Thursday, January 21, 2010

Opportunity from Chaos

The Conference Board announced that employee satisfaction is at an all time low and several other studies say that based on "dis-engagement" the U.S. economy is operating at about 30% efficiency. Yet another study says that the supply of "experienced" talent is going to decrease while demand increases. So where is the opportunity? Well call me Pollyanna, but I see several areas.

In a recent article Daniel Pink, author of Drive as well as several other great management books, states that loyalty isn't dead it has been redefined. He even provides a whole bunch of ways to build this redefined loyalty into your organization and redefined loyalty can translate to engagement which directly contributes to sustainability, profitability, and productivity.

Although 25% of the workforce will be over 50 by 2020 in North America and Europe and the over 45 customer demographic will be 40% larger than the 20-45 group by 2012 these folks have more money to spend and incidentally research shows that the over 50s have as good or better skills as their younger counterparts. By matching up the customer facing workforce with the demographic shift it represents opportunity rather than loss.

Building engagement requires a strategy, but it is not necessarily cost prohibitive or limited to large, complex organizations. In fact many of the elements of an engagement strategy are pretty simple in their foundations:

* Hire the right people. Think about your organization and your values and the values of your customer base and build it into your hiring and selection processes.
* Create great jobs. Great jobs are not necessarily about compensation. They give people an opportunity to contribute and work in an environment that fits them.
* Participate in helping people build great careers. Loyalty should be based on contribution not tenure. Employees who give you 110% while they work for you are loyal. Employees who speak highly about you to customers and other potential employees are loyal.
* Re-recruit constantly. Smart employers spend a lot of time ensuring that employees understand their personal contribution to the business and where they fit in. Do you really think this is easier in organizations with thousands of employees than it is in smaller organizations?
* Take advantage of local resources. Most of the foundational element of successful engagement come down to relationship skills not technology. I am talking about things like setting expectations properly, giving feedback constructively, recognizing positive results and similar skills. Most of those skills are taught by your local Chamber of Commerce or community college. You don't need an expensive "top tier" consulting firm. Best practices and templates work great for the company who developed them and consulting firms who install them.
* Think local, act local. To a great extent most of us operate in our local community. By engaging and investing in our community we build and reinforce relationships and it relationships that drive organizations not technology or systems by themselves.

In my mind we must decide whether or not we will use the "lessons" from this latest recession as a learning opportunity or concede defeat. I am hoping it will cause us to examine root causes and to redefine how we work with our employees, customers, and communities and they we will capitalize on the benefits of commitment rather than compliance. We have to decide.

Mark Herbert

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