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Social Perspectives for the CTO: Engaging Tomorrow = Leadership Today

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Editor’s note: We first saw this blog at WayIn and asked Bryan Douglass to repost here. We believe the conclusions in this post are relevant to most organizations today, especially federal government organizatioins. – bg.

Times have been tough. Consumers lack comfort in spending and businesses are struggling for comfort without them. As a result, professional environments across the globe are experiencing new levels of stress, pushing those discomforts into the workplace… bringing the true damage of these struggles full circle as business owners and leaders find faith is failing not only amongst those they hope to serve, but also amongst the staff they hire to serve them.

The challenges of today have brought the importance of employee engagement – and the lack of knowledge surrounding this hot-button issue – back to the main stage. A recent study published by the Bureau of National Affairs suggests decreased productivity and increased turnover resulting of disengaged employees has cost American businesses over $11 billion over the last year. The Gallup Organization estimates this number jumps to $300 billion worldwide.

As you can imagine, an epidemic causing this much damage brings a few stories to the surface. We found three recent tales of professional hardship tied to employee engagement, each offering unique perspective of a unique scenario from a unique location… all supporting the same critical engagement lesson.

 

Ashleigh Patterson, a correspondent for Yahoo! Finance, offered this report on employee sentiment in Canada.Citing a recent report from Ipsos Reid, Patterson reports, “the majority of Canadians have little trust or confidence in the senior leadership of their organizations, causing the country’s workforce to appear disengaged and downright disgruntled.”

The Ipsos Reid study shows only 44% of Canadian employees expressed “confidence” in senior leaders. Piling on, Patterson adds results from the Canadian Management Centre suggesting only 40% of those employees trust what senior leaders say. Patterson also notes the Towers Watson study (one we’ve quoted several times on the Wayin blog) where results suggest 67% of Canadian workers aren’t fully engaged in their current positions due to insufficient support from their organizations.

Robert Longley took to the US Government pages of About.com with a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. Using data gathered in 2011 from the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, the GEO found employees at the Department of Homeland Security – one of the most renown and trusted departments in the US federal government – are struggling.

“DHS employees have 4.5% lower job satisfaction and 7.0% lower engagement in their work than other government workers… The survey shows the TSA’s airport security screeners are 13% unhappier and 14% less engaged with their jobs than TSA’s administrative office staff.”

Here’s the problem: the GAO report suggests TSA first started noticing this trend in 2006, five years prior to this 2011 study, and those challenges have since advanced, grown and continue to create additional challenges throughout the organization. “GAO found that despite having broad performance metrics in place to track and assess DHS employee morale on an agency-wide level, DHS does not have specific metrics within the action plans that are consistently clear and measurable.”

 

Eric Collins is the managing director of plastics manufacturer Nampak in London. He recently spoke at the Engage For Success event, using the opportunity to reach England’s business leaders and media, touting a stern message of change.

“I do believe there is a blockage caused by old-fashioned outdated businesses… Any business can create an engagement culture, not just the blue chip companies. It’s about changing leadership style and awareness and being open to all information available.”

Collins – joined by keynote speaker Archie Norman – used this event platform to encourage a simple message on behalf of disengaged staff: “I am not a human resource. I’m a human being.” Tanith Dodge, the HR director at Marks and Spencer, expounds: “This is not an HR issue, it’s not a survey, it’s about leadership, values, respect and praise.”

 

THE LESSON

In each of the stories above – whether we’re looking at the Great White North, on the other side of the pond, or in our own backyard – we find stable, established organizations who have recognized the importance of employee engagement with the means to identify, analyze and rectify almost any issue… and in all three cases, the problems persists.

They persist due to failures in leadership.

In our Canadian example, workers point a direct finger at lacking support from leadership as their cause of ongoing concern. Here in the States, the workforce suggests the problems are no secret, yet they march on (and possibly evolve) due to a lack of effort from those in power to institute change. On the Europe’s prominent island, progressive leaders are urging those from the old school to change their ways before this new generation of worker flees for a better way of business.

The lesson is clear. Employee engagement studies are wonderful for helping an organization recognize opportunity to improve… but the study is not the improvement, and it may influence improved employee engagement, the study will not make it a reality.

That job lies with leadership.

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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.