"work engagement"

Fri 28 February 2020
Initial publishing on HR Boost.

I am interviewing Garrett Mintz, the founder of Ambition In Motion, to discuss mentor programs for small and medium-sized businesses. Garrett and his team have done extensive research into mentorship and what works and doesn’t work for implementing mentor programs. Garrett’s big focus is on leveraging the research of Work Orientation and its impact on successful mentor relationships which he shares about in this interview.

What is a common assumption that small to medium sized business owners have about their team?

That everybody already knows everybody or that they don’t have time for mentorship.

So often, I will hear from small to medium sized business owners that they don’t see a need for an employee mentor program because everybody has already worked at the company for 5+ years and that everyone knows everyone pretty well. Or that the issues between employees can’t be resolved so they are fine with leaving them unresolved and continuing on with business as normal. Or that they don’t have time for mentorship.

What most business owners are blind to is the fact that most conversations at work are superficial: “How are your kids?” “What did you do over the weekend?” “Did you complete that project?”

You have enough of these conversations over and over and over and you feel like you “know” somebody…but you really don’t.

Do you have a story you can share to elaborate on this point?

Of course!

One of our clients does tax accounting in Indianapolis. They are a 14 person firm and we started the mentor program in January.

It would be an understatement to say that the participants in our mentor program were busy and skeptical about this program. We are entering the heat of tax season and they are embarking on a mentor program…in a 14 person company where everyone knows everyone.

Needless to say, they were skeptical.

Brad and John are employees of this firm and they were matched together. Brad is a manager at the company and has been there for over 15 years. John started within the past year but has been friends with Brad for the past 3 years. In fact, Brad helped him land this job. Since they both had been friends for the past 3 years, they thought they already knew everything about each other.

They scheduled a 60 minute meeting for their first mentor meeting but were concerned that they wouldn’t have enough to talk about because they already knew each other so well.

The result…the meeting lasted for 90 minutes…they only got through 1 question on the meeting agenda we provided them…they had to schedule a second meeting in the same month complete the meeting agenda.

They learned so much about each other that they didn’t already know. They opened up about their background, their work history, their work goals, and how their personalities meshed well with each other. 

Brad and John have never had conversations like this at work before. They are now getting their work done more efficiently because they have a better understanding of what each person does and what they need as opposed to working in their own silos. Because of this increased efficiency, they are now starting on projects that were pushed out way down the line in the company’s strategic road map.

This was all accomplished within the first month of implementing the mentor program!

These types of stories happen all of the time.

What is your secret sauce? 

The key thing that we are doing that is different from most mentor programs is we are using the research behind Work Orientation to facilitate our mentor program.

Traditional methods for matching people together for mentorship don’t work.

My team and I have learned that when you match based on status within the company, years of experience, or learning a specific skill, that the mentor relationship becomes a transaction where the mentor gets nothing and only the mentee has something to gain. The issue with matching people together based on transactional metrics is that it lacks staying power and depth. Once a mentee achieves what he/she is after – or loses patience with achieving the goal, the relationship ends because the mentee has no need for the mentor anymore (e.g. after a promotion or learning a certain skill). 

This is a problem because the staying power of mentorship is what increases its impact to a business’s bottom line significantly over time.

If you can create webs of mentor relationships across your company, significantly more collaboration can occur, your team can innovate more easily, and your culture can thrive. People will show up more engaged for work every day and the ability to attract new talent to the company will happen more naturally because your employees will become ambassadors for your company, encouraging their friends and strangers to take advantage of joining the team if they get the opportunity.

My team and I have tested multiple personality tests and areas of research. We have garnered varying degrees of success with different personality assessments, but by far the most effective research area is Work Orientation. Work Orientation is how you view your work. Some people view their work as a career, while others view their work as a calling, while others view their work as a job. Work Orientation is fluid and there isn’t a right or wrong Work Orientation. When Work Orientation is aligned for a mentoring relationship, the likelihood that relationship lasts for 6 months and is considered both productive and quality is 400% greater than traditional mentor matching methods. Regardless of the department a person is in, years of experience, or status in the company, if Work Orientation is aligned for a mentor relationship, they are 400% more likely to last for 6 months and be considered productive and quality than matching on transactional metrics like the ones previously stated.

How much time does participating in a mentor program like yours normally take?

The time investment from employees in our mentor program is between 1 and 4 hours per month. If we are assuming 166 hours worked per month that is less than 2.4% of their time.

How does this translate to the bottom line?

