Employee Engagement and Reviving What We’ve Forgotten

Joetta L. Wagner | | Change Management

employee engagement

Employee engagement thrives when everyone shares and works together. If we re-learn what we knew as children, we can improve employee communications.

It’s the Little Ones Who can Teach us About Employee Engagement and Teamwork

If you’ve ever been around toddlers and kindergartners, you’ll notice a few things. There’s a lot of curiosity about how things work. They’re completely absorbed in play, whether it’s a game like “Duck, Duck, Goose,” using crayons in a coloring book or singing. In an article Preschool Academics: Learning What Comes Naturally, David Elkind, Professor emeritus of Child Development at Tufts University, notes the following about children at play: “Play is simply shorthand for our capacity for curiosity, imagination, and fantasy — our creative dispositions. What makes play unique is that it enables us to create new learning experiences.”

So…when we’re children, we play, which helps us learn and even innovate. When we’re adults…play is only recreational. Learning seems to be relegated to the “tedious” category – right up there with team-building activities. And innovation? For many, a distant dream.

Play & Innovation

That’s a shame. Because play – releasing our imaginations, leaping into new activities fearlessly, indulging a sense of curiosity – can easily be the lynchpin in our professional lives to achieve stellar outcomes. It was shown that Robert Fulghum’s poem and essay All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten really does apply to the workplace. Babies learn how to swim in classes with a parent. Young ones share and help one another. Adventures are more fun with a group. So what happens to us, that we lose the sense of wonder and awe that impels us as children to explore and innovate? We grow up. And that’s not necessarily a good thing for employee engagement.

employee communications software

According to Forbes magazine, innovation is a principal that motivates many companies, and they aren’t necessarily the ones you expect to see. The top five are:

  • ServiceNow – a cloud computing company
  • Workday – an on-demand financial management and human capital management software
  • Salesforce.com – a cloud-based software company
  • Tesla – an automotive and energy organization building electric cars and solar panels
  • Amazon.com – the world’s largest the largest e-commerce marketplace and cloud computing platform

You might note that the top five innovative companies are heavily involved with IT – information technology. The technology is simply how innovations are expressed. The source for innovative thinking? The human psyche.

Psych-ee

In an article for Forbes, contributor Joe McKendrick notes that senior executives view their companies as innovative (90%), but the staff employees – especially those “in the trenches” perceive the opposite (60%) and only 26% of entry-level employees think their company fosters innovation. McKendrick cites an Ernst & Young survey which maps out the disconnect between upper-echelon executives and ordinary employees when it comes to innovation. Innovation is change. Change management is a term bandied about with frequency in the business world. If change leads to improving products, services, or internal communications issues like employee communications, why are organizations so resistant to change?

In a blog entitled Management is a Journey, Robert Tanner, MBA, observes that people don’t resist change for illogical reasons. In fact, there are eight understandable reasons people resist change:

  • The loss of status or job security
  • Reward systems that are poorly aligned within the company
  • Both surprise and fear of the unknown
  • Peer pressure
  • A climate of mistrust
  • Company politics
  • Fear of failure
  • Changes that are implemented tactlessly or at the wrong time

Resisting change is actually something we do from childhood on. When the preschooler says “No!” to everything, it’s because s/he can. That exclamation puts power into the child’s hands. And if you really think about it, the inklings of why adults resist change starts early. The above-mentioned eight reasons are just the adult version of that “No!”

So how can companies move forward to innovation as both the process and the pinnacle of its output? How can they innovate and bring new energy to their employee engagement efforts?

Go Back to the Beginning

Starting from Ground Zero doesn’t really apply, but recovering the innovative behaviors that children experience does. In 2008, Andreas Lloyd, a Danish community organizer, wrote a blog about what people lose when they become adults, as well as how to get it back. What he observes is that creativity and playfulness disappear as most people move from childhood to adulthood. To counterbalance that, via Zen Buddhism, is for a person to develop a beginner’s mind. In essence, it means a person should be open, eager, and have no preconceived notions about a subject. Which is how children approach something new – from a different game than they’ve ever played before, or how to build a spaghetti marshmallow tower higher, better and faster than MBA’s.

So what’s the lynchpin to the recovery of creativity and innovation? The Human Resources people. An Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4CP) report about transforming a company to one ripe with creativity and innovation and better employee engagement lists 10 activities HR can implement. They are:

Reward innovation via more engaging work and/or autonomy

  • Track innovation talent at both the college undergraduate and/or graduate level
  • Put in place a formalized or structured idea/innovation review process
  • Provide internal training in creativity and innovation practices
  • Put in place discrete budgets to fund innovation projects external to the enterprise (i.e. to generate ideas or products from non-employees)
  • Have a formal program to find and promote creative/innovative programs, products, or ideas
  • Tie individual bonuses and/or salary increases to innovation
  • Include innovation as a major competency in leadership development plans
  • Define and promote organizational values related to innovation
  • Use technology-enabled collaboration/social media tools to share knowledge

The only other thing that HR might need is a good source for milk and cookies.

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