Tag Archives: discretionary effort

Does your company have a helping culture?


As mentioned in previous posts employee engagement and discretionary effort are the current holy grail for many organisations.

And leaders can contribute by encouraging helping behaviour. One of the hallmarks of a top-performing company is that people help each other to get the best performance.

Organisational psychologists call this “citizenship behaviour” without which companies, which are complex with competing demands for time, loyalty, and team input v individual effort, would not function as effectively as they might with strict boundaries and rules.

A design firm called IDEO was the subject of a case study in the Harvard Business Review earlier this year. A key element of the culture there is “collaborative help”.

It is an organisation of knowledge workers tackling complex problems and the authors of the study discovered a number of key elements.

Leadership conviction that collaborative help works. The CEO Tim Brown says “the more complex the problem the more help you need”.

But promoting helping is not enough. The other side of the coin is that workers sometimes need a sounding board for their ideas so they need to be okay about asking for help without seeming incompetent.

The culture of the organisation at IDEO embedded the helping idea. Research showed that 89% of employees showed up in the top 5 helpers for everyone in the organisation and almost every person was named as a helper by at least one other person.

These helper friendly organisations are more efficient even though they build slack into the system. This is to enable access to potential helpers.

People in one office were asked to name the 5 colleagues who had helped them most and rate them along with a randomly chosen non-helper on three attributes. These were competence, trust, and accessibility.

Trust and accessibility were more important than competence in the helpfulness ratings.

To read the whole story check out “IDEO’s Culture of Helping”  by Amabile, Fisher, and Pillemer in HBR January-February 2014.


Performance Reviews still decimating staff


Thanks to Stephan Bevan  at the Work Foundation writing in HR Magazine this month I learned that forced distribution performance reviews aren’t a thing of the past and are alive and well.

He wonders why – in a world where top management talks about employee engagement and discretionary effort (i.e. getting something for nothing from your staff).

Companies are still using this kind of performance review where the bottom 10% are destined for the chop via a performance improvement plan (PIP) or by being “performance managed” – usually out of the company.

Apparently it’s not so common now in the USA because of legal challenges (Jack Welch would be unhappy about those) but is on the increase in the UK.

Yahoo talks about quarterly performance reviews, General Electric calls it the “vitality curve” (presumably if you’re not vital you’re out). The Civil Service call it “expected” or “guided distribution“.

The bottom line is that a manager can have a really high performing team but has to put 10% of them into “special measures” as Ofsted would say – even though they might all have exceeded their targets!

As Bevan says this approach is toxic. And generally performance review systems don’t work, and are based on faulty scientific thinking around distribution curves. Staff themselves aren’t happy with being rated average because they met the targets they were expected to.

We may not have decimation in its original sense viz 1 in 10 roman soldiers killed by their colleagues as a punishment for the whole cohort showing cowardice or disobeying orders, but we do have 360 feedback!


Do family firms have more loyal employees?

Having once worked for a family owned business I was intrigued by the headlines about family firms having happier or more satisfied employees than other forms of enterprise.

When I read more on the research carried out by Stanley Siebert, a professor of labour economics at the University of Birmingham, it seemed to be measuring loyalty – but perhaps loyal employees are happier and more satisfied.

Anyway the survey of 20,00 employees in over 2,000 companies found that 28% of employees strongly agreed that they felt loyal compared with 22% in other organisations and 26% felt they had job security compared with 20% elsewhere.

This is apparently statistically significant. So whilst the figures are higher for family firms it’s still not a very encouraging picture overall is it? And doesn’t it also mean that 62% didn’t feel very loyal and 74% felt they didn’t have job security? 

So the headlines could have read: “Fewer than 1/3 of employees in family firms feel loyal”. And why should this be?

According to the survey staff employed in family firms:

  • have less job security and little protection from redundancies (only 7% of these companies have “no redundancy” policies)
  • work almost a day longer (5.5 hours) each week than employees in the public and private sectors (who average just under 33 hours a week)
  • aren’t paid any more than employees working elsewhere
  • have no or little Trades Union support (only 3% membership compared with 33% in private sector and 50% in public sector)
  • don’t receive much formal training (it’s mostly on-the-job)

Despite this the report claims that staff in family owned business are proud to say who they work for, feel more valued, are closer to the decision-making, and share the values of the company.

These companies are reported to have inclusive management practices and encourage the expectation of long-term employment (but don’t guarantee it – and job tenure is actually shorter than elsewhere).