There has been extensive research on the correlation between mentorship and work engagement and between work engagement and productivity. Essentially, if you can measure engagement changes in employee mentor program participants over time, you can measure how much more productive they are at work. This manifests itself in more sales, better customer service, greater collaboration between teams, and overall happier employees. If you can increase the likelihood of successful mentorship by 400% and continue implementing successful mentorship over time (e.g. building webs of connection), you can create a significantly positive impact on the bottom line.
Sun 31 July 2022
The great resignation has impacted companies in many ways, and this has helped employees gain more leverage. Companies gave out inflated titles and higher salaries to lure workers, and organizations became less concerned about hiring people with frequent job changes in recent years. 

More recently, however, rising inflation is causing fear of an imminent recession, and that volatility ends up diminishing the incentives for job-hopping. This may signal the beginning of a new post-great resignation era, but its consequences will continue to ripple out in the coming years. The companies that can successfully maneuver through this transition will be far better off than the companies that don’t.

The great resignation provided many companies with an opportunity for growth in the years to come, but this opportunity requires these companies to grapple with the effects of high managerial turnover. Many 1st or 2nd-year employees have had three or four different managers since starting work, and frequent manager turnover is a major drag on building an engaging and productive company culture. 

Some of these new managers are newly promoted novice managers from within the organization that must learn on the job. Others are highly experienced outside hires that must learn the company culture with a new team. And some new managers were outside-hires without any experience managing and had to learn how to manage a team while learning the company culture as well. These all can cause friction at the company, but even a perfect hire requires more than a few months to establish a resilient team culture that can handle turnover. 

Because of the transient nature of the great resignation, employees have become used to expecting to be working under a new manager every six months. This lack of consistent leadership has eroded the trust and sense of identity professionals have with their company and companies need to start addressing this now because this erosion will have lingering ramifications for years to come. 

Why?

Because professionals that identify with their organization are what make an organization profitable. I am a sports fan, so I will create a football analogy. Most general managers in the National Football League (NFL) prefer to build the core structure of their team through the NFL draft. Rookies have relatively cost-effective contracts and are locked into those contracts for 4-5 years. Once the rookie contract ends, NFL teams determine if players are worth the massive salaries that come with paying a veteran player. Considering that the NFL has a salary cap, there is a finite amount of money that can be spent on each player, so teams that win are the ones that can get the most ROI from their players and their contracts. 

Employees that identify with their company are like football players on their rookie contracts. They are creating a surplus for the team because they are providing more value than they are receiving. I am not suggesting that companies underpay their employees. But I am saying that employees that identify with the company in which they are working will go the extra mile to make sure their work is done right.

When those employees that identify with the company become leaders, this directly benefits the company. This increases their long-term value, and this effect is multiplied as their impact propagates across multiple direct reports. 

Granted, not all employees that identify with the company are great leaders – there is typically training that is necessary for these new managers to become effective leaders. 

But my argument is that leaders that don’t identify with their company will never go the extra mile to make sure that things are done right. They will follow core leadership tenets (if they are trained), clock in, and clock out. Going the extra mile just isn’t worth it for them because whether the company succeeds or fails isn’t a major factor to them. Under normal circumstances, this doesn’t usually matter. But sometimes a make-or-break moment arises, and team success, project success, or even company success will be determined by how one leader responds to a new situation.

How can you tell if your employees have formulated an identity within your company?

One early indicator is in the words people use to refer to the company, especially around people outside the company. If they refer to the company as “they” or “them” or “it” instead of “us” or “we”, that is typically an indicator that they don’t strongly identify with the company.

Another indicator comes from responding to bad news. If bad news comes out about the company or if the company is going through a particularly stressful time, how leadership responds will be a critical factor for employees. Are your leaders going to defend the company and work through it? Or are they going to deny responsibility and make excuses?

Employees that identify with their company will go far to defend their company and ensure its success. And when things are stressful, they will stay late, take on extra tasks, and do what is necessary to make the team succeed.

Why?

Because they identify the company’s success with their success. When the company succeeds, these employees feel a sense of pride in the company. When the company makes a mistake, they feel it and want to be better.

Therefore, companies that can build that sense of identity faster than others are the ones that will succeed.

Before spending any money on leadership training and developing managers into effective coaches, mentors, and leaders, companies first need to focus on making sure that all their managers identify with the company and know how to inspire that same mindset in their direct reports.

The best way to increase the number of employees that identify with the company is by increasing engagement.

