Tag Archives: employee engagement

Engaging Employees: Key to Success

After three decades working in this competitive industry, I have come to understand the very significant role that employee engagement plays in the success of any insurance company. No matter the size of your company or the lines you deal in, having an engaged team makes all the difference.

I have seen this in action, first-hand, as the CEO of IAT Insurance Group. When I joined the company four years ago, IAT’s underwriting results were underperforming. For the last three years, however, we have turned an underwriting profit.

What changed? In part, this came about by refocusing the company on underwriting discipline and restructuring key operations. I firmly believe, however, that it is also due in large part to a renewed emphasis we have placed, company-wide, on fostering employee engagement. We could not have achieved such an immediate turnaround in results without the input of our employees.

A focused program of specific, concrete actions key to employee engagement

Employees are savvy. They know when management is all talk. This is especially true when it comes to employee engagement. Insurance companies must take concrete actions that are more than just motivational poster slogans to foster a positive — and profitable — working environment.

See also: Employee Wellness Plans’ Code of Conduct  

This is why we have engaged in a focused program over the past four years with specific tactics to foster an employee culture that creates productivity and growth. This includes:

  • Getting everyone on the same team. IAT has grown through a series of mergers and acquisitions, with many business units operating under their original names and branding. That led to a fracturing of IAT’s internal identity as one company. One of our first initiatives when I joined IAT was to bring all the units together under one IAT umbrella. That put everyone on the same team, pulling together in one direction.
  • Establishing a unified internal “brand.” It was one thing to unify IAT’s disparate business units under one umbrella on paper. It’s quite another to have employees actually feel like one. To help build culture, we established an internal brand that we call “A Family of Answers” to help all employees, at every level, identify as one company with one mission. At IAT we provide answers to each other, our customers and the community. This core identity reflects our company values and unites us.
  • Investing in technology that connects employees. IAT has offices throughout the U.S., which makes operating as a unified team difficult. To foster connections, we have invested heavily in technology that effortlessly links our employees together. We make extensive use of videoconferencing, for example, and for more than just big meetings. Instead of picking up the phone to talk to a colleague from another office, we turn on our desktop video cameras to have that conversation. The company also launched a state-of-the-art Sharepoint-powered intranet, called IAT Connect, that lets all employees access the latest corporate information as well as collaborate on projects.
  • Fostering real openness and transparency. Companies make better decisions when more people weigh in, and engaged employees are more likely to share feedback and ask questions. To encourage more people to contribute, we hold quarterly all-employee webcasts to provide an update on the company and key projects. More importantly, however, we solicit and answer employee questions. We give employees the option to ask their question live during the meeting or submit it anonymously. We make sure every question is answered. If we run out of time during the meeting, we answer remaining questions on IAT Connect. The company benefits from the thoughtful inquiries and insight of our employees, and, at the same time, we are building transparency and trust.
  • Acting on employee feedback. Encouraging employee feedback is one thing, but it will not help engagement if nothing changes in light of that feedback. We make a point of listening to employees — and then acting. For example, during one of our quarterly webcasts, an employee asked if a year-end performance bonus could be distributed before Black Friday instead of in December so employees could take advantage of sales. The executive team discussed it, and the change was made.
  • Encouraging community engagement. Giving back to the community is the right thing to do. It also aligns with our core values and goes a long way toward building a culture of engagement. We provide a company match for employees’ contributions to charities, paid time off for volunteering and a companywide week focused on community service and charity called Giving Week.
  • Investing in training and career development. Investing in our employees’ success is a win/win. We launched IAT University last year to provide free access to an array of courses, from technical skills training to leadership development.
  • Formalizing employee recognition programs. We introduced two programs to provide more opportunities for employees to be recognized and financially rewarded for outstanding customer service and performance.
  • Moving to a pay-for-performance system. Money is not the only motivating factor for employees — but it is an important one. IAT always had a generous bonus program, but all employees were largely treated the same, despite their performance, and a majority of staff found this de-motivating. Based on employee feedback, we moved to a pay-for-performance compensation system that encourages productive employees who contribute to the company and its profitability. The system works and is very generous. In 2017, based on the company’s success, 94% of IAT employees earned a bonus, and the total bonus pool was up more than 14% over the year before.

