Unleashing Staff Energy: The Magnificent 7

Yesssss! It's Monday again.

Yesssss! It’s Monday again.

The Holy Grail for consultants is to find the answer to the following question: ‘How do you develop a high-performance organization?’ Assuming that lessons from particular cases can be ‘applied’ across all client organizations’– it offers the carrot of a never ending income stream. While there are many approaches to ‘upping’ performance,  maximising staff engagement boils down to 7  BIG ideas.

Custom Fit: Before we consider the ‘Magnificent 7’ list we have to insert the following caveat: in reality, there’s no equivalent of 1-size-fits-all. Organizations have a unique history, culture and relationship with the market. You need to diagnose exactly what’s happening in the particular organization before deciding how best to move the needle forward. Medicine provides a good analogy. While generic ‘principles’ of rude good health are captured in the 4 Vital Signs, Doctors still examine the individual patient in detail before pronouncing wellness or suggesting further treatment. The same point applies to your organization. With that ‘health warning’ stated, consider the following…

#1: Strategic Clarity: Do people believe that they are working for a secure employer? Do they feel that their job will still be in place this time next year? The general rule in organizations is as follows: Ambiguity leads to anxiety and anxiety lowers performance. So, if you want to ‘up the gas’ on performance, you need to take on a new title as follows: Director of Fog Clearance. If you can make the future direction of the company crystal clear, you communicate that there’s a ‘place in the sun’ for people who work hard and contribute. It’s difficult to be fully engaged if you feel that the next important relationship in your life will be with the person on duty at Hatch 45 in the Unemployment Exchange. If the longer-term future of your organization is uncertain, then your job is to create ‘short-term’ certainty (“This is what I want you to achieve over the next 3 months”). There’s no do nothing option under this heading. Get out there and shift the fog!

#2: Cultural Congruence: The notion of organization culture is lifted from anthropology – a study of the underpinning principles of how ‘tribes’ operate. An organization is a modern-day tribe and, in similar vein, operates to particular principles (even if these are not outwardly apparent). The central question is whether the ‘operating principles’ in your organization have gone past their sell-by date? Example: The best recent example of this in Ireland is Ryanair. Clear market positioning as a low fares airline? Yes, tick that box. Friendly and efficient customer service? Most people would argue ‘No’. The human stampede to find a seat and an overhead locker for your carry-on was on par with the Bull Run in Pamplona. With the introduction of allocated seating and a 2 ‘carry-on’ allowance – the face of Ryanair is being changed (back to the original concept pioneered by South West Airlines in the USA and Tony Ryan in Ireland). Are there practices within your organization which, in similar vein, need to be overhauled?

#3: Executive Teambuilding: Employee engagement starts at the top. Where teamwork is ‘broken’ at the top of an organization, it leads to all sorts of fissures further down the ranks. There is little point in trying to ‘engage the troops’ if the Lieutenants are bent out of shape. When the senior team gets ‘on a single page’ there is some hope that people further down the chain of command can be lined up – all the horses in harness and pulling in the same direction. While there are a range of approaches, generally it’s more effective to work on the ‘hard’ (performance) and then the ‘soft’ (interpersonal relationships) agenda in that order. But, whatever approach you decide to use, ignore this one at your peril (assuming that you are serious about engaging the troops and it’s not just ‘window-dressing’ to keep the Board happy). A lot of organizations have ‘mission statements’ which are reproduced in Annual Statements and brochures. But, don’t’ confuse this with the ‘sense of mission’ which senior teams demonstrate in high performance organizations. “Staff Engagement” starts by engaging the Leadership Team. You can’t fix an organisation from the neck downwards.

