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What Impact do First-Line Leaders have on Employee Engagement?

May 15th, 2014 by Michael Frisbie
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2014 represents a time of significant change for many industries – the healthcare industry is finding ways to engage new stakeholder audiences, an estimated 20-25% of the oil & energy workforce will be retiring in the next five years and financial services serve a more fickle customer base than ever before.

However, one theme remains constant: employee engagement resonates across all industries. In fact, the results were alarming – 53% of respondents in our recent survey indicated this was a top concern. You can consult this article for more comprehensive data.

Forum’s research shows that  are five key motivational factors that drive a workforce, and most people have one or two dominant needs. The five needs are

  • Accomplishment – “I am productive”
  • Recognition – “I am valued”
  • Enjoyment – “I enjoy my work”
  • Belonging – “I belong here”
  • Advancement – “I’m getting ahead”

It should come as no surprise that first-line leaders (overseeing  approximately 80% of the workforce) play a significant part in employing these motivators to get the most out of their people. This insight has led many of our clients to pose the following question: where do first-line leaders play their part?

One possible solution lies in recent research Forum compiled on this subject, alongside key findings presented in Jim Collins’ recent work Good to Great. In the latter work, Jim Collins shares key data that highlights how truly great companies embrace challenge by fostering an entrepreneurial, ‘go-getter’ attitude within the workplace. In one example, Kimberly Clark was able to thrive not because its people feared P&G, but rather because they welcomed the opportunity to challenge such a market leader.

Supporting this insight, it is clear that first-line leaders are instrumental in channeling such spirit in their people. Moreover, they are most effective when able to manage the tension between organizational climate and the aforementioned motivators.

This is not an easy task. It is important for first-line leaders to know when and how to challenge thought and action. It is equally important for them to know when it’s best to support an employee’s ideas and suggestions for moving forward. First-line leaders must become expert in the art of coaching. Today’s reality dictates that it may no longer be enough to serve as a teacher or mentor: in-depth questioning to uncover each employee’s feelings and personal motivators is the only tried and true method for driving behavioral change and sustaining engagement.

Coming Full Circle

I encourage every stakeholder I connect with to consider how effective their first-line leaders are in 1) motivating employees on a personal level and 2) helping them assimilate into their organization’s climate. Is there enough clarity present internally? Is there clear commitment communicated from the organization to each individual and from the employee to the organization? What standards for performance are in place? What responsibility do employees have in their own future success and is there recognition for such efforts and successes? Finally, what role does teamwork have in the workforce? Such questions have helped our clients define how effective their first-line leaders are, and concurrently represent characteristics typically present in high performing cultures. Managing the tension between these disparate forces, albeit challenging, may not be as abstract as we once thought it to be.

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In the Future, We Will All Have the Chance to be Leaders

May 7th, 2014 by David Robertson
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I was asked recently to comment on the suggestion that organisations are becoming more social in terms of their structure and what this might mean for leadership development. I believe the move to flatter, less hierarchical, more project based organisational structures, where individual contribution is sought out by project teams looking for relevant experience and expertise, and where the ability to collaborate at all levels is critical to success, is slowly gathering momentum. Some of our clients are thinking about moving ‘beyond the matrix’ and starting to de-layer and considering about how to incentivise matrix contribution. It’s an interesting approach and I wanted to share some of my thoughts and the implications for leaders that I considered in my response.

Chart - future of leadership

What do you see as the implications for leaders as your organisations become more social? Are they ready to succeed in this emerging world?

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7 Simple Rules for Virtual Learning Success

April 30th, 2014 by Nanette Miner, Ed.D
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As we’ve talked about many times on this blog, when done correctly, virtual learning can have a huge impact. However, to make an impact, a lot of work needs to go into making sure that the learning environment is the best it can be.

Here are my seven rules, based on years of experience designing virtual programs.

