Moving the Employee Engagement Needle

Engage Button On Computer Pc Keyboard KeyEngaged workers use three less sick days each year than their disengaged counterparts.  In a workforce the size of the federal government, this difference translates to a loss of nearly 19,000 work years annually. That’s one of the startling statistics Paul Wilson, VP of Federal Solutions at The Ken Blanchard Companies, shared at a recent government executive briefing looking at moving the engagement needle.  Pointing to the results of recent Federal Employee Viewpoint Surveys, Wilson identified that an effective employee engagement framework is critical now more than ever.

Part of that framework involves identifying the work factors and understanding the evaluation process workers use in deciding whether a particular work environment is deserving of effort above and beyond basic job requirements.  It is a state of mind that Wilson describes as employee work passion which goes beyond satisfaction, or even engagement at work.

Wilson was joined at the briefing by Dr. Drea Zigarmi, a founding associate and Director of Research at The Ken Blanchard Companies.  Zigarmi shared details on Blanchard’s research into employee work passion including the 12 environmental factors that—when perceived to be present to a high degree in the work environment—result in employees who intend to

  • Perform at a higher level
  • Put in extra effort as needed
  • Act as good corporate citizens
  • Stay with the organization longer
  • Recommend the organization to others

Zigarmi shared how an assessment of employees’ perceptions allows leaders to focus in on the issues that translate into intentions and behaviors moving in the right direction.

At the operational level, managers can begin to think about the four Job Factors and start to explore the degree to which their direct reports feel their needs are being met in each area. Once identified, managers can look at ways to set up the conditions that are more favorable for each factor.

At a strategic level, senior executives can begin looking at ways to shape the organization’s systems, policies, and procedures to address the four Organizational Factors. The scores on the four Relationship Factors will allow leaders at all levels to understand how to improve the connections between people in the organization. The goal is to create a pull-type organization and a workplace environment that invites people to choose to be their best.

With a solid grounding in the latest behavioral science research, the Blanchard approach offers leaders a way to thoroughly understand what is happening in the work environment and how to improve it. By taking a more in-depth look at employee perceptions, their own leader behaviors, and the subsequent impact on intentions and performance, leaders now have a tool that allows them to move the needle and bring out the best in their people.

To learn more about the Blanchard approach and the 12 work environment factors measured, download a four-page overview, The Employee Work Passion Assessment: Moving Beyond Satisfaction.  You can also check out other free Blanchard resources and white papers at the research section of their website.

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Overachievers Anonymous and the 80/20 Rule

Work

My name is Amber and I am an overachiever and a perfectionist at heart… I often hold myself to an unachievable standard, something I have worked hard to stop doing over the years. For a long time I knew this was my worst habit, but did not know how to give myself permission to let some things go. I often found myself overcommitted, overwhelmed and burnt out.

People who push themselves too hard and expect too much are setting their own path to failure. Whether you are paralyzed with fear of failure, fear of missing out, or over commit and cheat yourself out of leisure time, those overly ambitious expectations can lead to disappointment.

Years ago, a few colleagues and I formed what we jokingly called Overachievers Anonymous. We would catch each other in the halls and take a minute to chat and laugh about whatever was the latest example of our reach for perfectionism. It was the first time I got real feedback about my unrealistic expectations. It was helpful because it was a safe way to recognize challenges, attempt to make adjustments, and laugh through it instead of being frustrated.

More than anything the 80/20 Rule has helped me move forward. This is the idea that 80 percent of what is accomplished is completed with 20 percent of effort. It reminds us that if we prioritize and set goals, we will be able to accomplish the most important things, and often have time left over to do the little things too.

For overachievers, is important to recognize that others may not hold themselves to your standards. Nor do they hold you to those standards. We do that on our own. Here are some basic tips I used to determine what is important and should be my focus:

  1. Identify the important things – For yourself and your team, you need to know how you define success in career, family, even health.
  2. Set achievable SMART goals – Remember to apply the 80/20 Rule. Don’t assume your team know and remember their goals, talk about them often. You can find out about SMART Goals here.
  3. Get some perspective – Ask someone you trust to point out when you are being too hard on yourself and your team.
  4. Schedule breaks in your day and your year – It is important to have some real down time to recharge. I mean, the get-out-in-nature, meditate, travel, or whatever feeds your soul type of break. Schedule a walk into your day, set a regular lunch with a friend, and go on vacation! You really will be better off in the long run.

With practice I’ve learned to relax, stay focused, and to live without perfection. I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I even let go a little too much. But life is about learning and it gets easier with practice.

