Friday, July 20, 2007

Dead Staff Walking

Sorry for the movie-related play on words, but I noticed something rather sad the other day.. at least my interpretation of it.

I was standing outside an office building, just doing a bit of typical people watching, and noticed a fairly high number of people with a number of common characteristics – typically over 40 years old, a bit pale, sad or somewhat blank looks on their faces, and judging by their posture, body language and walk, appeared to be very world-weary.

I know, we’ve all had “those” days/weeks/months where you’re dealing with work-related issues, personal ones, or both, and the stress and weight of them continually bears down on your shoulders. But what I saw seemed to be more than that. I think I was witnessing the severely “disengaged employee.” (I’ve seen some disturbing statistics recently on the degree of disengagement in the workplace)

In the context of knowledge management and the retiring generation of “boomers” this disengagement presents a significant hurdle to overcome. Not only will the disengaged employees be reluctant to participate and contribute to any knowledge related initiatives, but the “receiver” of this knowledge, let's say Generation X/Y, will not be overly inclined to spend time with these individuals. And this becomes a particularly critical issue when the knowledge the individual possesses is important to the ongoing business of the organization.

Of course it is impossible to diagnose the cause of the disengagement I assumed I observed in this instance, but the odds are pretty good it’s got something to do with one of:

  • longing for the “good old days” (we all do that to some extent, right?)
  • a perceived ineffective manager
  • a job with no learning / growth opportunities, or a pure lack of interest in the work and context
  • a job that lacks challenge, or is overly (or perhaps mind numbingly) repetitive
    disillusionment with the organization’s (treatment of friends and colleagues
  • learned helplessness or a lack of sense of control over even a small degree of personal destiny
  • a lack of direction, or understanding of if and how personal work fits into the big picture
    difficulty coping with stress and pressures of work
  • being all too frequently subjected to micro management
  • being implicitly and explicitly told that their opinions / contributions don't matter

Re-engaging disengaged employees is certainly a looming if not current management challenge.

So, how is re-engagement accomplished? Certainly not by proclamation of “thou shalt be engaged!”. And certainly not by some degree of implicit or explicit punitive measures – that will at best result in compliance. Old style command and control approaches will not work. Engagement, like knowledge, can only be volunteered not conscripted.

Things that managers can do to improve engagement include:

  • explicitly and systematically improving the processes people use to work together at problem solving and decision making
  • making explicit and rewarding the key enabling behaviours that align with effective work processes, and coach staff and colleagues in learning about and engaging in those behaviors
  • ensuring everyone is accountable equally for both business results, their impact on others, and contributions to the success of colleagues
  • increasing the degree of staff participate in identifying and resolving key business and organizational issues, and recognize / reward the participation
  • “tell less”, ask more questions and listen closely to the answers
  • make it clear in every circumstance who “owns” decisions, how they will be made
  • being tolerant of (or even encouraging) faults / failures that result (or have the potential to result) in important learning
  • encourage productive candor, full disclosure of all relevant information, and transparency of motives, reasoning and rationale
  • ensuring business direction and course corrections are clear, well communicated and transparent in rationale
  • effectively coaching staff so that they can see and achieve the positive / potential in themselves and in their work situations
  • providing effective "feed forward" that focuses on learning and growth for the future
  • leading by example

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