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Rule Number 1: Engage people immediately and on purpose

Typically we ask people to join our virtual classes ten or fifteen minutes early to ensure that we can start on time and also to overcome any technological obstacles that might arise.  You don’t want to punish the punctual student by then having them sit around doing nothing for those few minutes before the class officially starts; so give them something purposeful to do.  For example:

  • Ask them to answer a discussion question based on their pre-work
  •  Give them a fun interaction, such as a word jumble or a video or pictorial montage and ask them to guess what the warm up has to do with today’s class.
  • Ask people to declare one surprising thing about themselves that their work colleagues would not know about them.

Rule Number 2: There is no such thing as a five minute break-out. 

Break-out rooms are fabulously well received in the online classroom; they allow individuals to get together in smaller groups and really make personal connections with one another as well as the content.  If you choose to use the break-out technology in your virtual learning platform, use it to its best advantage.  In other words, don’t have people go to a break-out room for an activity that can be done in a large group with the exact same success rate.

Rule Number 3: Have a script.

Very often a script is avoided because companies are afraid that the facilitator will then sound as though they are simply reading and if they are simply reading – why didn’t they just send the text of the class in an email so that the individual could read it themselves?  The purpose of a script is to ensure that the class is tightly timed; so that the same content is taught from delivery to delivery and so that any facilitator can teach the same quality class.  However it is imperative that the facilitator is so familiar with the script that they are not reading from it; they are instead using it as a point of reference, and are interacting more with their screen and their learners than they are with their scripted facilitator guide.

Rule Number 4: Use a producer.

A producer ensures that anything that might go wrong during the delivery of a live, online class is handled by an individual solely dedicated to trouble shooting.  Technology is not perfect.  Connections will be lost, individuals will drop off of the audio, break-out rooms may not initiate, and slides may suddenly seize up.  If a facilitator has to take their attention away from the delivery of a class and engaging participants in purposeful discussion in order to find the conference-call number and issue it again to one individual who has somehow lost their audio, it turns the entire attention of the class away from the learning.

Rule Number 5: Use a variety of tools, but use them purposefully.

Virtual classroom technologies allow for many interactive devices: polls, chat, whiteboard annotation, break-out rooms, etc.  But having a variety of tools does not mean you should use all of them.  Use only the tools that are necessary to “move the class forward.” You wouldn’t want to conduct an activity in a break-out room that could be done more simply by using the chat feature..  Ensure you understand how your tools work and how they can be used to further the progress of the class.  Don’t use a tool simply because you can.

Rule Number 6: Talk less.

Hearing the same voice, the same intonation, the same pace, contributes to auditory overload and participants eventually stop paying attention.  A better strategy is to use a variety of voices, perhaps by calling on participants to read or share their stories, or ask the producer to give the instructions for the next activity. The facilitator’s role is to ask questions that get the learners to contribute – not to lecture or provide his or her own perspectives and stories.  Rather than saying, “Let me tell you about a story I had with customer service on my recent flight,” you would want to say, “Who has a story they can share about a recent customer service disappointment they’ve experienced?”  The more the facilitator lectures, the more the learners will question why they bothered to show up to a live class.

Rule Number 7: Use less slides.

One of the ways to ensure that the facilitator speaks less and the participants contribute more is to have fewer slides in the presentation.  Typically a good online class will only include 10 to 15 slides.  This limited number of slides ensures that there is engagement and interaction at each slide rather than simply a lecture.  For instance, a slide with five bullet points means that a facilitator can spend 5 or 10 or 15 minutes lecturing and expounding on each of those bullet points; but a slide with a two column grid – pros and cons, before and after, features and benefits, ensure that the participants are contributing that content – there is no content until the learners add it to the slide.  Therefore, there is physical engagement via the learner’s using their keyboards to write on the screen, there’s verbal interaction through the facilitator summarizing the learner’s contributions or asking for further explanation of those contributions, and there is auditory engagement by hearing a variety of different voices, not just the facilitator.