What helps you remember to focus on the truly important? How do you keep your own bad habits from getting in your way?

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I Choose to Remember the Good

9-11What do you remember about September 11th? In the weeks following, I found myself driving around San Diego, my home. I took hundreds of pictures of the flags displayed on homes, schools, businesses, and churches. I remember feeling patriotism in a way I had not since I was a kid. The tragedy of that day changed our country, and redirected the path of countless lives.

Like many people the events of September 11th and what followed changed my life in ways I could not have guessed. Even 13 years later, I think of myself as a patriot. For all of our mistakes, and our achievements, I remain a proud American.

In recent years it seems that patriots are becoming a new minority. The Pledge of Allegiance is not part of every school day. A chasm separates those with opposing political views.  And we tend to focus on what makes us different instead of how we are alike. It took tragedy to unite us after September 11th, but it doesn’t have to.

Our nation is facing renewed threats of terrorism and a frightening international climate. Tomorrow is the anniversary of what is probably the worst day in our nation’s history. This year, I choose to remember the good things that came from the tragedy that shifted the course of my life, the things I have learned, and the people I have met because of it.

This year I will take time to remember the patriotism I felt when the stars and stripes were displayed everywhere I looked. To remember to remind people what they mean to me. And to hold on to the hope that this nation remains strong enough to continue to lead the world. Go ahead, call me a hopeless optimist. I choose to remember the good.

How do you remember September 11th?

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Be the Dandelion: Finding Opportunity in Difficulty

Dandelion

Resiliency is a dandelion that gets mowed down or trampled into the lawn and then grows happily back, time and again reaching for the sun. We all have different levels of tolerance for being mowed down or trampled and different reasons for continuing to get up again. But what is it that makes us able to be resilient?

The start of another fiscal year for the federal government is approaching quickly. It is a reminder of how difficult it is to be an employee of the federal government. A reminder of just how hard it is to make do with limited resources, and continue to accomplish goals. Will the budget be passed in time? Will there be another shutdown? Will workers have to dig into savings again while waiting at home to hear they can go back to their jobs? And will the innovation and perseverance of those doing the work allow them to get the work done anyway?

The challenges faced by public servants are many. These challenges are not just in their jobs. Each person has a unique story. One peppered with personal struggles that may be hidden. Successful people are able to push past difficulty, even use the struggle for motivation to overcome it.

Being resilient is not always easy. Unlike dandelions, people must learn and practice to get it right:

  1. Like an endurance athlete, we must train.
  2. Like a warrior, we must have a reason to fight, something to protect.
  3. Like an artist, we must pursue a passion for something that brings happiness to ourselves and our audience.
  4. And like a family, we must surround ourselves with others who support and care for us.

Whatever your challenge and whatever your tolerance for handling it, a continuous fight can be draining. Practicing resiliency can make it easier. Whatever your reason to go on, your family, a drive to exceed goals, to help others, or your passion for creating, resiliency will allow you to move past those things that knock you down so you can get up and accomplish what even you might not have known was possible.

The way you approach difficulty can shape your life. In a dandelion  you can choose to see a weed that must be removed, or you can see what will become the symbol of a wish blown into the wind or some delicious greens for your salad. There is a great power in seeing difficulty and challenge as an opportunity.

How do you practice resilience and how do you encourage your team to try again when they experience setbacks in their work or their personal life?

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Do You Trust Yourself Enough to Call it a Day?

ClockTrust is important in any relationship, particularly if you are a leader.  Without trust standard operations become difficult and slow. Simple tasks must be checked and rechecked. And small mistakes are big steps backward. As important as it is to earn and maintain the trust of your team and colleagues, it may be more important to trust yourself.

Some would call it self-confidence, but there is more to trusting yourself. You know when you’ve done everything possible to get a job done. You know when you’ve researched, prepared, or invested enough time. But do you know when it is okay to call it a day?

I recently dealt with a task that I could not complete on my own. I needed the input of a team member who was not able to respond in time to meet the deadline. In all of the hours of work and the time waiting, I was questioning and trying to think of a work around.

Ultimately, I had to give in, go home, and trust that I did everything I could to give our team a chance to meet the deadline.  I spent a restless night but in the morning, I woke up to a resolution, a deadline met, and the reassurance that comes with a good result.

Here are my rules for knowing when I’ve done all I can, even when there is no resolution:

  1. Everything has been checked and rechecked.
  2. Progress and roadblocks alike have been communicated to everyone who can help or needs to know.
  3. I have explored and suggested contingency plans.

I am not always good at trusting myself but I know it is an important skill to practice because if I can show that I trust myself, others will follow that example.

