Are you married? Did you get engaged first? I know a bit about marriage – eighteen years and still going strong may not make me an expert but I think it qualifies me to share a few insights.
What makes a successful marriage? Having a roof over your head? Having enough cash to pay the bills? A couple of nice holidays every year? Actually, no – meeting these basic needs has nothing to do with it. Sure, if these things are missing even the strongest of relationships will feel the strain, but these basic needs do not make a successful marriage.
So what does? In no particular order, here are my top ten tips for marital harmony.
|Respect each other’s individuality||Become too controlling|
|Allow each other freedom to breath||Smother each other|
|Treat each other as equals||Try to be superior|
|Support each other||Disrespect or undermine each other|
|Remember you are together by choice||Take each other for granted|
|Have fun together||Take yourself too seriously|
|Support your partner’s goals & aspirations||Ignore each other’s dreams|
|Trust each other||Be dishonest|
|Take personal responsibility||Don’t wait for an apology|
Not only do the language of employee engagement and the language of love share the same vocab, the list above suggests that the similarities extend beyond mere semantics.
Read it again and tell me which of the above tips does not translate immediately into the relationship between employer and employee.
That’s why pay and benefits don’t register on my employee engagement scale.
Corporate Agony Uncle
Andrew Mason, CEO of Groupon was fired yesterday. It’s not difficult to see why. The company’s share price has fallen by 77% since it went public on the NASDAQ in 2011. Not many CEOs can survive such a horror show.
What makes this story so different is the manner in which staff were informed.
Such high level ‘departures’ are normally accompanied by the usual nonsense about leaving ‘by mutual consent in order to pursue other opportunities’. Nobody ever buys the line and yet the PRs still trot it out with alarming regularity.
How refreshing then to see staff being informed by the man himself, clearly in his own words, with an honesty, humility and good humour that serves to make his thank-you to the ‘People of Groupon’ all the more powerful and irresistible.
Here is the text of his email in full. It is worth reading. I can’t remember ever reading such a brilliant piece of leadership communication.
People of Groupon,
After four and a half intense and wonderful years as CEO of Groupon, I’ve decided that I’d like to spend more time with my family. Just kidding – I was fired today. If you’re wondering why … you haven’t been paying attention. From controversial metrics in our S1 to our material weakness to two quarters of missing our own expectations and a stock price that’s hovering around one quarter of our listing price, the events of the last year and a half speak for themselves. As CEO, I am accountable.
You are doing amazing things at Groupon, and you deserve the outside world to give you a second chance. I’m getting in the way of that. A fresh CEO earns you that chance. The board is aligned behind the strategy we’ve shared over the last few months, and I’ve never seen you working together more effectively as a global company – it’s time to give Groupon a relief valve from the public noise.
For those who are concerned about me, please don’t be – I love Groupon, and I’m terribly proud of what we’ve created. I’m OK with having failed at this part of the journey. If Groupon was Battletoads, it would be like I made it all the way to the Terra Tubes without dying on my first ever play through. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to take the company this far with all of you. I’ll now take some time to decompress (FYI I’m looking for a good fat camp to lose my Groupon 40, if anyone has a suggestion), and then maybe I’ll figure out how to channel this experience into something productive.
If there’s one piece of wisdom that this simple pilgrim would like to impart upon you: have the courage to start with the customer. My biggest regrets are the moments that I let a lack of data override my intuition on what’s best for our customers. This leadership change gives you some breathing room to break bad habits and deliver sustainable customer happiness – don’t waste the opportunity!
I will miss you terribly.
Before today I knew nothing about Andrew Mason. I now feel I know a lot more than about him and what makes him tick than I could ever have learned from reading 100 stories about him in the business press.
And it seems to me that Groupon’s problems are not the result of poor leadership. As an occasional Grouponite myself, the fundamental business model is the real problem.
After all, there’s only so many cut price spa treatments, manicure sets and restorative scalp gels a man can take.
Good luck Andrew, I have no doubt this is not the last we’ll be seeing of you.
I have a tendency to be a bit wordy. I love the idiosyncrasies of our beautiful language and enjoy playing with them every time I indulge in a bit of creative writing. I love to use colourful words to paint a picture, dramatic words to hold centre stage, and captivating words to tell a story.
The only problem is I do most of my writing online and online readers have a very short attention span. According to research by Jakob Nielsen, on a typical web page, users have neither the time nor inclination to read more than 20% of the words on show. We skim read online a whole lot more than when we read a book. We like our words to be served up in bite-sized chunks. When Twitter first appeared 140 characters seemed ludicrously slim pickings to most of us and now they feel like a meaty feast.