By following these 7 Simple Rules for Virtual Learning Success your virtual, instructor-led training will develop a reputation as effective and engaging.  What rules would you add to this list? Share in the comments or in our LinkedIn Group.

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Group Effectiveness Lessons from Playing Santa Claus

April 23rd, 2014 by Deb Judge
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In the midst of the 2013 holiday season, a wonderfully heartwarming video made the rounds at Forum. The video documented the story of WestJet, a Canadian airline that made a flight full of passengers’ Christmas wish list dreams come true. How did this happen? Prior to departure, passengers conveyed their request to  a Santa kiosk set up in the origin airport, only to be surprised when their gifts came down the baggage claim (along with their luggage) at their point of destination. Little did those 200+ passengers know that behind the scenes, 175 West Jet employees were working diligently to fulfill their video requests.

As someone who has planned and managed large scale projects and events, I’m acutely aware of what it takes to pull together an event of that magnitude. What could have been a nightmare of coordination and execution was instead a seamless implementation of warmth and goodwill. It’s clear that WestJet mastered three major components essential for group effectiveness:

Unifying Vision

A clear, unifying vision is the glue that binds a group together regardless of size, purpose or duration. When a clear vision is lacking, it’s like being in a boat where everyone is rowing in a different direction. The end result is a boat that just travels in circles, getting nowhere.

A strong vision, however, provides a clear compass by which a team can navigate and ultimately lays the foundation for group cohesion. The appropriate choices become clear and the team moves together in congruence rather than cross purposes. In the case of WestJet, that unifying vision bound the team together in a common value (doing good for others) and provided both inspiration and motivation. This effective team culture is an important attribute that can help teams overcome the challenges that can be inherent within large, complex projects.

Group Structure

Group structure ensures the right people are on the team in the right roles in terms of the appropriate skills, knowledge and abilities necessary to get the job done. Each team member has a clearly defined role laid out by their leader and a set of responsibilities that harmoniously blend together for smooth and seamless project execution. An effective group structure allowed the WestJet team to move in concert to ultimately deliver those wished-for presents in the destination airport. Teams that lack group structure often suffer from duplicative effort, inefficiency and an inability to deliver results on time or budget.

Group Processes

Effective group processes provide the ground rules for the team in the areas of communication, decision making, problem solving and conflict management. Without clear and effective group processes, the airline employees could have easily become caught in cycle of unproductive conflict, poor decisions and ineffective choices. Instead, the WestJet team worked together cohesively to get those presents bought, wrapped and delivered to their destination.

Next time you need your team to execute a initiative seamlessly, think about the WestJet elves and the hallmarks of high performing teams: a unifying vision, clear group structure and group processes. Your team may not create the experience of a lifetime for 200+ families at Christmas, but it could improve your bottom line.

Think about a time when you were on highly effective team. To what do you attribute your team’s effectiveness?

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10 Ways to Maximise your Return on Learning

April 16th, 2014 by David Robertson
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Return on learning (ROL) is a key measure for organisations and illustrates the impact and effectiveness of learning initiatives in making a real contribution to business success. A robust and proactive measurement strategy is important to capture the data you can use to calculate ROL, however up front you need to design a programme that drives value for the individual and the organisation and impacts the key business metrics. Having designed solutions for our clients for the past ten years I am often asked for tips for maximising return on learning investment (ROL) and so thought I might share my own top ten:

