"employee engagement"

Fri 10 January 2020
When an employee mentions to his manager that he has received an offer from another company, how does the manager, and the company for that matter, typically respond? Often, they will respond with a counteroffer to keep that employee on the team.
Why?
Because the expense of having to pick up the pieces of where that employee left off is substantially higher than the expense of paying them more.
But…
What if we lived in a world where money wasn’t the only factor for choosing whether to stay in a job or accept a new role?
What if we discovered that there is another factor that plays a HUGE role in whether or not people stay or go? 
Most business roundtables and experts will say “you must invest in your culture!” What does that even mean? Does it mean providing lunches and ping pong tables at the office? Maybe.
Company culture is the combined makeup of how each individual employee feels about their work, whom they are doing that work with, and how attached their identity is to the work they are doing at that company. Company culture is the way that each employee feels when he/she comes to work.
You can’t force employees to feel a certain way, but you can create environments and opportunities where ideally, your people are creating deeper bonds with each other. When deeper bonds are built between people, a chemical in our brain called oxytocin fires. Oxytocin is why we feel good being around other people we like. 
When oxytocin is consistently firing when we are around our co-workers, our desire to not lose that feeling is high. Essentially, we, as humans, can form a chemical dependency to a group of people we enjoy being around in which money cannot easily persuade us to leave.
If people are using words like “we” and “us” vs. “you”, “they”, and “I”, that is a good start. But are there is 1 strong way to boost company culture.
Carve time for employees to have intentional one-on-one conversations with each other (can be about work or not about work).
Why can this activity be so powerful and impactful to the company? 
This activity creates an environment for deep relationships. When deep relationships are formed between people, oxytocin builds between those people. When people have oxytocin with their colleagues, they desire to be around those people that make them feel good.
Does it have to be one-on-one or can it be in a group?
It is best to be done one-on-one because people are less likely to be vulnerable when more people are around. Vulnerability is the key to building trust and trust is required for oxytocin to build. To make an example, think about holiday parties (or any other corporate gathering) – are people comfortable having deep, intentional conversations or are the conversations about the weather, sports, work, or any other surface-level topic? Typically, it is the latter. When people are one-on-one, they feel more comfortable opening up to each other.
Is it possible to provide a structure that leads to deep relationships?
Yes. 2 things are critical to this. First, people that are meeting with each should have aligned Work Orientation. Work Orientation is how you view your work and is a spectrum between “job”, “career”, and “calling”. When people share Work Orientation, their likelihood of getting along in these relationships is much higher because their value systems are aligned.
Second, these conversations should be focused on discussing the past, not the future. When we discuss the future, we are more inclined to embellish our goals and less likely to share our past vulnerabilities for fear that our past mistakes will not be consistent with our future goals. When we discuss the past, we can focus on the missteps we have taken and how we have learned from them. 
To build trust, you must be vulnerable first, not the other way around.
How can I measure if deep relationships are being built?
You can assess your employees’ engagement levels. If engagement rises, you will know that employees’ level of connectedness to the company culture is growing. 
How often should people be meeting?
It can be once per month for an hour each meeting. This intentional time away from work and focused on another person can create bonds that last a lifetime.
Should people switch up whom they are meeting with?
Yes. Variety in these relationships helps further intertwine employees so then they are consistently building deep relationships with multiple people. As long as the relationships formally last for at least 6 months, that should be plenty of time for people to get into rapport and continue that relationship.
In conclusion, creating environments in which colleagues are building deep relationships with each other can increase oxytocin firing in their brains when they come to work and subsequently increase the alignment of their identity with the company’s culture.
If you are interested in learning more about research on mentor relationships for companies, check out ambition-in-motion.com/companies.

Thu 23 January 2020
Most companies are interested in increasing the engagement level of their employees, improving retention, and growing the productivity levels and likelihood of collaboration of their teams and implementing mentor programs is garnering popularity as a catalyst for these outcomes.

The next steps is to think about how to best match participants in this mentor program together. This is a commonly overlooked aspect to mentor programs but has a critical impact on the success of the program.

Without a proven system for matching people together for mentorship, your mentor program is not likely to succeed.

Why is the match so important?

Mentorship is a relationship-based activity between two people. If the two people matched in a mentor relationship are not compatible, forcing the relationship to work is going to create resentment among both parties.

This would be like being put into an arranged marriage by your parents with somebody you hate but as opposed to having parents (who will always be your parents and you can’t get rid of) who put you together, you have your company…which you can leave…creating the opposite effect of what a mentor program was meant to accomplish.

Common Pitfalls

1.       Matching people based on years of experience
2.       Matching people based on status in the company
3.       Matching people based on area of expertise

These are great secondary factors for matching people together for mentorship, but if they are the sole basis for matching people, our research has indicated that these relationships have an 18% likelihood of lasting 6 months and being considered both productive and quality by both participants.

Why?

None of these factors consider who the individual is. Mentorship is a relationship-based activity. One’s years of experience, status in the company, or area of expertise say nothing about who an individual is. All it says is what they have accomplished.

