Monthly Archive: July 2015

Your biggest engagement challenge: you don’t think for yourself

The biggest threat to the survival of your business in the next ten years could be your inability to think for yourself when it comes to matters of culture, and how it drives employee engagement.

In my experience, it’s a typical point of view that organisations that excel in this area are fascinating but risky; circus sideshows that thrill and inspire marvel, but offer nothing in terms of real-world practical example.

We know some of their names because their successes are well documented. Zappos.com, Google, and the Virgin companies come immediately to mind. Yet, despite all we know about them, the average company response is to seek safe harbour in old world thinking.

Since, in particular, large organisations naturally gravitate towards bureaucracy, their thinking on how to create change is all too regularly strapped to the glacial-paced processes and policies that should be the targets for change in the first place. Because they’re not learning, trusting or listening organisations, they’re unable to apply those philosophical hallmarks in the pursuit of those aims. It’s the ultimate Catch-22.

We want our people to love their work, their employer, their colleagues and their customers, but the moment they walk through the front door on a Monday morning, it’s 1983 inside. The bosses do the bossing, the workers do the working and there’s a tight blanket of control, however dysfunctional it may have repeatedly been proven to be, tainting the air they breathe. Engagement improvement programmes have the same air flowing through them, lending them the spectre of another short-lived management Mexican Wave, with the appropriate lack of long-term enthusiasm those evoke.

Communication around engagement is steeped in disengaging language. Activities around engagement are unremarkable, albeit shoehorned into a fresh box.

Collectively, corporate South Africa has grown up on the point of view that more analysis always trumps intuitive, swift action. In that belief lies the fundamental challenge to creating great people environments.

The simplest truth is that most companies already know what to do if they dare to think for themselves. You can test responses within your own environment before making wholesale changes, but you don’t need six months of discussion to work out how to get started. If you do, you’re not serious about it.

Work harder, not smarter

I was asked by a junior the other day: how do I get to be like you? Leaving aside the ego-trip that anyone thinks I am successful, I get why they asked the question. In working like I do, I have a constant flurry of (generally) positive activity around me. On top of that, I have two wonderful little girls and an incredible wife, with whom I have created an exciting and rewarding multi-layered existence.

That’s the good stuff. That’s the upside.

The dark side, which people such as my inquisitor don’t see, is that building anything, a company, a relationship … a life … takes tons of constant work. It’s hard. At times, the pressure is immense.

Yet hard work can have a positive compounding effect. Lots of ongoing sales prospecting begins, over time, to yield the sorts of results that make it all look easy. But since the journey is often invisible in the end result, it’s hard sometimes for an onlooker to connect the dots.

The truth about success is actually very basic. When I was in my 20s, I worked long, long hours, often over weekends, always during the week. It wasn’t unusual for me in my late 20s, to be at the office 14 hours per day because I was learning and building and determined to get myself into a position to run my own life.

Over time, I had the knowledge to start projects of my own, and later on, to start companies. But I still work long hours and allow work to bleed into the weekends when it has to.

The junior who asked me the question likes to be done by 16h00, is irked when there might be a work requirement in the evening, and considers weekends to be recovery time from their half-assed work week.

To the question: how do I get to be like you, I only had one answer. You can’t. You won’t. It’s never going to happen. I don’t care if that sounds arrogant.

This business of working smart, not hard (which the junior thinks they do), is a weird one. I think working as hard as I did when I was young, had the curiosity, the energy, nothing whatsoever to lose and not one real sacrifice to make, was precisely working smart.

I think that’s the definition of it. The junior’s perception is that work mustn’t get in the way of life and that finding shortcuts in order to finish early, is working smart, and arguably there’s some logic in that.

But if the purpose of work is just to do some stuff as quickly as possible so that you can pick up a paycheck in order to play, you lack the ability to achieve depth. It’s that depth that is the life force of success.

It doesn’t just land in your lap. Working smart and working hard are the same thing. Anyone who tells you they coasted to success without any effort is full of it.