Monthly Archives: February 2013

Why is Employee Engagement and Accountability Dying?

Employee engagement seems to be in decline and along with it employees do not want to be accountable for what goes on in the companies they work in. Is this influenced by size? If so, are there HR strategies we can use to drive change?

Is there a correlation between employee engagement levels and the willingness to accept accountability for what goes on in the company? If this is so, then the engagement levels are declining drastically. Reality is that I rarely hear anyone refer to the company they work for as “we”. It never is “we” do this or “we” decided that …  it always is “they” offer, “they” did, “they” want.

This becomes especially intriguing when you are talking with a senior level executive. It is very rare that s/he will say “we” decided to do this or “we” have a policy that defines that this is how “we” handle this type of situations. Normally the statements will be more like “they” or “the board” or “the leadership team” decided … as if it were an intangible entity. What do you mean “they”?  You are an executive of the company, shouldn’t it be “we”?

This phenomenon is becoming the norm. Why do people want to distance themselves from the company? I personally think that it has to do with not wanting to be accountable for what happens. No one wants to be the one to blame. And this is probably the result of an environment in which employees do not feel included, they do not belong to a community with a shared objective and therefore there is no need to feel accountable for what goes on.

Now, if a company is made of the people that work for it, and no one seems to want to take responsibility for what is done, what is the outcome? I can think of countless examples of news events that showcase this lack of accountability. There is no need to mention them here.

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There are exceptions though and it tends to be in smaller companies, where leaders and employees work together to make things happen. This type of environment seems to be conducive to innovation, risk taking and consequently pride. Remember “Small is Beautiful” by E. F. Schumacher? Although it was written in 1973 we should all read it again. The full title is revealing: “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered”.  Schumacher warned against the trend of mergers and takeovers creating ever-larger organizations. He stated that while economists supported this trend, sociologists and psychologists warned against the “dangers to the integrity of the individual when he feels as nothing more than a small cog in a vast machine and when the human relationships of his daily working life become increasingly dehumanized; dangers also to efficiency and productivity, stemming from ever-growing Parkinsonian bureaucracies.”

Is this the key? Do companies forget that people truly matter? Do executives have such a narrow view of things that they forget to consider their companies as the living organisms they are? Is this why employees are not engaged? Is this why no one wants to be accountable?

If the problem is due in part to an order of magnitude, is there a way large corporations can create an environment where they can work so as to benefit from the interactions that happen in smaller organizations? This is an interesting question. Most large corporations spend copious amounts of money and time developing their leaders. They state that managers should lead their employees by creating an environment of trust, where innovation in encouraged, where employees are empowered to make decisions, etc. etc. etc. but my impression is that they fail in providing the managers the latitude and freedom to be able to make things happen. Or is it that they are providing tools that are so cutting edge that only few are able to benefit from them? Would it not be better to use what Schumacher called “intermediate or appropriate technologies” in order to breach the gaps?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that all small companies have engaged employees or that they all have great business and leadership models that make employees feel empowered and proud of what they do. Far from it. It seems that there are very few examples of organizations that are successful in really engaging all employees to a level that they all are proud of working for “our” company.

Giles Hutchins in his book “The Nature of Business“, states that organizations of all sizes and types will need to redesign in order to become resilient and face the challenges the next decades will pose. He also talks about how the companies that mimic nature outperform the ones that maintain the approach taught at business schools. Should business schools focus more on the decentralized development models proposed by Schumacher? Might that be the type of approach that can help organizations transform and become more successful, not only in profits but, more importantly in their social responsibilities?

My intention is to analyze in future blogs what Human Resources professionals can do to help transform their organizations. I will explore Schumacher and Hutchins’ theories and see how we can utilize them to strategically drive positive change.

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