I wanted to write a short post about something I read on another blog - David Lorenzo's blog . He has a post where he talks about some research that Gallup has done about how engaged people are at work. Reading over the post entitled "Employee Engagement is Local" I found myself nodding in agreement in a few areas, and disagreeing with David and with Rob from Business Pundit in some other areas. Rob's question was "How can you effectively lead losers?"
I found myself agreeing with the Gallup research - noted on David's blog - that indicated that 29% of the people in an organization are actively engaged in what their firm is doing. That is, they are working hard to support the progress and the direction of the firm. 55% are not actively engaged - they are there to punch the clock for the eight hours or so that is necessary. They are neither particularily helpful or harmful. According to the research, 16% of the folks in your business are actively disengaged - working against the corporate interest. This is compelling stuff and jives with what I've experienced over the years.
Where I disagree with what Rob wrote is in the question - Can you lead losers? I guess my question is - why would you try? It seems to me that as consistently and effectively as possible a good manager will try to understand who is committed to the success of the business and is giving his or her best efforts. In the three categories of engaged, not engaged and disengaged, there are three different management strategies. For those who are actively engaged, reward and encourage them. Use them as examples. Find ways to compensate them appropriately. For the not engaged segment , determine the reason for the lack of engagement. Some people want to do more - they just need better leadership. Some people are in the wrong job and can give more in other areas. Some people are just lazy and need to kick up their productivity or find something new to do. For the actively disengaged group, there's an easy answer - improvement or the door. Why keep someone aboard who is actively working against your interests?
I used the "man your stations" phrase as a title for a reason. Suppose we are in a lifeboat, the remaining survivors from a wreck at sea. Do you want 30% of your survivors rowing aggressively, 55% rowing half heartedly and 16% actively working against your survival? In my view, a manager's job is to motivate those that he or she can, improve the skills of those where he or she can, and remove obstacles for success where necessary. A manager does not lead losers - he converts them to people on his team or helps them find another team to play for. In the long run this approach works best for both parties.
There are some caveats with this approach. Often you'll find that the not engaged and even some of the disengaged folks can contribute and want to, they just are in the wrong roles. Moving these people into the right roles where they can contribute will make a huge difference in their attitudes and in their output. Many of the disengaged become that way because of what they consider slights from the management team or the feeling of being overlooked or underappreciated. These emotions boil over and the only outlet is to try to derail the very firm that cuts their paycheck. Some of these people are recoverable, but only at the expense of a lot of coaching and interaction. You'll need to weigh the costs and benefits of that interaction. Finally, there are in almost any business some people who simply don't belong - they are the wrong cultural fit, they have the wrong attitudes, they don't have useful skills, they refuse to update their skills, etc. The problem with these folks is they don't just impact their own productivity, but the attitude and productivity of the people around them. Allowing them to stay and to interact with others is a lot like having a small cancer in your body and ignoring it. It will get worse.
As a manager, take the time to be sure everyone on your team is in the lifeboat, oar in hand, pulling as hard as possible in the same direction. Anyone who can't get in the boat or pull on the oar should be coached and helped to get on board. Everyone else...
Managers don't lead losers - they convert them to participants and winners or the remove the player from the team.