If your mentor program matching methodology in only about what somebody has accomplished, your only incentive to both participants is the transactional outcome of achieving that experience, gaining that status, or learning that skill and once that outcome has happened the relationship is over…or if the outcome doesn’t happen within the expected time frame of both participants the relationship fizzle’s out because the participants didn’t get what they were looking for.

Work Orientation is critical to matching people for successful mentor relationships.

Work Orientation is how you view your work. Some people view their work as a job, while some view their work as a career, while others view their work as a calling. Work Orientation is fluid, meaning it can change throughout your life. There is also not a right or wrong Work Orientation.

When Work Orientation is aligned for matching people together for a mentoring relationship, the likelihood that the relationship lasts for 6 months and is considered both productive and quality goes from 18% to 72%. 

The point: what motivates people at work has a huge impact on the advice they give in a workplace mentor program and the insight they want to learn.

If you are interested in learning your Work Orientation, go to https://ambition-in-motion.com/ and complete the 1-minute Work Orientation Assessment and your report will be sent to you.

Fri 31 January 2020
The marketing team is frustrating the engineering team which is frustrating the sales team which is frustrating the customer service team which is frustrating the accounting team…and all of these frustrations frustrate the executive team.

Maybe frustrated is too strong of a word…but the current meeting structure between teams is not working as great as you would like.

You might have thought about the idea of implementing a mentor program to help increase connectivity between teams but thought to yourself “We are growing too quickly and don’t have the time to implement a mentor program.”

This article serves to challenge that notion.

A man was hired to cut down trees. On the first day he cut down 6 trees. On the second day he cut down 5 trees. On the third day he cut down 4 trees. By the end of the week, he was only cutting down one tree per day. He went to his boss and said “I don’t know what is going on with me! I must be getting weaker.” His boss replied, “When was the last time you took the time to sharpen your axe?” The man was confused. He responded “I don’t have time to sharpen my axe. I need to spend my time cutting down trees.”

Implementing a mentor program at your company, especially if it is growing at a fast pace, is like sharpening your axe. 

When a new employee doesn’t build a strong bond with another employee within the first month of starting their role, their likelihood of being retained past 1 year and having a high level of engagement diminishes significantly. 

This relationship is NOT the relationship they have with their direct supervisor.

Why?

Because the relationship between a supervisor and direct report is one of expectation. Both parties have expectations for each other. When two people have expectations for each other, the likelihood for vulnerability between those two people diminishes substantially. When there is no vulnerability, there is no trust. When there is no trust, oxytocin can’t form in our brains and when oxytocin can’t form in our brains, we don’t receive the happiness we feel when we are surrounded by those that we do have oxytocin with.

The point: the bonds that cause people to stay at a company beyond 1 year and be highly engaged at work need to form outside of their boss to direct report relationship. 

It can be with somebody within their own department, but for this article, we will focus on the benefits of matching people together for mentorship across departments and how people with different backgrounds can increase their engagement, productivity, and collaboration at work.

People build strong bonds with each other for mentorship when their Work Orientations align. Work Orientation is the measure of what motivates us at work. Some people are job oriented, some people are career oriented and some people are calling oriented. 

There is a 400% increase in the likelihood of facilitating successful mentor relationships when Work Orientation is aligned.

The reason is because people inherently try to empathize with others when they are in a mentoring relationship. But, when 2 peoples Work Orientations are not aligned, the advice, questions, and insight will not be received in the way the other expects or wants to hear. For example, an issue a career oriented person might face is feeling like they aren’t learning new skills. A job oriented mentor might ask, in their attempt to be empathetic, “Are you getting paid well? Are you getting enough time off? Is your work stressing you out?” The career oriented person might answer yes to the first two questions and no to the last question but still feel unfulfilled because their problem isn’t with pay, time off, or work stress, it is with the lack of opportunities to learn new skills, an issue that might not be considered an issue for a job oriented mentor. 

This is just an example, but in this, both people are left feeling unfulfilled from that mentor experience.

When Work Orientation is aligned, peoples attempts at empathy are more well-received and both parties feel greater connectedness to each other.

What makes Work Orientation so unique is that this measure goes beyond status within the company, years of experience, or area of skill or expertise.

What this means is that people can be matched together across departments, years of experience, or status within the company while still having a high likelihood of having a successful mentor relationship.

In fact, this type of mentorship does an amazing job of creating collaborations between teams. It is difficult for the marketing team to understand what the engineering team is going through which is difficult to understand what the sales team is going through which is difficult to understand what the customer service team is going through (and so on so forth throughout your company). 

By creating mentor bonds between people across departments, you are able to foster relationships that don’t have expectations. This leads to empathy and vulnerability which leads to trust, which leads to oxytocin which leads to greater levels of engagement and collaboration at work. When somebody on the engineering team complains about the marketing team, an engineer who is in a mentoring relationship with somebody on the marketing team can squash that issue and convey what the marketing team is going through as opposed to letting that complaint fester and grow deeper into the minds of the engineers.

Fri 28 February 2020
One common piece of advice I hear is that “you should work towards finding a calling”. The advice makes sense. I mean of you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is at the top and it is easy to assume that finding a calling is consistent with achieving self-actualization.

But what if it’s not? What if we have it wrong?

