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.

Nespresso-for-Employee-Engagement-01

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.

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Hoodies, Disintermediation, and the 457 Visa Program

American Giant Hoodie

American Giant Hoodie

An article titled “This Is the Greatest Hoodie Ever Made” article appeared a few months ago on Slate.  It’s an interesting article, but what grabbed me most about it is that it’s yet another example of technology disrupting traditional business models.  (The author raved so much about the hoodies by American Giant, that the post went viral and caused fulfillment issues for the business).

The author stated that the key to making the greatest hoodie ever is disintermediation:

Today, when you buy a hooded sweatshirt, most of your money is going to the retailer, the brand, and the various buyers that shuttle the garment between the two. [Not to mention the retail].  The item itself costs very little to make—a $50 hoodie at the Gap likely costs about $6 or $7 to produce at an Asian manufacturing facility. 

American Giant has found a loophole in the process. The loophole allows Winthrop to spend a lot more time and money producing his clothes than his competitors do. Among other things, he was able to hire a former industrial designer from Apple to rethink every aspect of the sweatshirt, from the way the fabric is woven to the color of the drawstrings around your neck. The particular loophole that Winthrop has found also explains why he wanted to chat with a technology reporter: It’s called the Internet.

We’ve seen this kind of disruption in manufacturing, real estate, travel, retailing (especially in some categories, such as books), and now even education… basically anything with an intermediary is ripe for disruption (if you have “Agent” in your job title, be very very scared).  And it’s not just consumer markets that are affected – it’s the talent market as well.  Here in Australia there’s a lot of controversy over the skilled visa (“457 visa”) program.  I wonder how long the debate will be relevant in a world where traditional barriers to accessing knowledge and skills are rapidly falling away?   The challenge for both employers and governments is to adapt to this changing economy and way of working and get the best talent with the least number of artificial barriers.

Microsoft’s self-sketching whiteboard prototype looks amazing

I love whiteboards. In fact, my mentor once compared me (ok, frequently compares me) to this guy:

Dilbert Comic - Whiteboard Guy

Dilbert Comic – Whiteboard Guy

…so I was pretty excited today when the Market Measures Australia blog drew my attention to an article by BBC News about the new whiteboards that Microsoft are developing that can interpret and complete your sketches. Imagine being able to roughly draw a chart, in a meeting, and have the whiteboard interpret your sketch, scale it, apply colour, and then allow you to print it out. Incredible – now to find the pre-order form…

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