Two things have been happening:
1. People have been reading all the case studies and telling me they wish they could hire me to come flash consult the teams they manage at work on an ongoing basis, because they’re on top of project milestones but feel like there’s a lot of stuff going on that they aren’t understanding that is causing problems or potential problems. Now, you can actually hire me to flash consult on an ongoing basis on retainer, but I’m not convinced that’s the most elegant solution because you shouldn’t really have to bring in someone from the outside to get a handle on your team. So I started thinking about a better way. (Flash consulting myself, as it were.)
2. Renewed discussion in business media about this Gallup State of the Global Workplace study from 2013 showing that employee engagement in the workplace is abysmal. (Note that engagement is better in the US and Canada than in other regions, but still, only 29% of employees in the US and Canada report being engaged in their jobs.) There was a ton of press when it first came out about how much money this was costing companies, because non-engaged employees are basically just sacks of meat sitting in cube farms (my paraphrase, obvs.) so this is a big problem.
The new round of writing about it is along the lines of the Inc. piece “Dear CEO: This Is Why Millennials Don’t Want to Work for You.” I liked this piece a lot, first because it didn’t denigrate the Millennials, but second because it basically laid out exactly what behaviors and structures were causing lack of engagement. And then also drawing a direct line between people being disengaged at work and leaving those jobs. (I do think that Millennials are more likely to leave than those of us in Generation X are, for the usual mortgage/family/we’re-just-so-so-tired Gen X reasons. Which means that we’re the big unengaged non-productive sacks of meat in the cube farms wishing we had the energy to go start our own things like the still-shiny Millennials are.)
I was thinking about these two things and realized that they’re the same problem. Employees aren’t engaged because there are all sorts of barriers to their being engaged in the workplace. Everything from stupid problems with clients, to problems with the systems they have to use every day, to politics with other people they work with, to not feeling aligned with whatever their department’s supposed to be doing right now, to a million other things. And the overriding reason they’re not engaged is because their managers don’t care (or don’t know) about all the challenges they’re facing, so it feels like tossing their energy into a bottomless pit. Plus, they don’t get any help eliminating these problems so they can just do the work they were hired to do in an engaged way. It’s basically Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s worst nightmare.
In the meantime, managers don’t have any idea what challenges their people are facing. They don’t even know what questions to ask or how to ask the questions to find out what’s making their people check out mentally. (When they do ask questions it probably sounds a lot like asking a 14-year-old “How was school today?”.) So they’re stuck trying to light a fire under people without knowing what’s preventing their people from caring. And when they try to figure out how to fix it, they don’t get any institutional support, plus they have too much other stuff to do, so they just go back to look at the project milestone tracker to try to feel better about things.
The popular lore is that workers are lazy jerks and managers are greedy jerks. I think in reality, we’re all just trying to make our days as productive and interesting as possible. If given the choice, every one of us would rather be engaged in what we’re doing. So I created a system that gives employees the opportunity to express what is preventing them from engaging–in a way that’s emotion-neutral so it just becomes an issue of operations and eliminating waste, not of blame or inadequacy. And then teaching managers to read the reporting they get from employees to figure out what the barriers to engagement and production are and how to determine who should/could solve them, and then solving them. I call it Reporting/Interpreting/Solving Workflow Solutions, or RISWS*. It’s based on a comically simple reporting process and then a layered, nuanced (but teachable) interpretation process that eventually becomes routine.
The training is in three stages:
one on-site group training in the reporting method and how to interpret likely results (based on your industry and type of team),
one intensive group follow-up training using your actual gathered reporting data several weeks later,
and then three monthly individual follow-up interpreting/solving mentoring sessions.
This works best with multiple managers in the same organization, but eventually I’ll be scheduling some sessions managers can come to individually.
*The other option was something totally esoteric like You Got Your Chi In My Peanut Butter Mindmeld Fantasia, so be happy with RISWS.