Corporate Life Is a Pressure Cooker Right Now
Everyone in your organization, from the very top to the bottom, is facing new challenges and enormous amounts of pressure. This is especially true for marketing, sales, and service teams.
As a leader, you’re likely being asked to produce results with significantly fewer resources than you’ve had in the past. And you’re having to lead forward into a reality where all the constants in your planning seem to be variables.
You’re probably having to find new ways to manage in a remote work environment. You’re trying your best to lead your people by motivating them to give extra effort. You’re striving to empower your top-performers while managing those who are falling behind. Let’s face it… that’s a lot.
But it’s not just leaders feeling the pressure. Employees are feeling further removed from what’s going on. They’re wondering what discussions are happening at the senior level, how your company is really doing, and where they stand in the midst of all of it.
All of this uncertainty has made employees incredibly anxious. The constant pressure and uncertainty is a catalyst for drift and disengagement.
Anxiety in uncertain times can be managed for a season (if employees trust the leader). But this isn’t just a season of disruption that’s taking place. We’re in a state of constant evolution. We’re operating in uncharted territory where it seems like the only constant is our uncertainty about the future.
This constant uncertainty has a tremendous effect on the psyche of our teams. Some are continuing to grind and achieve. Many are struggling to find the motivation to get through the day. Most are feeling disconnected at some level.
As a leader, the drift and disengagement created by uncertainty is something you can’t afford to ignore.
Your team is the only shot you have at making your number this quarter—and the quarter after that. You may not be able to control whether a prospect signs a contract, but you can influence your sales team that is directly responsible for closing that deal. You may not be able to force the result, but you can impact the biggest contributor to the result.
Optimizing your team in a chaotic environment is the leading indicator of your financial future.
Course-Correct Your Culture Now… Before It’s Too Late
For years, company culture has been about all of the external factors that motivate employees. We’ve focused on creating a “kumbaya experience” where everyone gets along.
In times like these, culture has to be more than a philosophical approach for making employees happy. If the initiatives we took to motivate employees had worked, why are we dealing with all of our current issues created by drifting and disengaged employees?
Creating a powerful culture that optimizes your talent and prevents drift and disengagement is about getting the right people together, working on the right projects, and remaining focused on the right outcomes.
When you think about culture in this way, it becomes your insurance policy against drift & disengagement. It provides a clear path for optimizing your talent. It creates a way for you to measure the effectiveness of your teams. And it empowers you to know exactly how to activate the most expensive line item in your budget… your people.
How Much Is Employee Drift and Disengagement Costing You?
If your employees are your most expensive line item and you’re not empowering them to be successful as much as you possibly can, you’re essentially wasting money.
Exactly what kind of impact does employee drift and disengagement create?
According to a Gallup poll, disengaged employees have 18 percent lower productivity and 15 percent lower profitability. When that translates into dollars, you're looking at the cost of 34 percent of a disengaged employee's annual salary, or $3,400 for every $10,000 they make. (Source)
Disengaged employees have always been an issue for leaders and managers. But in this age of disruption—when many employees are working remotely and dealing with new levels of anxiety—the level of disengagement and drift is at an all-time high.
This creates drift and disengagement at scale and comes with some unintended consequences if left unchecked.
A single drifting employee can be managed. But today’s environment has created a level of disengagement in nearly every employee. This has a cascading effect that can paralyze your organization.
If you have your team members focused on the wrong things, the whole team suffers. For example, if you have a sales leader who is wired to hunt for new business, you wouldn’t want her focused on trying to retain current customers. Simultaneously, putting a sales leader who is more comfortable cultivating relationships over time might get frustrated if you shift his priorities to making cold calls all day.
Drifting employees are like small cracks that can cause the same amount of damage to your organization over time.
They don’t make the extra phone call, don’t bring the same level of energy. These things may be impossible to quantify, but they make all the difference in the long-term results of your business
The Loss of Good Talent
It’s not just under-performing team members who drift. Do you know many of your top performers might be looking for new jobs right now? And if they’re not proactively looking, there are certainly head hunters who are searching for them.
If your top performers are frustrated by the tasks they’re given, the unrealistic expectations they’re being asked to meet, or the lack of support they’re getting from other team members -- there might not be a dollar amount that could keep them from leaving if a company with a healthier environment comes along.
Massive Employee Turnover Rates
With all of this disruption, it’s not unrealistic to think that a mass exodus of employees is on the horizon.