  1. ROL takes time. Recognise that individual learning and resultant behaviour change is often a slow process. You need to create context, ignite the learning, provide opportunities to; act, explore, reflect and then evaluate, socialise and integrate – this does not happen in a single event or session and requires an engaged learner.
  2. Clarify Business Impact: Know and understand the business issue(s) you want to impact; use it as an ‘anchor’ and create a measurement and communication strategy around it. Then actually execute that strategy!
  3. Know your Audience: Review any generational, regional and cultural differences with regard to learning; preferences, support and application and take account of these in your learning design.
  4. Align around Value: Find opportunities to build and sustain alignment with all stakeholders (Learners, Line, Sponsors, SME’s etc.) around the business and learning context and clarify the value of the learning experience for stakeholders and the business. This keeps the focus firmly on ROL for the individual and the organisation.
  5. Engage Early: Engage learners and stakeholders early through sharing stories and providing opportunities for dialogue and feedback—use this to create positive momentum for the ROL.
  6. Engage the Line: Encourage line coaching prior to any event to help focus learning on real priorities and personalise the learning experience. Engage line in the development and ownership of the measurement strategy.
  7. Blend the Journey: Build capability through creating an appropriate blend of experience over time in a way that stretches and challenges the learners – create a learning journey that engages all stakeholders and respects their needs and realities.
  8. Think outside the Event: Provide opportunities and support for learners to collaborate outside of the event to socialise, share and get feedback on their learning experience.
  9. Build a community: Encourage development of a learning community to curate and share best practice, e.g. an internal collaboration site or a regular reconnect webinars. This dynamic social database can really help to sustain the ROL
  10. Structure informal learning: Sustain the learning experience through intentionally structuring application of learning in the workplace. This is where you activate your ROL

What might you add or change in this list? Do you have your own top ten? Share with us in the comments or join the conversation in our LinkedIn Group.

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The Power of Prep

April 11th, 2014 by Nanette Miner, Ed.D
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“Do your homework!”

“Why? I don’t want to!”

Is this an age old conversation between parents and kids, or between corporate trainers and trainees? Recently, it seems both.

In the last few months, we have had a number of clients come to us and ask if there is a way to eliminate the pre-work expected of learners before they come to their learning sessions. Our advice is always “no”, but we wonder if the clients, the learners or the organizations understand the detriment of eliminating the pre-work.

People who are familiar with the time-cost-quality continuum will understand the dilemma. If you reduce the amount of time and learning for which the learner is independently responsible, then that time has to be added to the classroom which increases costs and time a learner is away from their job. If you eliminate the amount of time and learning for which the learner is independently responsible all together, then the quality and sustainment of the learning will suffer.

Pre-work enables a learner to be ready to participate fully in the learning process. It ensures that each learner is on “the same page,” and has the same basic knowledge in order to contribute and participate in the learning process. The only way to eliminate pre-work is to teach everything a learner needs to know in the live session requiring the live sessions to be much longer.

In the last 10 to 15 years, corporate organizations have put great pressure on us to reduce classroom time because they don’t want to take people off the job, but the only way to achieve that shorter classroom time is to then make some knowledge the learner’s responsibility ahead of time. What may have been previously transmitted in a lecture is now something the learner reads or watches a short eLearning module about before coming to class. In that way, the learner has some baseline information and conversational knowledge which enables them to, not only better understand the content of the class, but also contribute positively to the learning process. This reduces time away from their job for the learners and helps to reinforce the topics being covered in live sessions. Just like homework does for kids in school.

Have you seen the value of pre-work in action or do you think it’s unnecessary? Share in the comments or join the conversation in our LinkedIn Group.

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Building the Business Case for Learning & Development

March 26th, 2014 by Janine Carlson
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“Prove it.” Every learning and development professional has heard this from their management team. What used to be a request has now become a mandate — and while it is not always easy, it is a shift we thoroughly embrace.

In a recent Australian Training & Development magazine article*, Forum Asia Pacific managing director, Cynthia Stuckey, discusses the ways for L&D to win over management through measurable results.

“Senior management buy-in remains one of the biggest challenges when it comes to learning and development initiatives. The tough economic climate is making it even harder to justify budgets for learning and development, as cost reduction strategies take precedence in today’s boardrooms.

To gain management’s commitment to learning and development, professionals have to strongly demonstrate the impact of learning investments on the bottom line. The problem is, while the majority of companies investing heavily in learning and development recognise the benefits of measuring results, many of them have yet to formalise their measurement process.”

