Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Cause-effect on employee engagement

In a post that will appear shortly, I will make brief reference to Miguel Helft's piece The Last Days of Marissa Mayer. The future post will talk about another aspect of Yahoo's business, but there is one thing that struck me about Helft's piece. Since he writes for Forbes, I assume that Helft crafted this sentence very carefully.

But on day two, when the topic shifted to employee engagement, and with CEO Marissa Mayer in and out of the room, things went downhill fast.

For those who haven't read the Forbes piece, the sentence was taken from a paragraph that described an offsite meeting of Yahoo senior executives. In other words, the top people of the company.

And the company CEO couldn't even stay in the meeting. When the top executive is not engaged, how can the employees be engaged?

This issue is not specific to Mayer. There are countless CEOs, presidents, and bosses who talk the talk about "employee engagement," but are absent doing "important stuff" at critical times.

But wait - it gets worse. The employee engagement session was followed by another session, and it appears that Yahoo (and other companies) aren't walking the walk in other areas.

Those murmurs of discontent erupted into outright heckling when another session—billed as an opportunity to improve communication—turned into a lecture from Yahoo’s top brass that many found patronizing. Vice presidents started calling out their superiors for “not listening,” “not understanding” and “not being interested in changing.” Some cursed.

Now perhaps the situation wasn't as cut and dry as Helft described it. I could not find an independent description of the Yahoo offsite meeting, so perhaps the results of the "employee engagement" session and the "communication improvement" session weren't as stark as described.

But, as I said, this is not unique to Yahoo.

And what of the cases in which people become disengaged because of an immediate manager, rather than the CEO? Well, that can be traced to the CEO also:

In a study of 190 organizations, Gallup has found that executive leaders influence front-line employee engagement indirectly and directly. Primarily indirectly through their influence on the people they directly manage, and directly through specific performance management elements, including clear expectations, discussions of progress and a mission or purpose that people can identify with.

The Gallup findings indicate that when executive teams are highly engaged, the organization's managers are 39% more likely to be engaged. When managers are highly engaged, employees are 59% more likely to be engaged.

Apparently, the Yahoo vice presidents who "started calling out their superiors" were not engaged - which means either that the superiors were doing a poor job, or the superiors had hired the wrong vice presidents.

Or perhaps someone else was to blame - and it's not just the CEO, according to Mike Myatt:

Much of my personal practice deals with CEO succession, and the misadventures of Mayer represents the classic case of picking the wrong CEO, and then compounding the error with a poor transition into the role....

I actually don’t fault Mayer for the Yahoo debacle as much as I do the Yahoo board for not recognizing what type of leader they needed for this assignment.

Although, as I will note shortly (and as Helft and Myatt also noted) - if Mayer is canned, who can replace her and do a better job?
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