Two years ago we were on the eve of the deepest global economic plunge of the last 80 years. Financial capital, in the form of cold hard cash, quickly supplanted human capital as one of the most precious of all corporate resources. The new challenge wasn’t about thriving in a competitive market; it was about surviving a global market meltdown. No matter how much cash you had on the balance sheet, it didn’t feel like enough. And if you didn’t have enough cash you wouldn’t survive. To protect cash, most organizations shed human capital and in the US alone, somewhere between eight and ten million jobs were eliminated. Some number more were reduced. The employees remaining feared their job may be next, or felt the direct impact via a relative or friend’s loss. Understandably, employees took fewer risks and gave less of themselves to the organizations that demonstrated little apparent loyalty. If cash was the fuel and human capital the engine, then most companies ran leaner, and with reduced horsepower.
The economy is recovering, but the lingering impact of hobbled human capital is staggering. The Conference Board, an institution that’s operated at the intersection of economic, market and management knowledge for 90 years, reports that 22% of employed workers expect to leave their current job within the year. If you factor in the 1 in 10 workers that are currently unemployed then up to one third of the workforce will transfer their accumulated expertise, knowledge and capabilities to another company. The Conference Board also reports that 55% of all employees are dissatisfied with their current job. A recent Gallup poll corroborates the scale of the dissatisfaction with their report that over 70% of employees are “not engaged” or even worse, “actively disengaged”. The cumulative economic impact has been estimated at $350 billion of lost or potential productivity. For the sake of comparison, that’s an amount roughly equal to one-half the $700-$800 billion Federal government’s stimulus package. However, unlike the government’s stimulus package, every company has an equal opportunity to gain an equal or greater share of the potential benefit. Which begs the question: How much time, effort or focus would you ask your executive team to commit to gaining your share of a $350 billion benefit? How aggressively would you compete for a share of a $350 billion opportunity?
Bestselling author and President of The Table Group Patrick Lencioni (The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive) outlined the path to your company’s share of the potential benefit in Three Signs of a Miserable Job. In it Lencioni identifies three root causes of employee dissatisfaction, and shares his perspectives on how simple it can be to re-engage latent human capital horsepower:
2) Irrelevance – An individual’s inability to see how their efforts contribute to the company’s goals or to a higher mission or purpose.
3) Immeasurement – The inability of an individual to see, feel or determine that they’re making progress or even doing good work.
The solution, or what Lencioni refers to as the “Cure”, rests directly in the hands of direct managers and leaders, and more generally in a company’s culture. As easy as it sounds, there is hard work to be done in knowing your people, helping them see that they’re doing good work and that their efforts are aligned to the vision and mission, and then building a culture that institutionalizes the process. Leading and managing is an impossible task if the vision and mission isn’t clear, if there are conflicting messages or success measures, or if you don’t know your team members at a deep level. To be fair, not all employees are seeking meaning from their work. But as a leader or manager you owe it to the best and brightest in your company to ensure they don’t question their worth, contributions or alignment to the goals. In other words, un-hobble the horses. Otherwise, the impressive horsepower they represent may end up powering your competitor’s engine.