Allan Schweyer is an internationally respected analyst and speaker on the topic of talent management. He is the authored and co-authored several books on the subject, including Talent Management Systems (Wiley & Sons, 2004), Talent Technologies (HCI Press, 2009), and the Enterprise Engagement textbook (2014). Allan has also published articles and white papers in dozens of popular media and industry publications worldwide.
I recently had the chance to speak with Allan about employee engagement – a critical topic for advisory firms seeking to increase value add for their clients, maximize the success of their associates, and grow their business.
According to Allan’s insights, advisory firms – and all organizations seeking long-term success – need to rise the challenge of cultivating three central pillars of employee engagement: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Allan’s concept of Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose corresponds to the central message that the Natixis Advisor Academy provides to financial advisors and financial advisory firms: working to maximize our inherent, instinctive skills is an essential part of realizing our true potential for success.
What does the term "disengaged employee" mean?
A disengaged employee is someone who would rather be almost anywhere else than at work – someone who shows up at their job for their paycheck alone. Disengaged employees are a big problem across the United States and around the world.
Can you talk a bit about how this problem is of particular importance in today’s workplace?
Well, one hundred years ago we didn’t talk much about employee engagement. Workers were expected to be productive – sitting or standing on an assembly line for 10 or more hours a day doing the same things over and over again. The goal of management was to make workers do what they were told. But our work has changed radically and completely over the past one hundred years – it has gone from physical to cerebral. Where our work was once routine and repetitive, it’s now complex and creative.
In January 2015, a Gallup poll indicated that less than one-third of U.S. employees are engaged in their job, despite the fact that organizations have spent billions of dollars attempting to improve their levels of engagement. Why haven’t these numbers improved?
In my view, it’s because the methods and tools of management have not changed to keep pace with the changes in the types of work we do. Low engagement and low performance is almost never about employees’ skills and talents. After all, organizations hire people because they meet their requirements.
So how can organizations improve employee engagement?
Engagement is about tapping into people’s natural need to learn, create, and improve. I believe there are three universal fundamentals of engagement: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. You might recognize these as a variation on Self Determination Theory, which is among the most tested, most robust theories in all of social science. All the key components of being engaged in your job – learning, experimentation, respect, aspiration – fall under these fundamentals.
It’s really about ensuring that an organization’s culture recognizes human nature and what motivates us. With rare exception, these drives are universal. They are the basis for everything we do. We all desire a level of autonomy – the freedom to make informed decisions. The term “mastery” speaks to our desire to learn. We all have a need to learn, experiment, and figure how best to do their work. A sense of purpose is also essential. When you exclude people and don’t really listen to them – if don’t help them find daily meaning in their work – you know what you’re going to be left with.
So what changes can organizations consider if they want to make their employees more engaged?
The fact is, if you lead a disengaged organization, you could fire everyone, give yourself an unlimited budget, and then hire the very best talent in in the world. Within a year of them being in your culture, you’d be exactly where you are now.
In other words, if you change the culture, you change the talent. Not the other way around. We know what drives engagement and there’s no excuse for not changing your ways to better align with those universal human drivers.
What are the ways in which an organization can begin to change its culture?
I’ve worked with dozens of organizations on improving engagement. Those that conduct a survey and then run a few workshops fail. They attempt to fix engagement using broad, one-size-fits-all solutions. The few that succeed re-align their culture in two ways. For one – they acknowledge human nature and human needs – autonomy, mastery and purpose. Secondly, they persist in fixing the dozens of things that uniquely contribute to disengagement in their specific organization.
It takes years and true faith, but it’s the only thing that works.
Thanks, Allan. I really appreciate you sharing these insights.
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