Measure and benchmark to ensure employee engagement goals are met

Even with concrete actions, no program to increase employee engagement could be considered a success without hard data to back it up. Yes, IAT began turning an underwriting profit three years ago and has continued to do so, but we wanted more direct proof our initiatives were having an impact on the work culture at our company.

So, for the last three years we have commissioned well-known corporate leadership consultant Kevin Kruse to conduct an employee engagement survey. Each year’s results have shown marked improvement. The 2018 findings are particularly noteworthy:

  • An 87% participation rate
  • Overall engagement score of 4.13 out of 5 (up from 3.87 in 2017)
  • Engaged-to-disengaged ratio of 26:1 (an improvement over 12:1 in 2017). The ratio puts IAT in the top 10% of companies surveyed by Kruse

The metrics are gratifying proof that our collective hard work and the company’s investment of time and money into employee engagement have paid real dividends.

See also: 4 Good Ways to Welcome Employees  

Invest in your employees, and they will pay it back, with interest

Peter Kellogg, our owner, has always said, “Take care of your people, and they will take care of the business.” Any company wanting an edge in today’s competitive marketplace would be wise to take a good, hard look at what it does around employee engagement, and make any and all necessary changes accordingly.

Busting 3 Myths on Engaging Employees

I recently read another post about why people hate their jobs and what employers can do about it. The post, published in USA Today and titled “The Motley Fool: Why you hate your job,” is just another attention grab. It really contains very little from a fresh perspective.

To their credit, they do cite the well-referenced Gallup survey that 52% of workers are not engaged in their work and that a further 18% describe themselves as “actively disengaged.” The author goes on to drive home the point that American productivity is a victim of this epidemic: “The most strategic act that any organization can take is to better engage and inspire team members.” That’s the best advice in the post.

The post contained three suggestions for how the leadership of an organization can fix this problem of employee engagement. As a response, I’d like to bust three myths about engagement.

Myth No. 1: Employee engagement can be fixed by external stimuli

Do we believe we engage our workers better by allowing them to take all the time off they want or by letting them write their own job descriptions? Do we believe that people are like animals; if we train them properly, they’ll roll over or wag their tails when we wave a treat in their presence?

People want to matter. “Do X, and they’ll respond Y” is a myth busted by treating people as free agents. The best people aren’t better than the non-best people. The best simply appreciate our goal and like doing their job. They want to be a part as “we” achieve the goal. They aren’t better than the other people; they fit better. Fit requires clear understanding of goals. Many people don’t understand their own motives. When they experience disinterest in the organization’s goals, they pursue their own. People who freely appreciate the organization’s goal and provide a valued contribution become more valuable and experience more joy. They freely join and consequently require less energy to manage. They bring their best energy and manage their own engagement as long as the organization holds up the other end.

Myth No. 2: People are generally selfish

This myth treats engagement as a transaction where leaders feed worker selfishness in exchange for workers feeding the leaders’ goals. I often hear that everyone is just working for the weekend or for a paycheck. Sure, based on the Gallup poll, seven out of 10 people are pretty much consuming more than they produce. So that must be the rule. Or is it?

People engage when they believe a goal is compelling. Many, maybe even most, people will sacrifice for what they believe to be noble causes. In the book “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hsieh, you can learn how the company evolved to be the best customer-service organization on the planet. People who want to take part in providing WOW and giving people an exceptional customer experience make it happen. They are creative in the ways they solve for that goal. People are family there. Turnover is low, and engagement is very high. Zappos is just one example of what happens when you give people a chance to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Myth No. 3: What works for one person will work for others

There are people who have no interest in your cause. They’re not motivated by your rewards. Sure, we’d like to engage them. But they must fit. If we’re engaging people we like and we’re growing our team, don’t let the people who fail to engage slow you down. Remember the quote from Vince Lombardi, “If you aren’t fired with enthusiasm, you’ll be fired with enthusiasm.” Zappos pursues culture at all costs. It famously pays people to leave. Find people who engage with your goals and culture, and you don’t have to work on engagement.

Please, let’s stop the mechanical “do this, and they’ll do that” discussion about employee engagement. Create a compelling vision. Equip, energize and empower passionate people to pursue a vision they consider worth the effort, and give everyone else a chance to find their passion elsewhere. Those are the keys to creating an environment where people volunteer engagement. You can’t pull it out of them. You create a place where you’re engaged, and, if those reasons appeal to others, they will engage and grow, too.

