Faced with making a decision that could have potentially disastrous consequences, would you bite the bullet and take accountability? Or would you see how you could buy yourself a little more time, get just that little bit more information that will help steer you in the right direction and wait for more clarity? Often enough, if we have the opportunity to postpone or delay a decision, we would take it gladly, especially if it was critical enough in nature. Though a non-decision in many ways is still a decision, time and time again we see how fear drives us all.
Nobody wants to take the fall for making a bad call. Although our work responsibilities necessitate us making quick decisions, we tend to stall in hopes of more clarity and higher probabilities of success.
Facets of Making Effective Decisions
As leaders and managers, perhaps we believe we need to make all the decisions before us but that is not true. As leaders, our job is to lead and making decisions is but one facet of the role. But with decisions to be made across a spectrum of things, large and small, that may affect one or many across an enterprise, how are we to make good decisions?
The modern enterprise is fraught with many challenges. Layers of organisational hierarchy, informational siloes, an inundation of data from a variety of sources and all the trappings we as managers insert into our processes supposedly to help, not hinder, all contribute to make decision making into that nightmare many of us face on a daily basis.
How can decision making be stripped back to its basics so that it enables us to do what we need to do – making better decisions?
First, it starts with trust.
The entire point of hiring people is to help us get things done which necessitates managers getting out of the way once tasks are appointed. Trust that the people we’ve hired to help us grow our business can do the task set and let them get on with it.
Second, it continues with empowerment.
This necessitates a few things. Organisations need to arm their people with the skills and information they require to do their job. Clarity of objectives, effective planning and a proper handoff are all critical for achieving success. Empowerment also means a willingness to allow someone else to call the shots, make the big decisions and then to see how things transpire. In effect, there is an acceptance of the possibility of inherent failure because we do not control every aspect of the decision-making process.
Third, it ends with accountability.
Together with the trust and empowerment bestowed, is the expectation that the decision-maker is now accountable for what happens consequent to the decisions made? Why is accountability so important? Because someone must take the fall, must be held responsible. Because the buck has to stop somewhere. In our experiences within our own organisations and in the news we see, we note how organisations are increasingly complex, how individuals hide behind the corporate veil, how accountabilities are murky and decision making processes involve a ton of paperwork, governance and time. Can things be overlooked? Can disasters take place? Can lives be lost? Of course, which is why all decisions need to be supported by accountability.
Fourth, it involves building into the decision the action to carry it out.
What does this mean? As Peter F. Drucker stated in his 1967 HBR seminal article, The Effective Decision, “Converting the decision into action is the fifth major element in the decision process. While thinking through the boundary conditions is the most difficult step in decision making, converting the decision into effective action is usually the most time-consuming one. Yet a decision will not become effective unless the action commitments have been built into it from the start.” In other words, decision making is not just about theory – it is about doing what needs to be done to support the decision made.
Decisions without actions are merely empty words. Set an actionable plan from the start to ensure that decisions can be carried out quickly and effectively.
McKinsey in their work helping organisations become more agile, have found that it is possible to accelerate the improvement of decision making by categorising the types of decisions made – they’ve observed four types of decisions : big-bet decisions, cross-cutting decisions, delegated decisions and ad hoc decisions.
Decision-making, like many other things in life, require deliberate practice. More importantly, it also requires quiet reflection post-decisions so that thinking and actions can be reviewed for betterment. Decisions need to be tracked, feedback on decisions need to be sought so that relevant parties can take a look at both decisions made and the manner in which they are made.
Ultimately, good decisions are borne of experience and much as we don’t want to admit, many of these experiences are the result of bad decisions which we come to learn from.
I wish people could understand that the brain is the most important organ of our body. Just because you can’t see mental heath issues like you could see a broken bone, doesn’t mean it’s not as detrimental or devastating to a family or an individual.
