Category Archives: Brad Wolff

The Truth About Employee Disengagement

By Brad Wolff

Brad Wolff-employee disengagementMost companies struggle with employee disengagement. It’s costly in productivity, profitability and stress. Gallup’s engagement survey data published in 2017 found that 2/3 of U.S. workers are not engaged. American companies have invested billions of dollars per-year for many years to solve this problem. The results? The needle still hasn’t moved. How much has your experience been similar? Could this data simply reveal a general misunderstanding of the true causes of disengagement?

The Acme Corporation was suffering a 41 percent turnover rate. A recent survey showed that 85 percent of their workforce was disengaged. The general attitude of apathy, complaining and cynicism permeated the culture. This was puzzling to management since they attempted multiple efforts to improve engagement. These were well planned and executed programs such as team-building exercises, social events and pay raises. All showed early enthusiasm and positive survey results that generated optimism. Unfortunately, the magic always wore off within a few weeks. In despair, Acme engaged a firm with a very different philosophy than their other advisors. This firm focused on helping executive leadership understand the root causes and solutions. Within nine months disengagement improved from 71 percent to 26 percent and turnover dropped to 19 percent.

The door to solving this dilemma opened when Acme management acknowledged that since their previous solution attempts were ineffective, their current way of seeing the problem must be flawed. This wisdom, humility and openness paved the way to learn the true root causes of their disengagement. Once root causes are clearly understood, the solutions usually become obvious.Addressing personal challenges that make you human will increase your effectiveness and fulfillment in every area of your life. Click To Tweet

Fixing engagement issues: What works?

The first step is for the company leaders to take an honest, objective view of the company culture (beliefs and behaviors that determine how people interact and do their work) that impacts and drives the way people think and behave. That’s why lasting change occurs when focusing at the culture level rather than specific individuals. Below are the relevant human psychological needs that are the actual root causes of people’s engagement level. Examples of mindsets/philosophies that effectively address these needs follows each need. Engagement will improve when management’s actions align with people’s psychological needs.

  1. To feel valued and understood. Management earnestly listens to employees’ concerns, opinions and ideas with the intent to understand and consider their merits before responding. This replaces the common responses of defending positions or punishing employees for expressing contrary viewpoints. Management isn’t required to agree with the employees. What’s important is the sincere effort to listen, understand and consider their inputs.
  2. To express our gifts and talents. Management puts a focus on aligning roles and responsibilities with the gifts and talents of the individuals. We all bring a substantially higher energy and engagement (and productivity) when we do work that we like and are good at. As legendary management consultant Peter Drucker said, “A manager’s task is to make the strengths of people effective and their weaknesses
  3. Meaning/purpose in what we do. This means that employees have a clear understanding of how their work impacts the mission and vision of the organization. Don’t expect them to figure this out on their own. People are much more motivated when they realize that their efforts truly matter.
  4. Internal drive for progress or development– Employees are at their best when there is “healthy tension” (not too low, not too high) to meet clear and reasonable standards. This means fair and consistent accountability and consequences based on performance relative to agreed-upon standards. Being too nice and lax harms engagement since people inherently desire growth and realize that standards and consequence help them do this. People are motivated when they focus on: “What did I achieve today?” What did I learn today?” How did I grow?”

What Doesn’t Work

In short, anything that doesn’t authentically address the root causes of disengagement is doomed to fail. If the message is “look at this nice thing we just did for you” rather than “this is how we value you as human being,” it’s highly likely to fail.

Examples of the “nice thing we just did for you” include most team-building events, social mixers, company newsletters, upgraded office environments, etc. Even pay and benefit increases have an initial rush soon followed by the familiar “right back where we were” rebound effect. That’s not to say companies should not do these things. They’re nice add-ons after the day to day essentials of human psychology are authentically addressed.

In summary, it’s understandable that we gravitate towards easy, quick-fix solutions to our problems. There are plenty of people to make these suggestions and sell them to us. They also don’t require us to identify our own personal contributions to the problems which we’d prefer to avoid. However, as in most things in life, there is no substitute for working at the cause-level and creating new habits of thinking and behavior. If you’re serious about creating the high engagement level lead to more profits with greater ease and personal satisfaction, this is what it takes. As a bonus, openly addressing personal challenges that make you human will increase your effectiveness and fulfillment in every area of your life.

Brad Wolff specializes in workforce and personal optimization. He’s a speaker and author of, People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage. As the managing partner for Atlanta-based PeopleMax, Brad specializes in helping companies maximize the potential and results of their people to make more money with less stress. His passion is empowering people to create the business success they desire, in a deep and lasting way. For more information on Brad Wolff, please visit: www.PeopleMaximizers.com.

