Last year, a Gallup survey on the “State of the American Workplace” found that only 30% of the U.S. workforce is engaged. What role must HR play in this crisis of workforce disengagement?
Back to the basics
As described in a previous post, the basic facts on employee motivation have been fairly well known since 1968 as revealed in on one of the all-time classic Harvard Business Review articles titled “One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” by Frederick Herzberg.
His research showed that the set of factors that dissatisfy employees are separate and distinct from the factors that create satisfaction. The growth or motivation factors that are intrinsic to the job are: achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and advancement. These factors are tied to the job content.
The dissatisfaction-avoidance factors are extrinsic to the job and are found in the job environment. They include: company policy, supervision, interpersonal relationships, working conditions, salary, status, and security. As the Gallup survey observed, “indulging employees is no substitute for engaging them.”
Unfortunately, environmental factors that titillate are far easier to address than the intrinsic factors that motivate. But that is akin to putting lipstick on a pig. Little wonder then that a majority of the workforce is either uninspired or actively disengaged?
Failing grade for HR
Corporate Leadership Council’s 2006 research report titled “Defining Critical Skills of Human Resources Staff,” based on a survey of chief human resources officers at nearly 200 organizations, had found that few CEOs saw the function as strategically important, or as meeting performance expectations.
It is debatable whether that perspective has changed much in the last few years, and that is what presents HR an opportunity to shine in two key areas:
Strategy Formulation: Strategy is the company’s modus operandi for dealing with future challenges. If HR doesn’t fully understand the strategy, how can it help shape it? How can it guide the company in that direction? It is incumbent on HR to understand the strategy, and more importantly, its implications as they relate to determining how employees will align with the changing business priorities.
- What organizational structure will be best suited to accomplish the objectives?
- How can the work itself be designed and organized to maximize intrinsic motivation?
- What HR policies will be more effective than others?
In short, as Herzberg puts it: “How do you install a generator in an employee?”
Strategy Implementation: In many organizations having a feel-good mid-winter meeting in Arizona creates a false sense of security that strategic planning can be accomplished in a two-day powwow.
Again, HR has an important function to perform in advising business executives on the practicalities of implementation. HR is in a great position to inject reality by communicating employees’ existing capabilities and what it will take to bridge the gap to the future capabilities. HR can be the litmus test to see what kind of change management effort the company will need.
To accomplish these objectives, however, HR will need to take off the blinders and broaden its horizons about strategy formulation, data-driven recommendations, being consultative, change management, and communication. Instead of being seen in a tactical compliance role, HR must view itself in a strategic position of generating and sustaining commitment. HR should focus on being the bridge between the company and the employees’ intrinsic connection to their work.
Then, and only then, will HR be seen as a strategic partner rather than order-takers and invited to be at the head table.