I work in the space of implementing employee mentor programs for companies and I have studied extensively the correlation between aligned Work Orientation and the likelihood of successful mentor relationships. I have also studied correlations between different Work Orientations and levels of engagement at work.

Work Orientation is how one view’s their work. Some people view their work as a job (motivated by work/life balance), some people view their work as a career (motivated by professional growth), and some people view their work as a calling (motivated by personal/professional mission alignment).

My team and I learned that Work Orientation is fluid, meaning that it can change throughout one’s life. We also learned that when people don’t share a similar Work Orientation and are matched together for a mentoring relationship, that the likelihood that relationship lasts for 6 months and is considered both productive and quality diminishes significantly. 

But is there a correlation between one type of Work Orientation and being more engaged at work?

Our current research indicates no.

Our current research does break workplace engagement into 4 separate categories: emotional attachment to the work, energy received from doing the work, social connection with those whom doing the work with, and level of fulfillment from the work itself.

Our current research indicates that there is no one Work Orientation that is more engaged at work than another, but that some Work Orientations are more engaged in certain types of engagement than others.

People that are job oriented gain more workplace engagement from social connection with those whom they are doing the work than people that are career or calling oriented.

People that are career oriented gain more workplace engagement from the energy received doing the work than people that are job or calling oriented.

People that are calling oriented gain more workplace engagement from the level of fulfillment from the work itself than people that are career or job oriented.

The point is that maybe not everybody needs a calling. Everybody runs in their own lane and lives their own life and can achieve happiness and self-actualization in their own way. Assuming that everyone needs a calling may put people in uncomfortable situations and make them feel a way that they aren’t. And just because somebody doesn’t view their work as a calling right now doesn’t mean that they never will.

To adequately share the data and the other side of this point, our research also indicates that people that are career and calling oriented are more receptive to participating in employee mentor programs. Since employee mentorship - done successfully - leads to increased workplace engagement, greater collaboration across teams, and improved productivity, you could also make a counterargument.

Wed 4 March 2020
It is a collaboration between mentor and mentee who works together to identify goals that are specific to the individual’s role and aligned to corporate objectives.  The mentor should be supportive and listen to the ideas of the mentee.  This is critical as it guarantees that mentee will know “what is expected of me”, which is another key drive of engagement and performance.  It also frames the conversation in a meaningful way.  Are the goals on track or not?  Why? What can the individual do to improve?  What can others do to support?  If the performance or behavior under question does not change, the mentor needs to remind the mentee of the goal and hole him/her accountable.  Mentor set priorities and had ability to work toward stated as success could be defined as a progressive realization of a predetermined goal.  Mentor amplified limited power by empowering mentee to take on shared challenges, seeking to surround with the most talented people representing a wide range of skills that could be helpful in achieving the goals.  Mentor in collaboration with mentee helps to set goals, to move forward these goals, and to advice on what course of action mentee should take.  Furthermore, mentor coaches mentee to build the processes necessary to collaborate on a strategy on how to best implement the project.

Mentoring is a long-term commitment with a broader range; include guidance toward professional education and career choices.

Fri 18 October 2019
When dining at a restaurant, what happens when your expectations don’t meet reality? Presuming you were expecting to enjoy your meal, if your expectation is not fulfilled with what you experienced, you will likely not dine at that restaurant again. In contrast, what happens when expectation DOES meet reality? You enjoy your food, and will probably continue eating at that restaurant in the future.


What happens when employees’ expectations of their careers don’t meet reality? They leave.


For college students, possessing a realistic expectation of their career at a company is extremely difficult because they have never worked in the corporate world before. Sure, many college students have had internships and part time jobs before, but it is not the same as being in a full-time career.


There are many things that college students can do to gain a more realistic expectation of the factors affecting their careers. This blog will cover one of the most important factors affecting the expectations of their careers: MONEY.


When it comes to choosing a career from a list of job offers, many people resort to a mindset of “choose the job that pays the most!” This is not a bad instinct by any means. But is that job paying its employees enough to fulfill their expectations of the type of lifestyles they envisioned for themselves after college? If not, even the highest paying career is not enough to satisfy these employees’ expectations.


What can college students do to have a more realistic expectation of their lifestyle and how much money they should make after college?


They can begin by looking at their current lifestyle. If college students have accustomed themselves to a spend-heavy lifestyle in college (or vice versa and not spend much at all), they will likely live a similar lifestyle when they enter their careers. This is because students have grown accustomed to their lifestyles. Even if their parents, student loans, or scholarships covered the tab on many of the expenses that they are going to have to pay for now, students (and all people for that matter) have a difficult time changing their habits. To prove this point, checkout the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Broke which details the amount of former professional athletes that could not change their lifestyles after retiring and are now bankrupt.


Fortunately for college students, there is an awesome cost of living calculator on Nerdwallet which details the cost of living change from one city to another. By using this website college students are able to calculate their annual living, food, entertainment, and transportation expenses currently. They then can get a really good idea of how much they will spend annually on their lifestyles after college by comparing it to the costs associated with other cities where they wish to live. College students then have to factor in taxes and the amount of money they want to save annually in order to derive the minimum starting salary they need to achieve to live the current lifestyle they are living.


