Real investment in your teams

“You don’t build a business – you build people – and then people build the business.”(Zig Ziglar)

“I wonder how you do it”, said Melanie as she plopped her bag on the table and sat down with a sigh. They were meeting downtown for lunch, and the ‘you’ in question was Rachel, a fellow entrepreneur whose 5 year old company was making news for all the right reasons. Since Rachel and Melanie had started their firms around the same time, and often moved about in the same business circles, they had developed quite the friendship with each other. Rachel’s firm had recently acquired a new company and was scaling up quickly, and to top it off, had also won a prestigious Employee Engagement accreditation for the third time in a row.

“So what’s going on with you Mel?” Rachel asked gently, noticing that the usually affable Melanie looked a bit stressed out.

“Well, let’s see – our financials are up from last year, but the quarterly trend is showing signs of plateauing out. We’ve won two new contracts, but had to really negotiate on pricing. What’s worrying me though are the latest attrition reports from HR showing a continuous decline in employee retention. I spoke personally with some of our key employees, who resigned recently, and what I’m hearing from them is ‘I don’t feel valued enough’, and frankly, that statement stymies me. I mean we pay well above median and give our people all the usual perks, we do regular fun at work activities and an annual offsite too, so really, it’s unfair to think that we don’t value our employees” Melanie sighed. “At this rate, we’ll be prime target for acquisition in the next couple of years, and I don’t want that to happen. Tell me Rachel, where are we going wrong?”

Rachel was quiet as she considered her friend’s question, and thought over her own people management perspective, that was now winning accolades for her company. “See Mel, I hear where you’re coming from, and I know that you and your HR team do your best for your company’s employees, but there is a gap that’s causing these issues. You need to pay attention to what you’re hearing from exiting employees. No one is complaining that they aren’t being paid well, people are using the word ‘value’ and that means something more. I would say that’s your starting point – you and your team need to brainstorm over what it means to an employee to be ‘valued’ and not just ‘employed’.”

“Take off-sites for example, they’re a great opportunity to really invest in growing your employee’s strengths and enabling values like team work, mutual respect, strategic decision-making. You can easily start off mornings with a fun & learn intervention that puts people in teams and makes them compete to achieve a goal , or even have everyone play musical instruments together to create a symphony out of the initial noise of everyone playing together with the help of an experiential learning facilitator. After spending quality time together as a workforce, people can then have time out to do their own things, and join in for the evening’s celebrations and office party. We do this at all our off-sites and we’ve seen how people from various departments end up breaking silos and making lasting connections that actually help cut through re-tape hurdles during at-work situations that require inter-departmental co- operation. It’s amazing to watch people return to work and give high-fives in corridors to co-workers they never exchanged a greeting with before , simply because they got to know each other better during a facilitated fun activity at an offsite.”

“That’s not all. At my company, we treat all employees as co-creators in their career plans and we encourage self-development. Our training needs assessments are completed with active supervisory- employee feedback, and this way we enable employees to take charge of their own learning needs, while also providing the necessary assistance for re-aligning work and personal goals. We have noticed an increased participation in trainings, and also an increase in actual learnings from these programs , because employee commitment is more when they attend something they were consulted on before being recommend for by their managers/HR. Honestly, if you ask me, the real investment we have made in our workforce over the last few years, has been to actively engage with our employees on getting their inputs  on decisions that affect them , and really working on thoughtful, planned interventions than leaving everything to emerge on its own out of random events and fun at work activities. Everything we do that impacts our employees, has a thought-process behind it and is worked out with employee inputs and active participation. “

Sound familiar? Statistics show that 60% of employees world-wide feel the impetus to quit otherwise cushy jobs where they feel under-valued. Employee appreciation goes beyond great pay and the usual perquisites of a fancy workspace and free coffee (although people definitely love free coffee too, but that’s not enough to make them stay employed with you over a longer period of time). People choose to build great careers at places where their opinions are asked for and appreciated, where they feel comfortable in taking initiatives without fear of failure or their ideas being shot down because of their level in the hierarchy.

Investing in employees means using employee feedback as the starting point of anything you choose to do for your people, especially when it comes to career development and learning programs. Even as you run formal training needs assessments, encourage supervisors to actively discuss these with the people most impacted by such assessment. Employees who attend training interventions based on plans made with their input and assent often experience lasting benefits and better career and personal growth than those who are tasked with going for trainings that their supervisor/ HR team has mandated for them. Real employee appreciation starts with opening and sustaining a continuous flow of two-way communication where people are asked for their opinions and ideas, especially on issues that have a direct impact on their workplace happiness. The basis of great employee engagement plans is the extent to which employees are asked to be co-creators in the process of making and implementing Employee Engagement practices.

So if , like Melanie, you’re starting to see a gap in your people practices, this is the time for your people managers and people partners to really engage first with your greatest asset, on understanding what they are looking for or feel is missing from their life at the workplace – after all you can always raise another round of funding to work on your business growth objectives but the value of your Human Capital is what really drives your success, and that capital is what you need to invest in building all the time.