Energizing Employees

    April 16, 2002

The world of work has changed – fundamentally and forever – and so too have the employees who work within it. It used to be that most employers were able to offer their employees guaranteed employment. In exchange, employees gave their loyalty, involvement, and commitment to the company. However, times have changed, and this simple exchange between employer and employee is a thing of the past. Not only is guaranteed employment gone, but so too is employee loyalty. Managers today need new ways to get employees to do their best.

The traditional carrots and sticks of management no longer work. Cash, raises, bonuses and the like have less of an impact on employees today than they did only a decade ago. And while threats and intimidation may have once worked to make short-term changes in employee behavior, now such negative techniques only decrease employee morale and build resentment. Employees today are looking for managers to have their best interests at heart and to show it on a daily basis.

They’re looking for more meaning in their work. To be effective today, managers must create supportive work environments that can influence, but not force, desired behaviors and outcomes of employees. The best managers are masters of making things happen. They create far more energy than they consume and, instead of taking energy from an organization, they channel and amplify it back to the organization. There are three main areas where managers can have the greatest impact on their organizations: energizing individuals, energizing teams, and energizing organizations.

Energizing individuals: The trust, respect, and consideration that managers show their employees in their one-on-one relationships – each and every day of the week – is the foundation of an energized organization. For example, to keep employee morale and energy at high levels during particularly busy times of the year, executives at the Cigna Group, an insurance company headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut, personally push coffee around the office, serving drinks and refreshments to their front-line partners. Not only do employees appreciate this gesture by management, but they have the opportunity to bring up and resolve customer issues at the same time. One of the best ways to involve employees in an organization, and to energize them in the process, is through the collection of employee ideas. For example, the City of Phoenix employee suggestion program, which has received numerous awards for the most dollars saved per employee among all state and local governments, is designed to encourage employees to submit ideas that promote cost savings or measurable improvement in productivity, product quality, employee morale, or safety. Suggestions eligible for cash awards include those that: Result in increased productivity Results in documentable cost avoidance or cost savings. Combine operations without sacrificing quality.

Reduce the costs of materials or supplies. Simplify, reduce, or eliminate paperwork and reports. The system is well organized and efficient. Employees are notified in writing about the final disposition of their suggestions within 60 days of the date the suggestion was received. Employees may be eligible for certificates of award, certificates of commendation, plaques, or cash awards. When a suggestion is rejected, a letter is sent to the employee giving a full explanation of why the idea was not adopted. Employees are allowed to appeal the decision of the Suggestion Committee for up to one year after the date of the rejection letter. Energizing teams. In recent years, teams have taken the business world by storm. Organizations are making widespread use of ad hoc teams, cross-functional teams, self-directed work teams, and more. Unfortunately, in many cases, team members continue to take their orders from management and have precious few opportunities to act autonomously and independently. Energizing managers recognize the need to empower teams to act independently of management and to decide what needs to be done and how to do it. At St. Paul, Minnesota-based 3M, vice president Robert Hershock and corporate scientist David J. Braun reviewed the work of an action team that had developed a new model of respirator in record time, and discovered the following keys to team success:

1. Empower the team. In the words of Robert Hershock, this means "giving the team the authority to make decisions and then act on them."

2. Let the teams manage risk. The team should be given the power to select the amount of risk that offers the highest likelihood of success.

3. Let the team control the budget. Teams – not outside managers – must make all decisions on project matters including financial ones.

4. Recognize the phases the team progresses through. Managers must be alert to when the team needs additional management support or coaching to get through rough times.

5. Let the team be involved in the reward process. Simply, no one knows what motivates the team than its members. Energized team members can come from the most unlikely places. To challenge thinking, and to spur the energy and creativity of employees, Honda Motors in Tokyo, Japan, deliberately places individuals who know nothing about technology on the company’s design teams. Great innovations arise from the spirited discussions that flow from the "I know nothing" questions and probing. Energizing organizations. Energy comes from the people who work in the organization, managers and workers alike.

However, many organizations actually de-energize their employees through strict policies and procedures that reduce employee initiative to finding the right page in the policy manual. An organization can be flexible – providing options, resources, and tools to its employees – or it can be bureaucratic and policy-bound, creating an environment that erodes the confidence, self-esteem, and energy of its employees. As part of its process improvement training program, the Michigan Department of Transportation issues a "license to change" to each participant.

The laminated license, signed by the agency head and deputy director of quality, expresses management’s support of employee efforts to break out of their day-to-day routines to improve processes and quality.

The Office of Human Resources Administration at the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C., sponsored and "Idea Day" for all employees to examine ways to improve customer services, streamline worm processes and enhance the workplace environment. During the week following the Ideas day, staff received 2,134 ideas, and 68 percent of them were implemented. Many organizations have found that if they can be flexible and supportive of their employees, their employees will pay them back with their loyalty and hard work. The Stride Rite Corporation, a maker of shoes headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offers both subsidized on-site child care and adult care facilities.

This commitment to employees is so firm that Stride Rite’s management insisted that a new venture partner in Thailand open a day care center for its employees. The result is a workforce that is energized, productive, and happy. Dedicate yourself to making these new management practices a part of the way that you do business with your employees. Your employees will pay you back with dramatically improved effectiveness and involvement in their jobs, and its guaranteed that your organization will reap the rewards through improved productivity and reduced costs.

Bob Nelson, Ph.D., is president of Nelson Motivation Inc and a best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (now in its 52nd printing), 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook, The Management Bible among others, and teaches organizational behavior at the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego. For more information or to register for Bob’s FREE Tip of the Week visit www.nelson-motivation.com.