#4: Competitive Challenge: OK, admit it. You have a TV in the house and, every now and again, you actually watch it. So you will be quite familiar with the ‘steady diet’ of talent shows, which have grown like wildfire across almost every channel (The Voice, American Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, X Factor). In the good old days – many organizations ‘tapped into’ this idea of releasing energy through competition. Large organizations like Player-Wills, Bank of Ireland and Jacobs put on annual talent shows internally and took part in external competitions (e.g. Tops of the Town) to showcase this. The ‘internal competition’ generated excitement in the selection of ‘local area’ winners, regional semi-finals and so on. The competitions often provided staff who occupied ‘lower’ positions in the hierarchy a chance to demonstrate their ability. How many budding Pavarotti’s do you have in the warehouse? Annette in Accounts might be the best Burlesque Dancer in the business. Most organizations have no way of knowing.

Technical Accreditation: A slightly more ‘serious’ approach to this is to pursue an external ‘accreditation’. In manufacturing, there are numerous national and international standards bodies to help ‘benchmark’ your scores. Example: The Mater Private Hospital (MPH) is one the largest private hospitals in Ireland. While they provide a range of services, they specialize in Oncology and Heart Care. Some years back, MPH chose an international benchmark (JCI) to set the bar really high and make this a ‘step change’ from what they were doing. Everyone (medical and non-medical staff)  understood the importance of this and got involved in the execution of the plan. How does it work? Competitions like this trigger something buried deep in our psyche; we all want to play for a winning team. Release your inner Red Bull!

#5: Corporate Social Responsibility: For some organizations, it’s relatively easy to craft a ‘noble mission’. If you work in the health or education arenas, saving lives or changing peoples lives are aspirational concepts. But if you are a stockbroker CEO  or run a glass manufacturing company, it’s more difficult to make connections with existential issues. To overcome this, many ‘normal’organizations adopt an ‘external’ cause and piggyback on this. Example: Irlandia is an airlines industry specialist–setting up low-cost airlines (essentially deploying versions of the Ryanair model in other jurisdictions). Staff in Irlandia can take one week off each year and work for a charitable or not-for-profit organization of their choice. Other organizations ‘choose’ a central beneficiary and undertake a range of projects (fundraising, active staff involvement etc.) to support that particular cause. Accenture provides a great example of this policy in action. The key to staff engagement is that the effort has to be sincere and real; if this is done on a ‘token’ basis, the only ‘make-a-wish’ that staff will be doing is wishing they receive a call from their headhunter. It’s not just about your cheque book – the links have to be stronger than money if you are pumping air into the tyres.

Option #6: Employer Branding: Across Ireland we’ve been on a steady diet of ‘doom and gloom’ for 6+ years. And, because of this, the idea of Employer Branding has fallen off the radar. But… some companies still make an effort to ‘differentiate’ how staff are managed. Example: The ‘facilities’ in Google are legendary, partly because they are so ‘off the wall’ by normal organization standards. Gym bikes beside desks. Adult sized ‘children’s slides’ to get from one floor to the next (injecting fun into the culture). And, of course, free food and drinks to keep all that internal talent superheated. The interviewing process is also rigorous – creating the perception that ‘getting in’ is like joining an elite army unit. The impact of this is that the company is many times oversubscribed in terms of the numbers of people who want to join versus the number of open positions. People get good jobs. Google get to pick the crème de la crème of college leavers and other talent. Put Employer Branding back onto your ‘to do’ list. The war for talent has reignited.

#7: Work Teams: The argument here is straightforward. People who are closest to the action have the most to offer in terms of improving how an operation really works. Cross-Functional Teams and ‘natural work teams’ are mechanisms to engage people in the most direct way possible – improving how work is performed in the organization. Example: All of the banks are under pressure to reduce costs in their operating models. Bank of Ireland have taken a systematic approach to this – utilizing tools from ‘lean manufacturing’ and applying them in the service industry which has led to a number of internal successes. Results pay the bills and this one has delivered. Yes, it’s an ‘old’ idea.  Jut like fitness and getting rich. Building work teams that work well together is the Ferrari of workplace performance.

Ask the Staff: Of course, if you are unclear about how well staff feel engaged and want to find out – you should run a ‘Staff Engagement Survey’. These help to ‘measure’ people’s perceptions about what’s working well and what’s not. The advantage = it can save a lot of time and effort ‘drilling for oil’ in places when no fuel exists. One of the key lessons around staff engagement is as follows:  ‘It’s no good giving people more and more of what they don’t want’.