What if the minimum starting salary a student needs to have exceeds the amount of money they have been offered in their job offers?


There are 2 options at this juncture. Either the student needs to find job offers for more money, or he needs to realign his expectations of his lifestyle to meet a more realistic expectation.


By knowing what their minimum necessary starting salary should be, students can then concentrate on all other factors of the career when considering job offers. For example, if you discover that your minimum necessary starting salary is $50,000 (for a specific city) and you have offers for $52,000, $54,000, and $60,000, you can evaluate and compare every other facet of the career (nice employees, opportunities for growth, good location, a culture that seems to fit your personality, etc.) to choose the offer that fits you best among these other factors because you can know that your expected lifestyle will be fulfilled.


By performing this task while in college, students can save themselves a lot of heartache, stress, and time.


When expectation meets reality, satisfaction occurs.

Fri 20 September 2019
A couple of years ago when I was interviewing companies, I would ask a similar question in all of my interviews.


Me (in an interview): “So tell me a little about your company’s culture?”


Recruiter: “Great question. We have a very youthful and innovative culture here at                company. We have casual Fridays and an annual philanthropic event that many of our employees participate in called                        .”


Me: (not trying to pry or insult) “ahh, thanks for letting me know.”


What I really wanted to ask was ‘what the heck does that even mean?’ In defense of the recruiter, that is a very difficult question to answer.


To understand why that is a difficult question to answer, let’s dive into what organizational culture is. According to study.com:


“Organizational culture is a system of shared assumptions, values, and beliefs, which governs how people behave in organizations. These shared values have a strong influence on the people in the organization and dictate how they dress, act, and perform their jobs.”


So, according to the recruiter that I interviewed, she kind of answered the question. Although, it didn’t really help me as a college student who at the time had no preconceived notion of what organizational culture was. The recruiter telling me about her youthful and innovative culture tells me that the company is trying to adapt to the changing future. Her telling me about casual Fridays tells me how the employees dress on Fridays and the philanthropic event tells me how some of the employees act during that once a year period when the event is going on.


But what about the shared values, beliefs and assumptions? How am I supposed to create a picture of what a company’s culture is like without this information?


To play devil’s advocate, if people know about casual Fridays, but think that it is a joke or would rather not change their dress routine for one day of the week, how pertinent to the culture of the company are casual Fridays? If there seems to be a trend that the people who participate in this annual philanthropic event get higher bonuses (maybe because the owner, president, or board started this organization or is heavily invested in this organization), is it really optional and (if it is perceived as not optional because those who don’t participate in the philanthropic event tend to not get bonuses) does it really contribute to the culture of the company? If the only reason the recruiter described her company’s culture as youthful and innovative because she recently hired a bunch of recent college graduates and the term “innovative” tends to attract young people, is the culture really energetic and willing to try new things that shape how business is done in the future? These are hypothetical questions, but questions nonetheless that I am still left wondering as a student interviewing a company (that I don’t feel comfortable asking for fear of insulting).


The reason why asking the recruiter what her company’s culture is like is a difficult question is because it is her opinion.


Organizational cultures are not universally good or universally bad for every person. Just because two organizations have the exact same activities (i.e. casual Fridays and philanthropic events) doesn’t mean that those activities are received the same way at each company by the employees. Some employees may hate those types of activities while other employees may love them and an employee’s love or hatred for doing an activity may depend on who they are doing that activity with (i.e. their colleagues).


Just because a company writes on its website their values and beliefs, doesn’t necessarily mean that the employees share them.


When hired, every person enters the hiring company with a set of values and beliefs. That individual has an influence on the overall culture, but will ultimately have to adapt their values and beliefs to that of what already exists at the company. The individual can either fight those values and beliefs by not seeing how their values and beliefs can be fulfilled through the company or they can buy into the culture of the company.


Many employees for a company fall in between these two choices because they have not taken the time to think about their own values and beliefs and how they pertain to the company in which they are working. Many employees accept their job for what it is without acknowledging or appreciating the little things their company may be trying to do to make their work more enjoyable.


Ultimately, it is up to the individual applying for the job or as an employee within the company to decide what the company’s culture is like. It is up to this individual to understand their own values and beliefs and see how those values and beliefs are being fulfilled by the company. If this understanding can be developed by all or at least a majority of the employees within a company, organizational culture can thrive.

Mon 6 April 2020
As remote work grows in popularity, the need for keeping individuals in-tune and engaged in the company culture increases substantially.

Remote work removes many of the inconveniences associated with going into work like commutes and distractions, but it takes away a key component to what makes company culture…connection!

This article serves to show a key way companies can go about maintaining and even improving the level of connectivity between employees as their work location becomes remote.

Before jumping into suggestions on maintaining and growing connectivity of employees as their work location becomes remote, let’s observe how employees connect in an office environment.

In our research on facilitating horizontal mentoring relationships for employees, we have learned that 68% of engaged employees that don’t work remotely believe that there are communication barriers between them and other employees. This is a critical statistic because this shows that even engaged employees feel that they are silo’d off from other employees, even if they work in the same office. 

