Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Last week, the Conference Board research group released its latest report on job satisfaction. The results are pretty grim; only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work, the lowest level ever recorded in more than 22 years of studying the issue. Experts say the drop in workers’ happiness can be partly blamed on the worst recession since the 1930s, which made it difficult for some people to find challenging and suitable jobs. But worker dissatisfaction has been on the rise for more than two decades.

Quoting Linda Barrington, managing director of human capital at the Conference Board, who helped write the report, “It says something troubling about work in America. It is not about the business cycle or one grumpy generation,” she says.

The report cites several reasons for the decline, including:

  • Fewer workers consider their jobs to be interesting.
  • Incomes have not kept up with inflation.
  • The soaring cost of health insurance has eaten into workers’ take-home pay.

Of note to us, however, are comments from the one employee the Associated Press interviewed about the report. Nate Carrasco, 26, of Odesa, Texas, says he’s been pretty unhappy in most of his jobs, including his current one at an auto parts store. “There is no sense of teamwork in most places any more,” Carrasco gripes.

He continues: Carrasco said he wishes his bosses would take time to listen to workers’ ideas – and their difficulties on the job. “Most of the time they only listen to what their bosses are saying,” he says. “Bosses need to come down to the employee level more and see what actually goes on, versus what their paperwork tells them is happening in the stores.”

There are a couple of key lessons here. First, you may not have the flexibility to change what people are being paid, especially when times are tough. Second, you may not be able to give everyone the “interesting” jobs.

But improving collaboration, getting people engaged in what they are doing, creating opportunities for people to find ways to improve the products or processes they use and are making every day, are all within your control. Stop blaming the economy, or the markets, or the climate, or any other outside-your-control factor for the levels of satisfaction and engagement within your organization. It’s not your job to make people happy, but it is your job to get them engaged and involved. Do that, and you’ll soon find them more satisfied and more productive.

Start the New Year with a Bang!

What will it take for 2010 to be an extraordinary year for you and your organization? One where you position yourself for success?

As we discussed in our previous post, “Complete Your Year Powerfully,” step one is taking stock of your successes and shortfalls from 2009 so you are free of the regrets, resentments, guilt or denial that could drain you of energy as you enter the New Year.

Once you’re at peace with 2009, the opportunity before you is to generate a deep alignment around a bold, ambitious future for 2010. Rather than merely reacting to 2009 by extrapolating 2010 objectives and opportunities from spreadsheets of best case/worst case scenarios, we recommend a generative approach. This is much more powerful and energizing, but it will require you to think deeper.

Gather your team and imagine you are rolling the clock forward to the end of 2010, and ask yourselves the questions below. Let the conversation be guided by imagination and possibility rather than prediction and constraints. Make this a “remembering” exercise rather than a “predicting,” “anticipating” or “planning” conversation.

  1. What did we accomplish in 2010 that allowed us to be so successful?
  2. How did we distinguish ourselves in the eyes of our customers, key stakeholders and team members?
  3. What meaningful positive changes did we cause with respect to products, services, processes or performance?
  4. What are we known for today (end of 2010) that we were not known for in 2009 – internally or externally – that we feel good about?
  5. What characteristics did we exhibit as a team that we are proud of?
  6. What obstacles did we overcome, and how did we do so?

Now, take whatever time is needed to narrow this list down to the 4-6 items – strategic commitments – that fit in the space between mere prediction and fantasy. These should be aspirational, yet plausible – otherwise people will nod “yes” but feel “no way,” which will evidence itself in the lack of effort people expend trying to deliver. These items should be those that every single person in the room aligns with; by that we mean they are willing to make the list their own, and fully buy into their achievement.

This discussion might take several hours, or even extend over multiple meetings. Better to get total alignment now than deal with the, “but it wasn’t really my idea and I didn’t think we could do it’s” later on when progress is lacking.

Establish owners for each item, with clear measures of success, and agree on a process to track these on a monthly or quarterly basis – or more frequently if necessary.

Communicate these items to your entire organization, and ask people to ensure that what they are working on connects to at least one strategic commitment.

One last thought – people’s mood, outlook and behavior are driven by what they are anticipating and looking forward to (good or bad). Which means the primary job of leaders is to get people inspired about what their organization can achieve, and ensure they are clear about how to achieve it. This approach incorporates both these dimensions, therefore if done well will enable you to start your year with a bang.

Posted by Josh Leibner and Gershon Mader

Complete Your Year Powerfully

2009 will go down as one of the toughest years in many people’s professional careers and personal lives. “We dodged a bullet” is how many of the more fortunate would characterize their current situation. The unfortunate are licking their wounds; the lucky are exhausted and relieved and a small few are celebrating.

It’s common at this time of year for people to take some small amount of time off to be with family and friends. Only to come back a few days after the holidays and begin with a list of incomplete items left behind at yearend. Unfortunately, this leaves people less than ambitious and energized about the New Year. Merely surviving last year – while a relief – is not a powerful platform upon which to achieve great things in the next.

The end of the year affords the opportunity to take a deep breath, reflect on successes and shortfalls, learn as much as possible from the good and bad, and prepare ourselves powerfully for a new year.

It makes a big difference for managers and executives to take stock of this year, and position themselves to enter the New Year with energy, conviction, clarity of purpose and focus. From this centered, deliberate stance, they can support their teams in creating the kind of momentum that will allow for the achievement of bold, audacious strategies and objectives.

We recommend managers and executives take these three steps:

Step One: Review these questions personally, making notes of the answers, and ask your team members to do the same:

1.     What am I most proud of accomplishing?

2.     Where did I/we fall short?

3.     What regrets do I have, if any?

4.     What have I learned, personally and professionally?

5.     Is there anything I would like to be acknowledged for?

6.     Is there anyone I would like to acknowledge?

7.     Is there anything else I need to say to feel complete?

Step Two: Gather as a team and share your responses to 1-7 with the entire team. Once this is complete, ask each member to share their vision for success, answering the following questions:

8.     How would I like to see our team wining this year?

9.     What would I like to see us accomplishing this year as an organization or team?

10.   What is most important for me (my group) to accomplishment this year?

Step Three: After everyone has completed, engage your team in a discussion around the following question:

11.   Do I have any requests of others to help me/us be successful in the New Year?

One thing to note. Reviewing everyone’s key objectives for the New Year and reconciling any support, resource and alignment issues could lead to a lengthy discussion. But the time you invest getting it right at the beginning of the year will pay off in significantly increased traction later on.