You Say You Want a Revolution?
That's what it will take to reverse the current employee development wasteland that many corporations have become.
"Our employees are our greatest asset." That is a statement espoused in the values of many companies. But what does that statement mean to you? Does it have any meaning to you? Over the past decade, a shift in corporations has occurred - away from social responsibility towards employees to a "hands off" approach, where the employees are responsible for their own development. In making this shift, corporations have encouraged, in fact left little choice, to employees to leave their minds and hearts at the door every day. According to a Gallup poll of 1.7 million people globally, only 20% reported that they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day at work 1. This managerial bankruptcy, for whom Enron is the poster child, must be radically changed and I would like to share with you my ideas on what some of the causes of problems are, and how I believe the situation can be turned around.
Part of the problem lies in the evolution of corporate culture and values. Over the past decade, as competition has become fierce globally, customers have become things to win and exploit. Customer service and loyalty is now the focus, to the exclusion of employees. Similarly, the drive for profits at any cost and the dependence on Wall Street analysts for making business decisions has driven us to the current state of corporate anorexia. We expect and are told continually to "do more with less." It is clear, however, that we have shifted too far. Employees who are told they are the company's greatest asset but see they are the most expendable suffer a crisis of trust and morale 2. When they successfully "do more with less" what suffers is their own development and growth - where they have no scorecard. It becomes more about survival than thriving.
The other part of the problem is that corporate organizations operate under two flawed assumptions:
Therfore, in performance reviews and development discussions, we are generally told where we do well, and where we need to improve, and that is where we focus our development. The problem in doing that is that over time, you end up with a lot of mediocre people. Strengths are neglected, and much effort is exerted on trying to "fix" something that can never really be fixed. Extensive research by the Gallup organization shows in fact that each person has lasting and unique talents, and that their greatest room for growth lies in their area of greatest strength 1.
So, how can this situation be turned around?
First, I believe that people managers need help. Many companies are requiring managers to conduct development discussions with employees again. However, just requiring them to have a development discussion or plan in place for every employee and yearly reviews will not in itself improve the engagement and empowerment of employees. That is almost worse than the "every man for himself" era we have been in. Either managers' scorecards must be changed to reflect this new emphasis and some of their other responsibilities removed, or we need additional resources for coaching people in organizations.
Second, I believe that we should focus on people's strengths, not their weaknesses. By legislating outcomes instead of style molds, we can build organizations and corporations that spotlight each person's strengths and honors him for them. There are widely available assessments that identify these strengths and help managers coach people according to their strengths.
In conclusion, I believe a revolution rather than evolution is called for. Instead of more of the same, I believe that to achieve profit with honor, companies must begin to put employees first - even above customers! Organizations must facilitate the revolution of employee development via knowledgeable, caring leaders who focus on the unique capabilities of each person.
1. "First, Break All the Rules," Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman, Simon and Schuster, 1999.
2. "Reclaiming Higher Ground: Building Organizations that Inspire the Soul" Secretan, Lance, McGraw Hill Professional Publishing, 1998.