” when they feel it’s in everyone’s best interest.

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Getting an A in development.

Prepared employees can completely satisfy customers
Prepared employees can completely satisfy customers.

Many people aren’t aware that Ken Blanchard, author of the classic business fable The One-Minute Manager, was a university professor before he became a renowned author and consultant. It’s not unusual for people from academia to find their way into the business world. What IS unusual, though, is how Blanchard taught his students – or rather how he tested them – and how his educational philosophy has been applied by many organizations in their employee learning and development programs.

It helps to appreciate Blanchard’s thinking if you recall the typical education that most people experienced from their earliest days in grade school. To put it simply, the teacher taught and gave homework assignments along with periodic tests. Then at the end of the year, you took the dreaded “final exam” to see how well you learned the material.

Beginning with an “A” in Mind
Blanchard thought that approach was backwards. He felt it was his duty to ensure the success of his students, and he decided the best way to do that was to give them the final exam at the beginning of the year – and then teach them what they needed to know to ace it at the end. His academic colleagues protested vehemently, but he never relented. Eventually, he left the university and took his way of thinking into the world of business.

One of his business “students” was Garry Ridge, the CEO of WD-40 Company. Ridge was so smitten with Blanchard’s philosophy that he not only adopted it in the development practices at his company – he also co-authored a book with Blanchard on the subject called Helping People Win at Work: A Business Philosophy Called “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A.”

Like Blanchard, Ridge feels strongly that it is a manager’s duty to help every employee get A’s in their development programs. Both men are adamantly opposed to the all-too-common practice of force-fitting employees into a “normal” distribution curve when it comes time for the workplace equivalent of the final exam – the equally dreaded “annual performance review.”  As Ridge puts it, the development process suffers when “managers are forced to sort out their people into a few winners, a few losers, and a lot of average performers. Even worse is when they have to rank-order their people from first to last.”

When People Get A’s, so do their Companies
In the “Helping People …” book, Ridge lays out his approach to development which is not only highly systematic, but also grounded in meaningful human values. One of his priorities is “caring,” which for him means that “I am more interested in serving people than in having them serve me. As a result, I do anything I can to help (people) see and achieve their personal A and, in the process, realize their magnificence.”

That may sound a bit too soft and sugary for a CEO who is responsible for generating bottom line results and shareholder returns. Even though the merits of his development model should be self-evident, it’s still nice to see what it’s done for financial performance, right? So just what kind of impact has his approach had on the business? Ridge reports that since he implemented the A-based performance review method, sales have more than tripled. In that time, WD-40 Company revenues have grown from $100 million to $339 million in 2008 with an astonishing $1.1 million in sales per employee.

Part of that success comes from the dramatic impact that their development efforts have had on employee engagement – and ultimately on customer relations. In the final paragraph of their book, Blanchard and Ridge sum it up this way. “If you help your people get A’s, your performance management system will ignite them to blow away your customers with outstanding service. Why? Because people who feel good about themselves want to return the favor.”

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Nurturing the leader in all of us.

Nurturing the leader in all of us
Leadership qualities can exist in all employees.

My 15-year-old daughter, Courtney, recently participated along with 130 other girls in the Junior Teen division of the National American Miss Pageant for the state of Missouri.  She has competed in pageants before, and despite some of my early reservations about her participation, I’ve seen some pretty special things come from her experience in those events.

This particular pageant system judges girls in four main areas: personal introductions about their background and future aspirations on stage in front of a large audience; one-on-one interviews with six judges; community service; and formal wear.

The audience doesn’t get to see the individual interviews, so we were eager to hear what the judges asked Courtney and how she responded.  Interestingly, one of her answers went right to the heart of a core concept that relates to employee engagement.

The need to lead for everyone.
Here’s what the judge asked: “If you could be principal (CEO in kids’ parlance) for one day in your school, what one thing would you change?”  I’ve always seen Courtney as a thoughtful person, but after all, she is 15, so I expected something along the lines of boosting school spirit, reducing homework, or improving the quality of the food in the cafeteria.  Instead, she responded with an answer that many organizations fail to appreciate when it comes to what is commonly called “empowerment.”

