We have been identifying some of the mistakes that can occur when organizations start an employee engagement process. This week we do our last blog in the series and address culture problems that can discourage employee engagement.
Our first two blogs on this series discussed two big mistakes that can occur when organizations start an employee engagement process. The first one is lack of buy-in, especially from upper management, and in the case of a unionized organization, upper union leadership. Both sides absolutely have to be in support of the process or it will fail. We identified a couple of examples.
In the second part of this series we identified another problem that can occur with employee engagement. That problem was not involving all employees in problem solving and every day decisions. Some organizations don’t view employee engagement as that but think it is more of involving employees with communication efforts, flavor-of-the-month programs, incentive programs or benefits – anything but involving employees in the everyday operation of the organization. Again, we used the large company, Kimberly-Clark, as an example and we’ll continue to use them in this blog as we cite other mistakes that can happen.
For employee engagement to be a success it takes a workplace environment or workplace culture that “walks the talk,” or actually practices what it preaches or demonstrates through actions not just words. Having a strong culture to support an employee engagement process is the most important part, can be the most difficult to achieve and also is the area where most mistakes occur. A culture that supports employee engagement demonstrates a true belief in the people and provides support to them. People feel comfortable enough to speak out without retribution. They are made to feel like they are appreciated and important to the organization. It also is an environment willing to take risks and realizes mistakes will be made but people learn from those mistakes.
Let’s now look at Kimberly-Clark. In both articles, Good to Great: Reinventing HR at Kimberly-Clark and At Kimberly-Clark, “Dead Wood” Workers Have Nowhere to Hide the Chief Human Resource Officer said the company operated as a team environment or as a family-like culture. Conflict was avoided and decisions were done through consensus and didn’t last. All this, she said, was not good for innovation and increasing market shares. She said the company went down-hill. Talk about a huge mistake – red flag!
If you want to encourage employee engagement, the culture described at Kimberly-Clark is the type of culture you want. It shouldn’t be stopped. It’s a great starting point and if there are problems this provides an opportunity to utilize your best resource, employees. Yes, there may be a problem with decisions not lasting and the lack of conflict but why was that? No decision should be cut in stone. They should always be re-evaluated. That’s just good problem solving. The lack of conflict may be a problem but there are ways to address that, too, and again, why wasn’t there conflict? Maybe the conflict wasn’t the type of conflict the HR executive felt was beneficial. It is true there are a lot of traditional organizations and managers that think organizations should be run like a business and not like a family which may be but it also can be an environment where people are willing to work together and feel comfortable to offer ideas and not be worried about repercussions.
There are more red flags in these articles about the inability of Kimberly-Clark to create a positive culture that could embrace employee engagement, or People Philosophy as they called it. and the idea that they were a “caring” organizations with some of these other red flags doesn’t say they were.
Kimberly-Clark said they were a “caring” organization which is very important in creating a positive culture but calling employees “dead wood” and boasting about large turnover rates doesn’t say to me they are caring or that employee engagement can happen. It simply identifies more red flags. Employees don’t start out as “dead wood.” They were hired because they gave a good impression. The “dead wood” theory is more of a symptom of other problems than the problem itself. In most organizations when there is a turnover rate of 65% that is cause for alarm. A healthy turnover rate is considered 10-15%. The direct costs of that turnover plus the indirect costs would be extremely large. Some of that may not be in dollars when you consider all the experience that left or the relationships that had to be established.
The time element was another red flag. There were references about time constraints. This can be a real problem for some organizations. They want things done fast and they want things to change NOW. It takes time for culture change. Changing culture is much more difficult to do than changing a piece of equipment or a work process. The lack of patience to spend time on problem solving processes can be a problem and we identified that in the first blog. There really wasn’t a desire to take time to really explore what problems were actually occurring which created the lack of buy-in from the executives.
There are two red flags with the electronic performance system that was implemented at Kimberly-Clark. One was a lack of support to help people with the new process which caused a lack of buy-in with it. Once again, it appears the time element was more important without addressing other issues. An employee engagement process can involve people to look at different processes, determine what process is best and also develop a plan for implementation that could address support issues. The other red flag is an electronic performance system does nothing for the culture because it decreases the amount of interpersonal interaction. It doesn’t necessarily create an opportunity for one-on-one coaching which helps to support employee engagement.
The last red flag comes from something the CEO said. He said support processes were not in place to help the company stay on course. Maybe the lack of resources or support was more of the problem than placing the blame on the people. Placing blame on people is a knee-jerk reaction and is a common mistake in many workplace environments. It goes along with the lack of willingness to spend time on problem solving.
There were other red flags but we’ve identified enough to say this really wasn’t about employee engagement or a People Philosophy. It does, though, identify what to watch out for if you are wanting to implement an employee engagement process. The articles both say the financial picture of Kimberly-Clark improved at least in the short term but how will it do in the long term?