The article goes on to highlight recent research findings, best practices for aligning learning to the business, and suggestions for what you measure with examples of metrics and accountabilities. You can read the full article here.

For more information on measurement best practices and building a business case for L&D, check out our Asia Pacific on-demand webinar, Using Measurement to Drive Impact & Effectiveness of Your Leadership Development Programmes. To discuss learning and development measurement strategies in Australia with Forum, email AsiaPacific@forum.com, call +61.2.9080.4160 or visit www.forumaustralia.com.au.

 

*This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine February 2014 Vol 41 No 1, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.

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You’re Not Listening To Me!

March 20th, 2014 by Claudette Chagnon
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Can you please put down that phone and talk to me? I feel like I am not being listened to when you are constantly on your phone while we are talking.” “But Mom, I’m listening.  I am an expert at multitasking. You just said…”  And he “parrots” back what I said.  I have this conversation with my son a few times per week.  Sigh. (Research has shown that multitasking is a myth, but that is another blog…). He’s listening maybe…but surely he is not hearing me.

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This is a growing problem in the workplace, as well. People are listening, but are they hearing? Recently, I went to a meeting, and there were four of us seated around a small table in a conference room. One person was on his laptop and another placed her smart phone in front of her and checked it constantly. Are these behaviors simply about device etiquette? Or, are devices actually preventing authentic communications both in the home and in the workplace?   And, what are the implications for leaders? Read the rest of this entry »

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All your Questions about Employee Engagement Answered – Part 2

March 14th, 2014 by Janine Carlson
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Nearly 2,000 people registered for our global series of Employee Engagement webinars. If you missed these lively sessions, I encourage you to watch one of the on-demand webinar replays. This blog post answers the remaining audience questions from the sessions that we didn’t have time to address in the live sessions or in our first post here.

1. How is climate different from culture?

Great question, and an important distinction that should be made clear.  Litwin and Stringer’s research found that culture and climate both exist in organizations, but they operate at different levels.  Culture is made up of foundational elements like shared beliefs, values, and norms of behavior.  Culture is deeply embedded in the organization and is slow to change.

In contrast, climate operates at the level of the day-to-day workplace, and the factors that influence climate – clarity, commitment, standards, responsibility, recognition, and teamwork – are more accessible and manageable by leaders.  This makes climate easier to change in the workplace

2. I work for a company with international presence, what similarities and differences are there when it comes to employee engagement across cultures?

Our research found that our definition of high engagement – a deep sense of ownership for the organization and strong feelings of involvement, commitment, and absorption in one’s work, which is motivating.  It looks like a strong contribution of discretionary energy, which translates into productivity, and it results in improved personal and business performance – holds true for employees and organizations around the globe.

Where we see variation is in employees’ behaviours or the expression of their engagement or non-engagement, which might be more discrete than explicit.  For example, an employee with low engagement or satisfaction in Singapore might never voice those concerns to his manager because of cultural norms, and thus he appears on the surface to be more engaged than he really is.  But in this situation, he may not be as productive or stay with the organization as long as an engaged employee.

The culture of a country or region is deeply embedded in employees, and they bring those patterns of behaviour and expectations into the workplace.  For example, in Asia cultures, employees tend to be deferential to authority and may not even expect to have a voice in how work gets done; therefore, they may not equate being able to speak up as a factor in being engaged.  Contrast that with North American or Australian cultures where employees tend not to defer to authority, are often quick to speak up and expect to have a voice – for these employees having a voice would be a factor in being engaged. Bottom line, the best way to understand how to employees is to focus on the individual employee and understand what engages them.

3. Any differences in engagement factors for an aging group of employees vs. younger generations?

Our research found the five employee engagement needs – accomplishment, recognition, enjoyment, belonging, and advancement – were represented though all generations.  That said, as the Millennials (born 1982-2000) take their place in the workplace, there is a growing body of research and opinions on how to engage them.  Some of these findings show Millennials respond to personalised work experiences, regular (more than twice/year) feedback on performance, and want to be able to contribute to society through their work, to name just a few. There are many resources/books/etc dedicated to helping people understanding generational differences and you can apply this information to addressing engagement needs within your organisation.

