Leaders hope to create a work environment where people perform at a high level, go above and beyond when needed, stay, endorse the organization as a good place to work and are good organizational citizens. But leaders aren’t always actively measuring employee intentions in these areas, nor are they dealing with low scores as they are discovered. Many are closing their eyes to warning signs that can lead to a lack of motivation and the loss of key talent.
Considering the persistently high levels of disengagement in organizations and the difficulties in retaining good people, leaders at all levels can do a better job of recognizing the factors that influence engagement. This is the first step in creating an environment where people perform at their best.
Understanding the Appraisal Process
People form judgments about their workplace. These appraisals occur as individuals evaluate their work environment, what it means, how they feel about it and what they intend to do about it.
6 Ways to Promote RetentionIf leaders want employees to stay and be actively engaged in their work and in the organization’s mission, they should consider the following six retention strategies:1. Increase task variety. Scores on all five key intentions improve when employees have a variety in type and complexity of tasks.2. Provide meaningful work. Communicating vision, the value of an employee’s contribution to the organization, and the organization’s contribution to the community are important to people, and can influence intentions to remain, perform at a high level, endorse and engage in organizational citizenship behaviors.3. Promote procedural fairness. Apply policies and procedures fairly to all employees to improve intentions to perform, remain and apply discretionary effort.4. Increase autonomy. Allow people flexibility in how they accomplish their work and approach their jobs to improve intentions to apply discretionary effort, perform at a high level and engage in organizational citizenship behaviors.5. Encourage employee connections. Foster the development of personal and professional relationships among employees to influence the intention to apply discretionary effort and engage in organizational citizenship behaviors.6. Offer job and career development opportunities, and exhibit distributive fairness. Make sure compensation and distribution of resources are fair to improve employees’ intention to remain.—Dobie Houson and Jim Diehl
There are five key intentions that predict behavior.
Intent to engage in discretionary effort: The extent to which individuals intend to expend their discretionary effort on behalf of the organization above and beyond agreed-upon requirements.
Intent to perform: The extent to which individuals intend to do their job well and work effectively to help the organization succeed.
Employee endorsement: The extent to which individuals readily endorse the organization and its leadership to others as a good place to work and as a quality supplier of goods and services.
Intent to remain: The extent to which individuals plan to stay with the organization.
Organizational citizenship behaviors: The extent to which individuals are committed to supporting fellow workers and behaving in ways that are respectful, considerate and sensitive to others.
There are correlations between work environment factors and these five intentions that leaders can use to evaluate and focus their efforts.
People are more apt to go the extra mile when they have autonomy and variety in their role. Peer relationships also influence discretionary effort. The more connected individuals are to their colleagues, the more likely they are to expend extra energy on behalf of the organization.
“I see people consciously holding back things in situations where they are not happy,” said Dessalen Wood, vice president of talent development at Cineplex Inc. “This happens when people feel they have no choice, or they feel they are being treated unfairly, or they feel they are not being respected. When that happens, it’s as if they hold their discretionary effort in their hands and say, ‘I’m not giving it to you.’ ”
Kenneth Hermon Jr., personnel director for Georgia’s sprawling Fulton County, said leaders have to be willing to listen to their employees, acknowledge contributions and recognize when front-line employees have a better solution to a problem than they do. This requires a more transparent structure between all management levels that encourages individuals to question why: Why are we doing it like this now? Why have we done it like that in the past? What about doing it some other way and seeing if we can get there more effectively or efficiently?
“Allowing staff to ask and not feel threatened by asking why is the key,” Hermon said.
Intent to Perform
The more people feel their jobs contain variety and include more than routine tasks, the greater their intention is to perform at a high level. Autonomy also plays a large role in performance intentions because people want the freedom to decide how their tasks are performed and the authority to do their jobs.
“Most government agencies are heavily structured,” Hermon said. “When leaders can empower and provide the autonomy that employees’ desire and need, it eliminates micromanaging activities. This allows the employee to engage a little more in meeting the needs of the organization and the people they serve.”
Wood shared a private-sector story that illustrates this. “I was working with a group of young people in a mobile company, very up-and-coming people who believe they should be president in two years. ‘But we’re treated more like a semicapable performer,’ they told me. That was a surprising insight.
“As leaders, we get people to a certain level of capability but not complete authority. It just becomes the culture — a culture of follow-up and verifying and checking — where we don’t ever give full ownership to somebody. By doing that, we never really give the person an opportunity to grow.”
Instead of accountability, leaders need to provide ownership opportunities, Wood said. In this scenario employees get to decide the most vital pieces of a project throughout its entire lifespan — as well as the joy of the success and a bit of the sting if it fails.
Fairness in the work environment influences individuals’ willingness to endorse the organization as a good place to work and to recommend it to their family, friends and potential customers. Most people also need to feel support for both their jobs and career growth. Autonomy also has influence on the intent to perform.
“Endorsements are important to us, especially in today’s tight job market,” said Cheryl Moreno, director of leadership development at Express Services Inc. One of the things Moreno said sets her company apart from its competition is the large percentage of new associates who join the company because of referrals. “Referrals allow us to find good people, and they tell their friends because they had a positive experience.”
Moreno said it’s important for the employee to know from the beginning that there are career and growth opportunities in the organization. These can be vertical and horizontal, and a company should provide technical training, allow employees to take part in special assignments, or volunteer as a committee or board member. “It’s important for people to see there are opportunities for growth within the organization and personally as well,” she said.
Intent to Remain
The intent to stay with an organization is a statement of confidence in leadership as well as the organization. A lack of growth opportunities, fair benefits and adequate pay cause intent to remain to diminish over time.
“People are a reflection of their environment,” Wood said. “How leaders are acting will be reflected in the rest of the organization. People will often bring up, ‘Well, I wasn’t treated like that. You don’t know what it was like when I was in that role.’ The feeling is, whatever I had to suffer should be experienced by the people below me. If others don’t get that kind of treatment, there is a feeling the leader is providing a cushy life for the employee. It’s a strange pathology, but there is a certain amount of bravado for having been treated poorly, yet see yourself as a high producer who overcame the terrible environment.”
But the culture is shifting, Wood said. The next generation no longer sees mistreatment as a badge of honor. If they are mistreated, they will leave. “I’m finding the generation above them who is managing them can be surprised by this attitude.”
Individuals who feel more highly connected to their colleagues and see their workplace as collaborative tend to focus more on the organization’s welfare. This connection is due to the concepts such as sportsmanship, fair play and taking care of others.
“For leaders, it comes down to genuinely caring about the employee more than just the tasks they perform,” Moreno said. “It’s caring about them as a person outside of work also, both personally and professionally.”
When looking to create positive environments, she suggests leaders spend some time listening to what is going on in an organization. “As you are walking around, be sure you stop and listen to conversations. You can tell by the conversations that are occurring in your organization what kind of culture you have created and the level of engagement.”
If leaders take the time to observe and address what is happening in their organizations, it provides an opportunity to create an environment where people bring their best each day. The time to take that kind of nuanced action is now.
“With baby boomers retiring and millennials coming into the workforce, leaders who may have been waiting to actively engage the workforce need to get off the fence and recognize that the workforce has changed and will continue to change significantly,” Hermon said. “Without engaging the new worker, they will not be able to attract or retain quality employees.”
Are leaders creating the type of environment that encourages the best people to stay and perform at high levels? Leaders can’t expect that everything will take care of itself. They need to take a more proactive approach. Measuring these five intentions can provide a workable road map.