Dennis BeaverMay 8, 2020 • By Dennis Beaver 

Note: This article was written before the country went into shut down.

While employment in the United States is at an historic high–with unemployment at one of the lowest levels ever seen–“Still something is wrong at work, there is a gnawing sense of employees feeling disconnected, not engaged,” observes Marcus Buckingham along with co-author Ashley Goodall in a just published must-read for employers, and management at all levels, “Nine Lies About Work,” subtitled, “A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World.”

For anyone who has sensed the futility of setting goals at the beginning of the year and the stress of being rated on these goals at year’s end, as the authors state, “along with the indignity of getting so-called candid feedback from a manager and the insult of being told we should crave it,” they deal head-on with what they term lies which seem embedded in so many companies, large and small.

 A Lack of Engagement Creates Unhappy Employees

“We do a terrible job of engaging our people. Engagement is that set of feelings and emotions that causes you to do your best work today and fulfilled enough to keep on doing it,” Buckingham points out.

These two global business researchers measured engagement, “by asking a few insightful questions, and we found only 16% of employees world-wide are engaged. About 84 percent are unhappy, just putting in the time. We are not good at building work places that engage people.

“Despite all the money, the technology, the good intentions about mission, vision, values, winning the talent war – none of this has led to an increase in per person productivity in 40 years, and to not one percentage point increase in engagement on the job around the world.”

Management Is Doing It Wrong – Does Not Want Individual Uniqueness

So, what explains this malaise, this inertia seemingly impossible to overcome?

“We have designed work places as though humans are not doing the work!” Buckingham replies, citing the example of health care, “Where it is common to find only one supervisor for 60 people in the health care area. The resulting consequences are that nurses have twice the percentage of PTSD than veterans. We burn our nurses out!

“If you are one of those 60 nurses, no one knows your name, what’s going on in your heart, your head, you are just not seen. How can one supervisor ever know what’s going with your spirit, your family?” he asks, adding, “Humans want to be paid attention to, but we build work structures where this does not happen, and build companies where human uniqueness is a problem to be fixed. 

“Almost all companies design work to create uniform outcomes, where differences are annoying. The goal is to remove uniqueness. It is Orwellian where your uniqueness–what makes you, you and your creativity–is irrelevant at work.”

The Remedy is Hiding in Plain Sight

So, how can management re-engage employees? The authors tackle this issue directly by observing that one remedy is hiding in plain sight: Teams! 
“Work happens in teams.  They rely on human uniqueness, dedicating themselves to each other and the task at hand. The power of teams needs to be valued, and so often it is not.”

Among a paint-by-the numbers steps management needs to consider, the authors list the following:

(1) Make teams your focus.  Become an expert on your best teams. Educate team leaders on how to run a team. It is money well spent.

(2) Study excellence – study what works. Don’t waste your time studying failure! You can’t remediate your way to excellence. Excellence is not the opposite of failure.  Will you learn about great marriage from studying divorce? No.

(3) Get rid of all cascaded goals coming down from on high. They are useless. Any goal set by someone else on you is an un-goal. The only criteria for a good goal is what you set for yourself and it doesn’t have to be measurable. But you must set it yourself. 

(4) Get rid of ratings! 86% of companies with over 100 employees use some type of rating to review their people. Someone is rating you, usually connected to goals.  The problem is that human beings are horribly unreliable raters of other human beings. Research shows that variations in my ratings of others reflects me, not the person rated.

(5) Realize that Performance Data is flawed, and this is a huge problem. You get promoted or fired because my evaluation of you reflects me and not you. Humans can’t reliably or accurately rate others.

“Nine Lies About Work” is a plea to clear the cobwebs from management philosophies that have simply failed. It is an engaging and truly, a touching read that you will have trouble putting down.     

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.