Reframing this point, most people don’t know what their counterparts in other departments do for their work and the conversations they do have are typically superficial (e.g. sports, weather, fashion, family).

As more people begin to work remotely, this is going to get worse because employees are going to lose the little interaction they do have with each other. All communication is going to be work related and the emotional identity employees have of being a member of the company will soon fade.

Just to be clear, the emotional identity employees have of being a member of the company is the company’s culture! Once that is gone, there is no more culture!

One key to keeping remote employees engaged in the culture of the company is to set aside time for employees to have intentional conversations with each other.

These conversations are not superficial while also not completely about work. These conversations are free from the workplace hierarchy (e.g. title has nothing to do with what is and isn’t shared in these conversations). These conversations provide a platform for employees to share what they are working on with another employee, learn obstacles the other person is facing, ask clarifying questions that they don’t normally ask or get asked, and identify ways to find breakthroughs at work – emotionally, operationally, mentally, or physically.

These relationships create empathy between employees. These relationships breakthrough communication barriers between employees. These relationships build a greater sense of identity employees have with the company. 

This is called horizontal mentorship.

Optimal horizontal mentorship means:

·        Pairing employees together based on shared Work Orientation – or their shared workplace value system.
·        Providing meeting agendas to drive the conversations towards building rapport and being vulnerable.
·        Collecting feedback and learning what tangible outcomes were created every few months from meeting.
·        Switching mentor pairings every 6-12 months to continually build a web of connection between employees.
·        Everyone participating is willing to be open-minded enough to learn from somebody else regardless of their age or experience, willing to ask questions, and willing to share past mistakes.

When horizontal mentorship is implemented optimally, all employees, especially remote employees, feel a greater level of connectivity and identity with their company.
Mon 27 April 2020
When a company implements a new employee-to-employee horizontal mentorship program, this can feel like a big first step towards progress! However, impactful mentorship is not Field of Dreams; just because you built it, it doesn’t mean that employees will see ‘magical’ changes overnight. It takes more than a basic mentorship program to develop engaged employees and achieve the desired goals you have for the mentor program and the company as a whole. 


This article offers my perspective on the importance of semi-structured meeting agendas as a driving force for effective, impactful mentorship, regardless of the personalities of the people participating.


Our conventional wisdom tells us that “if two people are extroverted, they are naturally going to hit it off. Structured meetings will just get in the way of natural conversation!”


This conventional wisdom is wrong.


Extroverts get their energy from being around other people. We expect two extroverted people to have an easy path to conversation, but this doesn’t account for a key issue: how productive is what they are discussing? Is their discussion casual, like sports, weather, or family? Or, is their discussion about the obstacles they are facing at work and having a dialogue about how to make their work more productive and personally fulfilling?


People may be able to gain value from any conversation, true. But, more likely than not, these casual conversations are superficial and not particularly substantive. The reason for this is because people feel comfortable discussing things that they either see on a daily basis or that they don’t have control over but are generally interested in. We are used to these conversation topics. When anyone ever asks, “how are you doing?” it is typically followed by these superficial talking points. 


Casual conversations are low risk, low reward. Few people have revelations when discussing whether the Lakers will make the playoffs. These conversations are comforting and valuable, but they are simply no substitute for challenging discussions and self-reflection. 


On the flip side, deep conversations are rarer for a reason. Talking about work obstacles and challenging your fears about what’s possible in your professional career is uncomfortable! We are forced to be vulnerable. These conversations do drive profound outcomes, but without an agenda keeping people on track, we can unintentionally deviate back to those comfortable, superficial topics.  


Falling back to comfortable conversation isn’t just a risk for extroverted people; introverts can face their own challenges during a mentorship program. One might assume “if two people are introverted, they can figure out a mentor meeting without an agenda. They are professionals and their introversion will make them more comfortable.”


Again, this conventional wisdom falls flat. Ask introverts if they would feel comfortable with this and most will say no. This is typically the assumption extroverted people have about introverted people.


The issue is that the people that are most interested in starting company-wide mentor programs are typically extroverts. Introverts just typically don’t share that same type of self-sustaining drive for more social interaction; they recharge their ‘mental energy’ in different ways. 


But, this doesn’t mean that introverts are disinterested in mentorship!


Instead, when an introvert participates in a mentor program, they might be more likely to have some anxiety or skepticism about meeting somebody they (typically) have minimal interaction with. They need to feel confident and come to the meeting with a plan: How long is the meeting? What are the topics for discussion? How can they be sure that this meeting will be impactful to them? 


Meeting agendas accomplish this goal. Meeting agendas give introverted people the safety net of a plan of action. They know that the discussion will be meaningful, that the conversation won’t be open-ended without a set end time, and that the other person (their mentor) shares this plan.


Implementing a mentor program is a huge first step towards building a stronger, more positive company culture and breaking through communication barriers.


But just having a mentor program doesn’t mean that the company is accomplishing their goals. Improvement takes active effort; the communication barriers and dysfunctional turnover are not going to magically disappear overnight. Employee engagement and positive company culture doesn’t appear by flipping a switch.