This post originally appeared on Smartblog on Leadership.

The Many Dangers of ‘Invisible Men’

I was wandering around my yard after dinner the other night, half-heartedly taking inventory of the garden chores I had been dodging, when I noticed some kids playing kickball across the street. There were six of them, three per team, and they were pretty good kickers, so they were doing a lot of base running. I chuckled when the tall kid standing on third base yelled, “Invisible man on third!” He then jogged to home plate to kick, while teammates stayed on first and second bases. Bases loaded, invisible man on third! I hadn’t heard that proclamation for a long time, but if you have ever played kickball, stickball, baseball or softball with teams of three or fewer, you know all about the invisible man.

That kickball game got me thinking about invisibility as an attribute in planning and operations and personal behavior.

Invisibility is the goal of many corporate security protocols, to protect sensitive information, to preserve privacy and confidentiality and to shield intellectual property from attack or discovery. The hope is to camouflage activities by providing cover or anonymity. Sometimes, an individual hopes to act behind the scenes or otherwise conceal activities.

Other times, invisibility is an incidental factor, because of negligence or inadvertence. Folks aren’t paying attention, and ownership, accountability and decision rights don’t get clearly established.

My first encounter with a corporate version of the invisible man came decades ago while I was working as a claims supervisor for a large insurer in Massachusetts. The job was tough, largely because the supervisor was responsible for monitoring and directing a hefty and constantly shifting portfolio of claims toward timely and appropriate resolution. Theoretically, the supervisor assigned the claims to handlers who moved them through the phases — investigation, evaluation and resolution — but sometimes there just weren’t enough available to handle all the claims. Turnover, training, vacations, hiring freezes, an increasing volume of new claims — any one of these things could create a situation where there were too many claims and not enough claim handlers. The solution? At that particular company, the solution was Mr. X.

Mr. X had a diary number and carried a large caseload of slow-moving claims reassigned from other claim handlers. Every claims supervisor had a Mr. X on staff. He was imaginary and invisible, so he wasn’t able to accomplish anything on the claims, but reassigning work to Mr. X let real claims handlers take on more new claims. Mr.X was an operating imperative.

Years later, I bumped into Mr. X’s cousins at a third party claims administrator in New Jersey. The TPA had guaranteed its clients that claims workloads would not exceed a certain number per claim handler. As the end of the month approached, if workloads were higher than promised, the TPA claims supervisors would reassign claims to themselves or to their office managers to reduce the claim handlers’ workloads to the agreed number.

Of course, the supervisors and manager weren’t imaginary or invisible, but they may as well have been because they did not actually work on the claims assigned to them. They were simply placeholders until after month end, at which point the claims would be reassigned to the claims handlers.

Invisible men also show up — or, rather, don’t show up — on committees.

Radio and TV journalist Richard Harkness is credited with drafting this definition of a committee: “A group of the unwilling, picked from the unfit, to do the unnecessary.” While I think that characterization is a bit severe, I have probably been on too many committees, so I believe it is fair to say that most committees have at least one member who fails to attend meetings and contributes little or nothing to the committee’s work. That’s awkward enough, but when the invisible committee member also happens to be the committee chair, it is even more awkward. I remember working on a committee in New York where the chair would schedule a meeting, then miss the meeting at the last minute because of a vague, recurring malady he described only as “man flu.” The committee would meet without him, cover the agenda and provide him with the minutes, then he would schedule another meeting and at the last minute. . . ,well, you have probably lived this dream yourself. The chair took credit for the committee’s work, yet he never contributed anything.

I have seen the same type of incidental invisibility in large-scale technology development and implementation projects, where it is frequently difficult to determine who, if anyone, actually “owns” the project. I always ask two questions: 1) Has any one person actually been told to set direction, manage obstacles and make decisions on the project? 2) Is there a real person who knows and understands she will be held accountable if things don’t work out as expected?