She told the judge she would create more leadership opportunities for all the students.  She went on to explain that she’s had the chance to serve as a student ambassador for the school, and it’s helped her grow in several ways.  She added that she believes every student should have an opportunity to lead in some way in their school or their community.  That’s because, she said, they’re all heading for college or somewhere else in “the real world,” and they need that kind of experience to succeed.  It would also help them be more actively engaged in their school.  She went on to give examples of how she would do that with multiple councils and students rotating in leadership roles.  Bottom line, everyone would have a chance to lead in some way.

The leadership-engagement connection.
Not surprisingly, my first reaction was one of pride and surprise at her insight.  Then after I thought about it, I asked myself a question.  Why is it, I wondered, that most organizations don’t grasp how vital it is to see and support every employee as a leader – especially if we want them tuned in, turned on and taking the initiative to go the extra mile to make their organizations the best they can be?

Perhaps it’s the high-sounding meanings we typically associate with the word “leadership” … or it’s our inability to devise ways that for employees to take the lead when they can.  Maybe we just don’t provide sufficient encouragement for people to feel okay about making the shift from following to leading.

Whatever the reason, shared leadership and engagement go hand-in-hand. Organizations that fail to grasp that notion will continue to be stuck in a paradigm that limits the potential for the leader in everyone to blossom and benefit their organizations – and themselves.

Oh … in case you’re wondering, Courtney won the crown (see pics below) – and we’ll be heading to California for the national pageant over Thanksgiving. I don’t know what kinds of questions the judges will throw at her this time, but I’m pretty sure she’ll be ready for whatever comes her way.





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What do you think?  Share your comments and ideas below.

Ownership is more than a feeling.


When employees feel a part of the success, business thrives
When employees feel a part of the success, business thrives.

One of our clients recently had a bad experience at a hotel where they were holding a management meeting.  To make matters worse, the meeting had been planned by the president of the company, and he was leading it himself.  The next day he wrote a “strongly worded” letter to the local general manager of the facility, which is part of a well-known chain.  He outlined the transgressions in detail and told the manager that the company would not be doing business with them in the future.

You can draw different lessons and conclusions from that story. 
Some might say that the employees just didn’t care, and they should be reprimanded or even fired.  I tend to be of the opinion that crap rolls downhill.  I’ll wager that if guests and clients at that hotel are being treated with disregard and lack of respect, that’s what employees are experiencing all along the chain of command from the top down.

When people get past the usual finger-pointing and blame-pinning for problems like that, they sometimes step back and realize it’s not an isolated incident.  Then management says it’s time to “change the culture.”  Before long, they spout the next management bromide about needing to “create an ownership mentality among employees.”

Truth is, you either own something or you don’t.
It’s not a state of mind, and it has nothing to do with feelings.  Owners have a unique stake in the outcome of a business.  The more money the business makes, the more they get to put into the bank.  On the flipside, when times get tough, they’re the ones who take it in the chops. It’s also up to them to take responsibility for getting the business back on track.

That’s not the typical employee compact.  Some companies have backed up their “ownership” expectations by creating profit sharing or gain sharing programs for employees that go down to the front line.  But it’s still not the same as being an owner.  As a practical matter, it’s not always feasible to build employee compensation around a true ownership model.  More to the point, though, programs like that aren’t needed in order to get the performance and behavior that actual owners want from employees.

It’s more an issue of respect and responsibility.
The hotel industry is notorious for poor employee treatment and high turnover.  A notable exception is Baldrige Award winner, The Ritz-Carlton, whose legendary motto about employees is “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”  That statement is backed up by the company’s remarkable policy that permits every employee to spend up to $2,000 without approval from their supervisor to make any single guest satisfied.  That’s not exactly the same as ownership, but it’s a strong sign of the trust and responsibility that management places in the company’s employees – and their outstanding reputation proves it works.

Still, there is something special about actually being an owner, and some companies operate with employee-owned models that have remarkable impact when done right.  A story ran on ABC a few months ago (see video below) about a business owner who was retiring and decided to give the company to his employees instead of selling it.  Why?  He said it was because he tried to make all of his business decisions based on what was good for employees – not what was going to make him the most money.  Of course, that’s indeed what made him money because it turned out to be a place where employees loved to work – and customers loved doing business.  Doesn’t get much better than that.