Unfortunately, many companies start (and end) these efforts with the idea of “let’s start a mentor program!” and simply call it a day. They might ‘match’ employees, but randomly. They might give suggested topics, but not meeting agendas. Instead of creating an impactful mentorship program for their company, they simply checked another box for their year-end review and assumed the benefits had already materialized. 


Providing mentor meeting agendas is one very important piece of building a strong, thriving employee horizontal mentorship program that connects with every employee, regardless of personality. 



Mon 11 May 2020
Engagement has become a popular metric for measuring satisfaction of employees, productivity, and, to an extent, the health of a company’s culture.
But is engagement a truly accurate metric for measuring satisfaction of employees, productivity, and company culture?
Engagement has clearly shown a correlation to greater productivity and workplace happiness, but how accurate is our method for measuring workplace engagement? Are their leading indicators that might serve as a better metric for how engagement will change?
This article outlines some of the issues with solely measuring engagement and identifies some additional metrics that may provide stronger evidence for when engagement is volatile or calm.
The three issues with only measuring engagement are as follows:
1.Engagement can change in an instant
When an engaged employee becomes disengaged, it is often instigated by one event rather than by some extended sequence of events over time. Most people enter a company excited to get to work and get started, thus are highly engaged. But as they spend more time with the company, they get to know more people and become more accustomed to the workplace. They formulate ideas and expectations about who their coworkers and bosses are and how they are expected to act, and these expectations are compared and contrasted with their own internal compass for how the workplace is expected to operate. 
But, when this new and engaged employee is confronted by someone strongly deviating from the expectations in a negative way, this negative event can muddle their expectations and disengage the employee. 
This is more than simple conjecture; I’ve heard this same story again and again. For example, a friend of mine works at a company where 1 employee (Director) became frustrated at another employee (Accountant) because the accountant consistently asked the director to redo his expense reports. The director’s frustrations stemmed from the fact that it took him 15 minutes to redo the expense reports. In all fairness, there were mistakes, but the director thought that they were immaterial and insignificant.
So, the director goes to other people in his department to share what a pain in the butt it is to redo the expense reports. He subtly inserts his frustrations into conversations to see if anyone else can relate. If somebody bites, they enter a conversation and begin venting their frustrations about the accountant.
The issue is that word travels fast. The accountant learns about these conversations and doesn’t feel comfortable approaching the director with his thoughts or feelings. He is then posed with the question, “does he do his job properly or not because he knows the director is going to complain?”
The accountant learns about his treatment and switches from engaged to disengaged in an afternoon.
2. Work status changes can temporarily impact engagement away from the average
Similarly to starting a new relationship, there is usually a brief ‘honeymoon’ period when taking up a new role or position. Whether it’s a promotion or a new job altogether, taking over new responsibilities feels awesome at first. We feel eager to learn new things, jump on tasks that need to get done, and are open-minded to the feedback we receive.
Within the first 3 months of starting this role, our engagement is artificially elevated because we are “drinking from the firehose”. There are so many amazing opportunities and interesting new responsibilities that it would be difficult to not be engaged.
If a company measures engagement every 6 months or once per year and their survey includes people within those first 3 months of starting a new role, the results are likely skewed positively. If leadership is relying on this information to make informed decisions about how to best manage their team, they are going to be relying on falsely inflated engagement scores which diminishes the need to positively develop the company. Why provide new activities for their employees when engagement is already high when instead, you could double-down on quotas and operational goals and try to squeeze some extra productivity from their “highly engaged” workforce? 
If the engagement numbers are skewed, this type of scenario could put engagement and workplace morale into a tailspin. These artificially engaged employees might become overworked. And when they leave the honeymoon stage and revert back to the mean, their dwindling engagement could reach a critical threshold because leadership pushed when they needed to support. 
3. Daily engagement measures lead to survey fatigue
Some companies may claim they eradicate the first two issues because they measure engagement daily.
However, this approach brings a new problem: survey fatigue. If employees are asked the same questions every single day, they are going to grow accustomed to consistently responding a certain way, regardless of the underlying truth. Instead of capturing their engagement, we are simply building a pointless ritual into every employee’s day: the daily survey that only truly measures how quickly they click the “moderately engaged” button.  
In this case, gathering more data does not mean necessarily gathering better data. The previous two issues, 1) engagement can change in an instant and 2) that work status changes can artificially inflate engagement are very much still a concern. In fact, daily measurements might be worse than 3 or 6 month measurements because the daily habitual answers could override honesty right up until that event that “flips” the engagement switch. 
However, there isn’t all bad news about measuring workplace engagement. As mentioned earlier in this article, there is a direct correlation to productivity and work satisfaction when engagement is high.
There are leading indicators that can help companies better understand whether or not engagement is susceptible to change.
The leading indicators our team has identified are 1) Communication Barriers between employees and 2) Dysfunctional Turnover.
We define communication barriers between employees as the lack of understanding for the obstacles another employee faces, and we define dysfunctional turnover as turnover from employees that do great work and are engaged but are susceptible to leaving because of something going on in the company (e.g. not due to personal events).
Our team has identified that 68% of engaged employees believe that there are communication barriers between themselves and other employees at work. This is critical to understand because it means that people are forming assumptions about others’ work, but only rarely get chances to find out if these assumptions are based in fact. When employees don’t understand the obstacles faced by their coworkers, they form assumptions about what other employees do. These assumptions can create a lack of empathy, and this lack of empathy creates a high susceptibility for them to become disgruntled and disengaged by someone else’s actions in coordination with their assumptions.
If you can understand how many of your employees experience communication barriers at work, you can begin to gauge how quickly engagement might change.
Dysfunctional turnover also involves communication, but as opposed to the focus being on what other people are doing outside of an employee’s control, it involves the communication an employee receives for their specific job function. When employees feel like they are not getting adequate feedback or communication from their boss, they are susceptible to becoming disengaged. Employees are also susceptible to becoming disengaged when they don’t perceive that their colleagues respect the work they do.
Measuring dysfunctional turnover is not the same as measuring the TIS (Turnover Intention Scale) as the TIS asks for feedback on pretty black and white statements like “I don’t envision myself working for this company much longer.” We measure dysfunctional turnover via factors like communication quality with colleagues and bosses during multi-person tasks and their perception of the respect they receive for the work they do.
In essence, engagement metrics do have a lot of value, but measuring engagement only shows where engagement is at now, not where it will be. Measuring leading indicators like communication barriers between employees and dysfunctional turnover can provide a lens into where engagement is going.
 

