Book review – We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement

Rudy Karsan and Kevin Kruse’s book is pragmatic and of use to anyone looking to improve employee engagement. The book is organised into four parts. The first two deal with the individual and I will get my objections to them out of the way before discussing the gems to be found in parts three and four.

In parts one and two the focus on the individual is understandable – as engagement happens from heart to heart. We know that globally, the rates of disengagement are too high and too many people are disconnected from their work. I also accept that people will feel more fulfilled if they find meaning and purpose in their work – but after reading the first few chapters I was left with an impression that we are Homo economicus – we are one dimensional and our primary function is our work. Through our work we will find fulfilment and happiness. But it feels like a rationale to get people to work harder.

As a New Zealander one bad habit my fellow Kiwis share with the people of the United States (the home of the authors) is that we work long hours – we work too hard. Work-life balance is seriously out of balance. In this context I get concerned when I encounter an evangelistic approach towards the virtue and necessity of hard work.

The positives

Having got that out of the way, this book has many gems. The authors have obviously rolled their sleeves up and got involved with engagement processes. They share the three questions they use to gauge engagement (you will find them in the book). I am a fan of short and open survey questions and intend to incorporate these into my work.

The authors make a beautiful distinction: harmonisation = engagement + alignment.

Engagement is the catalyst to get you to that extra edge in performance, while alignment ensures everyone is heading in the same direction. (page 145)

They raise the bar for us here. Some organisations struggle to get to the point of surveying staff about engagement. They may or may not do anything with the information gleaned. To ensure the material issues blocking greater engagement are addressed, and then to go on to align people across the various structural and ideological barriers in an organisation is a worthy aspiration.

Another concept that resonates with me is their management prescription, embodied in chapter eight – “great managers focus on growth, recognition and trust”. This chapter atones for the issues outlined earlier. The authors prefer valuing employees to recognising employees. To survey your employees, survey them to see to what extent they agree with the statement “I feel valued as an employee of this company.” They prefer it to “I receive recognition when I do good work”.

Valuing is about appreciating the worth of something (someone) and of esteeming something (someone) highly. When we value employees, we appreciate them for who they are and what they bring to the organization. We acknowledge them not merely for tasks, but to the deeper intrinsic worth they add to the organization by just being there. (page 177)

When authors apply concepts about qualities of character, such as trust and trustworthiness, they reveal to me a deeper understanding of the human condition than encountered in many business books. Rudy Karsan and Kevin Kruse highlight trust as an important driver of employee engagement. To understand this better they suggest questions such as: “How can our leadership team foster greater trust among employees?” The three qualities that inspire trust are competence, caring and commitment.

It is hard to find books that focus on engagement – so this one is well worth the purchase price. If you know of others you would recommend, please comment.

We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement by Rudy Karsan and Kevin Kruse (2011) New Jersey: John Wiley

website: www.wethebook.com

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Stakeholder engagement pays – indirect benefits

With the new year looming, smart companies are considering their development options for the coming year. The smartest will be looking to further develop their engagement capacity. In an earlier post, we looked at the direct benefits of engagement. Here is a sample of some of the indirect benefits of engagement for each of the main stakeholder groups.

I emphasise that this is just a sample of the increasing evidence of the efficacy of stakeholder engagement. These indirect benefits are those that aren’t immediately visible in the bottom line, but over time provide tangible benefits for the organisation and its stakeholders.

Indirect benefits – financiers

The seismic financial shocks that rocked the world in the latter years of the first decade of this century have been devastating for financiers. And it looks like they will continue for some time. According to the Daily Mail, in a week in August 2011, three trillion dollars was wiped off the value of global sharemarkets.

While engagement itself, will not remedy the volatility of investments, it has huge potential to soften future impacts – if you factor in the ethos underpinning engagement. For example, the U.S., banks that gorged on cheap finance, distributed it with insufficient due diligence and then on-sold them to other banks. Banks with an engagement ethos would balance their profit motive with the interests of all stakeholders. Our recent experience demonstrates how a singular focus on profit creates a series of compounding negative consequences.

New McMansions are demolished in Victorville, CA earlier this year to free the city from liability resulting from possible vandalism, crime and fire danger. (LA Times photo)from Sprawled Out.

Indirect benefits – employees

Rudy Karsen and Kevin Kruse’s book We, reveals strong links between effective employee engagement and benefits to employee health and family life. They cite a study from Iowa that found that job stresses on one partner in a relationship creates a similar level of stress for their spouse. Similar effects were found for children. The British medical journal found that dissatisfied workers were 2.4 times more likely to die from a cardiac event.

Indirect benefits – customers

The most obvious benefit from customer engagement is that engaged front line staff generate better ambiance and customer experience. And brand loyalty is built through engagement. According to Tom Peters, women don’t just buy brands, they join them. If a company is able to facilitate connections between female consumers it also connects them to the brand.  Tom claims that women tend to be more relational in their purchasing, and he stresses that the purchasing power of women continues to climb.

Indirect benefits – suppliers

Over the last few decades, the attention of consumers and NGOs has shone light into the dark places of the global supply chain, often revealing shocking abuses. Engagement has enabled consumers to learn more about the conditions people suffer when growing, harvesting or extracting resources and processing them for wealthier markets. Initiatives such as Fair Trade and Sustainability Standards have generated huge benefits for disadvantaged communities. Participating companies benefit from enhanced reputation. Technology such as the Internet and satellites makes it difficult to hide. Satellite images revealed the true extent of the gulf oil spill, debunking the claims of those who sought to minimise it.

Indirect benefits – community

All of the above impacts on the community.

Pepsico have recently partnered with USAID, the United Nations Food Programme and 10,000 Ethiopian farmers to grow chickpeas. They will be used for food supplements for the starving, for the local Ethiopian market and for Pepsico’s humus. Multiple community benefits will accrue. For example, the health of Pepsico’s range of brands will be improved with the greater use of chickpeas. This aligns with another initiative from the company to reduce levels of saturated fat, sugar and sodium in their food. There are anticipated flow on effects to the health of consumers.

I welcome any comments about indirect benefits of engagement that you have encountered.