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A lesson for the ages.


Synergies result when teams work together
Synergies result when teams work together.

On April 1, a remarkable story in automotive history will come to an end. Well, not the story itself – it’s too good – but the 26-year-old “experiment” that created it will be a thing of the past.

It all began in 1984, when General Motors and Toyota decided to scratch one another’s proverbial backs with a joint venture called New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI). The primary motivation for Toyota was to get a foothold for manufacturing automobiles in the U.S. – mainly to stem the public outcry over U.S. auto jobs going to Japan. As for GM, they wanted to learn how to make high-quality small cars that were profitable – which the Japanese proved they could do. As a bonus, GM would also learn how to apply Toyota techniques in other plants throughout their operations.

From Worst to First
Most companies taking on that kind of venture would try it in a plant where they had a strong foundation to build on. Instead, they picked the worst plant in the GM system – in Fremont, California. It was so bad that GM had to shut it down completely two years earlier. Relations between labor and management were incessantly contentious and hostile. Some say they spent more time filing and fighting grievances than making automobiles. What’s more, the product quality was laughable. Cars wound up with the wrong bumpers, steering wheels missing, scratches and dents everywhere. Then they had another crew at the end of the line to repair all the defects.

So when NUMMI was announced, few people thought it would succeed. Not only did they reopen the problem plant – they hired back the same people, believing as Deming always said, problems aren’t about the people, but the system. Before they started operating, though, a sizeable contingent of workers went to Japan to learn the legendary “Toyota way,” working side-by-side with their Japanese “brothers.” It was a landmark event that transformed people’s lives.

You can learn about the details from many sources, including a recent story that ran on National Public Radio.  But at the end of their time together in Japan, a lot of grizzled, hard-bitten workers were literally in tears during the celebration they held before heading back to launch the Fremont operation. They had been given something few of them had known before – a sense of pride and purpose – and the impact on employee engagement proved to be profound.

Marketing is More about What You Do than What You Say
When production started, results were meteoric. Almost immediately, quality and productivity reached levels that paralleled other Toyota plants. Everyone noticed … many cheered … but for reasons that are hard to believe yet easy to understand, little changed for many years elsewhere at the U.S. automaker – despite considerable effort from numerous people within GM. By the time quality became the rule rather than the exception throughout the company a few years ago, it was too late. Even aggressive marketing efforts that touted improved quality initially failed to convince potential customers – too many years of exaggerated claims and poor performance.  Then just when GM started to recover, the economy collapsed, and they had to ask for bailout money to stay afloat.

Fremont is shutting down this week for two main reasons: GM pulled out of the venture in 2009, and Toyota decided it can handle U.S. production in other plants across the country. Although many are sad to see the plant close, its legacy continues. Perhaps the simplest and biggest lesson from NUMMI is that employee engagement and cooperative systems aren’t just nice things to have. They’re the cornerstone of business success – and the most compelling force for effective marketing a company can pursue.

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Counting what counts.

Determining what matters can drive organizational focus
Determining what matters can drive organizational focus.

Measuring the value of communication has always been important. Today, it’s become something of an obsession, and it’s easy to understand why.  But instead of focusing on measuring the value of communications, communicators should concentrate on communicating about measures that people value.  Here’s an example of how a St. Louis-based winner of the Baldrige National Quality Award, Wainwright Industries, applied that principle.

Making data meaningful with “Mission Control.”
When they set their sites on the award, they knew they would have to collect a lot of data – and figure out how to share it throughout the organization.  The solution was inspired by NASA. The Wainwright team decided to post the data in a single room organized around priorities that came from input provided by employees. They called the room “Mission Control,” and it was designed to let all employees know how various aspects of the company’s performance are tracking at all times. Using color coded flags, the display provides instant awareness of emerging problem areas. What’s more, it activates a pre-set course of action if performance indicators fall below established benchmarks.

While it’s essentially a communication system, not many professional communicators would typically see it as part of their domain. Therein lies the proverbial rub – and the opportunity to be more relevant.


Measuring what matters to people.