And that’s always assuming you make it to the page in the first place. Google engineers have discovered that people will visit a web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor’s by more than 250 milliseconds. That’s quicker than the blink of an eye. Tests done at Amazon five years ago revealed that for every 100 milliseconds increase in page load time, sales decrease by 1%. In 2009, Forrester Research found that online shoppers expected pages to load in 2 seconds and at three seconds, a large share abandon the site.
Clearly we digital natives are an impatient bunch.
That’s why the single most important rule I subscribe to when writing at work is “If in doubt, take it out”.
We must respect people’s time by making sure our communications are relevant, timely and above all concise.
Rachel Miller (@AllthingsIC) asked an interesting question this morning after sharing the breaking news story on Sky News about the apparent leak of an internal memo from Barclays CEO Anthony Jenkins.
In an uncompromising email to Barclays staff Jenkins sets out clear expectations regarding their conduct and in essence challenges them to ‘shape up or ship out’:
“… there might be some who don’t feel they can fully buy in to an approach which so squarely links performance to the upholding of our values…
My message to those people is simple: Barclays is not the place for you. The rules have changed. You won’t feel comfortable at Barclays and, to be frank, we won’t feel comfortable with you as colleagues.”
Rachel’s question was “would/ could” your leader communicate like that? Rather than get personal, I’d rather look at this through the ‘should’ lens and keep it hypothetical.
My answer is a big fat YES!
It is great to see strong leadership expressed in writing – articulating something leaders often want to say to people whose behaviour is at odds with company values but shy away from doing so en masse in the interests of diplomacy and avoiding conflict. To launch a Code of Conduct or set of ethical principles with such high level sponsorship and unequivocal support is a beautiful thing to behold. It’s bold, spirited and unambiguous. It’s impactful and will get everyone talking.
My only issue with the note is the apparent language around core values, which are sadly being chucked around like some kind of disposable toy. Core values are enduring truths about what is important to people within an organisation. They are not objectives. They are not aspirational. They do not seek to change behaviour. They cannot be invented. They already exist in every organisation. You don’t create them, you uncover them. Regular readers may recognise this sermon.
So for Barclays to switch from its current five core values (Keep it simple, Own it, Work together, Think smart, 100% energy) and replace them at the flick of a switch with “respect, integrity, service, excellence and stewardship” feels a bit contrived and lacking in credibility. It doesn’t help that 2 of the 5 new Barclays values are the same as Enron’s at the time their particular merde a frappé le ventilateur* (respect & integrity) over a decade ago.
A company’s Code of Conduct needs to be aligned to and consistent with its core values, however at the same time it must be recognised that is a wholly different beast. It can and should be a blueprint for desired behaviours and conduct and as such can be aspirational and can seek to change behaviours. If you contravene the Code of Conduct you can expect to be hauled through the disciplinary process. As such it needs to be prescriptive and give detailed examples of what you can and can’t do as an employee, both on and off duty.
Desired behaviours can be amended to shine the spotlight on a particular problem that needs fixing. Core values cannot, and sadly that for me takes the edge off an otherwise courageous piece of communication.
* ‘shit hit the fan’ sounds so much more acceptable in French
It’s a question I hear often in the world I inhabit. Should you reward innovation with hard cash? And you know what? I don’t think you should.
I don’t mean that employees should not be rewarded for innovation. I’m just saying that the reward should comprise things like peer and management recognition, development opportunities, and where appropriate, participation in implementation of their big idea.
I’m not saying that you should not receive any financial benefit from innovating and sharing your ideas either. Just like you would with any other valued behaviours, core competencies and high performance, innovation can and should be measured and rewarded through existing bonus schemes and pay reviews. Just don’t treat it like a game show with lottery sized jackpots.
Innovation and ideation shouldn’t be an optional extra that attracts financial reward if you happen to come up with a corker. It should be a core competency that is ingrained in everyone’s psyche and embedded in every company’s reward structures, regardless of role and responsibility.
It should be incumbent on every paid employee to share their ideas on how to make their operation more efficient, more dependable, safer, slicker, and of course, more profitable.
Innovation and ideation is such a critical part of business you cannot afford to treat it as a bolt-on. Complacency, stagnation and ultimate extinction faces every company that doesn’t constantly seek ways of doing things better.
Here are my top five reasons why you shouldn’t treat innovation like a game show.
1 – Winners mean losers
When you turn innovation and ideation into a competition with cash prizes for the winners, what you actually create is a much larger pool of losers. You announce a competition, encourage everyone to enter, create buzz and anticipation before the big reveal. Then what? You’ve got one or two big winners and a lot of unlucky losers who discover that their hard work didn’t pay off. And unless you are a serial ideator (apologies, I think I just made that word up!) you’ll have probably played your trump card and you may well be less inclined or less able to enter next year’s innovation lottery.
