Tag Archives: the motley fool

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.

Digital Disruption: Coming to P&C Soon?

My wife is a project manager who is responsible for business operations at our local high school. She hired some people this summer to process and distribute new textbooks within the school, but they hadn’t finished the job and school was about to open, so she needed someone to come in at the last minute and help get the work done. More specifically, someone who would follow her instructions and would not expect to get paid. . .  so I spent a long Saturday with her at the school, schlepping pallets and boxes of new textbooks to the classrooms, getting everything in place in time for the start of the new school year.

I wasn’t happy with the work (the school was hot, the textbooks heavy) and more than once I thought wistfully about Steve Jobs, who according to biographer Walter Isaacson had targeted the school textbook business as an “$8 billion a year industry ripe for digital destruction.” Targeting textbooks seemed like a good idea to me, because not only are they big and heavy and expensive — they don’t update easily, either.

Unfortunately, Jobs didn’t live long enough to disrupt the textbook industry, but others are on the same path and, selfishly, I wish them well! Check out The Object Formerly Known as the Textbook for an interesting look at how textbook publishers and software companies and educational institutions are jockeying for position as textbooks evolve into courseware. Also, As More Schools Embrace Tablets, Do Textbooks Have a Fighting Chance? takes a look at how the Los Angeles Unified School District — second largest school district in the country — is equipping students with iPads and delivering textbooks digitally in a partnership with giant book publisher Pearson.

Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, is credited with coming up with the term “disruptive innovation,” which he defined as: “a process by which a product or service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves up market, eventually displacing established competitors.”

These days, we tend to associate disruptive innovation with a new or improved product or service that surprises the market, especially established, industry-leading competitors and increases customer accessibility while lowering costs.The notion is appealing, and it makes for exciting business adventure tales featuring scrappy, innovative underdogs overcoming entrenched, clueless market leaders. Of course, disruptive innovation has been happening for a long time, even if it was called something else, but lately technology has made it easier and cheaper for upstart firms to take on industries they think are “ripe for digital destruction.”

There are some who think we’ve gone too far in adopting the disruption mantra. In her recent article The Disruption Machine, Harvard professor and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore squinted hard at disruption theory: “Ever since The Innovator’s Dilemma, everyone is either disrupting or being disrupted. There are disruption consultants, disruption conferences, and disruption seminars. This fall, the University of Southern California is opening a new program: ‘The degree is in disruption,’ the university announced.”

By the way, USC’s Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation is, in fact, opening this year and will focus on critical thinking with plans, according to the academy website, to “…empower the next generation of disruptors and professional thought leaders who will ply their skills in a global area.” And, yes, that is Dr. Dre’s name on the academy!

But there are others who believe we have now entered a decidedly more treacherous innovation environment, one that Josh Linkner in The Road to Reinvention says is forcing companies to systematically and continually challenge and reinvent themselves to survive. His fundamental question is this: “Will you disrupt, or be disrupted?” And Paul Nunes and Larry Downes, who wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review Magazine in 2013 titled Big Bang Disruption (they have a book on the same topic, summarized by Accenture here), warn of a new type of innovation that is more than disruptive — it’s devastating: “A Big Bang Disruptor is both better and cheaper from the moment of creation. Using new technologies…Big Bang Disruptors can destabilize mature industries in record time, leaving incumbents and their supply-chain partners dazed and devastated.”

Should CEOs be worried? When Mikhail Gorbachev visited Harvard in 2007 and said, “If you don’t move forward, sooner or later you begin to move backward,” he was talking about politics and multilateral nuclear treaties, not companies, but the warning certainly could have been directed at CEOs. That message, refreshed to incorporate the disruptive innovation threats that have emerged since then, seems a bit unsettling: If you run a company and you aren’t dedicating resources to continually scanning the marketplace for threats and improving and reinventing your business, if you are instead taking a “business as usual” approach, you are at risk of being marginalized or supplanted by competitors who will bring new products, services, experiences, efficiencies, cost structures and insights to your customers.

Maybe not this year, or next year, but sometime soon.  It’s not a question of whether it will happen, but when. Thus Linkner’s question, restated:  Will you disrupt yourself, or be disrupted by someone else?

Of course, some industries, like property casualty insurance, may not be high on anyone’s “ripe for digital destruction” list, so maybe there’s no need for insurance company CEOs to worry. Except perhaps about Google and Amazon. I keep thinking back to Blockbuster CEO Jim Keyes’ comments to The Motley Fool in 2008:  “Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition.” You know the rest of the story, which illustrates the real-life consequences of an incumbent underestimating and then becoming “dazed and devastated” by a competitor.