Research at Warwick University demonstrated that happy workers are more productive so if companies can get employees better aligned with the company’s goals they will probably get more discretionary effort from them ie they will go the extra mile.

But note these are not your typical SMEs. The report was commissioned by the Unquoted Companies Group which includes companies such as Clarks shoes and JCB. Doubtless these are reputable companies but the group has lobbied parliament in the past opposing the growth of EU employment protection legislation and the working time directive.

Back to the future work-wise

As if it’s not enough that the world of work is increasingly polarised by differences in earnings between the board room and the shop floor, UK managers are now being accused of being lazy and lacking a work ethic.

Ratan Tata, super-rich boss of the Tata Group which owns Corus and Jaguar Land Rover,  says that “in my experience nobody is prepared to go the extra mile, nobody”.

He went on to say that people weren’t happy about being in meetings that went on until 1800 when they had trains to catch and that on Fridays everybody cleared off at 1530. “In India if you are in a crisis you work until midnight. At JLR the worker is willing to do that but the management is not”. According to Tata these things don’t happen in China or Indonesia, Thailand or Singapore.

He then acknowledged that the new management team is different and does call meetings at 1700 (so why make the comments in the first place at a time when Corus is cutting 1,500 jobs in the North-East and a further 1,200 jobs are at risk?). UK managers may no longer claim to be working the longest hours, but it’s not uncommon for UK managers to be working at least 60 hours a week with all the health risks that entails. Most managers I know would love a better work-life balance.

Tata’s comments have been roundly criticised by the TUC and the British Chamber of Commerce whose director-general said “this is not a world I recognise… business owners and managers have been working all hours to get the job done. Nine-to-five is not part of the British culture”. Perhaps what is more worrying is that Tata is a member of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group, co-chairman of the UK-India CEO forum, and close to David Cameron.

The GMB National Secretary suggested that “Mr Tata should make sure he employs the proper people to make managers come up to the standards of the workers” and there were numerous letters to the press from hard pressed managers working long hours and then taking work home, consultants arguing for better productivity, and someone from India pointing out that managers in India have maids to look after their children and drivers to get them home, complaining about his comments. And perhaps he is forgetting that leadership starts at the top?

But he’s not the only boss criticising the workers lately. Andrew Rodda, Operations Director at the UK’s largest clotted cream manufacturer where they pay just above the minimum wage, was one of the delegates at the Institute of Directors’ annual convention who was critical of the TUC’s call for pay rises to stimulate the economy. He told the Observer that he thought people wasted too much of their hard-earned salaries – on things like holidays. Rodda, who has boasted in the past of his three holidays a year, thought that rather than pay workers more “there’s more to be gained from teaching employees how to manage their money more effectively than giving them more money to mismanage”.

Cornwall is one of the least affluent areas in England with average full-time earnings of £9.83 an hour compared with the national average of £12.63. Needless to say his comments provoked ire from many quarters not least the TUC which described the comments as a throwback to Victorian days.

If Rodda’s really want to control what workers spend their money on perhaps they should reintroduce paying their workers in tokens as in days of old in the Cornish tin mines. In many industries such tokens could only be redeemed at company shops where prices were often higher than elsewhere. (The practice was outlawed by the Truck Acts in the 19C).

And if employers really want to turn the clock back and cut the number of holidays employees are entitled to they could adopt the idea of holiday dismemberment. Bosses in Shanghai told workers that they had to work as usual on a Chinese national holiday on May 2. The managers revealed a scheme for compensating the workers which they called holiday dismemberment. Instead of receiving another day off in lieu the workers would receive a series of mini-holidays spread over the year.

The 8 hour shift, of 480 minutes, would be spread over the 252 days of the year “allowing staff to enjoy two minutes of holiday every day”. Staff were understandably unimpressed. The idea apparently came from a Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido. and it is not clear whether the idea is actually illegal. So remember when Tata says that we should be more like companies in the Far East what you might be faced with.

We are suffering a recession, due in part to reckless bankers who have been unaffected, and everyone is either working harder or making do on less income – if they still have a job. To suggest we revert to these ideas and working practices is suicidal. Workers have long memories and there will come a time when loyalty or lack of it will be repaid. What we need now is effective leadership and strong employee engagement, not 3rd world labour practices.

Updated 26 May 2011: Tata has just announced that profits have tripled. JLR made over £1billion pre-tax profit last year and saw revenue rise by over 50%.