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STRATEGIC HR
Sep 12, 2011

Respect, good leadership (ethics) and quality people

Enduring basics explain engagement, yet supposedly enlightened companies still fail at it
    

By Dave Crisp

What issues rank among the top four or five that create high engagement?

Guess what Mercers and SMITH magazine just found from a survey of readers as reported in Canadian HR Reporter? About 7,000 people entered their "Six Words About Work" contest and these emerged — being treated with respect; the quality of leadership in the organization; being able to provide good service to others; and the quality of the people they work with.

As they point out these four have remained constant despite the recession and continuing turbulence.

As far back as the dark ages (just before the dot-com bubble burst and was accused of busting the war for talent) around Y2K, I started using the top five AON found in one of their massive surveys — and guess what? They found the same items in the same order, with just a little more definition of what those ideas mean.

We could enter this in the “how many times do we have to prove the same thing” contest, but why carp at reinforcing what we all need to keep in mind about the modern workforce? Good times or bad, employees want respect, which incidentally reflects instantly in leaders’ stance on work-life balance, which is why that issue ranks so high on employees’ want lists. If you respect people, you support them taking the time they need, when they need it, to get life in order.

Good leadership is about challenging people to be the best they can be and supporting them in their striving to succeed (and gain promotions, which is where the bigger salary increases come from).

Ethics, which the new survey can’t seem to find a word for, includes everyone being honest, but especially the pride employees want to feel that a company is delivering a decent product or service for the money, something that came out loud and clear in this survey. It slides into AON’s finding that employees want “fairness,” which included fair rewards (the good do better than the poor performers) and fair in relation to what other companies pay, but also fair to other stakeholders and customers.

Quality people is about training and supporting staff who can thus deliver those good products and services as part of a team… as virtually all surveys find. All four or five, depending on how you count them, wrap into each other.

You can’t leave one or more out and expect the whole to hold together. Engagement comes when all these are ticking along smoothly most of the time and leaders are walking the talk as well as routinely talking about it in lofty vision and values statements.

And then along comes Yahoo, a modern, up-to-date company enlightened enough to hire a solid woman, Carol Bartz, as CEO… and then… oops, as of early September, fire her… over the phone. Ever want to know a highly visible way to show your employees how much you do or don’t respect people or treat them fairly? This will generally go down as one way to make the point unmistakably.

Does one blunder invalidate everything you’ve put in place before that? Generally not, but if you can treat your CEO this way, I’d be looking over my shoulder as an employee for sure… and maybe tidying up my resumé "just in case." If you want employees thinking that way, just violate those four or five seemingly basic, but apparently challenging principles we all know, that operate in good times and bad. Do we need to hear them proven again? Apparently some major operators do.

Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.
    
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