Employee engagement in future flatter structures

Employee engagement is a fascinating subject, and can be very challenging for a manager to tangibly gauge and measure.
The process of disengagement is sometimes dramatic and distinct i.e. someone doesn’t get the promotion they thought was on the cards; or the company merger deals a nasty blow to a team member’s sense of significance – and they suddenly seem distant and aloof. In other cases the disconnect is a slow creep.

Definition: Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organisation and its goals. Kevin Kruse – Forbes

I am going to briefly provide a matrix by revisiting Patrick Lencioni’s profound insight into the three primary reasons why employees disengage. I will then expand on his third point by looking through the lens of the emerging workforce, and flatter organisational structures.

Lencioni is his book, ‘The Truth About Employee Engagement’ pens three foundational principles that smart managers need to reflect on:

1. Anonymity: the sad conclusion a worker reaches when they realise that their manager is primarily interested in them for their output and shows little interest in them as a human, their life context, interests or future aspirations.

2. Irrelevance: this takes root in an employee’s mind when they cannot see how their contribution is making a difference. People need to know they are making an impact somewhere: be that with a client, a co-worker, or that of lightening a supervisor’s load through their excellent execution.

3. Immeasurement: this is Lencioni’s descriptor when a worker is unable to assess how they are contributing to the success of the organisation. These employees are not able to objectively quantify their efforts on a given day or week.

Flatter structures are on the rise and have appeal to the Emergents. Fewer layers, less bureaucracy, more autonomy, flexi-hours, tangible outputs, small high-performance work gangs … However, in a flatter organisation it can be harder to mark promotion and progress, and to know when someone should be paid more.

Whilst enjoying a cup of coffee with a friend, my friend recalled that when he started out as an Auditing Clerk, there were 17 different clearly identifiable roles between Junior Clerk and Partner. Twenty years later there are as few as seven big steps to the top.

In a personal conversation I had in the process of interviewing 30 employees in a company; some of the younger staff who were thriving in the flat structure were appealing for their equivalent of Google Map Route – to navigate promotion in their dynamic organisation. Future talent are not preoccupied with titles but they do need their significance and contribution to be recognised. Understandably there is an obvious connection between contribution, progress and remuneration.

An additional resource I found useful outlines how a company can plot someone’s journey and contribution on a graph with the descriptors: Novice, Advanced Beginner, Competent, Proficient and Expert on the ‘Y’ Axis and Executor, Leader, Manager and Strategist on the ‘X’ Axis.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as a Management Team, and to task your Emergents to answer too: (including them could catapult their engagement)

1. What is important to us? What are we going to measure? How are we going to measure?
2. What competencies are needed by our various Technical Specialists and Project/Talent Managers?
3. What descriptors can we use to recognise different levels of: expertise, IP, working knowledge of our company and industry and our clients?
4. What creative solutions can we use to differentiate the remuneration that specific employees receive?
5. What ultimately motivates our workforce?

Iain Shippey is a Partner at Change Partners.

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