Employee Engagement: Let The Fakery Begin - InformationWeek

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11/26/2014
08:37 AM
Grumpy IT Guy
Grumpy IT Guy
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Employee Engagement: Let The Fakery Begin

It's a good thing HR isn't in charge of IT employee retention. Their new "employee engagement" campaign is really "employee enragement."

Overheard during an HR "employee engagement" workshop: "Work on human capital so you can ask employees for discretionary effort."
 
Go away, HR. Come back when the double-talk fit has passed.

Here at BigCorp, bosses are "discovering" that (gasp) if employees hate the company, they don't work as well. Translation of the HR double-talk: "Be nice to people and they'll go the extra mile for you." Now, that was worth the $100,000 consultant, wasn't it?
 
But hey, it's the "brand new" science of employee engagement. It's social science! We did a survey! What are you, a hater?

[Will some cool tech toys make the Grumpy IT Guy less grumpy? Look at 10 Smart Tech Toys For Kids.]

Here is the problem. The thing that causes DIS-engagement is saying stupid stuff like, "Build up human capital so that you can ask workers for discretionary effort," and treating common sense as if it's super-complex science beyond the ken of normal people. The smug doubletalk attitude causes enragement, not engagement.

Many employees here are disenchanted with how the company treats them. They are disenchanted because they feel like a cog in a machine, not like the "most important asset" of the company, despite this HR platitude.

We are now to follow HR's lead on how to manage or browbeat our employees into engagement nirvana.

Except, management by platitude and mandatory meetings is rarely successful. And a manager's actions speak louder than words. If I exhorted my IT team to "be engaged" at the same time as (for example) micro-managing them, I doubt it would do any good.

How about: Stop acting like you're smarter than your employees. Treat them like human beings. Stop managing by platitude.

It is uncomfortable to disagree with HR. Generally, at BigCorp IT, we do not talk about the HR buzzwords-of-the-day because we don't want to demoralize our employees. Is this us being "disengaged?"

Probably.

Two things:

  1. If you want people to be engaged, be engaging. Don't tell people to be engaged and then be shocked when they are not.
  2. "Engagement" is voluntary. In other words, if it's about our "discretionary effort" as leaders, quit shoving it down our throats. Stop wasting our time. Quit forcing us to spend six hours of offsite "training" on how to make employees enraged... er, engaged.

A message for BigCorp bosses everywhere: you want engagement? You want employees to stop rolling their eyes when you talk? You want voluntary extra effort? Stop treating us like kindergartners and start trusting us. Start being straight with us. Stop telling us part of the story. Start giving us details without super-careful press-release type language. Stop the complicated consultant-speak. Start talking in language that shows that you're not trying to impress anybody.

Most of all, if you want us to feel like we are the most important asset of the company, show us. Don't tell us.

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Grumpy IT Guy avoided historic disasters and clueless people while working his way up the IT ranks, but he retained his keen sense of humor. He now leads an IT organization somewhere in America, as part of the FBI's Grump Protection Program. Need advice? Send questions to ... View Full Bio
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D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
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11/26/2014 | 9:50:06 AM
"HCM" lingo has to go
I completely agree with these points. The dehumanizing first offense is calling this category "human capital management." It's like somebody made this up just so it could be a three-letter acronym and cost more money. Whenever a writer wants to make sure people understand, the just call them "HR apps," because everyone knows what that means. I don't mind being thought of or described as a "resource," but please don't call me "human capital." I've bought into the "HCM" TLA in a lot of my coverage of that category, but this column has me thinking I should boycott and just call them HR apps.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 10:54:06 AM
Re: "HCM" lingo has to go
Do you think this whole dehumanizing of people began when mass layoffs came into vogue and cutting employees was viewed as one of the easiest ways to improve results for shareholders? 
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 12:05:04 PM
Re: "HCM" lingo has to go
"Do you think this whole dehumanizing of people began when mass layoffs came into vogue and cutting employees was viewed as one of the easiest ways to improve results for shareholders?"

