Employee Engagement Crossing the Language Barrier

David Marklew has been in touch with a fantastic story of engagement at work. Engagement and recognition between two people who don’t even share a common language. It reinforces the fourth question from Marcus Buckingham’s First Break All the Rules. “In the last seven days, have I received recognition or praise for good work?” It’s simple and effective. I love it, great work David.

We were faced with the retail equivalent of a disaster – a warehouse full of stock and none ready to ship to the store. There were issues in the supply chain, but a recovery situation prevailed.

The task was simple – gather together sufficient resource to put price stickers onto cd’s & dvd’s. It won’t be any surprise to anyone with an eye for logistics that getting the right resource (people to you and I) proved difficult. We had bus loads of agency temps (people) coming into the warehouse from all directions. Mixed abilities would be an understatement and English was not the dominant language.

The skill required in placing a cd sticker on the right cd in the right place is not high but it does require some co-ordination and technique to achieve a reasonable speed of application. It also requires a small but significant level of engagement from the ‘stickerer’. My committed management and supervisory team in true style set about identifying what I will call weaknesses in the stickering team. Their language for this was rather less polite. The agency supervisors were informed of the weaknesses and they were excluded from the site.

I tried to encourage them to apply some balance to their approach and show their appreciation to the more engaged ‘stickerers’. I had noticed a young man applying himself to the task with such energy and skill that it was difficult to keep him supplied with enough cd’s or stickers. I went to thank him for his work – he didn’t speak a word of English so I mimed the cd stickering action and gave him a thumbs up sign and a smile. This went on for a few days. He worked exceptionally hard; I gave him a thumbs up.

On about the fifth day he came to find me. It was lunch time; he mimed scoffing, pointed at the canteen and beckoned me in. When I arrived in the canteen there was a table of about 10 of his friends. He invited me to sit next to him which I did and he then produced from his bag a huge bowl of food to share – he placed the exotic mix of vegetables, spices, couscous and rice in the centre of the table and we all tucked in. It was delicious. I felt very humble and realised a lesson in life. It is often very easy to connect if you make the effort – all it takes is the right signal of appreciation.

Visible leadership is great – can we have some please?

I hear a lot of talk about the importance of visible leadership, I expect you do too. My experience shows me that’s about as far as it goes. I don’t see much of it. Talk visible, be invisible. How might we address this? Here’s a short note you can copy, personalise and send to a senior leader in your organisation. I’m trying it out on a few people, and have had some positive reactions and some silence so far, will let you know what more happens when it does. It would be great if you use this and share any feedback with us.

Visible Leadership is Great! Can we have some please?

Survival and growth will come from positive mindful, awareness connecting people to each other and to the good things we can do together. Barack Obama conveys the idea of positive realism in a very tough environment.

It requires great leading to accept the problems we face, to stay positive and to keep engaging others. It demands sincere interest in what is happening to those around you and outside your circle. It means asking your colleagues good questions and listening respectfully to their answers and showing them you heard. It means that you must choose to notice the positive achievements and possibilities in every situation as well as the difficulties. It means that we must remember the real social value that the firms we work for bring to people and we must be grateful that we have the strength and capability to achieve greatness again.

Most of all it means repeated, positive action. It means you and me, and others who care, now, together. It would be fantastic to see you around.

Have a great day.

Spray and Pray – The Base Coat

I kicked off a discussion about the hit and hope nature of employee engagement surveys. In summary it’s about why ask so many questions? Are our business leaders that far out of touch that they need to quiz us to that depth?

Jonathan Wilson offered some useful views which I share with you here:

Detailed social surveying produces at least three emotionally satisfying illusions. First is the illusion of activity. Just investing in the survey and getting everyone to complete it is a real activity that engages everyone and takes a lot of time. A survey of 50 questions will probably take a mean of 30-45 minutes to read, answer and submit. In a company of 100,000 people, if 80% respond that means it will takes about 28 person years, or more than £500,000 just to complete, before the costs of processing it.

The second is the illusion of precision. Few people read the small print that shows that any survey is a rough plus or minus estimate with distortions built in. Few surveys will claim retest reliability more than within 5%, 95% of the time. Because they include some percentages, which they choose to show to two or more decimal places, people are misled into thinking they are accurate to two decimal places. Can you measure your own attitude to two decimal places? So do you think they can measure thousands of peoples’ more accurately?

The illusion of precision leads to the illusions of tangibility, grasp and control. We think things we can measure are more ‘real’ than things we find harder to measure. We think we have a better grasp of them and can control them, or at least measure them again.

Other dangerous illusions include a mistaken belief in linearity, that the difference between 4 and 3 is the same as the difference between 5 and 4. On an attitudinal scale of 5, those two differences are huge, the difference between indifference, interest and passionate engagement.
I suggest that every manager should learn and be licensed in statistical literacy before being allowed to take or influence decisions based on survey responses – or anything else actually!

Statistics offer real insights, but rarely answers. Understanding them helps you see the questions better. The challenge is to meaningfully respond to the questions and the challenges they raise. What do you think?