2 – Lip service
People will soon realise that the ideas that win prizes are those that appeal to the judges. The judges are usually senior executives. So instead of pushing the boundaries of creativity they play it safe. They submit ideas designed to please management, which are likely to follow existing thinking and historical management approaches and habits. Doesn’t sound much like innovation to me.
Many years ago I won an international essay competition with a healthy cash prize presented by the UK Home Secretary. The judges were senior police officers. My approach to the essay was to research what I believed the prevailing thinking was on crime prevention and write based upon what I believed my paymasters wanted to read. The result was very safe, politically correct and credible. And of course beautifully written…
Looking back, the fact that I didn’t believe a word of it and I knew that it would change nothing other than reduce my overdraft is a shame. As an intellectual exercise it was top drawer. Did it change the face of community policing in the UK? Nope.
3 – Secrecy
In the quest for the big cash win, fearing its theft, the ideator (there’s that word again) will protect his or her idea from prying eyes. A shroud of secrecy will descend on the idea just when it should be benefiting from the wisdom of the crowd – which is the primary ailment you are trying to fix by offering the prize in the first place.
4 – Division
Innovation involves many people beyond the originator. Ideas improve as they evolve. Many people are likely to have a hand in turning an idea into a reality. So how do you divvy up a large cash award fairly, without causing disharmony? Who gets left out of the equation? Who gets the lion’s share? It’s a nailed on recipe for disharmony.
5 – It’s not about the money
All the evidence suggests that one’s personal need for idea validation and recognition is usually more important than financial reward. Ask Gallup. Ask Towers Watson. Ask the UK Government’s Engaging for Successteam. They’ll all tell you that financial reward sits further down the list of workplace motivational factors than recognition, trust and development opportunity.
The added bonus is the currency of recognition and trust are two forms of reward where companies can afford to print their own dollars – they cost nothing. There really is no excuse.
How hard should you ‘encourage’ people to complete your annual staff survey?
Over the years I have tried very hard. Intricate communications plans involving teaser campaigns, beautifully crafted invitations, videos, posters, screensavers, FAQs, emails, intranet, leaderboards, targeted communications to senior leadership, line managers and blanket emails to everyone in the company before, during and after the survey. Was it really necessary?
The higher the response rate the better quality the feedback and data – and a really high response rate is the sign of how engaged your workforce is right?
You’ll notice the use of quotation marks. It’s because I feel a sense of irony in using the word ‘encourage’. If the literal meaning of ‘encourage’ includes incentivising, cajoling, pleading, shaming and who knows, perhaps even bullying, the quotation marks would not have been necessary.
Looking back I have a sneaking suspicion I tried too hard.
I believe there is a sweet spot, probably somewhere around the 75% to 85% mark, where all those enthusiastic and willing to take the survey have done so.
In the same vein, I suspect that if you took a cut of the engagement score at the halfway point and compared it to the final score, it would be higher. This despite the belief in some quarters that “the least satisfied people, or those with specific issues, tend to respond first.”
I believe that the additional work required to secure the participation of people that don’t really want to is likely to result in a reduction in the quality and reliability of the data, and certainly in the engagement score (if that is important to you).
It’s human nature. If you are pushed into doing something you don’t really want to do your heart won’t be in it. You won’t do it properly – you’ll just be going through the motions. And if you are seriously miffed at being boxed into a corner, you may even decide to punish the person who has been ‘encouraging’ you through your survey responses.
Naturally I went looking for evidence to support my thinking on this. Whilst I believe gut instinct is a much under-rated attribute in business, I also value the importance of hard fact and empirical evidence. Guess what. I found nothing.
I found plenty of evidence of my earlier assertion that the higher the response rate the higher the levels of engagement and satisfaction. I found no real evidence to confirm my suspicion that you can overdo the ‘encouragement’.
The closest I came to it was a piece in HR Magazine a couple of months ago by Samantha Arnold from ETS:
“I have come across managers resorting to all sorts of tactics to make sure they achieve high response rates. The irony is that these managers are often the ones that have little interest in doing anything with the results… to avoid it becoming a sideshow, we have advised our clients not to share response rate scores with their managers”.
Another interesting angle I came across was:
“… the fact that in some organisations employees choose not to complete the survey is important feedback information in its own right. We often find in organisations where there has historically been a lack of commitment to feedback, poor communications and a lack of resulting action that survey completion rates are the lowest.”
So presumably trying too hard to push participation may mask this natural inclination among some to not bother taking the survey, again rendering the feedback and data less valuable because it is papering over the cracks.
It strikes me that all you need to do is make sure that every member of staff knows about the survey, understands the importance of taking the opportunity to give their feedback, and has the opportunity to participate. Thereafter, if they want to participate they do, if they don’t they don’t.
And that’s fine because you’ll be getting the most reliable, authentic and untarnished feedback possible, and you can be sure when you roll in to action to address areas of concern that you will be focusing on all the right things.