Building Engagement into the Fabric of Your Startup

With all the important discussions centered on engagement, there are few discussions on incorporating and building engagement within startup firms – and it’s essential that we, as business owners and entrepreneurs, have this discussion.

The reason this is important is because we are approximately 20 years into serious debates on engagement and what engagement entails. It took nearly 10 of these 20 years, from most objective accounts, to create awareness of engagement, bringing it from the halls of academic corridors to a shared-center of organizational design strategy pursued by executives and managers. Its taken about the same amount of time for us to develop consistent findings that can be generalized across organizations.

And though not perfect in definition nor consistent in its pursuit, we have accumulated enough evidence to recognize the business value of engagement – thank goodness for James Heskett and his colleagues’ early work on the service- profit chain, drawing attention to the early work of William Kahn.

 

Thus the questions at this point are just why is this important to the startup and how does the entrepreneur start working to implement engagement into the fabric of her organization? Both of these questions are addressed.

Engagement Defined

To start and to keep our approach “clean,” an agreed upon notion of engagement sets the foundation: Engagement is essentially having the heads, hearts, and hands of our employees, a shortcut phrase attributed, in most respects, to Kahn. Yet, there is confusion related to the underlying efforts needed to achieve those aims. Suffice to say that engagement is not everything we, as business owners and entrepreneurs (under the guise of management), do to motivate employees. Engagement is the design of the work to include variety of task, scope of task, and breadth of task inherent in the job itself. For purposes here, we are going to ignore the additional attitude add-ons, which are prevalent in the mainstream literature. Thus engagement is not being satisfied with the organization, for one can like his work and commit significant levels of rigor and be absorbed in the task yet not necessarily be “head over heels” about the company. Engagement is also not motivation (sorry if I hurt some feelings here), for one can be committed to the work yet if not satisfied with the work environment or supervision of the task, or even the mission and aims of the business, an extra unit of motivation may not be gained. So for our purposes: Engagement is the sustained rigor, dedication, and absorption of an employee in the performance of a job resulting from its design.

And this is important because with engagement, firms may receive closely related outcomes, depending on factors outside of engagement, and mentioned above, that create value. This value may result in important related employee attitudes that impact the motivation and morale of employees, and often help drive increased productivity, customer service satisfaction, and business earnings . . . and here is where I invite you to Heskett and his colleagues at some point (if you follow me on twitter @drgntIII, you may be able to see a re-tweet on January 8, 2018).

Implementing and Sustaining Engagement

So where do entrepreneurs start in implementing and sustaining engagement within our startup firms?! I am going to provide three specific tasks that serve as a key starting point. Simple in concept yet can be difficult in execution, so yes, a deliberate, progressive approach can prove valuable (and allow you to observe incremental gains):

  • Conduct a Job Inventory: As entrepreneurs, we are naturally driven by ideas, incremental wins, and market response to our products and services. Maintaining an acute awareness of how the work we and our employees get done is important. Often, over time, we ignore how job tasks are performed, and not uncommon, having no valid description of jobs. This may create job spillover and result in unrelated, ad-hoc work. Thus, it is important to maintain an awareness of the actual jobs that exist in our firms. Indeed it is extremely important during the startup phase because it’s during this phase when we can least afford to lose employees, especially good employees that may feel that they are critical to the success of our firm’s early success. Conducting a job inventory facilitates our understanding of what tasks are being performed, how the tasks are related to concrete positions, and how the positions align to the goals and aims of our businesses.

 

  • Gain a consensus of Work Design and Performance: The entrepreneur is often guilty of having a belief of it’s my company and I know best how the job should be designed and executed. Well, that may get the shingle out; yet, it’s not going to keep the shingle hanging. Our employees need to have a voice in how the job is designed and performed. Just what tasks are critical to the job and just how the job should be performed? These are questions for employees to address and help us scale our firms over time.