4. Do you have data on how to “engage” part time employees and volunteers

This is an interesting question.  Although we do not have specific data regarding how to engage part-time or contingent workers, we do have an opinion.  We believe, despite the boundaries that can separate these workers that from your full-time workforce, to be highly engaged, a part-time or variable worker needs the same things a full-time worker needs.  In a nutshell that is, they need understand the connection their work has to the strategy of the company, to the success of the team, and to their success as an individual.  And they to be understood and appealed to as individuals in terms of their own engagement needs.

It’s easy, and dangerous, to make assumptions about contingent workers engagement needs, or lack thereof.  The best leaders treat their contingent workers as they do their full-timers.  That is, by their actions the leader builds a strong positive climate, shows they are trustworthy, and they take the time to get to know the worker and their specific engagement needs, and treat them according to those needs.  It can take more time and effort to understand contingent workers’ engagement needs because they are not always in the flow of work every day; however, it will pay off in the long run. Read the rest of this entry »

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All Your Questions about Employee Engagement Answered – Part 1

March 11th, 2014 by Janine Carlson
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We recently hosted a series of webinars on the topic of employee engagement across the globe. You can watch a replay of the APAC webinar entitled “Keys to Employee Engagement in Asia Pacific” here. The US and EMEA versions entitled “How Great Leaders Drive Results through Employee Engagement” can be found here and here, respectively . Participants were highly active in all regions and filled the chat boxes with questions; while we answered as many as we could in the allotted time, we just could not get to all of them. In this blog post, Ellen Foley and I address many of the outstanding questions from across the globe.

1. How can you coach your managers/leaders to develop good climate and trust?

Helping leaders develop good climate and trust is a development process that takes place over time.  We recommend the following steps:

  1. Provide practical leadership development, including best practices, to help the leader understand what “good” looks like.
  2. Use an assessment instrument to focus the leader on his or her gaps.
  3. Have the leader identify the specific opportunities they have to use best practices to build good climate and trust in the day-to-day rhythm of their work.
  4. Provide coaching, positive reinforcement and recognition to the leader as they try out the best practices and have success improving on their specific gaps.

2. Employees say they want training, team building, social activities, etc. and we organise all that and then people don’t want to come. How should we deal with this? How do we make employees appreciate what we’ve done?

It is not uncommon for HR professionals to be frustrated by employees who do not seem to appreciate or participate in the organisation’s engagement efforts — particularly when activities take a lot of energy and resources to plan and execute.  This challenge highlights the difference between company-wide engagement effort and individually-focused engagement efforts.  Corporate engagement efforts, while having some impact on employees, are blunt instruments.  That is, they have to be so broad that it is nearly impossible that they will appeal to the majority of employees.  In contrast, individual efforts, managed by leaders at the work team and employee level, are much more targeted and effective instruments for driving employee engagement.  One way we have seen organisations successfully balance these two types of activities is to minimise the corporate-wide activities and share some of the budget for these types of activities out to managers to use for targeted activities with their teams.

3. In a conservative working environment where open communication is not the standard, how do you encourage employee engagement?

This can certainly be a challenge, particularly in some Asian companies, as communication is a key component in employee engagement.  How you define “open” is important to this discussion.  Open communication does not mean sharing every bit of information with employees.  In fact, in many situations it is not appropriate to do so.  However, in situations where confidential information cannot be shared with employees, managers who communicate with empathy and authenticity are still able to build trust and engagement with their employees.  In addition, we recommend managers focus on understanding the specific engagement needs of their teams by looking at the Climate Dimensions – clarity, commitment, standards, responsibility, recognition, teamwork – and also by recognising and attending to the various engagement needs of individual employees. Read the rest of this entry »

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