Some employees are just “hanging on” until things settle down enough to find a new opportunity. Others are actively searching for a new job. There could likely be a time in the near future where we see a large number of employees decide to leave, especially if your culture isn’t focused on helping them thrive.
I could share countless statistics about the cost of employee turnover, but at the end of the day, if you don’t have people to execute their roles, you’re not going to hit your goals.
All of these risks are real. They change the conversation about culture from “everyone getting along and liking each other” to "everyone is rowing in the same direction." Unfortunately, most of the books and resources about culture haven’t equipped you to address these specific issues.
Where We’ve Gotten it Wrong...
As a leader, it’s important to recognize when your culture has gotten off-course. That’s the only way you can correct it. But what if I told you that you’re not to blame for employee drift? What if the way we’ve been taught about creating culture or motivating employees was wrong?
I believe the real reason so many companies are struggling to navigate the complexities of today’s uncharted territories is that their leaders haven’t been equipped with the actionable information and resources.
The resources we’ve been given to build dream teams aren’t actionable.
We have more resources and assessments to understand our employees than ever before.
But more assessments don’t seem to be the answer. You can know if your employee is an ENFJ, High I and Low C, 7 on the enneagram, the color blue, and an otter. But how does knowing that translates into growth?
You’ve probably read a lot of stuff on culture, watched a lot of TED talks, and listened to multiple keynotes. Unfortunately, most of those insights and ideas aren’t actionable. And if it’s not actionable, it’s not helpful.
We’ve been focusing on the wrong motivation factors.
Most of the resources around corporate culture focus on things like recognition and creating a positive work environment. But if those things solved the problem, why do we still have so many issues?
In many cases, it's the issues under the surface that impact employee engagement. The small cracks deepen over time. It’s when a marketing manager gets frustrated because he is asked to work on the wrong type of project. It’s when a business development director burns out because she is asked to manage employees rather than close deals.
It isn’t the lack of a Thanksgiving potluck or ping-pong table in the breakroom that makes employees want to quit; it’s the frustrations that develop when employees are asked to work on the wrong projects, are placed on the wrong teams, or are given responsibilities that make them feel like they’re drowning rather than thriving.
We aren’t equipping managers with the resources they need to lead people effectively.
The final reason most companies experience culture drift is that they don’t equip those who are leading people with valuable insights about their teams. Most managers are ill-equipped to effectively lead their teams. As a result, they end up leading with their gut and trying to motivate their teams based on their own methods of motivation.
As a result, most managers have either spent the past few months beating their heads against the wall trying to figure out how to motivate employees or they’ve been beating down their employees with tactics that create even deeper levels of drift and disengagement.
It’s Time to Course-Correct
The good news is you can course-correct your culture. There is a better way to lead people, prevent drift and disengagement, and empower employees to thrive.
But it isn’t going to happen with broad stroke initiatives. It’s going to require us to rethink the way we lead people, ensure top performers don’t leave, and redeploy under-performers so they’re in the right roles.
What if we stopped treating disengaged people as simply a threat to your team’s weekly productivity and started treating them like the key leading indicator of current and future revenue over the next fiscal year?
What if we stopped trying to pressure our employees into achieving their goals and instead focused on elevating the genius of every employee by giving them tasks that are ideal for how they are wired?
You’re in the perfect position to course-correct your culture and change your team’s trajectory.
Your culture won’t fix itself. Your people won’t magically move into the right roles and focus on the right projects, especially if they’re already drifting. It’s your job as a leader to help them do that.
You can either put energy and resources towards designing your dream teams - getting the right people, in the right roles, focused on the right projects -- or you can spend 10X the amount of energy and resources trying to turn things around after employees drift or disengage.
As the leader, that decision is yours to make.
Ben Stroup is Chief Growth Architect and President at Velocity Strategy Solutions where he helps leaders design, develop, and deploy smarter business growth strategies. Ben is a futurist, disruptor, and data champion. He leads a team that takes a structured learning approach to business challenges, which allows them to assist leaders in bridging the gap between ideas, innovation, and revenue—taking ideas from mind to market.
Velocity Strategy Solutions is an on-demand, next-generation business strategy and management consulting firm which provides clients with a relentless focus on data, execution, and results that positively impact the bottom line. Velocity delivers integrated people and revenue strategies combined with a disciplined approach to growth architecture that elevates the capacity of leaders, teams, and organizations to succeed and win more.