Is This the Answer to the Employee Engagement Crisis?

I recently came across a TED Talk by Yves Morieux of Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and wondered if within it lies not only the answer to employee disengagement but perhaps the solution to helping companies do their part in the engagement equation. In his talk, he poses a question, a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation, something along the lines of: Does being less engaged make employees less productive… or vice versa, are they disengaged because they have so much more pressure to produce more? It’s an interesting talk, where he dives into how complex businesses have become – including an extreme focus on KPIs that, in the end, have little bearing on the business – and how employees have to compensate with their own individual efforts for the complexities and the lack of cooperation within an organization.

I did some research to find out more, to find out if this theory of the complexity of organizations is really a thing. And according to BCG, it is. They created an index of complicatedness, for which they surveyed over 100 listed companies in the U.S. and Europe. They found that, over the last 15 years, the number of procedures, vertical layers, interface structures, coordination bodies, and decision approvals needed increased for these companies 50-350%, with an average increase of 6.7% over the last 50 years. Wow! We’ve really made things harder for ourselves. Seems like when people say, “Work/life was so much easier 50 years ago,” perhaps they’re on to something.

They found that, in the most-complicated companies, managers spend 40% of their time writing reports and 30-60% of time in meetings, leaving very little time for actual people management. And we can only extrapolate what that leads to: misguided efforts and lack of career development, to name a few things. Employees in these complicated organizations are three times more likely to be disengaged – and work satisfaction and productivity are much lower – than those in the other companies!

Something’s got to give. We need a solution…

Yves and his colleagues at BCG created this concept of “smart simplicity” to help overcome the complexities of organizations and the resultant employee experience/disengagement. Smart simplicity is all about creating an environment where: employees can work with one another to develop creative solutions to complex challenges. This supposedly reduces structural and procedural complicatedness and allows companies to become smarter and more streamlined – with employee engagement also being an outcome.

Smart simplicity has six rules.

  1. Know what your colleagues do. Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But I’ve been there. I’ve worked with and for people who have no idea what I do (or what the company really does, sadly).Absent clear guidance and directives, people act in a way that protects their own interests. Leaders must understand that and adapt the culture to make sure all interests are in alignment with what the company is trying to achieve.
  1. Reinforce the integrators. Based on how Yves describes integrators, I assume we can equate them to cross-functional leaders and teams.Yves suggests reinforcing their power by increasing their responsibilities, giving them more authority, and removing rules. He believes the bigger the company, the bigger the need for integrators, which equates to needing fewer rules. This is clearly counter-intuitive, and most people really believe the opposite to be true.
  1. Increase the total quantity of power. Do so by empowering everyone to use their best judgment.I would equate this to employee ownership. From the employee perspective, they think and act like they own the business. It’s about being passionate about what they do, not standing at the sidelines waiting to be spoon-fed; it’s about taking the horse by the reins and running with the directive (the brand promise), being accountable for their roles in the execution of the customer experience and in the success of the business, working together with others who are just as passionate and who share a common goal, and feeling like they are a part of something bigger, something they want to see grow, flourish, and succeed.
  1. Extend the shadow of the future. Help employees understand the impact of their work and their decisions by designing feedback loops that expose them to the consequences of their actions in a more timely manner.One of the basic tenets, I believe, of employee engagement is to make sure employees understand both that their contributions are valued as well as how they matter, i.e., what impact they have on the business. Especially when it comes to CX strategies and process improvements (that yield a better customer experience), these projects often take an extended period of time to design, develop, and execute. Regularly reinforcing how their work matters to the big picture will have positive effects on engaging employees.
  1. Increase reciprocity. Remove the buffers that make us self-sufficient, and then cooperation ensues. It forces people to work together. And yes, this is a good thing. I think this ties in well with Rule #1, since, absent clear directives, we do what we need to do to protect our own interests, hence feel we are self-sufficient. If we know what our colleagues do, there’s a better chance to increase reciprocity (teamwork). It’s an interesting concept. Once you take those resources away, people are more likely to rely on each other, collaborate, and work together.
  1. Reward those who cooperate. This is an interesting one. In talking about employee engagement, we always say that rewards and recognition are important to the employee. But according to Yves, it’s more about blaming those who don’t cooperate. He cites a quote from Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, the CEO of the Lego Group: Blame is not for failure but for failing to help or ask for help.

These rules really present an interesting approach to employee engagement. Employees are empowered, work together, know how their contributions matter, and are allowed to take risks and fail – all in an environment where complexities, in general, have been removed. Sign me up!

I’m pleased to share that I’ll be hosting a webinar with Intradiem next month on the topic of employee journey mapping, very much in line with Intradiem’s Intraday Automation tools that help organizations maximize the effectiveness and satisfaction of their frontline workforces. We typically talk about customer journey mapping, but mapping the employee journey yields the same benefits, allowing us to better understand the employee and his experience, identify gaps and inefficiencies in his employment, find out where employee effort is high, and ultimately allow us to design a better employee experience. How can you use employee journey mapping to improve the employee experience? Join me to find out!

About the author


John is a copywriter at Intradiem. He has a background in print and broadcast journalism and digital marketing with emphasis on technology.

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