Mon 25 May 2020
One of the biggest reasons people join professional associations is for the opportunity to network and educate themselves on the most up-to-date topics in their field. Most professional associations go about delivering this value via conferences and local meet-ups by individual chapters of the association.

With COVID-19, most conferences have been canceled or postponed for a TBD date. This poses a major threat to association managers because if they aren’t able to provide networking or educational opportunities to its members, why should their members keep paying their annual dues? 

After speaking with a handful of association managers and board members, I have learned that many professional associations are losing membership because of the coronavirus and its subsequent impact.

The truth is, you can only get so much engagement through digital educational sessions and panel discussions with guest speakers on Zoom or YouTube. These activities simply can’t replicate the personal nature of having intimate, vulnerable, one-on-one conversations among colleagues. Large, digital meetings rarely lead to honest discussions about areas they want to improve and the opportunities they would like to pursue. 

One great way to keep association members engaged in educational and networking opportunities is horizontal mentorship. Horizontal mentorship means connecting two professionals together for a mutually beneficial mentoring relationship where both professionals learn from each other while sharing their personal insight.  

Traditional (or vertical) mentorship is predicated on an imbalanced mentor-to-mentee relationship which exacerbates power imbalances. Traditional mentorship embeds unequal roles into the relationship and this has negative consequences: after 6 months, only 18% of vertical mentoring relationships are considered productive and high quality by participants. Horizontal mentorship focuses on building relationships based on shared alignment of Work Orientation. This ensures that the two professionals’ value systems and reasons for working are aligned. Mentor relationships built this way are 4 times more likely to last 6 months and be rated as productive and high-quality by the participants, compared to traditional mentorship. 

This article offers 3 reasons why professional associations should engage their members virtually through a horizontal mentorship program.

  1. Horizontal mentorship develop close-ties and a localized community from a global, national, or even state-wide membership base that is relying on digital interaction

Previously, these far-flung members might not have been able to easily connect for meaningful conversations. Through horizontal mentorship, previously-distant members that might not have ever interacted one-on-one can now build strong, deep-rooted social bonds, further increasing the value they gain from their association. While these types of connections are always plausible, horizontal mentorship provides the framework for consistently building durable, valuable relationships among members. 

2. Horizontal mentorship provides a new level for members to engage with the association 

The commitment of jumping from one’s role as a general member to volunteering for the association can be significant and not every member is prepared to make that leap. Horizontal mentorship provides an opportunity for association members to deeply engage on a new level that works with their personal schedule and professional aspirations.

3. Horizontal mentorship helps members learn from each other and share experience

Providing educational content and connecting the right members together is not easy. Some educational sessions at conferences are more relevant to some people versus others. Rather than “fishing with dynamite”, horizontal mentorship creates personalized opportunities for members to learn from each other, ask questions specific to their own circumstances, and network with other members with similar perspectives on their approach to work (i.e. work orientation).

Now more than ever, associations must strive to find new, effective ways to connect members and increase engagement. Horizontal mentorship provides the opportunity for association members to engage with other members on an intimate level that works for their availability in a meaningful, virtual way. 
Mon 1 June 2020
Employee engagement is an extremely valuable metric for understanding your team. Engagement is strongly correlated with productivity, so if you are not measuring your team’s engagement, now is a good time to start. This data can tell you how your team feels about their work, offer potential insight on what you can do to make them more happy and productive, and give you some idea of whether or not your employees are likely to leave the job in the near future.


But, the issue with measuring engagement is that it is a lagging metric. By the time you identify that a certain department or team in your company is becoming disengaged, it is likely far too late. Re-engagement is very difficult; they may already be working on their way out and are unlikely to be willing to give management the benefit of the doubt by putting aside their frustrations. 


The first step towards avoiding fully disengaged employees is determining when they are most susceptible to becoming disengaged.  


We call this measure Engagement Volatility, and we use this to understand when employees are likely to be most significantly affected by a negative event at work.   