When communicators measure their success in terms of functional indicators like media impressions, newsletter satisfaction ratings and similar measures, they’re not connecting with most employees who don’t care much about those measures.  Ultimately, the most vital function of organizational communications is to facilitate the exchange of data, information, and knowledge that support employees in doing their everyday jobs. That’s what most people care about – and that’s where communicators should focus much of their measurement efforts.

The first step is to ensure you’re focusing on relevant indicators.  Examples might be safety, employee learning and development, results of continuous improvement efforts, quality of products and services, defect and rework rates, results of employee opinion surveys, customer satisfaction, sales and margins, progress reports on employee profit-sharing and the like.

Sharing information so people see why it matters.

But all that data is useless without an effective system for sharing it.  In short, measurement needs to be supported with a communication system that spans the entire organization.  Communicators shouldn’t try to do it alone, though.  They should work closely with other key functions – human resources, organizational development, finance, quality, information technology, sales, marketing, customer service, etc.

The roles played by the people in this measurement and communication “orchestra” vary depending on numerous factors. Someone, though, has to take the lead and serve as the “conductor” who keeps the group operating in unison.  That role is ideally suited for communicators who can see their way out of their traditional boxes.

Regardless of who plays what role, several important elements have to be built into the design of an effective measurement and communication system:

  • Leading and lagging indicators
  • Frequent and timely
  • Simple
  • Visual
  • Relevant
  • Quantitative
  • Benchmarked
  • Action-based

Click here for a brief description of each of those elements.

It’s a big role to take on, but it’s worth it.  Beyond the merits of the system itself, communicators stand to be recognized more for the value of their work – and appreciated more for their contributions to the performance of the organization.

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Focusing on results can lead to poor performance.


Remember to recognize strong performance
Remember to recognize strong performance.

I want to share another insight from my late friend and mentor, David Berlo.  He always emphasized the distinction between results and performance.  Results are the outcomes you produce, and performance is how you get there, he said.  From there, he asserted that being singularly results-driven in what you measure and reward eventually leads to the deterioration of both performance AND results.  Here’s why.

Outcomes vs. Inputs

First, we all know that people tend to repeat behaviors that are reinforced in some meaningful way.  Likewise, people tend NOT to repeat behaviors for which they receive negative response.  Next, it’s important to realize that no one has direct control over outcomes (results) – unless the game is fixed or there’s an unfair advantage.  People can only control inputs (performance).

Now, if bad performance always led to bad results, and good performance always led to good results, it wouldn’t matter which one you rewarded – results or performance. But that’s not always how things work out.  Sometimes you don’t get good results even when you give your best effort – other variables can come into play.  Other times, just the opposite is true.  You can give a marginal effort and come out smelling like a rose.

That’s not how things usually happen, but look at what you get when they do.  If you fail to reward people for good performance because they had bad results, you discourage them from repeating the good behavior.  If you reward them for good results in spite of poor performance, you reinforce poor performance in the future.  The cumulative effect over time is inevitable.  Every time you focus on results in a way that either reinforces poor performance or discourages good performance, you also take a step backwards with long-term results.

Performance is the bottom line.

Of course, you have to add up the numbers on the bottom line eventually.  But even if winning in the world of business means producing results, lasting success still requires focusing on the drivers of those results, and rewarding effective execution – regardless of the outcomes in the short run.  Berlo summed it up this way: “Winning is the name of the game, but performance is the bottom line.”  Clearly, if effective execution isn’t producing the desired long-term results, you need to figure out where the disconnect is.  But it serves no purpose to penalize people for poor outcomes if they’re doing the right things in the right way. If that happens, you need to fix the systems, not the people.

So what does that mean for us in the people professions?  For HR people, it’s pretty obvious.  Some compensation and bonus programs are notorious for focusing solely on immediate, bottom line results without regard to how they’re produced – often leading to short-term “success” with negative long-term consequences. Those programs have to encourage performance that looks at the long haul. For communications people, we need to look at where the bulk of the ongoing organizational dialogue is focused.  Are we communicating effectively about the “steps to success” – or is everything employees read and hear about focused on the end game?  If it’s results we’re after, we’d better be talking a lot more about what it takes to produce them – because in the end, it’s how you get there that counts.

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