It is usually easy to identify the project sponsor and the steering committee and the subject matter experts and the IT folks who are managing the project, but the project owner is often not visible. Why? Either project ownership responsibility was never specifically assigned or, more likely, ownership was assigned to a committee. Psychologist Will Schutz was no doubt thinking of something else when he wrote this, but he did a good job of describing the inevitable, unfortunate outcome when an owner-less or committee-owned project fails to meet expectations: “Everyone is responsible, but no one is to blame.”

It is even worse when the wrong person or department is identified as the owner. I think it is crazy for human resources executives to own an employee engagement project, for example, or for IT executives to own a technology development or implementation project. These are business projects, and they should be owned by the business leader who convinced the organization that he had a problem or an opportunity, and that the project was the solution. Sure, HR and IT are there to assist, to provide expertise, structure, oversight and maybe even project management, but the business person owner needs to remain visible and accountable.

Step Aside, Compliance – There Is More To Gain from Safety

Tell the truth. What are your real expectations for your safety management program? “Let’s be honest,” said one exasperated business owner. “I’d be happy if it only got my workers to do what they’re supposed to do in the first place.”

If compliance is your answer, go to the back of the line.

Why settle for so little when the potential exists for much more? Safety management programs can be designed to solve a myriad of problems facing businesses, not just compliance. High personnel turnover, generational and cultural conflicts, and non-productive employee behaviors can all be reduced through safety management, but only if more attention is paid to the “human elements” that cause a loss to happen.

Perhaps the darker truth is that we haven’t capitalized on the full potential of safety management efforts because we haven’t known how to properly “gear them up” — to organize and “sell” them to oft-resistant workers in a way that achieves maximum benefit.

Failure to Launch
Tim Reis, Global Director Data Governance at The Manitowoc Company, thinks he knows why many programs struggle. Midway through the implementation of Manitowoc’s five-year safety management system plan, Reis found that engaging employees in the roll-out effort was more critical to its success than initially believed.

“We spent two years putting good processes in place and establishing accountability,” said Reis, adding that the success of additional stages of his safety management plan “will be dependent on our ability to make good processes excellent and our ability to engage employees.”

Unfortunately, many companies discover Reis’ lesson too late, having launched safety management programs without taking the necessary first steps to engage employees.

Predictable Resistance
Resistance to ill-conceived safety implementation plans is predictable. But until recently, the source of worker resistance has been a subject of intelligent guesswork. Anthony Lauchner, a senior project manager with McCarthy Building Companies, blames the independent nature of workers.

“I figure that guys whose independent attitude isn’t accepted in other industries naturally gravitate to my industry,” said Lauchner. “Historically, we’ve accepted them, allowing them to get away with an attitude that works against safety improvement.”

The search for solutions to change-resistant workers has been prolific, if not futile. One operations manager even consulted a program for troubled youth to find guidance in handling workers he considered to be little more than grown-up juvenile delinquents.

Fortunately, we now know how specific temperamental, generational and cultural factors contribute to resistance in workers. This knowledge provides us with three strategies for starting successful safety management programs. Use of these strategies results in a deeper acceptance of safety efforts and reaps benefits far beyond simple worker compliance.

1. Overcome a Temperament of Resistance
Safety management programs should be geared to overcome the historical root cause of worker resistance: emotional apathy that breeds disloyalty.

Due in part to my extensive research of the personality traits and behavioral tendencies of change-resistant workers, we now know that the independent nature of workers is symptomatic of emotional withdrawal, not outward belligerence (as it might appear).

Nervousness, pessimism, indifference, inhibition and an argumentative nature are all traits for which resistant workers consistently rate themselves as needing improvement. These traits are indicative of an emotional hole into which workers retreat, escaping from emotional investment in the job or with coworkers.

Anthony Lauchner labels it a temporary work mentality. Others call it a penchant for disloyal behavior, the type that ruins safety management programs and is reflected in high personnel turnover rates.

While serving as project manager and safety liaison for Jacobs Facilities, Gary Douthitt witnessed the detrimental effects that the emotional hole had on his safety management system for project managers. When tasked with collaborating with contractors to identify safety hazards, Douthitt’s managers didnt seem to care.

“It was easier for them to note conditions on their report and walk on rather than stop and deal with unsafe behaviors on the spot,” said Douthitt.

As old fashioned as it sounds, building safety systems on care and compassion rather than command is the solution for bridging the emotional gap between workers and safety.

