The New Straits Times (Malaysia) published an article written by me. Here it is:
OH, you are in the mind development business. Can you change the mindset of our employees and make them more productive? And will they be high performers after your training?” asked the human resources director.
I often hear such statements. They relate to the ongoing discussion in companies about employee engagement and high performance.
As the talent war rages on, companies desperately look for high- performing employees to fill up required staffing levels, while keeping their current staff.
They hope that more benefits, higher salaries and a great culture attract potential candidates, prevent employees from leaving, ensure better performance and ultimately create higher engagement levels.
Consultants capitalise on this frustration with an endless offer of employee engagement surveys that spit out numbers and statements that show how an engaged employee looks and acts and what can be done about disengaged employees.
But engaging high performers is just the beginning. International Survey Research (now Towers Perrin) in 2008 reported that 47 per cent of high-performers in Malay-sian organisations were disillusioned and of those, 69 per cent were ready to jump ship should a headhunter call.
I have read that employees’ experience of the first day on the job determines their future as either high or low performers. First impressions count, even for companies.
Employees are most motivated on the first day of the new job. It is hard to imagine a single employee starting a job with the intent of messing up their employer. Their thoughts are sprinkled with fantastic ideas about their job. Excitement at the prospect of new work assignments, projects and colleagues dominates their feelings.
But things can go wrong. A vice- president for corporate social responsibility related her horror story about her first day on a new job to me. Nothing was ready for her when she arrived at her workplace — neither her room nor her business cards — and she felt like no one really expected her.
The receptionist gave her some annual reports to read and asked her to wait in a meeting room. She waited for hours.
The impact of that experience on her engagement level is clear.
Most often, motivation and the engagement level drop during an employee’s tenure in companies. The novelty of the job rubs off and the day, once glamorous, turns into a dreaded routine.
Maybe the employee simply assimilates into the culture of the organisation as the novelty wears off. Maybe they don’t feel appreciated or were passed over for a promotion. Or they believe that there are unsolvable conflicts at the workplace.
Engagement is based on our values, but maybe traditional engagement models don’t capture true engagement levels.
Unconscious values and beliefs filter our ongoing experience and determine how we judge and evaluate events. Values are what is important to us.
And we get motivated, engaged or enraged based on how situations or people fulfil our values.
They are our hot buttons, triggered as a reaction to the subtle tone of voice, gestures, words, eye contact and facial expressions of others around us.
Leadership consultant Stephen Young says we transmit 2,000 to 4,000 subtle signals to each other every day. These are as automatic as breathing and often disappear in the camouflage of our interactions. They are largely non-verbal and reveal our feelings of approval, trust, connection and respect.
And we are not aware of them until certain thoughts bubble up to the surface. Thoughts like: “How come the boss didn’t smile at me the way he smiled at Mrs X? Did I do something wrong? Am I in trouble?” And these can lead to thoughts resulting in lowered engagement levels. But we can identify values and then start addressing them appropriately.
How to identify values? Ask your colleagues what is important to them in a specific situation. Their answer reveals their values. And then respect it.
You have found a way to trigger their values and can now build on their engagement. It can be that easy.
Practise and see how it goes. And enjoy deeper relationships with your colleagues along the way.