Stop Falling Behind Your Competitors

Seven Steps to Gain a Competitive Advantage

By Brad Wolff

Brad WolffDoesn’t it seem that business is more competitive and difficult than it used to be? ABC, Inc. experienced this challenging business atmosphere firsthand. A building materials manufacturer that previously dominated their marketplace, ABC suffered staggering losses in the previous fiscal year. It became blindingly apparent that what had worked in the past was no longer effective, and the company president had no idea how to fix things. It was time to use proven techniques for achieving a competitive advantage.

ABC engaged a firm that identified the root causes of their problems. After two years, sales and profits dramatically increased—even with the same leaders. The results came from a seven-step process based on sound principles that put a focus on leveraging their internal talent. If you find your business falling behind, you can follow ABC, Inc.’s lead by putting these seven steps into practice.

1. Employee alignment

When a significant percentage of duties performed by employees don’t fit their innate characteristics or core nature, they won’t perform well. For example, people low in detail orientation doing work that requires high detail. Training and development, management encouragement and other well-intended efforts will not fix alignment issues. As Peter Drucker said, “A manager’s task is to make the strengths of people effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.”Personal growth results in professional growth. Click To Tweet

2. Creating a competitive advantage through a culture of personal growth and development

In truth, personal growth results in professional growth. It results in a greater capacity to handle life challenges, accomplish long-term goals and work well with others. Personal growth and development includes an increased awareness of self and others, the ability to manage one’s ego, ability to manage emotions and development of innate talents to maximize productivity and effectiveness. Most performance issues that managers complain about relate to one or more of the above. These are fundamental character traits of success.

3. Aligning employees with the mission and vision of the organization

Human beings have an innate need for meaning and purpose in what they do. This means that they care about how their efforts affect the world outside themselves—people, the environment, animals, etc. For example, take assembly line workers that produce incubators for premature babies. In one scenario the workers are only told to mechanically perform the prescribed duties. In the other scenario they are crystal clear about the importance the quality of their work has on the survival of infants. Which workers do you think are more motivated? Engagement and performance are directly affected by people’s connection to the outcomes of their work.

4. Aligning employees with the culture and values of the organization

People need to feel that they fit in with their social groups. Employees who are significantly out of sync with an organization’s culture and values will never make their highest contribution. Having perfect alignment is not the goal, since diversity of thought and behavior allow a culture to adapt and thrive. However, significant misalignments are damaging. It’s also important for leaders to consider whether they should change their culture. Examples of this would include a culture that they know is toxic and when there’s shrinking population of workers who fit the current culture. In both cases, without the ability to attract and retain needed talent, organizations will fail.

5. Aligning roles and responsibilities with organization’s strategies and goals

In today’s environment, organizational goals and strategies must change to adapt. Frequently, roles and supporting job duties don’t adequately change to align with these shifts. When this occurs, some or much of employee work efforts are out of alignment and can impair the ability to achieve the desired outcomes. For example, a company changes strategy to shift most customer communications from telephone to online, yet the employees’ duties and training continue to focus on telephone communications.

6. Assessing personal and professional weaknesses, starting from the top

Weaknesses are the negative side of strengths. It’s impossible to have a strength without its vulnerable side. We’ve been taught to hide or deny our weaknesses despite them being obvious to others. Our ego’s impulse to protect our self-image is normal but counterproductive. It hinders our true potential from being realized—a loss to the organization and ourselves. When leaders openly and honestly acknowledge “challenge areas,” this sets the example for others. The organization opens the door to growth and development.

7. Committing to work on the personal and professional challenges discovered in the assessment process

Studies on human potential and positive change demonstrate that self-awareness is the first step—but it’s not the last. Committing to take steps (starting with baby steps) and taking them allows for the development of positive habits that create lasting positive change. Deliberate change intended to meet the needs of your environment creates a flexible, adaptive organization—one that is poised to thrive despite the torrent of unpredictable/unwanted change that defines your world. Thriving in an unpredictable world is about you. Your willingness to acknowledge change that you don’t like, openly discuss it and consistently take the actions required to adapt and emerge stronger.

At the end of the day, leaders are simply making choices that define the present and future of themselves and their organizations. There’s nothing magical about the most effective leaders. They’re just making more effective choices. These choices encompass how they decide to see the world, their openness to challenge their beliefs and their willingness to experiment with innovative ideas that can capture breakthrough advantages. Equally important choices include their willingness to objectively look at themselves and take actions to grow in areas. They choose to become a greater, more effective version of themselves. They know that what they demonstrate (not what they say) is what has the greatest impact on the entire organization. As a leader, the question is, what choices are you going to make?

Brad Wolff specializes in workforce and personal optimization. He’s a speaker and author of, People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage. As the managing partner for Atlanta-based PeopleMax, Brad specializes in helping companies maximize the potential and results of their people to make more money with less stress. His passion is empowering people to create the business success they desire, in a deep and lasting way. For more information on Brad Wolff, please visit: www.PeopleMaximizers.com.