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Smoke and Mirrors

The war for talent, employee engagement, attraction, retention, employment branding, recognition – no this isn’t an attempt to booster SEO for my blog. What I have just listed are a few, of the many, “hot topics” facing HR Professionals today. One of the challenges we face is getting our organizational leaders and managers to buy into the importance of these concepts and signing off on initiatives that will move the needle ahead on various HR programs.

SmokeThere is, however, a more difficult scenario to deal with then the one mentioned above. That is, when you actually do get sign off to proceed with your HR initiatives but there is no true organizational “feeling” or belief behind the sign off. For example, you conduct an organizational employee survey of your employees and then go about developing programs, policies, etc. to help address the gaps discovered. However, there is no true organizational commitment to actually change anything – it is merely an exercise for the leadership team to be able to demonstrate that you “did” something. Essentially, it becomes a game of smoke and mirrors.

To put this in perspective, let’s say a company rolls out a program aimed at improving staff engagement – say, a new “Total Rewards Program,” or they create a new employee feedback program aimed at addressing employee concerns and suggestions. Then, the leadership team sits back, admires their new program/policy and assumes they have “fixed” the issues at hand. Naturally, they are very surprised when employee survey results, turnover rates, etc. indicate otherwise 6-12 months later.
So what is the problem? Well the problem (if you want to call it that) is that your employees aren’t stupid. That is right, I’ll say it again, your employees aren’t stupid. They know when you, as a leadership team, are simply doing something to say you have done something. They know when your new rewards program is simply smoke and mirrors and a glossy brochure. Addressing these key employee “hot buttons” is not a matter of developing programs and policies. It is a matter of changing organizational thinking and culture. That is, as a company, you have to WANT to change your people practices and invest in your employees because you BELIEVE they are your assets – not because that is a trendy thing to say. It is all about your organizational DNA, what you believe in and what ACTION you take as leaders to demonstrate the value of your employees.Mirror

I have always said it is better to be honest about your organizational warts and tell your employees when you know you stink at something but that you are working to improve it. Or, if you don’t want to change something, or can’t for some (financial) reason, explain that to your employees. At least you are being honest and they will respect that, but for heaven’s sake, don’t throw a new policy/program at them and tell them you have fixed something when your day to day actions (or lack thereof) show them otherwise. This only serves to increase resentment, disengagement and mistrust of the leadership team. Remember, if you have done your job properly on the recruiting side, odds are you have smart people working for you – they will smell insincerity a mile away and once the trust and respect of your leadership team is eroded, it is very difficult to get that back.

Going forward, if there is an issue or an organizational elephant in the room, say so. Tell your employees what you are committed to changing or not changing. Do not survey employees or ask for opinions if you are not 100% committed to listening and responding to them. Your staff is smart, they know that organizations can’t “give” them everything; however, they do want to be communicated with and respected. You start by having your actions line up with your words – no smoke, no mirrors no sleight of hand; just honest, straight up conversations with employees…..organizational warts and all. What about you? Have you engaged in the act of smoke and mirrors? What has been the result? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Smoke Image courtesy of twobee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mirror Image courtesy of Just2shutter/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


2 Responses

  1. Scott, as always a well thought out blog entry. There are always “excuses” for not following through on projects and commitments … it is no surprise that management is always busy. It comes down to priorities and they need to be set from the top … with full buy-in down through the executive and middle management ranks. If the “boss” isn’t 100% committed to the project then it will never work.
    Having said all that, just because the boss IS committed to the project, is no guarantee it will work either. It is however the right starting place!

    • Kevin – thanks as always for reading and for your insight. The top down approach to start is a great way to start to change the organizational DNA. It has been by experience that this helps drive greater accountability throughout the entire organization.

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