In Jim Collins’ best-selling book Good to Great, the leadership guru uses a powerful analogy that your company is a bus and its leader is the bus driver. Most people assume that great bus drivers (aka great leaders) start the journey by announcing the destination and route to its passengers. However, Collin’s works contradicts that and states that leaders of companies that go from “Good to Great” do not start with the “where” but rather with the “who.” These great leaders start with getting the right people on the bus and the right people in the right seat.
As HR professionals, we are constantly working hard to ensure that we are getting the right people on the bus. Consider, however, that when you have a bus full of competent employees do you look closely to see if those competent people are in the right seat? Not just when vacancies come up or when there are major issues, but consistently checking to see if the right talent is in the right place? Most organizations do not.
Having your people in the wrong seat on your bus ultimately leads to lower productivity and low engagement. In fact, according to Gallup’s research (Gallup, Inc., 2013), only 13 percent of employees across 142 countries worldwide are engaged at work.
Increasing workplace engagement is vital to achieving sustainable business growth. In fact, Gallup estimates that active disengagement costs the U.S. $450 billion to $550 billion per year (Gallup, Inc., 2013). Improving engagement and therefore productivity starts with evaluating your people and where they are on your bus.
We are taught even from an early age that our biggest opportunity for growth is to focus on our weaknesses. As HR professionals, you come across this frequently within your business as leaders try to coach their teams to improve their weak areas or by adding responsibilities to an employee so he or she can move up the corporate ladder, even though the responsibilities may be outside the individual’s inherent talent.
Over several decades, Gallup has studied how talent can be applied in a variety of roles, from blue-collar workers up to executives in a variety of professions and industries. They found that when people are not using their inherent talent at work, they tend to dread going to work, have more negative interactions with coworkers, treat customers poorly, become a detractor and/or achieve less daily.
People are most engaged when they have an opportunity to do what they do best every day. However, only 17 percent of people are using their strengths each day at work.
A strength is the ability to provide near-perfect performance in a specific activity and our talent combined with the time spent developing skills and building a knowledge base create one’s strengths. (Gallup, Inc.) Although talents, skills and knowledge are all important to building strengths, talents are the foundation because they are innate and cannot be acquired—unlike skills and knowledge, which can be learned.
The key to human development may be building upon the talents that already lie within the individual. (Rath, 2007)
Discovering your employees’ strengths is how you can determine if they are sitting in the right seat on the bus. Consider this example from Tom Rath’s book, Strengths Finder 2.0:
A star salesperson thinks she can be a great sales manager with enough effort. She interviews other managers to gain insight, reads every book on management she can find, and stays late every night trying to get the job done —at the expense of her family and even her health. Then, a few years into the job, she realizes that she doesn’t have the natural talent to develop other people. Not only is this a waste of her time, but chances are, she could have increased her contribution even more if she had stayed in the sales role—a role in which she naturally excelled.
Understand that this does not mean that this particular salesperson is going to stay stagnant in her career because she may not have the inherent talent to be a people manager. What she needs to focus on, and what her manager should be helping her with, is continuing to develop her strengths, so she can find a role that fits her talents.
A strength that is common among salespeople is termed as “Woo,” which means “Winning People Over.” People who have this as a dominant trait enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and getting people to like them. They are the people who “have never met a stranger.” Assuming that the salesperson from the example above exhibited this characteristic, one way she could develop her role is to recognize that she can start conversations easily and engage people, which could allow her to walk into a room and bring talented people together for an exchange of ideas. This can lead to a variety of opportunities for her and her company, such as a business development role.
The genius of having the “Woo” talent involves the impact a person can have on other people and the ease with which they can win them over. Employees with Woo have an incredible ability to meet new people and almost magically know what to say in order to draw others out. Other people love the attention a Woo employee can give them and the way that it can affirm a person so quickly. People with the Woo talent love the process and the challenge of meeting new people. And people love it when a Woo connects with them. The genius of this talent is that a Woo cannot only quickly connect with people but can also be a catalyst in helping people connect with one another. Make no mistake about it, when a Woo enters a crowd, the crowd will be different because of he/she was there. In fact, a Woo has the capacity to transform a crowd of disconnected people into a group and this is no small accomplishment. Think about where this valuable seat is needed on your corporate bus (Edward “Chip” Anderson).
Louisiana leads the country with the highest percentage of engaged workers at 37 percent. Florida joins five other states with 33 percent of workers engaged. And more than 21 percent of workers in Rhode Island are actively disengaged. (Gallup, Inc., 2013)
Driving employee engagement is more than just offering employees perks or trying to rewrite corporate policies to be more flexible. While those items certainly contribute to employee wellbeing, performance levels at work are more positively impacted by engagement than policies and perks. However, there are numerous steps companies can take to help increase employee engagement, including:
• Select the right managers with talents for supporting, positioning, empowering and engaging their staff.
• Focus on engagement at all levels by having leaders incorporate employee engagement into performance expectations and enable managers to execute on those expectations.
• Connect with employees as each person has different needs and expectations (Gallup, Inc., 2013).
To elaborate on the latter point, different types of workers need different engagement strategies. Unfortunately, it is not as simple as rolling out one employee engagement survey and saying that engagement is now a part of everyone’s performance evaluation. Many organizations do an engagement survey; however, unfortunately they do not go much further than that. In fact, some organizations ask their employees to be honest and open in taking the survey and then do little with the results, causing trust and engagement to fall! Driving engagement and improving your engagement rate actually requires particular consideration, realization and implementation. For example, according to Gallup’s research, generations at the beginning and end of their careers tend to be more engaged than those in the middle of their careers, just as women are overall slightly more engaged than men and employees with a college degree are not as likely to report as having a positive, engaging workplace experience (as compared to those employees with less education) (Gallup, Inc., 2013).
Talent + Engagement = Performance
An employee who is actively engaged is more than just a happy employee. Engaged employees have clear roles in the organization, make strong contributions and are actively connected to their team and organization. A connection has been established between employee engagement and the following nine performance outcomes: customer ratings, profitability, productivity, turnover, safety incidents, shrinkage, absenteeism, patient safety incidences and quality (Gallup, Inc., 2013).
Slowing down on a regular basis to think about the talent within your company—or even within your own team— is an important part of team productivity, succession planning and overall business performance. To quote Jim Collin’s Hedgehog Concept: “It is not a goal to be the best, a strategy to be the best, a plan to be the best. It is an understanding of what you can be the best at. The distinction is absolutely crucial.”
If you do not make time to evaluate this and you have the people in the wrong seats, then you are going to end up with low productivity, resulting in low business revenue, loss of clients and more.
Jayne Jenkins is a certified Executive Coach (ACTP, ICF ACC) and certified global Gallup and TMBC Strengths coach and facilitator. She founded Churchill Leadership Group, an Executive Consulting and Coaching Company and may be contacted through their website http://churchillleadershipgroup.com.