I think that's some of it, which raises the question of how much social pressure shareholders deserve for this kind of practice. Once upon a time, a decent number of employees at these companies actually were shareholders, but statistics tell us that today, this is far, far from the case. Some shareholders have experienced this sort of disrespect themselves, I imagine, but one also wonders at many companies how many people executing  or benefiting from dehumanizing policy are even aware of - let alone troubled by - their actions. If we're talking about someone who gets a higher dividend or some executive who gets a bonus due to these sorts of policies, I think they have an ethical obligation to think about where their good fortune came from.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
12/1/2014 | 9:58:00 AM
Re: "HCM" lingo has to go
Not being a major shareholder in any company, it's not an issue I've ever had to grapple with but I would imagine that if I could stretch to think of people (and the families they support, the kids whose food they buy, and the mortgage/rent that salary pays) as "resources," it would be a lot easier to go home with a clear conscience when I knew (or voted for) a company was going to ax 25% of its resources -- and I'd make a 5% or whatever extra profit. That said, you'd surely hope some shareholders, especially those who are already very wealthy and are now giving away their fortunes before they die, could consider alternatives to mass layoffs, especially at organizations that are already running lean and have already fired surplus employees or those who were not doing their jobs well. 
Number 6
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Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
11/26/2014 | 6:13:56 PM
Re: "HCM" lingo has to go
No, it goes back further than the layoffs that came with the "re-engineering" (blech!) movement. It goes back to when the Personnel Department was renamed "Human Resources."

Then the local HR people were all centralized in HQ, then a lot of their functions like benefits administration were outsourced.

It's interesting to note the high turnover in HR itself. Like they know something we don't.
Todder
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Todder,
User Rank: Moderator
11/26/2014 | 1:20:13 PM
Re: "HCM" lingo has to go
Wow! Nailed it. Employees are chattel, and the old lines sbout "our people are our strength" is window dressing.

There was a time that HR had an omdudman-like role, while today at BigCorp they send out direction like the town cryer in the HBO Series "Rome". Managers listen, read them, scoff, and then move on.


There are still the Kool-Aid drinkers (mostly fake swallowers) who will tow the company line to prove what good mindless soldiers they are. We know who they are, and frankly don't care.
Stratustician
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Stratustician,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 2:16:39 PM
Re: "HCM" lingo has to go
Oh, I agree with you so much here. I've worked at organizations where they touted "We love our employees" and then hide behind the management ceiling as it crushes the potential of these employees.  The nice thing is rarely you do find organizations who actually do focus on employees, and as a result you can feel the difference in employee engagement and individual contributions.  Funny enough, one of the companies actually banned the term HR from the org charts in favor of People and Growth, which already illustrates in that one gesture, that the committment to employee engagement and development is there, not just a used as a term to fake this mindset.
zaious
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zaious,
User Rank: Ninja
11/30/2014 | 12:21:45 AM
Re: "HCM" lingo has to go
So, If we start calling HR by 'People and Growth', is it going to make the company employee friendly! They are just on the surgface. The issue of employee happiness is treated very lightly in cmpanies (though, the company thinks otherwise). Employees are not kids, they have judgement and observation skill. They can figure out whether the company is sincere or not in its efforts.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
12/1/2014 | 12:42:50 PM
Re: "HCM" lingo has to go
Amen and hallelujah.

I used to be a trainer/teacher working at a community college teaching computer courses.  We would help them write resumes and cover letters upon completion the course.

The best boss I ever had told me and all of our students, write the way you would speak when sending out your resume or anyone "professional' - no one ever says "Per your request, attached is my resume for your review."  No one talks like that.  

She had a point.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 10:00:18 AM
The key to engagement: a team-building exercise [Ack!]
My own most hated practice is the team-building exercise, something I've encountered in volunteer organizations as well as at work. If at all possible, I find a way to be abscent while this sort of farce is underway.

Team-building exercises do not build teams. Working together productively on work that actually accomplishes something: much better.
Lorna Garey
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Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 10:28:02 AM
Re: The key to engagement: a team-building exercise [Ack!]
So true. Why no, I do not want to spend a day doing pointless whiteboard exercises with coworkers, some of whom are way more skilled than I at feigning enthusiasm, thus throwing in a dash of inferiority angst. I don't care what that $200 an hour HCM consultant told you.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 10:49:17 AM
Re: The key to engagement: a team-building exercise [Ack!]
The best "team building exercise" is working together on a real problem and coming together to a solution, often using really boring tools like email or Dropbox or Google Docs or a conference call, if managed skillfully so the usual person or three people don't dominate the conversation. It's a great feeling when a team -- whether it's the entire department or a small group -- comes up with the answer to something or figures out a new source of revenue, new feature, or other opportunity. You automatically feel a bond with your peers that no forced exercise ever comes close to recreating. So the best thing managers (or HR) can do is improve transparency and encourage top brass to throw open problems -- even the biggest problems -- to employees. By making employees part of the solution, they buy into the ultimate resolution and build tighter bonds than any consultant could ever come up with.
MedicalQuack
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MedicalQuack,
User Rank: Moderator
11/26/2014 | 10:40:29 AM
People Don't Work that Way...
This is good to see someone besides me take on Algo Duping.  That's what it is and I have written about it many times..read this..."People Don't Work that Way" inspired by one of the smartest Quants and professors out there who wrote black box code for Goldman for years..

http://ducknetweb.blogspot.ch/2014/05/people-dont-work-that-way-world-of.html

If you want more on algo duping, collection at the Killer Algorithms page with videos created by people a lot smarter than me will tell you all about it..

http://www.ducknet.net/attack-of-the-killer-algorithms/
Shea Heaver
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Shea Heaver,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2014 | 10:54:48 AM
Engage Employees in the Engagement Process
No pulled punches in this article....and kudos for calling it as you see it.

