Have you ever looked on in wonder at a young child totally immersed on their mobile device playing their computers games. They immediately go into their own world. This is a world of simulation, a repeating process of trial and error. Here the real learning happens; they must through exploration find the best way to gain a higher score in their computer game. They are continually trying new ways, raising their own skills and awareness. They are in competition with their peer community and they know who has attained the highest score. They are eager to climb the rankings to more challenging levels. To be competitive in this environment, they know they need to learn from their mistakes, and start again at zero if they fail. They accept failure as just a part of the game. They have autonomy to be creative and competitive in their chosen field without anyone telling them they look or sound stupid or giving negative feedback when they make a mistake. They know when they played bad, they don’t need telling; they just dust themselves down and go again. When they make a mistake they almost instantly know where they went wrong and how to make it right next time.
But at work they are warned to ensure they get it right first time. If they don’t, it will have big consequences. The boss, line manager or colleague shows them up in public and tells them and everyone else just how wrong they got it. Taking risks, trying new ways, being innovative are all espoused as something organisations want more of, but they better get it right first time! This leads the adventurous gamer who takes risks in their personal life to play safe and within the rules, fearful of doing something wrong at work. At home, this gamer tries, fails, tries again and fails, each time learning, adapting and raising their own performance standards even further. The difference? They have freedom within the framework of the game and are committed to learning and being the best they can be.
We are asked by HR departments for interventions to help shake their people up, to motivate them. When we delve into the problem we’re told their people are often on autopilot, working hard, but fearing they will get it wrong. It’s understandable. A person’s standard rarely improves once a task is learned. At work, we become ‘lifelong doers’ instead of ‘lifelong learners’. Performance reviews don’t help much either, it’s a tick the box exercise for both parties. It’s no surprise that virtually every sector has seen their productivity flatline since around 07/08. The Global Gallup study shows employee engagement pretty much stagnant at 33%, year after year.
HR chases too many Fads’ – I see too many fad HR initiatives being rolled out in response to poor career development scores in employee engagement surveys. Fads don’t work but they tick the box that the organisation was seen to offer something to address the issue. Let’s do a motivational talk or a talk on managing stress and everyone will know then what to do when they are stressed. No, they won’t because the work environment will not change the day after the inspirational talk. These initiatives are all targeted at helping the person to change behaviour. We have seen from our kids playing computer games that if you create the right environment we will thrive to be better. It’s the environment that needs to change; this is a much bigger prize for HR to go after. This will bring the Big Win longer term. This is how HR will become more strategic and influential.
Stop going for the low hanging fruit HR with health and well-being talks, gyms on site and short-term fad’s. These won’t work if people are still working 60-hour weeks. These won’t work if you report into a boss that is known to be a bully and has poor relationship skills but is never challenged on their behaviour. Things won’t change if you are rewarding managers and employees to stay in roles too long. Start taking some risks – challenge your senior leadership team to create environments that enable talent to thrive, not plateau or leave.
I had a conversation recently with an organisation that has 97% retention. They wanted to increase movement around the organisation to build new skills, but found it hard to do this. The problem is a mud layer of managers at a certain level in the organisation, who have stayed too long and have no intention of leaving. It is their comfort zone and the organisation has facilitated this mud layer. They also found that new graduates are not staying. Why would they? They have nowhere to go. They can see no career prospects while the mud layer of management stay where they are. The organisation had a problem but didn’t know how to change it and create a high-performance culture. With our support, this was a goal worth pursuing which won’t just tick the box. We are transforming their culture and helping drive commitment, performance and productivity.
“Engaged employees are in the game for the sake of the game; they believe in the cause of the organization.” –Paul Marciano, PhD.