I recently delivered programs to a small energy power corporation (725 employees). This engagement began when a manager, who had gone through a Highlands-based program several years before at another company, called and asked if I would meet with the Employee Engagement Survey Group of his current company.
At the meeting, the engagement survey results were reviewed. They showed that the company was regarded favorably by its employees. However, there were a few areas of concern.
For starters, management saw themselves as heads of a small company with limited opportunities and few slots enabling workers to advance up in the hierarchy, which apparently everyone had adopted as a career goal.
Managers said that because the company was a regulated, member-based utility organization, financial incentives were not available for high performers. True, the company offered stability and good, livable family income, but salaries did not equal what their talents could earn with their for-profit competition. Now, you need to know that this is a company where the majority of employees (90%) are well-educated (M.S. and above) and are technically-oriented professionals. Lastly, management was concerned that given the employee survey, the company was going to be losing talent and would not be able to attract new talent. And lastly, we learned that although the company was relatively small, it was a very siloed organization.
Lastly, management was concerned that given the employee survey, the company was going to lose talent and would not be able to attract new talent. Though the company was relatively small, it was a very siloed organization.
The charge to me was to come up with an intervention, a program that would appeal to employees while addressing the concerns of both the individual contributors and upper management.
A customized program was piloted. There were 24 managers that ran five days with a 2 ½ day session separated by 1-week from another 2 ½ day session. This allowed participants a deeper individualized give-and-take discussion of their results. After the pilot group’s feedback, participants were offered a 1/2 hour individual follow-up session. Initially, I expected only a handful of participants to take me up on this – after all, I was warned, “these are engineers,” and they would “not readily seek personalized feedback and insight.” Nevertheless, 95% of participants took advantage of my offer.
Going into this pilot comprised of upper-level management (primarily IT engineers), I did not feel confident about how all aspects of the program would be received by what was described to me as a very “critical and experienced” group of managers. The entire program involved the folks who had the most years of experience and been through many personal development workshops. In fact, this company likes to send its people down for a week at a time to the Center for Creative Leadership. Nevertheless, it is fun for me to see high-level scientists and engineers enjoy bringing in their stuff for the Show and Tell exercise and creating Career Visions with Tinker Toys.
Given the diversity of the organization, it was fascinating to see professionals from India, China, and the Middle East, who had never experienced show and tell in their schools, embrace this activity with relish. In part, it was seen as a chance to let others know about their backgrounds.
After the success of the pilot, the program was offered to all full-time employees. The key to the program (and always the obstacle in corporate programs) was that each employee had to complete the HAB and receive his or her feedback before the start of the workshop. With the help of the client’s HR person and The Highlands Company, all the feedbacks were done on time.
Of course, this slight change to the process, i.e., giving the HAB and the individual feedbacks ahead of time, allowed more time for the other seven Highlands Factors in the 4½ days which followed and also provided a greater opportunity to engage each participant (on average, we had 20 participants).
Here is a brief outline of how we covered The Highlands Whole Person Model:
- Day 1 – Abilities and Career Development Cycle
- Day 2 – Skills, values, and family influences (homework is interest and fascination exercise)
- Day 3 – After one-week break, interests, and personal style
- Day 4 – Integration with groupings, brainstorming, presentation of preliminary Vision statements
Important to the success of this program, I believe, is the intensive facilitator support we provided. I conducted this program with two trained colleagues (one was my wife, Martha), so we were able to have three small breakout groups to work through the exercises. The entire group was used for lectures and tying together the common threads developed in the small groups.
By all objective measures (participant evaluations, focus groups conducted by HR, interviews with individual participants by HR, participation in the program itself by HR personnel), this program was a huge success. Here is one unsolicited letter from a participant.
“I was recently reflecting over my personal growth and development for last year, and by far, the best of the best for this year is the “Invest in Yourself” training via Dr. Tom Tavantzis and his team. Outside of my obtaining my MBA, the Invest in Yourself training was the best personal development program I have ever experienced in my ten-year tenure at the company! This training revolutionized my thinking, being, and productivity, both as an employee and as a human being overall. Many of my cohort members, with whom I experienced this training, have shared similar reflections. I highly recommend that the company continue this program so that others have an opportunity to ‘invest in themselves,’ and enjoy the great return on investment that I and many others have had!”
These successful outcomes need to be traced back to the original reason for the program. Recall the concerns expressed in the employee engagement survey and related managerial comments. When we gathered people together to discuss the impact of the program, we repeatedly heard how hard participants worked at bringing down silos, and how appreciative they were that the company had provided this career development opportunity. Especially, and this surprised the participants; they came to realize full well that by exploring their career visions, they were made to anticipate developments which could not be satisfied by the company. This result, in a counter-intuitive sense, created greater organizational engagement. Perhaps we can better understand this result by recalling the Rule of Reciprocation from our social psychology studies, and how the Rule acts as a way of gaining compliance, i.e., when you give something to someone, you create an obligation by the recipient to return the favor. In this case, the obligation is to adopt a more positive view of the organization.
Moreover, the company ended up with something it had not anticipated but which showed another way to solve its managerial concerns. We witnessed the start by program graduates of requesting interviews with department managers within the company. This was good news (although more work for HR). Now people could see that as the silos fell, development would be possible in other areas of the company. And this was no random let’s-talk-to-anyone-about-what-they-do-so-I-can-get-away-from-my-boss-approach, but rather a discussion of thoughtful and purposeful plans for the future. Participants sought to match their new-found understanding of their abilities and their emerging career vision with roles in other groups across the company.
Companies still get it wrong when they focus their efforts on dollars and end goals. This is what Daniel Pink calls “if-then” thinking. Externalized targets are short-lived motivators. Instead, people are driven by purpose and a desire to be competent and to use their talents. The keys are for people to really know their hard-wired strengths, work on a vision in a safe setting, and connect that vision to work roles available in the organization. The companies that do this unleash employee energy and maximize productivity and innovation.