Mental Health: The Facts
Mental health should be treated as a primary concern to us, as individuals, as much as it should be to organisations around the world. The reasons for this are quite simple, yet heart-breaking, in many ways. As Natasha Bach commented in her Fortune.com article, illness in the workplace is more common than you might think.
As WHO (World Health Organisation) articulates, more than 300 million people suffer from depression (a leading cause of disability) and a recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$1 trillion annually in lost productivity.
Depression is an illness that not only debilitates, but also causes huge productivity losses at work.
Allow those staggering numbers to sit with you for a while.
Let’s take a look at two Malaysian stories that made headlines recently. First, a 15 year old girl who was supposed to take her PT3 examination and was found dead at her apartment block in Penang – she had fallen to her death from her 11th floor unit, leaving behind four letters. It’s not the first time we have heard of similar incidents and yes, children too are subject to and have to manage stress. Second, a manager at a reputable telco was suspended after a video of her flaring up at employees went viral on social media.
In both these situations, mental health was obviously in question. Whether the parties involved were under significant pressure and stress or facing untold challenges, the end result was horrific. Further, what is even more compelling about this, is that situations like these do not only affect the person in question – it affects all those around – colleagues, subordinates, leaders and families.
What Can Employers Do?
As organisations, what are we supposed to do and what can we do? As it turns out, a lot.
As organisations, we do have certain responsibilities towards the people who work for us, but it is a quid pro quo situation. Our people devote the best hours of their days to us and in return, we treat them as they deserve to be treated. We support, we mentor, we teach, and generally, we help our talent to do the best job they can so that we, as organisations, are able to drive forward, achieve our targets and deliver the products and services we believe in.
Employers can provide counseling for workers at risk of mental health issues. Peer support programs can make a world of difference for an employee coping with mental health issues.
Mental health is one of the things organisations need to pay attention to because work takes up so much of our time, energy and resources.
First, in tangible terms, it takes up a third of our day at the very least, assuming an eight hour day. But many of us work much longer hours, both officially when we stay longer or work weekends as well as unofficially, when we are answering phone calls, emails or text messages late into the night or bringing our work home.
Second, harassment and bullying at work are commonly reported and these can have a significant and adverse impact on mental health.
Third, the idea of mental health check-ups, which were raised some time ago but didn’t receive significant traction then, has been raised once again. Much of this is coming out of both the UK and the US and the goal is integrating mental health care into physical health care.
As L. Casey Chosewood, director of the Office for Total Worker Health at NIOSH said, “The best companies invest in the health and well-being of their workers throughout the day. Workers bring that additional health back to the job the next morning in the form of increased productivity, decreased injury and illness risk, decreased health care spending, and more engagement with their work.”
What’s Holding Us Back?
It all makes perfect sense. However, organisations around the world still struggle with getting this right. There are so many risk factors for mental health within the work environment. A great part of it relates to the interactions between people and the interactions between the different types of work. Some of relates to the organisational culture and managerial environment. Some of it relates to the competencies people bring to their roles, the expectations managers may have of them and very importantly, the work that organisations do as a whole to support the employee in carrying out their work. All of these factors, and likely, the combination of these factors have a profound impact of mental health.
A lack of understanding and communication breakdowns at work can worsen an already precarious situation when it comes to mental health. Managers and co-workers must practice empathy and listening to contribute to a more receptive culture in the workplace.
Mental health is also affected by the communication and management practices, how much autonomy people feel they have over their work, the quality of work they are tasked with and how the work they do relates to the wider organisational objectives.
In reality, organisations understand the need for a healthy work environment, but they can sometimes place unreal and unreasonable pressures on their people in their drive to lower costs, increase profitability or manage stakeholder expectations. It has become so commonplace in business today that the organisation that takes a more reasonable stand, who does not put profit over people and who takes a more holistic approach stands out.
To take a positive and proactive stand would involve taking a closer look at the culture within, what does not seem to be working and why. It involves a degree of transparency and honesty to come to terms with what is wrong within an organisation and then taking the necessary steps to fix the problem at its root. We do this for the well-known economic impact it will have but also because we owe it to our people. If we show them we care and have their interest at heart, then we are working in unison and together towards a single common goal.
