Are your employees achieving their potential?
It is only when people attempt things that we find out what they can do! How do you know what your employees are capable of achieving? For an individual to achieve two conditions have to be met: Firstly, an appropriate challenge needs to be identified, and secondly, the individual has to be motivated to tackle that challenge.
It sounds simple, but this cycle of challenge, motivation and achievement is rare. When it is absent, it diminishes companies: it reduces innovation, it leads to employee apathy, and potentially to active disengagement. This saps morale, which impacts performance within the wider team. It can also lead to employees leaving, which is both destabilising and costly in terms of finding replacements.
Gallup’s 2014 State of the Global Workplace survey found that companies with high employee engagement levels were three times as profitable (in terms of their operating margins) as those with low engagement. Yet the survey found that, worldwide, only 13% of employees exhibited this level of engagement. 63% were categorised as ‘not engaged’ and 24% were ‘actively disengaged’. A reasonable deduction from this is that 87% of the global workforce are not in a position to demonstrate what they are capable of achieving!
Senior leadership teams need to be asking three questions:
- Is this happening in our company?
- Why is it happening?
- What can we do to reverse this trend?
An environment of supportive challenge
Replace the word ‘challenge’ with the word ‘development’ and it becomes easy to understand, and is widely recognised, that employees are motivated by the opportunity to learn new skills and attempt new tasks. These opportunities represent the chance to develop and grow, and through that growth, to become more valuable. For an employee, being ‘valuable’ suggests they are gaining skills that will command higher wages. It also suggests that they are offering something worthwhile. This sense of worth builds engagement. Engagement makes it more likely that an employee will be proactive in attempting new tasks and in achieving ways to further the company goals and ambitions.
Yet by their very nature, challenges will not always be successfully met. It’s important that challenges are set at an appropriate level – stretching an individual out of their comfort zone, but not pushing them to attempt tasks which they are not equipped to deal with. It’s also important that managers provide their employees with a clear brief as to what is expected of them and how that will be assessed. Finally, employees need to be given the resources they need to carry out the task effectively.
If a challenge is met, the benefits are clear. But if a challenge is not achieved, it can also be positive, if…
- The manager treats the situation as a learning experience, rather than a failure.
- The individual can learn from the experience and identify why the challenge wasn’t achieved.
- The individual gets the opportunity to take on another challenge to put what they’ve learned into practice.
It is the attitude of the manager that creates – or destroys – an ‘environment of supportive challenge’. All too often the structure of the workplace creates a pressure that funnels managers into focusing exclusively on immediate results. Without the time to assess their staff and think about ways of stretching them or allowing them greater autonomy, two things regularly happen. One is that managers become reliant on a small group of ‘trusted performers’. This creates a sense of an ‘in’ group and an ‘out’ group, which erodes the identity of the team as a whole, promoting disengagement from those in the ‘out’ group. The other common result of a manager who is more focused on their results than on their team, is that the manager takes on the ‘stretch tasks’. The result is that their team members aren’t challenged and lose motivation.
To avoid these traps, managers need to be enabled to be people managers, as well as project managers. It is the responsibility of the senior leadership team to create a workflow that enables managers to give time to their teams. It is also the responsibility of the senior leadership team to expect and ensure managers develop their teams through ‘challenge’. Whatever their stated objectives, most managers are judged only by their ability to successfully oversee tasks. This attitude is dangerous. It prioritises the short-term goal of task completion over the long-term goal of creating committed, accomplished teams. With committed and accomplished teams, companies can carry out all their core tasks and be innovative and responsive to new situations. With demotivated teams, managers may get their tasks completed, but they are unlikely to create anything of added value.
To build a committed and accomplished team, managers need:
- Time to dedicate to their staff.
- Sufficient flexibility in their schedules to allow them to give their teams the opportunity to try new tasks.
- Tolerance of the fact that challenges will not always be met and the breadth of vision to see that unmet challenges can provide valuable lessons.
- An understanding of the importance of staff development.
Appropriate challenges build motivated staff. They demonstrate that a company wants to invest in an individual, believes in their abilities, and wants them to develop. Challenges help individuals to develop, enhance their confidence and heighten their engagement. Engaged employees work harder, are more innovative, and increase the value of their company. It’s a virtuous cycle. To see what employees are capable of achieving, start by investing more consciously and appropriately in them!