Two Big Employee Sustainability Principles for Managers

Apr 25, 2018 1 Min Read
bulb against a sunset backdrop

‘What have you done for me lately, boss?’

High performance is a simple equation – make sure that the expectations set are always increasing, never stagnant or decreasing.

In all of my coaching and consulting assignments to date, I’ve yet to meet a leader who would welcome in the new year with lower expectation of performing indicators!

The projected performance is almost always on the uptrend, moving further from the past and rallying everyone to up their game to the next level.

But do employees really want to or even feel they are up to it?

Job fit vs Mis fit

Employees become mis-fits when they are forced to squeeze their personal strengths into a job function that they cannot resonate with.

Measurement vs motivation

Setting the key performance indicators is a relatively easy job for managers but firing up the motivational level of the troops to scale the wall of ever-increasing expectations is quite another challenge.

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This is what distinguishes good managers from great managers – good managers create the measurement while great managers create the motivation. While the organisation is busy thinking about corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities, it will be to its advantage to be considering ESR initiatives as well, i.e. Employee Sustainability Rituals.

Unlike CSR projects, employee sustainability is more of a ritual rather than just a set of loosely-crafted activities.

The saying is true – if you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers. Your investment into your clients and even into the community begin by first investing in your employees.

There are two principles all managers need to keep in mind to ensure a respectable “ESR score”.

ESR Principle 1: Fit before performance

According to Gallup, workers who believe they’re a poor fit for their jobs are unlikely to agree that they have opportunities to do what they do best every day.

Hence, the matter of employee sustainability, whether they have that extra reserve to go the second mile and to remain loyal despite challenging circumstances, really depends on the health of their job fit.

Job fit is a function of how an employee responds to this question:

“In my job, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?”

In 2017, Gallup released their worldwide employee engagement survey which stated that only 15% of employees are engaged. Think about it – 85% of employees come to work, just to work.

When these employees are asked to meet rising expectations, will they come to work not only with their hands and feet, but with their hearts and minds, too?

When it comes to sustainability, you need more than just job descriptions to keep employees engaged. Think about it: when was the last time you heard of someone being tremendously motivated just by reading his/her job description?

Job fit vs mis-fit

Great organisations look beyond job descriptions to consider the matter of job fit. Fit is a more delicate and personal ingredient of employee sustainability because it deals not with what the employee does but who the employee is.

In other words, what motivates you as a person (not as an employee)? Gallup reports that an employee who is giving the opportunity to focus on what he/she does best every day is six times more engaged (Source: Gallup Worldwide Engagement Survey, 2012).

Leaders and managers today need to create a work environment whereby there is flexibility in adjusting the job description around a person’s personal talent and strength.

Employees become mis-fits when they are forced to squeeze their personal strengths into a job function that they cannot own and resonate with. Essentially, the job is laden with measurements that are not integrated with personal motivation.

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Here are the two diagnostic questions to ascertain job fit in your company:

  1. Do I have a method to identity my employees’ talents?
  2. Do I have a team of managers who can coach and develop others according to personal strengths?

ESR Principle 2: Consistency after commitment

It is easy to commit. It is easy to produce a ‘rah-rah’ speech and cajole everyone to sign up for a certain level of commitment. But what will maintain the momentum of that commitment? Just because the commitment is visible doesn’t mean that it will be valued.

Here is where the practice of consistency comes in. Consistency has to do with the fundamental response to two basic scenarios that will send a clear message as to whether we are serious about the commitments made.

The two scenarios are:

  1. When people do what is right, are they recognised?
  2. When people do what is wrong, are they reprimanded?

According to Gallup, employees who do not feel adequately recognised are twice as likely to say they will leave their company in the next year (Source: 12 Elements of Great Managing, Gallup).

The matter of recognition is such a basic human need that it has become a major blindspot for managers as the gruelling work environment creates a tunnel-vision where meeting the bottom line supersedes the human factor of being attentive to the emotional need for recognition.

Recognition and feedback

One of the most effective ways to improve recognition of employees is to discover how they would like to receive feedback. Here is where an individualised approach is key to a manager’s role is ensuring sustainability.

Not everyone is excited about receiving a certificate of achievement. A shopping voucher given in an insincere manner might not motivate consistent performance.

Hence, before a manager becomes too quick to hand out the rewards, he/she needs to spend some time to study the personality and preferences of each employee.

A great manager is someone who would first study his/her team members well before considering the scope of the performance required. We all have a fundamental desire to be known and appreciated as unique individuals.

When employees do what is right, meet expectations of performance or go the extra mile, take effort to recognise them consistently in a way that matters to them.

Culture of accountability

While recognition sends out a clear, motivating message, we also need the other aspect of consistency as well, i.e. the practice of reprimanding when things go wrong. Human nature is such that people need to see a sense of fairness and justice in a way that leadership actions are taken in an organisation.

If an organisation consistently closes a blind eye to wrongdoing and ignores warnings of standards not met, then it is headed towards being a corrupted culture.

History affirms that a corrupted culture is not a sustainable culture. The right thing to do then is to create a culture of accountability. Herein lies the challenge – accountability cannot be created in the absence of justified reprimanding of those who do wrong.

When actions are not taken against those who defy the commitment of the team, then it sends a de-motivating message to those who do.

Care and concern

Effective leadership requires that we be comfortable not only in dishing out the rewards but also in demanding accountability and compliance to what is agreed upon. Your ability to convey the truth with a genuine attitude of care and concern is key.

See also: Is Love The Answer To Win Your Employees’ Loyalty?
Having accountability conversations is never easy but it is more manageable if we take the following practices into consideration:

  • Deal with the wrongdoing as soon as it arises.
    The longer you wait, the offender will interpret your silence as leniency and acceptance of his/her misbehaviour.
  • Obtain the testimony of witnesses.
    Do not take any rash or harsh actions on your own. Talk to others and get supporting evidence because you cannot be perceived as being partial in your approach.

Conclusion: Energy and expectations

ESR is about ensuring that the energy level of every employee rises in tandem with the expectations of high performance.

If there are no rituals within your organisation that looks into the issue of job fit and consistent recognition and reprimanding, then you might be unconsciously moving in the direction of having a disengaged culture.

As you implement measurements to keep track of performance, you would do well to consider the matter of employee sustainability by integrating practices and habits of motivation because first and foremost, we are in the people business.


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Joseph is a Leaderonomics faculty trainer who is passionate about engaging with leaders to transform culture in organisations. Previously, he was CEO of Leaderonomics Good Monday. He is currently based in the United States

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