Many employees fully support and enjoy the company culture and really do enjoy their jobs. For these employees, it takes a lot to shake their confidence in the company.


There are also other people who may respond favorably to an engagement assessment today, but their beliefs in their work or company aren’t nearly as firm.


High-volatility employees can become disengaged in an instant. Whether from reading an email that seems passive-aggressive, realizing the bonus structure or compensation plan seems unfair or being forced to switch their work project or style, employees with high volatility can quickly become disenchanted with their company when dealing with frustrating events at work. 


My team and I at Ambition In Motion identified two key metrics for determining engagement volatility: communication barriers and dysfunctional turnover intentions.


Communication Barriers


Communication barriers represent the lack of understanding among employees about what other employees do for their work. For example, let’s say that John in accounting frequently must interact with Jane in sales to handle some customer accounts. How well does John actually understand what Jane does? If these two employees don’t understand each other’s work, there are communication barriers that can impact their work relationship, productivity, and engagement volatility.  


Communication barriers don’t necessarily tell us that the two people don’t like each other. It just means that they don’t understand what the other person does for their work and the obstacles they face.


How does this lead to engagement volatility?


Communication barriers force people to formulate assumptions about what other people do. These assumptions then lead to a lack of empathy and understanding, especially during frustrating work events. When a small miscommunication about some work task blows up, this creates an opening for people to become disengaged. It creates an opportunity to feel like they are getting taken advantage of or that the grass could be greener on the other side.


For example, let’s go back to John (accounting) and Jane (sales). John sees that Jane spent $200 on a lunch with a client and thinks to himself, “who spends $200 on a lunch?!?!” He is certain that he could have made that same sale and only spent $100 on lunch, but instead, he has to adjust budgets to fit this extra expense and his frustration grows. By discounting all of the work and skills necessary to be a great salesperson, he begins to assume (likely incorrectly) that he could do her job. This subtle frustration can grow, leading John to bring up Jane’s work ethic in casual conversations with people at the office to learn their thoughts. Once he finds somebody that happens to agree with him, it confirms his belief that he could do her job, and now he feels frustrated that she is getting bonuses and commissions on sales he is certain could have easily made. When Jane, unknowing of John’s frustrations with her, emails John, he responds passive-aggressively. He assumes that Jane knows he is frustrated and considers her lazy and inefficient. Meanwhile, Jane has no clue why his emails have become so strange, and her frustration with her work environment begin to simmer.


And the domino effect goes on and on from there…


Our team identified that 68% of engaged employees still feel communication barriers between themselves and other employees at work (e.g. they feel they don’t understand what other people do for their work). Even engaged, productive employees encounter these frustrating events, and these can lead directly to high engagement volatility. 


Dysfunctional Turnover Intentions


There are 4 types of turnover for employees at work: variable, invariable, functional and dysfunctional. Variable, invariable, and functional turnover are types of uncontrollable turnover. They are based on factors outside of a company’s control – e.g. a spouse getting a job in a different city and the employee moving with their spouse, the employee being bad at their job and getting fired, or an employee receiving an offer for significantly more money from another company and the current employer being unwilling or unable to match the salary. 


Dysfunctional turnover is the type of turnover a company can control. Dysfunctional turnover is based on two key factors: the clarity of their job responsibilities and purpose within the company, and their perceived respect level from their colleagues and supervisor(s).


When employees are unclear about what they are doing or why they are doing it, they are highly susceptible to becoming disengaged because the work becomes purposeless. They have no idea if what they are doing is correct, and they have no idea about how their work plays into the larger picture of the company. Lack of purpose and value at work drags down engagement and productivity.


70% of employees avoid difficult conversations (like asking for clarity on their role or task) with their boss, colleagues, or direct reports, according to a Bravely study. Essentially, people fear or feel uncomfortable asking for clarity. This contributes to their engagement volatility and if the “what” and “why” of their work isn’t clarified quickly, they could become disengaged.


The perception of respect is the other critical factor to dysfunctional turnover intentions. When employees don’t feel respected by their colleagues or supervisor, they will have high engagement volatility. 


The perception of respect is the key. 


To be clear, respect is important, but the effects are not directly based on whether or not colleagues or supervisors actually respect the employee’s work. It is based on whether the employee perceives that their work is respected. If they don’t feel like they are appreciated for their contribution or that the feedback they receive is sincere, they quickly become disengaged.


Solution


One way to better understand your team’s engagement volatility is by sending your team Ambition In Motion Engagement Volatility Assessment. It takes roughly 5 minutes to complete and can provide great insight into your team’s likelihood of becoming disengaged. You can break it down by department so you can better understand if there are some departments that have higher/lower engagement volatility than others.


Once you understand your team’s engagement volatility, you can work towards identifying what steps you should take to ease your team’s volatility and stabilize your employee engagement.


One great way to accomplish this is by implementing a Horizontal Mentorship Program. Horizontal mentorship helps your team break through employee communication barriers, improve clarity of your employees’ roles and responsibilities, and build empathy and respect across your team.

Building Mentor Connections Through Work Orientation

Kickstarting Mentorships For Fulfilling Careers