World Mental Health Day is observed on the 10th of October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health.
The employee experience is about the entire journey – every touchpoint, every interaction of an employee’s time spent within an organisation. For many Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers, this may take place over the course of years, if not decades but for many folks today, it may be a period of months or a few short years. Nevertheless, it is still about the journey.
This begs the question, if we can positively impact the employee experience (EE), if we can create memorable experiences, do these not make a difference in their lives and the work they create? Yes, of course it does.
Crafting a positive employee experience involves the entire journey an employee will go through.
Organisational Structures Need to Change
Perhaps, that is the reason why EE has become such a trend. Jacob Morgan talks about the emergence of roles like “Global Chief Employee Experience Officer” or “Head of Employee Experience”. Denise Lee Yohn, in her Forbes article, talks about 2018 being the year of employee experience. What does all this mean?
It is recognition of the clear correlation between frontline engagement, customer service, productivity, performance as well as revenue growth. This affects all employees – candidates, contingent workers as well as alumni. With this correlation must come the shift in our approach from instructional design to experience design. When it comes to experiences, organisations have long held the view that it is about the employee fitting into the organisational culture. It has long been about how we need to get our people aligned to our organisational objectives.
Employee Experience is Built By Your People
But work has meaning not just for the organisation but for the people within. Work brings meaning to our lives, helping us connect the individual tasks we accomplish with the greater goals we work to achieve. As such, organisations need to come half way, realising that it is incumbent upon them to meet the employee at the middle. We, as organisations, need to not just fit employees into our organisational culture. These employees create the very culture itself. When we talk about learning and development, our goal should no longer be about finding out what’s missing in the employee toolkit but rather, asking them what they would like to learn. Our goal should be as Josh Bersin puts it, “to deliver learning to where people are”.
“Employees create the very culture itself.” Get your people aligned to shared organisational objectives.
The focus is on the employee. It is not about what we want from them on their first day, for example. Rather, it is about asking what we’d want their first day to be like. The difference is subtle yet palpable.
In the Deloitte 2017 Report, Reimagine and Craft the Employee Experience: Design Thinking in Action, there is clear reference to the need for design thinking to come front and centre, with 3 principles being fundamental to effectively engaging the workforce.
Principle One – Empathise
The first principle is empathy – that empathy helps you see things differently, allowing you to create different experiences which can have varying levels of engagement. As you move up in your career, you will notice less focus and importance placed on your technical ability and far more focus on those skills that really matter – the ability to influence, to listen well, to empathise, to connect, to collaborate and to lead. This is why empathy matters.
It is a skill that allows us to understand, to share and connect with others in terms of what they see, hear and feel. In other words, it allows us to step into the shoes of another. How are we to effect change, to solve problems, to think up new solutions if we only ever see things from our own narrow world-view? This is why empathy is the first of five blocks in Ideo’s Design Thinking Framework.
Principle Two – Envision
The second principle is about stepping outside ourselves because to envision, we must generate a variety of options and see how these can become potential solutions. It is about understanding that we need not be limited into thinking that there is only the one way forward or a zero-sum game.
Principle Three – Experiment
The third principle is experimentation. In another word, testing, where you collect both qualitative and quantitative data so that you are data-driven. You get closer and closer to a more meaningful evaluation of your problem. This helps you come up with solutions that are more targeted.
We worry that that AI and increased automation will take away many jobs. Yes, it will but at the same time, it will free us to do more meaningful and valuable work. The kind of work that matters. If we want that to grow, to develop further, to manifest in a variety of ways previously unimagined, then we need to craft the kind of employee experiences that touch us in more ways than one.
You’ve worked nights for many days this month and at least three weekends in a row on a big project. You’ve shown the commitment and done the time but Peter, the project manager, has called you for a meeting and has started pointing out some errors you made and the things he is not happy with. Here’s the difference between feedback, and feedforward coaching.
