A tale of two beverages

Coffee cup

Coffee cup (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

I’ve written before on this blog about the false proxy trap.  The false proxy trap occurs when you can’t directly measure what you need, for example productivity, so you invent a proxy, something that’s easier to measure (for example, employee engagement) that serves as an alternative measure – a proxy.  The problem, as Seth Godin points out, is that “…When we fall in love with a proxy, we spend our time improving the proxy instead of focusing on our original (more important) goal instead”.  It strikes me that HR professionals do this all the time, and that employee engagement and employee satisfaction are, respectively, half-decent and fairly useless proxies for productivity and commitment.  Very few organisations understand the connection in their organisation between these measures and the actual results for productivity and turnover – even fewer understand this for different roles in their organisation.  Yet we seem willing to accept that they are important things to pursue for all roles, in all circumstances, and in all organisations.

If we accept that there is a connection between engagement and these results in general, but don’t verify the connection within our organisation, then we can easily fall into the False Proxy Trap.  The result is that we focus on improving engagement scores in ways that don’t drive business results.  That can mean a lot of mis-directed time, money, and focus.

According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, 2 out of every 5 employees don’t actually know what is unique about their employer and what their employer stands for – and this is even more pronounced amongst employees who are customer facing.  It’s not always possible to “engage” your workforce, but surely it is possible to at least communicate your strategy?  That, indeed, is a pre-requisite for engagement.  If employees don’t understand the purpose of their work, you’re never going to get engagement.  A good sanity check is to see whether your employees actually know what your company does, and how their role contributes to that.

Recently I was sent an advertisement from a publisher of HR content (below).  While I’m sure the Nespresso  Zenius machines are great, and that your employees would be thrilled to have one, it had me thinking about the situations in which it would actually “build employee engagement” as the advertisement claimed.   Satisfied?  Perhaps.  Engaged? Seems a bit of a stretch.  Seems like a false proxy trap to me.


Compare and contrast to a Bordeaux winemaker, interviewed in the film Red Obsession: “The wine is like a message which you send over the wall.  I think it’s better than those little tweets.  It will end on a table, let’s say in Seattle.  And you can imagine, a couple is meeting for one evening.  A guy is dating a charming girl for the first time.  And they have that.  And from the quality of that bottle may depend the success of their first meeting – you know?  And if I spoil their evening, what a drama – I am responsible.  Our wines should be as good as possible.  We need to please people, and not to impress them.  To please them.”

Same winemaker did admit to consuming large quantities of wine each lunchtime, but that, to me, is someone who is engaged in his work.  Understanding the connection between the work you do and the impact of it on the ultimate consumer.  Feeling an obligation to do the best job you can for them as a result.   If only everyone in every workforce could be that engaged!

From a workforce analytics perspective, it’s critical to define what you mean by concepts like employee engagement (hint: it’s not employee satisfaction), and to understand exactly what the connection is to your business results.  Don’t fall into the False Proxy Trap, and be careful of taking generic advice when it comes to people suggesting strategies to “engage” your workforce.  By all means buy your employees a coffee machine, they’ll love it – just don’t expect it to drive business results because an advertiser said so.


Emotional Contagion in the Workplace – Part II

Sneeze vector

Sneeze vector (Photo credit: 729:512)

In Emotional Contagion in the Workplace – Part I, I wrote about the existence of patterns that can affect productivity in ways that can’t be accurately forecast, and that emotional contagion is one of these patterns. In research published in 2010, researchers from Harvard formally demonstrated that emotions can be thought of as infectious diseases spreading across social networks, including at work.  The study looked at being “content” and “discontent” as two viruses, and found that these emotions could be “caught” from others in the social network. Continue reading

Emotional Contagion in the Workplace – Part I

Sneeze vector

Sneeze vector (Photo credit: 729:512)

Much of the work we do in Strategic Workforce Planning involves taking both internal and external trends, and determining how they might play out for your organisation.  Once you’ve done that, you can determine tactics to harness or address these trends to prepare for the best possible future workforce.

Sometimes, there are clear trends happening inside the organisation that are unsustainable – high performers turning over, key skills being lost, etc.  Identifying those trends through workforce analytics lets you understand the nature and extent of the problem, and determine strategies for addressing them.  By targeting these initiatives to where you need them most, you can ensure that your HR and Talent Management strategies are effective and efficient.

On the other side of the coin, workforce analytics and environment scanning help you to recognise opportunities and areas that the organisation is doing well in, so that you can capitalise on those.  People who are trained in a particular skillset are 20% more productive?  There’s your ROI for the training initiative right there.

One of the key things to recognise in any kind of workforce futuring is that it’s not just about headcount – you need to take into account the skillset and the productivity of the workforce too… and some trends can effect productivity in ways that just can’t be predicted.  Key among these is engagement.  The good news is that engagement (like many emotions in the workplace) is contagious.  The bad news is that disengagement is twice as contagious.  Further, trends that are subject to “contagion” have multiplier effects that can’t be accurately forecast. In a coming post, I’ll be talking about the research that supports emotional contagion in the workplace, the implications of this, and what you can do about it.  Stay tuned.



The Productive Workplace has Psychadelic Carpet

Bellagio Carpet

Bellagio Carpet – thomaslockehobbs.com

Does Las Vegas have anything to teach Employers about employee engagement?

I’ve recently been reading about “flow”, a state of extreme focus and productivity – and the lengths that Las Vegas casinos will go to in encouraging it.  This got me thinking about how Flow could be applied to the workplace, and whether Las Vegas has anything to teach employers about it. Continue reading