By Carol Fitzgibbons
Oct. 4, 2012
Are your employees buried under irrelevant internal emails? Are they constantly wrestling with clunky technology systems or battling overcomplicated processes? Do decisions require multiple approvals or seem to take forever? If it’s just plain hard for employees to get things done, your organization has a high “Annoyance Factor,” and that is inevitably eating away at employee engagement.
Employees generally want to feel productive and have an impact. When their ability to do this is hindered by ineffective technology, complicated processes, slow decision making, poor cross-functional collaboration or information overload, they get annoyed. Most people understand that some annoyances are to be expected in every organization. The problem arises when those seemingly little annoyances build up and begin to interfere with employees’ ability to get things done or see the fruits of their labor. If the Annoyance Factor continues to build, employees eventually admit defeat and pull back on their discretionary effort or, worse yet, they get so frustrated that they leave the organization.
I recently consulted with an organization on employee engagement issues in which employees complained that it was so hard to get things done across departments that they just stopped trying. In another organization that implemented a new technology system fraught with issues, a valued long-service salesperson got so annoyed with how hard it was to get critical information out of the system that he decided to take his retirement with only a two-week notice. The organization now runs the risk of losing significant institutional knowledge and key client relationships because of the short transition time.
In theory, these issues should be obvious to organizations. For years, employee engagement research has pointed to the importance of providing employees with the right tools to do their jobs and creating an environment where employees feel they can do their best every day. However, organizations may discount these annoyances as just that - little annoyances. Leaders and managers may not realize that the Annoyance Factor in their organizations or departments has reached a breaking point for employees.
Three steps can keep your employees engaged while reducing the organization’s Annoyance Factor.
Step 1: Understand your “Annoyance Factor” risks
Seek feedback from employees about what is getting in their way. Getting feedback is not about asking employees to itemize all of their complaints, but instead focusing employees on surfacing real barriers that hinder them from being able to have an impact with a reasonable amount of effort. Unfortunately, annoyances are a personal matter. What annoys one person may not annoy the next person. That said, one of your best defenses against the Annoyance Factor is to get to know your people. That way, you can spot potential annoyances for individuals before they crack under the pressure. Other tools in your Annoyance Factor arsenal include focus groups, discussion forums and surveys. These tools help you understand the broader organization issues that affect many employees.
Step 2: Acknowledge the annoying issues
It is one thing to be heard by an outside consultant or someone in HR, but what people need most is to know that their immediate manager and the leaders in the organization acknowledge the struggles they are dealing with every day. Clearly, you will get the biggest uptick in employee engagement if you go beyond simply acknowledging issues and actually take action to minimize the annoyances. The reality is some things cannot be fixed. Employees typically understand this. When you acknowledge an issue, even if you cannot solve it, you gain immediate credibility and good will with your employees, especially if you can point to a few things that you can and will address.
Step 3: Invest in minimizing annoyances - and engage employees along the way
The obvious way to minimize the Annoyance Factor is to actually fix the underlying issues. Fixes can involve streamlining processes, upgrading systems, improving tools, speeding up decision making and breaking down silos between functions. Often, you can find a fair amount of “low-hanging fruit” that can be addressed quickly and inexpensively. At one organization, a simple “stop, start, do differently” exercise showed that a number of employees’ annoyances were coming from a lack of clarity on what really needed to be done. Communication from leadership to clarify expectations went a very long way in minimizing the Annoyance Factor.
One of the most impactful strategies for reducing your Annoyance Factor is to harness the power of your employees. The people who are closest to the work see the issues firsthand, so they also see the solutions. Engaging employees in creative problem-solving sessions can generate solutions that leaders and managers may never have seen. Often, those solutions are the simplest and least expensive. The added benefit to actively engaging employees in efforts to minimize the Annoyance Factor - it leaves employees feeling like they have had a broader impact on the organization, and that, in and of itself, serves to increase employee engagement.
Carol Fitzgibbons, director of Organization & Talent Solutions at BPI group in Chicago, has more than 20 years of experience helping managers, leaders, teams and organizations increase effectiveness, deliver results and reach their full potential. She is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources. She can be contacted at [email protected].