How do you know when it is okay to call it a day?

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Passing the Torch to the Next Generation of Government Workers

Torch

Just before my 24th birthday, I landed what I thought would be a great government job. My boss was a long time public servant. She had worked hard for the government for her entire career and was proud of her service. I quickly learned that she believed in traditions, in doing things by the book, and that I should always take notes. I thought she was a dinosaur who would never hear my exciting new ideas.

On my first day, she had me begin printing out the Federal Acquisitions Regulation or FAR. The FAR is a document that spells out the rules for government purchasing and payment. It is more than 2,000 pages long and filled about twenty, four inch binders that I stored in two large file cabinet drawers. My next task was to look up specific regulations that would be important to my work. I quickly logged onto Google, found the correct parts and read all about them. I never cracked open those binders again in the nearly three years I worked there.

As wasteful and time consuming as the exercise was, I did learn a few things from it:

  • There are a lot of rules for spending government money.
  • Google makes it easy to look up any part, subpart, or subchapter of the FAR, if you know what to look for.
  • Printing, hole punching, and filing a 2,000 page document by hand takes a very long time.
  • Most importantly, I learned that some bosses are more focused on keeping things from changing than they are on helping their people learn, grow, and succeed but even they have valuable knowledge to share.

I had heard jokes about government employees and the paperwork involved in government work. I expected some of it but was shocked by the deeply ingrained need for adherence to tradition and unwillingness to change that I saw. Though not universal, this reluctance to encourage or even accept growth and change is particularly damaging to the public sector because if the next generation cannot pick out the useful wisdom, it will be discarded with the outdated traditions.

In order for an organization to maintain knowledge gathered over the course of a career, it is necessary to pass it on to the next generation of government leaders. If the current leaders fear the change, new ideas and ways of the next generation, that knowledge will get lost in translation. Likewise, if the new generation of leaders is unable to see past the old and outdated traditions of the outgoing leaders, they will not have the benefit of those lessons already learned.

If you have a boss who seems like a dinosaur, try to ignore the outdated ways and look for the meaning behind them. My boss insisted that I always bring a notebook when I met with her. I knew I could remember the majority of what she told me and figure out the rest. But showing up with that notebook was what she needed to trust that I was listening to her. By playing the game I was able to learn a lot from her in the end. Had I made the choice to dig in my heals and refuse to go along, I would have missed out on wisdom that I still use in my career today.

If you are a boss who struggles with the new generation, be careful to remember that the new ideas and ways of doing things that they are so excited about will be the foundation of your organization’s future. Try to encourage and direct those ideas to give them the best chance for success. The new generation may not have your experience but their enthusiasm is valuable. Along with your accumulated knowledge that enthusiasm might just make a critical difference you could never have seen and the impact of your encouragement could be felt for generations.

What advice do you have for passing down or receiving wisdom and traditions?

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3 Tips to Encourage Collaboration

Many of the people I know who work in the public sector were drawn to their jobs by a desire to serve, to make a difference in their community or the country. After landing that first desk job though, I have also seen them lose their drive. If you’ve ever done it, you know, sitting in a cubicle day after day, surrounded by endless paperwork and coworkers who checked out years ago is anything but fun.

Getting stuck in a routine is a hazard of many desk jobs. Being around complacency is often contagious. But you don’t have to catch it and you can help build an environment that is invigorating rather than draining.

  1. Spend time innovating – It will not always be successful but actively spending time thinking about how to improve a processes, offer a better experience to customers, or solve a problem is important. It is not only useful but can be invigorating. You won’t always find a solution but working on problems and processes will keep you and your team focused on a positive future.
  2. Make time to move around – Get up, take a walk, talk to neighbors, or go to someone else’s workspace to ask a question instead of calling. A change of scenery, however small is important. You never know what you’ll learn when you get out of your regular space.
  3. Remind your team to engage their customer – Even if the only customer is internal, make a point to check in and ask if there is anything they would like to see change. It’s easy to operate with blinders on; you can’t always see how others are impacted by your habits and processes. If you and your team make a habit of asking for and responding to feedback you will learn a lot about how others work and what they really need.

Being motivated about work is not about the financial reward but the emotional reward when you experience success and satisfaction from making a meaningful and positive impact. Mixing up the routine and interacting will help create a collaborative environment. Team members can draw on the unique experiences they have which makes everyone stronger. One of my favorite sayings around the office is: “None of us is as smart as all of us”. It is the theme of High Five by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles that explains “the magic of working together”.

How do you keep your team excited about their work?  Is there something you do regularly to remind yourself why you love your job?

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