Nobody likes to hear about their mistakes. The same goes to the person giving the sometimes necessary negative feedback.
Don’t they know how hard you’ve been working? Doesn’t it matter?
Naturally, you’re not happy with Peter’s focus on what does not work, even though he did sandwich the criticism between two positive comments. The good didn’t seem to matter. Why can’t he see all the work you’ve put in and recognise that?
This is the problem with feedback.
Feedback is typically focused on the past and mostly, on what is not working. Managers do not like to provide feedback and faced with the situation, would often sandwich negative feedback between two positive ones. The problem with that is that it has the tendency to reduce the impact of what needs to be said and often enough, comes across inauthentic.
Most of the time, negative feedback is sugarcoated, which can diminish the intended effect and create an environment of misunderstanding.
Looking back or looking forward?
The focus on the past also leaves you feeling disempowered. It has already happened and there’s nothing you can do to change that which naturally brings up a host of negative emotions – you feel helpless, upset, frustrated and uncertain as to how to move ahead.
The question you have to ask yourself is, “Are most people raised to accept criticism well?” You only have to look inward and realise from your own reactions and behaviour that criticism is hard to take. We see criticism as a threat, we get defensive and we react or hit back verbally (sometimes physically).
What’s the point?
The entire point of criticism is to learn from the past and change what we can about future actions. But if people are focused on the wrong things, then everyone loses. The manager does not get a person who has learnt from his mistake and that person is bound to repeat the mistake because he knows what is wrong but not necessarily what is right and what works.
As Joe Hirsch, author of The Feedback Fix : Dump the Past, Embrace the Future and Lead the Way to Change shares, there are three reasons why feedback does not work. First, it shuts down our mental dashboards – i.e. it becomes all about our emotional state and reactivity to what is upon us. Second, it focuses more on ratings than on development. This feels more like a test than a way to improve what we are doing. Finally, feedback reinforces negative behaviour because the focus is on what has happened.
So what can we do when feedback does not work? Here’s a hint: go forward!
This is where feedforward comes in as a bright and workable alternative to giving feedback. Feedforward is future-focused by allowing people to pay attention to what they can do differently in the future. It’s not only about what happened but what can be learnt and then adapted moving forward. It is positive, provides background information and options, makes suggestions for improvement and focuses on developing the person, not just rating them.
It also becomes less about feedback and more about coaching. By involving the person in the feedback loop, he becomes an active participant in the process, thus enabling him to feel more in control. As Marcia Reynolds explained in her article, Why Feedback Doesn’t Work, and What To Do Instead, people want “conversations that pull their ideas out and have their eyes opened to greater possibilities they could explore, not one-way directives focused on what they did wrong”.
Kevin Kruse, NY Times bestselling author (latest book, Employee Engagement 2.0) talks distinctly about feedforward coaching as a great tool for creating a more engaged workforce, specifically that it is a continuous process focused on future performance and career pathing. Engagement is then tied to growth.
How should you start?
- Focus on goals, not standards. This means articulating these at the start and being very clear in your communication about what is expected;
- Let the coaching include career guidance so that you focus on the skills, experience and expertise the individual needs to build upon to do their job.
- Anytime, all the time. Do not limit it to an annual review or set time. The more times these two way communication channels are open, the better the communication of expectations, of problems and issues that need addressing.
In the end, through active participation and a clear focus on the end objectives, you, your peers and managers can come to the realisation that feedforward presents the better alternative.
SelfDrvn, an all-in-one tech platform to retain, reward and engage talent, has become the first Malaysian company to be featured in the Gartner Hype Cycle! SelfDrvn was listed as a vendor in the Worker Engagement Platform category for the 2018 Hype Cycle for the Digital Workplace.
What is the Gartner 2018 Hype Cycle Report?
