Walk into an office and choose at random 20 people. Ask them the following: “Are you fully engaged in your work? Do you look forward to coming to work every day?” From our experience, we would expect at least 50% of the responses to be negative. This is a massive waste of human talent and potential.
If people are not engaged in their work and they are not enjoying their time at the office, we cannot expect them to give their 100%, whether in terms of quality of work or quantity of work. The organization’s performance remains a meager fraction of what it could be. This impact of disengaged employees on organizational performance will only increase as we move further towards a knowledge economy driven by human capital.
Let’s continue the questioning of those 20 randomly chosen employees. If we ask them, “Why are you not having fun at work?”, what will be their response? Our hypothesis is that there are two primary reasons that people lose interest and passion at work.
One reason is when they are not enjoying the activities they are doing – when their real interest lies in some other domain of work – but due to circumstances (e.g. organizational silos, hoarding of talent, lack of knowledge about available opportunities inside the organization, lack of capability in their area of interest, role change restrictions) they are unable to do what they really want to do.
The second reason is a poor work environment. Such a work environment usually results from a lack of empowerment of employees. Here are a few examples - a boss does not give due attention when an employee is suggesting an idea, a boss is secretive and does not share enough organizational information with his employees, a lack of friendliness and helpfulness in the work group, a lack of ownership of one’s work, etc.
If we can mitigate these two primary factors, we believe passion can be unleashed among employees and the organization can benefit immeasurably.
We propose two organizational changes to address the problem.
Change 1: Create a truly effective internal job market
To ensure that employees have an opportunity to work in their interest areas, we propose creation of an internal job market. Many organizations already have such job markets in place which are functioning at various levels of effectiveness. We would like to highlight certain “must-haves” for our idea of a well-functioning internal job market.
We propose each and every job vacancy in the organization be advertised internally (through a medium which is accessible to all, like an intranet). Any individual in the organization can apply for any job vacancy that captures their interest. This will ensure that applicant with high levels of talent and motivation get an opportunity irrespective of their rank in the organization or their academic qualifications. [We do understand that there are certain roles like R&D where academic knowledge is a must. However, there are certain other roles like marketing, sales and strategy, which can be learnt on the job and don’t necessarily require prior academic qualifications.]
Each job description must mention the minimum amount of time, a contract period, for which an employee must work in that role (e.g. 2 years or the closure of a project). Firstly, this will ensure stability in the organization by not allowing the employee to continuously job-hop. Secondly, it also makes transparent that beyond the contract period, the employee can choose to move to another role of interest. As this contract period is transparent at the time of application, an applicant can take a call whether he would like to apply for a vacancy with the specified contract period.
Each job description needs to be comprehensive, mentioning in great detail the activities that the job will consist of. We don’t want a situation where a job description promises something but when you actually get into the role, you are doing something else. If such a situation arises, there will be a transparent mechanism of escalation to HR. If HR verifies that there truly is a mismatch between the job description and the actual activities performed once recruited, the employee will be entitled to apply for any other vacancy of interest, even within the timeframe of the contract period.
A strong training department needs to exist in the organization which offers courses on all relevant functions which the organization is engaged in. This will ensure that an employee can change function, e.g. from sales to finance, if he so desires. This employee can enroll in finance courses offered by the training department to boost his resume before he applies for a finance job.
In order to facilitate change of jobs across domains, the concept of work level/rank needs to change. It is possible that a group leader in finance wants to do marketing. Due to his lack of experience in marketing, he might necessarily have to join as an individual contributor at a lower rank. This movement to a lower rank, due to lack of functional expertise, is a call to be taken by the applicant himself and should not be obstructed by traditional thinking on organizational levels. At the same time, though he may lack functional expertise for his new marketing role, we should not forget that he already has enough expertise in soft skills to quickly move to a group leader role in marketing as soon as he has acquired enough functional marketing skills. This will require HR to keep databases on functional skills and soft skills for each individual separately.
Change 2: Make the strengths and weaknesses (attitude, behavior and functional) of each employee transparent to the entire organization
This is the more radical change we are proposing to ensure that a job applicant has some sense of the kind of work environment he is applying for.
Our hypothesis here is that a good work environment (empowered employees, freedom to express ideas and opinions, inspirational and friendly environment) is primarily maintained by the leader of a work group. So if an applicant has a sense of the how the job poster (the leader of the workgroup) is as a person, he will also have a sense of the work environment he is heading into. This enables the applicant to apply to a work environment of his choice.
In order to make the attributes of a workgroup leader transparent to an applicant, we propose that each person’s strengths and weaknesses be made transparent. This description of strengths and weaknesses will come from people who have already worked with this workgroup leader.
On an annual basis and at the time of exit from a workgroup, it will be mandatory for each employee to provide feedback to the work group leader. In order to keep the feedback balanced, the feedback must talk about at least 2 strengths and 2 weaknesses, with any amount of additional feedback.
For easy collation of innumerous feedbacks for an individual as the system scales, a rating on a 1-to-5 scale will also have to be provided in each feedback. The average of this rating can be published as is, or converted into a percentile of the entire organization. This will give a quick understanding of whether the perceptions about an individual are in general positive or negative.
On whether the feedback should be anonymous or not, we believe anonymous feedbacks are better as they will enable more openness.
These feedbacks for each individual will be posted on a facebook-like intranet and will be accessible to the entire organization. Every applicant for a job vacancy can go through the various feedbacks to a group leader before applying for a job vacancy posted by him. The applicant will also be entitled to have conversations with people who have earlier worked or currently working with the group leader to gain greater insight into the attributes of the group leader. This system will need to be institutionalized and facilitated by HR.
An additional benefit of this feedback system will be that undue promotions into senior leadership will be difficult with so much feedback data published transparently on candidates who are under consideration for promotion.
For starters, after a kick-off communication from top management, the regular 360 degree feedbacks, assuming one exists, should be posted on the intranet to make them visible to the entire organization. This entire process can be started by posting the feedbacks of top management, so that employees lower down get more confidence to give accurate feedback without worry of retribution.
Once that is done, a portal where all feedbacks can be captured as they happen should be created and made live.
This should be followed by the creation of the internal job market with comprehensive job descriptions, contract period, etc.
Lastly, a strong training department will need to be created which will enable employees to acquire skills in any domain of their interest.