As mentioned, the biggest problem is that the engagement process is still viewed as a management or HR function.  

Yet todays employee expects a more agile and empirical approach to workplace culture improvements rather than periodic (usually annual) directives from above.  Staff need to be empowered to identify and correct their own areas of concern.  

As the article points out "..start trusting us", because once this happens the rolled eyes become rolled-up sleeves with increased morale, loyalty and productivity.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
12/1/2014 | 9:50:16 AM
Re: Engage Employees in the Engagement Process
Employees typically are closest to the customer -- whether that's the end-users who will use the software you're designing, the consumers shopping in the store, or the travelers flying on your airline -- and it's critical that management trusts and listens to these front-line workers. Someone believed in these individuals enough to hire them, then to continue investing in them through ongoing training and education. Corporate mandates, far removed from the front lines, may be right, but quite often should be tempered by feedback from the front.
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 11:24:12 AM
Obvious but worth a mention
In my experience the social sciences tend to point toward stuff we knew all along. We all know honey get more flies than vinegar. Are we really surprised it's different in business? If a kid feels listened to they are less likely to engage in bad behavior to get attention. If a friend feels like you care they will share the latest gossip,  help you with your next move and in general be a help to you. If an employee feels like they matter to the company, they feel like part of the company and will work harder and take pride in their work. This is nothing new. But as often as it is forgotten, it's always good to be reminded. How you treat others always counts for something. Which leads to the question If you have disengaged employees what can you do about about it? (Not what can you tell them about it.)
Michael Endler
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Michael Endler,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 12:25:47 PM
Re: Obvious but worth a mention
"In my experience the social sciences tend to point toward stuff we knew all along."

Indeed, there's ample evidence from recent studies that the way a lot of employers operate is soul-crushing and completely antithetical to the goal of building camaraderie or employee investment. Not that the people who should be paying attention to this stuff always do so.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
12/1/2014 | 9:53:45 AM
Re: Obvious but worth a mention
It can be very difficult to turn around a company culture, @kstaron, especially if you retain the same top management. But it can be done, especially if the CEO and other c-levels become open about any failings (real or perceived), goals (what they are and why), and how the entire company can pull together (benefits and rewards for all). It requires conversation throughout an organization, which can be difficult if an organization typically enjoyed cloisters of power and preferred leaking info through whispered rumors. But as more companies embrace transparency, i think it's the only way businesses can hold onto top employees for any length of time.
jharker980
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jharker980,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/26/2014 | 1:17:32 PM
If BigCorp actually had an exciting vision...
It's amazing to me how many companies spend time on this drivel rather than focusing on customer engagement, compelling business vision and equitable internal policies. If the company has a clue it's employees won't need to be coaxed into doing their jobs or working together in teams. They will realize quickly they cannot succeed without each other. Building a compelling business is exciting and hard. If your employees don't see how their work aligns to the success of the business it isn't their fault, it's the managers. Vision first... engagement follows.
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 1:29:11 PM
Great post...stating the obvious...obvious for some
HR considering employees "human capital" says it all. Anyone who uses that term already discredits employees as persons and sees them only as an expense line in a financial statement. That aside, expecting engagement or increasing engagement requires a lot of effort. After all, you need to pay people to do the work in the first place. Engagement coms when people actually want to be there and work because it is self-fulfillment and joy. That is something that comes from within as an organic development, that cannot be planned.

The most powerful tool for management is to listen and help. When an employee comes to her or his manager and talks about a problem is it a cry for help. Managers need to help the employee to fix the problem. Management doesn't even need to fix the problem for the employee, showing means of coping with an issue is already sufficient. Make employees welcome and valued, simple things like walking around and asking what each employee is working on and saying "Thank you!" does wonders. As does giving treats once in a while like catered lunch or teams going out to eat or just out of the blue end the workweek at noon on a Friday. Way more effective and often less expensive than any one of self-centered consultants.