Gartner’s annual Hype Cycle measures the maturity and adoption rates of various technologies and provides insight into how relevant they are in solving business problems. The Hype Cycle helps you discern the hype from what is commercially viable by providing a graphical representation of the maturity and adoption of technologies and applications. This helps you discover how one technology or application can evolve over time.
Previous Hype Cycle for the Digital Workplace, 2017. Source: Gartner
Each Hype Cycle drills down into 5 key phases of a technology’s life cycle, namely:
- Innovation Trigger;
- Peak of Inflated Expectations;
- Trough of Disillusionment;
- Slope of Enlightenment; and finally,
- Plateau of Productivity.
By mapping out the technology against the different phases of its life-cycle, stakeholders and potential investors can then decide how soon to get on board, how to reduce risk on their tech investment decisions and compare the investment against potential business value.
The Hype Cycle for the Digital Workspace report includes suggestions for potential advancements and suggestions for best-fit solutions and vendors.
SelfDrvn, sample Vendor in the Worker Engagement Platform category
This year, SelfDrvn was listed as a vendor in the Worker Engagement Platform category with the following metrics:
Benefit Rating : High
Market Penetration : 1 – 5 percent of target audience
Maturity : Emerging
Worker Engagement Platforms are designed to boost employee engagement and motivation by providing positive worker experiences. Behavioural economics and positive psychology represent some of the focus areas in order to maximise worker adoption.
Gartner’s VP of research and HR tech Ron Hanscome explains – these platforms are designed to incorporate various disciplines such as gamification, corporate social responsibility, social recognition tools as well as industry-specific workforce management solutions. The aims are simple – increase engagement and performance by looking at elements such as recommendations, mindfulness and connecting through purpose.
Multiple activities are supported such as regular feedback, coaching, competition, team or social activities, personalisation as well as social recognition. Game-style mechanics help to increase adoption in general. Worker engagement with the platform is, therefore, quite high thanks to these activities. Consequently, workers provide more input and feedback on work-related factors. Among other things, they can discuss work schedules, best practices and working conditions, thus providing real-time feedback on their engagement level.
Worker engagement platforms are an emerging aspect of the current digital workplace. As employees are increasingly mobile and on-line, such platforms reach out to the evolving needs of the workforce today.
Strong correlation between engagement and business impact
Employee engagement correlates very strongly with business performance as indicated by numerous studies by Gartner, Gallup, Hay, Willis Towers Watson and more. Worker motivation and engagement are critical in any work environment especially when innovation, creativity and cross-collaboration is called upon. Disciplines such as neuroscience, behavioural economics and positive psychology, when embedded in these platforms, teach us a great deal about motivating individuals.
Organisations today should have a strong focus on employee engagement in the workplace. Ron Hanscome suggests that by investigating and piloting some of the tools and techniques showcased, organisations can come to their own decisions about the strengths and weaknesses of these different tools fitting into their individual organisational culture and context. As these solutions are still emerging, there is no commonly defined feature set. The use of leading design practices such as the use of personas or worker journey mapping will help ensure functionality improvement and better worker experiences.
SelfDrvn was established in 2015 by our CEO, Lam Mun Choong — an entrepreneur with a background in software engineering and a passion for understanding human sciences. Our mission is to enable a world where employee wellbeing is the key to company success. We want to help companies develop a thriving workplace culture that can build great employee engagement, recognition, retention and performance. So we’ve designed a SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) platform that can help organisations improve engagement with their employees and customers through effective communication, gamification and behavioral analytics. Our product is part technology, part psychology, and part process. We believe that positive empowerment and people-centred strategies are the keys to building a successful business.
Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.
The Gartner Peer Insights Logo is a trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc., and/or its affiliates, and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.
Gartner – “9 Questions That Should Be in Every Employee Engagement Survey”
Gartner – “Hype Cycle For the Digital Workplace, 2018”
Gallup – “How Employee Engagement Drives Growth”
Willis Towers Watson – “The Power of Three – Taking Engagement to New Heights”