One way that owners and managers can demonstrate the compassion of safety management is obvious. “Don’t fire workers when they take the time to do the job safely,” says Lauchner. By exercising safety patience, he says, the company will convince the employee that safety management is a noteworthy emotional investment, equal to production.

Owners may also want to provide training that develops interpersonal communication skills to those responsible for the program’s implementation. Gruff, authoritative communication only pushes workers further into emotional regression, away from safety management objectives.

2. Appeal to Generation Me
Consider the radical difference in values separating young workers from older ones when initiating a safety management program.

The egocentric nature of Generations X and Y, known collectively as Gen Me (approximately ages eighteen to thirty-five), represent serious obstacles to a safety program. According to reliable measures, narcissism, the unhealthy over-focus on self, is seven times higher in Gen Me as in previous generations.

Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. of San Diego State University states in her book Generation Me, “Young people have been consistently taught to put their own needs first and to focus on feeling good about themselves,” adding, “I see no evidence that today’s young people feel much attachment to duty or group cohesion.”

In short, Gen Me does not naturally possess a mindset that lends itself to a collaborative safety management program.

To secure “buy in” from a generation not keen on placing the group’s needs over the individuals, a safety program needs to harness the power of Gen Me’s self-focus. Oddly, this can be achieved by appealing to the inflated sense of self-esteem they feel when networking socially.

Such networking abilities are crucial to the success of safety management. Toolbox talks, Job Safety Analyses (JSAs), and team incident investigations are a few of the safety management tools that are dependent upon good socialization skills. Due to the emotional withdrawal syndrome discussed earlier, older workers have been historically weak in this skill set.

Companies should target its present and future Gen Me leaders for special inclusion in the planning and implementation of safety management programs. This includes taking seriously their opinions on how to sell the program to other Gen Me workers as well as taking advantage of their technologically advanced interpersonal communication skills.

3. Capitalize on Present Cultural Change
In order for safety management to achieve maximum impact, safety managers should better accommodate the cultural sea change brought by an increasing number of Hispanic workers. The construction industry is one example of this influx.

According to a 2011 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, Hispanic workers account for 24.4 percent of all construction workers (roughly 2.2 million workers). Two of every three construction new hires are Hispanic, and the percentage is expected to increase.

While most construction supervisors identify the language barrier as their primary cultural safety concern, my research indicates that the difference between Hispanic and non-Hispanic on-the-job behavioral tendencies poses the greatest threat to the success of safety management programs.

Behavioral data I have collected from 750 non-Hispanic construction supervisors demonstrates that over 76 percent of those workers classify themselves as more task-oriented than people-oriented. On the other hand, Hispanic supervisors are equally more people-oriented than task-focused.

Project manager Lauchner agrees. “My non-Hispanic workers are more hard-driven, less forgiving than my Hispanic ones,” he says. “By nature, Hispanics on my crews are equally hard workers but more willing to listen and be team players.”

While the “steady Eddy” nature of Hispanic workers is well-suited to the goal of safety compliance, some feel their lack of aggressiveness is a liability. One owner of a drywall installation company told me that he wishes more Hispanics would naturally step into leadership roles because they are better at enforcing his company’s safety message with other Hispanics.

Building proactive safety leadership qualities in Hispanics while educating non-Hispanics to the significant upside of their people skills, is a key to gearing up an all-inclusive safety management program. As with Gen Me, safety managers should target in advance key Hispanic line workers who can advise the company on how to best engage others in implementing the program. Training these workers with better leadership skills yields a safety return on investment that improves a significantly growing sector of America’s industrial workforce.

A Perspective Long Overdue
Moving beyond the days of the wishful hopes of worker compliance demands a radical change to traditional safety management thinking. Generational, cultural and temperamental factors once given afterthought now stand as earmarks of whether a safety management system is fully engaging workers, thus reaching its peak potential.

Frank E. Bird, Jr., and George L. Germain, authors of Practical Loss Control Leadership, must have envisioned this day when they developed their famous loss causation model. They suggest that we examine two main categories to determine the basic causes of loss: job factors (systems and standards) and personal factors (humans).

After years of gearing up safety management programs that are focused primarily on systems and standards compliance, it is the personal factors of culture, age and personality that now show us a better way to achieve total safety.