It is similar to copying "20% time" from Google without giving employees a chance to spend 20% of their time on innovation or R&D by reducing the current workload per employee by 20%. Making this even part of an annual goal is totally missing the point. All it does is force employees to work 20% more or get marked down during annual review. That is not creating engagement, it only frustrates people beyond repair.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
11/28/2014 | 5:37:09 PM
Re: Great post...stating the obvious...obvious for some
Good points, if information about the company is not provided to its employees and departments are working in isolation then, margins will never increase, profits will not be earned and wages will never increase. Or, an alternative possibility is that one department is doing all the work/innovation and the other departments are displaying free rider characteristics.
Charlie Babcock
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Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
11/26/2014 | 6:30:21 PM
To get engagement, be engaging
"To get engagement, be engaging." That's actually hard for the employer to do. Leaders of the company have to be willing to talk with people, which includes listening to them. Talking with people is different from talking at them. And at the same time there's a role for leadership. People are looking for it and respond to it. But it's the nature of the conversation on the way to leadership expression that's hard to get right,  
Angelfuego
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Angelfuego,
User Rank: Ninja
11/26/2014 | 11:21:21 PM
Re: To get engagement, be engaging
@Grumpy IT, you are so right. I laughed out loud when you outlined two probable reasons for disengagement in the workforce, because I totally relate to those 2 points. You nailed it and it was well stated.
asksqn
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asksqn,
User Rank: Ninja
11/27/2014 | 10:31:51 PM
An enigma wrapped in a mystery
Management via platitude is apparently a class offered in every HR tract in the country.  It's a ::MYSTERY:: why employees don't seem to be immediately motivated to lick bootheels a lot more frequently and of their own volition.  o.0

 

 
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
11/28/2014 | 9:25:12 PM
Re: An enigma wrapped in a mystery
> Management via platitude is apparently a class offered in every HR tract in the country.

Management education does not teach much about human psychology. Resultantly when business managers become people managers, applying tactics that work well to manage business dont work well to manage people.

Result: People change their bosses, and as a consequence change their organization.
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
11/28/2014 | 10:09:25 PM
Fake it Till You......

As usual the Grumpy IT Guy is telling it like it is.   It is a refreshing  to hear someone say it before I do.  I see so many familiar instances of stupidity from what is described here- I just recently endured the mandatory morning meetings that went on long after there was much need for them.   

It is clear to me now that " the department head" was and probably always has been in over his (head).   Some times we give people too much credit - just because they are in the position of "responsiblity" doesn't mean they can do the job.  

So here is to all the "Fake it, till you make it " wannabe managers.   You are all just kidding yourself and sadly many will have their illusions of grandeur backed up by yet another level of ill - equipped senior execs.

Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
11/28/2014 | 10:20:24 PM
The Dreaded Company Day

"...Quit forcing us to spend six hours of offsite "training" on how to make employees enraged... er, engaged."

 

Indeed.    You have got to love this one !    Yes, and when you really want to impress, ah brain-wash, company day is a great way to achieve this end.  It is really pityful, I have been on only one good one my entire career and that involved bumper cars, otherwise it has been a sleep fest.

Companies that do this in the name of moral are a joke.  Plain and simple.

Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
11/29/2014 | 6:45:44 PM
Yearly encouragement bonus
This is a strange time of year for people who work in these odd environments. Some companies have terrible management practices and still give out bonuses (however small). The message is mixed. You've done a good job all year but nobody seemed to notice until now (but we don't really recognize it).
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
12/3/2014 | 8:45:11 AM
Re: Yearly encouragement bonus
Personally I think the stock option or just stock is more attractive than year end bonus.  For retaining IT professional, another important thing is the job itself - do you have really interesting projects with sufficient technology challenge? If your project is just some routine work, then the employee engagement will be a problem as well.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
12/2/2014 | 1:20:04 PM
Small is good
I read the comments from those you who work in big local orgs and I'm so thankful my almost 30 year career has been spent at mfg business units with 40-100 office people, plus shop floor. The top boss is just John who I love to talk sports with. HR does real work like benefits, payroll and hiring. We all know what each other does and are easily accountable. You can't hide at a small place. In IT, I've usually been the only developer and ERP support. It's awesome to decide how things get done and then execute it, no BS involved. The business users love it because they know where to come for IT help and that they will get it.

Now my units are usually part of some larger global Corp group but only the top business managers have to deal with those clowns. We have some Corp IT, including a CIO, but they are so out of touch locally they might as well not exist. My local coworkers used to love when I referenced the current CSI rating for them. CSI, Corporate Stupidity Index. But for most part we are so isolated, operate like a family business who all understand what needs to get done for our paychecks to keep coming.

It's so nice to NOT relate to what you are talking about.
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