Engaging staff is the ‘catalyst’ that makes the difference between becoming highly successful and so-so performance. The 7 principles detailed above offer a great journey for those with the appetite to take it on.


Quick Update: I was bowled over by the response to the blog about my daughter Amie going to Dubai. Some of the responses were funny: “Hey Mooney, exploiting your kids again for marketing”.  Some people told me about their own journey into the Big Bad World (generally seemed to work out OK). Others had positive stories about their kids jetting off somewhere exotic and surviving. Several people came back with contacts in Dubai or suggestions to meet Amie directly – which is really fantastic. Why is all the above important? Because, you can only be as happy as your unhappiest child! I hope that I can return the compliment at some point. Thanks for all the support.

New Photo: I’ve changed my mug shot at the top. There were 2 options here (a) use crowdsourcing to fund a major facelift or (b) get an updated photo – the previous one was taken 8+ years ago.  I went for the slightly less-painful option. Now, to lighter matters….

PS The Husband Store: From Brendan Butler (please address all correspondence about sexism directly to Brendan who eagerly awaits your contact).

A  store that sells new husbands has opened in New York City , where a woman may go to choose a husband. Among the instructions at the entrance is a description of how the store operates: You may visit this store ONLY ONCE! There are six floors and the value of the products increase as the shopper ascends the flights. The shopper may choose any item from a particular floor, or may choose to go up to the next floor, but you cannot go back down except to exit the building!

So, a woman goes to the Husband Store to find a husband. On the first floor the sign on the door reads:

Floor 1 – These men Have Jobs. She is intrigued, but continues to the second floor, where the sign reads:

Floor 2 – These men Have Jobs and Love Kids. ‘That’s nice,’ she thinks, ‘but I want more..’

So she continues upward. The third floor sign reads:

Floor 3 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, and are Extremely Good Looking. ‘Wow,’ she thinks, but feels compelled to keep going. She goes to the fourth floor and the sign reads:

Floor 4 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are incredibly  handsome  and Help With Housework.

‘Oh, mercy me!’ she exclaims, ‘I can hardly stand it!’ Still, she goes to the fifth floor and the sign reads:

Floor 5 – These men Have Jobs, Love Kids, are Drop-dead Gorgeous, Help with Housework, and Have a Strong Romantic Streak.

She is so tempted to stay, but she goes to the sixth floor, where the sign reads:

Floor 6 – You are visitor 31,456,012 to this floor. There are no men on this floor. This floor exists solely as proof that women are impossible to please. Thank you for shopping at the Husband Store. 

PLEASE NOTE: To avoid gender bias charges, the store’s owner opened a New Wives store just across the street.

The first floor has wives that love sex..

The second floor has wives that love sex,  have money and like beer.

The third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors have never been visited.


PS Lighter Note 2: From Kevin Griffin (one from his ‘back catalogue’).

A circus owner runs an ad for a lion tamer and two people show up. One is an older retired golfer in his late sixties and the other 
is a blonde in her mid-twenties. The circus owner tells them:

“I’m not going to sugar coat it.  This
 is one ferocious lion.  He ate my last tamer so you two had better be good
 or you’re history. Here’ s the equipment – chair, whip and a gun.  Who
 wants to try out?”

The girl says, “I’ll go first.”

She walks past the chair, the whip and the gun and steps right into 
the lion’s cage.  The lion starts to snarl and pant and begins to charge.  About half way there, she throws open her coat revealing a beautiful
 naked body.
 The lion stops dead in his tracks, sheepishly crawls up to her and 
starts licking her feet and ankles.  He continues this for several minutes and then rests his head beside her.
 The circus owner’s jaw is on the floor.
He says:

“I’ve never seen a display like that in my life.” 

turns to the retired golfer and asks:

“Can you top that?”
  The old golfer replies:

“No problem, just get that feckin’ lion out of 
the way”.

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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