More reflections on blogging

I have been blogging now, consistently for most of this year. I am starting to see the fruits of my labour as the search engines seem now to have discovered my blog.

Blogging as exploration and inquiry

I have been a student for most of my life, completing my formal education just a few years ago. Some of my experiences as a student were intense learning experiences, and most of what I learned was relevant. Blogging has been at least as intense as any formal learning. Why is this so?

While blogging, the central themes of stakeholder engagement and sustainability dominate, but I reference back to other disciplines that underpin them, such as communication, organisational learning and leadership, and from this mix, explore the world laterally and align areas of inquiry with these central themes and disciplines. For me, it has created intellectual discipline and a space for creativity that has enabled the generation of new ideas. The Communication Spectrum is a good example of the fruit of this process. I also enjoyed exploration of relevant “big picture” stuff, such as The End of Empires.

I am a Tom Peters fan. He has sold millions of books and started blogging in August 2006. In this video with Seth Godin he raves (as only Tom can rave) about blogging:

No single thing in the past 15 years professionally, has been more important than blogging. It has changed my life; It has changed my perspective; It has changed my intellectual outlook; It has changed my emotional outlook… and its the best damn marketing tool I have ever had.

While I am yet to harvest the benefits of marketing, I thoroughly endorse Tom’s comments.

Finding voice

In the same video, Seth Godin identifies blogging as a “free micro-publishing tool” and stresses its importance as a platform for people to express their voice and join conversations. Thus blogging is an essential engagement tool.

Given blogging’s potential to support intellectual inquiry and to provide a ubiquitous platform for voice, imagine the impact it will have on our world as it becomes more common. I believe it will, alongside a host of other democratising influences, provide great impetus for beneficial social change and the development of more cohesive communities.

If you lead an organisation, or are in an influential senior position, I hope you are blogging – it can only improve engagement.

 

 

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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.

Staff engagement and the failure of HR

The Human Resource (HR) function has a fatal flaw in its very conception. It is a flaw that limits the ability of HR to foster better staff engagement. It is the inherently schizophrenic nature of the role – in that it has two typically contradictory functions, controlling the employment contract on the one hand, and developing the organisation and its staff on the other. These two functions sit on the shoulders of the executive like the good and evil angel, whispering contradictory messages. Keith Hammond of Fast Company is even harsher in his judgement:

The human-resources trade long ago proved itself, at best, a necessary evil – and at worst, a dark bureaucratic force that blindly enforces nonsensical rules, resists creativity, and impedes constructive change. HR is the corporate function with the greatest potential – the key driver, in theory, of business performance – and also the one that most consistently underdelivers.

The contract role

The dominant HR role in many organisations is the contract role – hiring staff, determining remuneration, and providing the structures for performance management, promotion and rewards. As employees typically represent the greatest expense in organisations, the HR function is focussed on controlling and reducing that expense. This focus engenders a litigious and adversarial mindset. Contracts are nailed down and policy and procedures proliferate. The HR function is the natural adversary for unions, and these two, often get locked into mutually destructive behaviours, as eloquently described by Peter Drucker:

Management and union may be likened to that serpent of the fables who on one body had two heads that fighting each other with poisoned fangs, killed themselves. (Peter Drucker).

I believe this has a broader impact on many organisations in fostering a “theory x” approach to management – perceiving staff as unmotivated and needing to be coerced to perform.

“All the world’s a stage…”

It is not the people themselves. The HR people I know are great people. I am sure they are nice to their children and pets, but in the organisational context, they, like most of us, become, in a Shakespearian sense, actors walking on to a stage. The stage is set, the lines prepared and action roles on from scene to scene. Over time, the financial focus that HR people become fixated on shapes their worldview. Tom Peters suggests HR are “mechanics rather than visionaries”.

Even the name is a problem. A resource is something you store until it is time to use it – like firewood in a shed. In this video Stephen Covey points out, that on balance sheets, people are represented as an expense, while machines are an investment. He calls this the paradigm of the industrial model.

HR and employee engagement

If you access an annual report, or a sustainability report, chances are, that the main strategy for employee engagement is an engagement survey. Look to see if you can find anything behind it. More often that not, in my experience, there is nothing substantial to find.

We know that surveys such as the Gallup poll reveal low levels of engagement worldwide. What would be an effective level of engagement? What percentage of staff would need to be engaged to contribute to high levels of intrinsic motivation and performance?

To improve, we have to learn from those rare companies that exemplify great engagement.

The way forward

Incrementalism won’t do. I believe we need a rethink of the structure of organisations. As outlined in an earlier post, engagement needs be a core organisational capability.  By organising into three main functions, engagement, production and support, organisations are better equipped to engage with stakeholders. The engagement role can include HR, marketing, customer service and communications. Bundling them together, and heading them with an engagement champion will help to balance the contractual and developmental functions of HR.

I would love to know who, in your opinion, are exemplars of employee engagement.