Row Henson, in her session at our Fusion Strategy Council, and in her keynote presentation at OHUG this week, presented various research and statistics that have been common knowledge in the talent management arena for some time. However, one in particular made me ponder the reasons why…“only 20% of employees do what they do best at work” (Buckingham).
Hmm, so companies are consumed by the hot topics of employee engagement and retention; they strive to tie employee goals and performance to corporate goals; they pre-screen to ensure they get the best-fit new hires with less likelihood of quick turnover; and yet, the vast majority of employees are not enabled to do what they are best at doing! What’s that all about?
I have my theories – Subjective? Admittedly! Biased? Maybe! Argumentative? Most definitely! Valid? You tell me!
Firstly, I admit I pondered this only from the perspective of individual contributors, and with a particular bias on large corporations as opposed to, say, start-ups. So, yes, it’s a subjective, biased opinion but, hey, this is a blog not a thesis.
As an enterprise grows and automates its processes, employees seem to be increasingly pigeon-holed into strictly defined roles and responsibilities, with little or no allowance for personal preferences or abilities.
Is that because it’s easier to hire to a formula? …because it’s easier to interpret measurements and analysis if you have a large pool of comparisons? …or simply that resources have been so severely stripped that this simplistic approach takes less thought and effort?
When employees are straight-jacketed into formulaic roles that don’t take sufficient advantage of individual strengths and weaknesses, or likes and dislikes, is it any surprise that their abilities are not used effectively? Some of their strengths may be under-utilized, while they struggle to perform other tasks for which a peer may be better suited.
What if managers have the freedom to build a team in which each member takes on a heavier percentage of tasks that are most suited to their individual characteristics? What if the combination of the individual roles and personalities together can fulfill the needs of the team? A synergistic team – a mutually advantageous conjunction where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts!
On the flip-side, if job roles are too rigidly defined and applied to multiple individuals, each team member is forced to perform the same tasks in parallel with their peers. In this model, employees are silo’d vertically. Each may have their own subject area of responsibility but, to do their job, they all learn the same tools, attend the same meetings, follow the same processes, and even experience the same errors or problems (instead of benefiting from others’ experiences).
The cynic in me believes this is all about making life easier for senior execs, in a corporate environment where size precludes them having any personal knowledge of the individuals (or caring that they don’t!) – but at what hidden cost? Sure, it simplifies metrics, objective setting, and measuring performance at the highest level of the corporation – it’s so much easier to compare apples to apples – but how much untapped ability is being wasted, and how much effort is being duplicated?
In How to Build a High Engagement Workplace, Marcus Buckingham recommends that managers find ways for people to do what they do best. Of course, we have to be realistic about this, but at least this warrants serious consideration. As Buckingham acknowledges: “it may not be possible for everyone to be in a role which uses their strengths all the time“, although he continues “but managers can get better at identifying these talents, and providing opportunities for people to exercise these talents and to grow in them.” However, IMHO, I believe that in large corporations this responsibility goes beyond the managers, who are often hampered by corporate job descriptions and policies that effectively hand-cuff them from adopting a more flexible approach to their individual teams.
Am I an old cynic?…or are we witnessing the corporate death of the synergistic team?
…and what about the detrimental effect on employee engagement and employee retention? I throw those in because it’s always easier to get attention when you relate the issue back to a hot topic or two!