Engagement is the combination of:

·        The amount of energy employees receive from doing the work
·        The connection employees feel to the mission of the company
·        The camaraderie employees have with fellow employees
·        How much the work complements their strengths

Your plan for increasing the amount of employees that identify with the business should start with increasing all four categories of engagement. 

Therefore, if you are a business owner or leader, the questions you should be asking yourself are:

·         What are we doing to ensure that employees are getting into flow when they do their work? Are we scheduling meetings at inconvenient times for them? Are we creating bottlenecks for them from doing the work that they get energy from doing? What are we doing to help our employees manage their time? How can we help them spend more time on tasks that give them energy and optimize the time for the work that detracts from it?
·         What are we doing to connect the mission of the company to their own personal mission and goals in life? Are we tactlessly shoving the corporate mission down their throats? Or is our mission an uninspired afterthought that’s rarely shared? Are we adequately meeting the mission on our end or is there a blind spot between leadership and the rest of the company?
·         Are we creating an environment in which employees can have a good time together on non-work tasks? – Most companies are pretty good at this but this is only ¼ of the equation for boosting engagement.
·         What are we doing to identify our employees’ strengths and how are we putting them in a position to succeed? Are we only promoting strong individual contributors to management roles, even though the skills set to be successful as a manager is different than the individual role they were performing?

Companies that can set a plan to boost engagement faster than other companies will become an ideal destination for prospective employees that want to work for a company in which their employees will work hard for them because they identify with the company. 

Sun 21 August 2022
Gallup has extensively researched the relationship between employee engagement and company profitability, and they showed that engaged employees are 22% more profitable than disengaged employees. 

The tides of the economy seem to be shifting, making this a time when it is even more critical to focus on culture and employee engagement. Many companies, especially private equity-backed firms, have responded by laying off employees rather than investing in them. I was curious to know, “Why are private equity-backed firms more prone to layoffs in a down economy compared to private or public companies?”

I reached out to my network to learn more. I interviewed multiple employees, leaders, and professionals working for private equity, and their consistent answer was that “They are seeking an exit – at any and all costs and that part of achieving an exit is showing numbers that your costs are down and revenues are up.”

Ryan, a former VP of Operations, was recently laid off from a private equity-backed firm. He proposed some ways for the company to consolidate its overlapping expenses. They loved the idea so much that after consolidating those expenses they consolidated him…and replaced him with a junior middle manager to take his role at a fraction of his salary. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for eradicating inefficiencies and driving profitability. 

But can the short-term focus of achieving an exit coexist with a thriving company’s long-term goals, especially when these goals require an engaged employee base with a great culture?

I would imagine that most private equity professionals land somewhere on this scale from unapologetic to compassionate. The unapologetic professionals don’t care about the people because revenue growth reigns supreme. On the opposite side, compassionate professionals care about building a sustainable business and invest accordingly. In between these two sides, many professionals will say all the right things but their actions will reveal whether their true focus is sales and reducing costs to show short-term metrics.

Another focus of my interviews was on the reputational cost. I was curious to know if there was any reputational risk for offloading a company that looks great on paper but is a dumpster fire internally. I'm envisioning a prospective investor checking something like a Carfax to find out if they are working with somebody that has a history of leaving others to hold the bag.

Unfortunately, I haven’t received any great responses so far. 

And until we have a way for companies to assess the reputational risk of how private equity firms treat their acquired companies' employees, there is nothing to stop these private equity firms from propagating bad cultures to dump onto somebody else’s plate.

The issue with all these scenarios is harm done to the people at these companies. Hundreds of thousands of professionals work for private equity-backed firms, not realizing how little security they have in their role or the value they have in the minds of the owners. 

Or worse, many professionals end up working for a company and feeling trapped because of economic worries or personal constraints. These workers end up miserable, and the whiplash effects from ownership changes only exacerbate these effects. Imagine starting with an executive team that cares about you (e.g. the founders), and suddenly you find out that the new private equity owners want 120% more revenue but for 30% less pay. These paradigm changes wipe away years of work building company culture and leave a hollowed-out company in their wake.

Research has shown how powerful investing in culture and engagement can be for profitability. But until we have a way to hold private equity firms accountable based on their reputation for either building great companies, inside and on paper, or mirage companies, great on paper but awful inside, it will be difficult for private equity and company culture goals to align.

Building Mentor Connections Through Work Orientation

Kickstarting Mentorships For Fulfilling Careers

Privacy Policy