 

  • Developing Job Descriptions: Ahhh, yes, job descriptions, the often forgotten art of capturing the set of skills, knowledge, abilities, and competencies needed to successfully perform a task until we look up and find that 2 – 3 job incumbents down the road, that no one can agree upon just what the job entails, or we are challenged by an employee, or worse, his or her attorney. The best place to start is . . . in the early stages of your startup. You do not have to start this from scratch. There are references and sources available. The best free source to begin is O*Net (https://www.onetonline.org/).

Rather performed as discrete events or pursued as a prescriptive end-to-end approach, conducting a job inventory, gaining a consensus of how jobs are designed and performed, and developing concrete job descriptions can serve as a means to effectively engage employees, setting the foundation of closely related employee attitudes that impact the short and long-term success of our newly minted startups.

 

Dr. George Taylor, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Founder: EntOrgCorp, LLC/Serent Properties, LLC

@drgntiii – Twitter – Dr. George Taylor III

@entorgcorp – Twitter – EntOrgCorp

george.taylor@entorgcorp.com

Copyright 2018: EntOrgCorp LLC/Dr. George Taylor III

The Value of Mindfulness to the Startup Entrepreneur

In reflecting on my initial introduction to the construct of mindfulness, I remember the efficiency in thought I had in recognizing its value related to formalized organizations. In this sense, mindfulness connected with me for it provided practical utility in the art of reflection and human connection. It enriched my relation to self and others in a way that was meaningful, providing tangible value with measurable organizational impact. Specifically, mindfulness connected with the theory of emotional intelligence and made it real. It captured the organizational benefit of reflection, non-judgmental experiences, human connection, and awareness beyond the individual.

Possessing a strong desire to transfer and leverage mindfulness beyond mature organizations, I set a course to consider concrete ways that mindfulness, as a construct, could yield measurable benefit to the entrepreneur. In this pursuit, the initial quest consisted of recognizing the state of being, and discovering “space” and time in which mindfulness could be employed. After several forced attempts, and some frustration, my initial conclusion was that no such “space” existed: there was no real way that mindfulness could be of any practical benefit to the startup entrepreneur. Emma Martin was right on target commenting that “[p]eople talk of entrepreneurship and talk of mindfulness but rarely in the same conversation.”

Yet, the more I reflected, the more enlightened I became. I came to understand that the absence of mindfulness would indeed hinder my personal and entrepreneurial business growth. That there would be missed opportunities to connect with self as well as internal and external stakeholders. That my sense of purpose and my openness to understanding the needs of my community were at-risk. To understand this paradox, one must truly embrace the holistic notion of what mindfulness entails for in popular business literature and practice, there is a tendency to “cherry-pick” elements of the construct. Mindfulness is a condition in which we learn to connect with ourselves as well as others. In practice, one who is mindful is able to develop and nurture relationships, observe real-time moments and events while suspending judgement, build trust, and remain open to interpersonal moments of collaboration and coordination.

When I came to understand the value and holistic notion of mindfulness as an entrepreneur, the next step became similar to my previous experience, which was to identify the measurable behaviors that underlie mindfulness. This meant knowing the short-term value behaviors in areas such as capturing customer voice, having an expanded perspective toward continuous improvement, and enhancing team communication. This meant understanding the long-term value behaviors related to scaling operations and organizational structure, coordinating process efforts with internal and external value chain partners, and building a sustainable culture. Robert Stenberg provided a first-step toward a measurable framework that best captures the holistic notion of mindfulness, which is applicable to the entrepreneur just as much as it is to the organizational practitioner:

·       Openness to novelty

·       Alertness to distinction

·       Sensitive to different contexts

·       Awareness of multiple perspectives

·       Orientation in the present

Is this not central to our aims, indeed our role, as entrepreneurs?!

Thus, the entrepreneurial question as it relates to mindfulness is not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. As entrepreneurs, core to our purpose is the novel approach in which we develop product and services. This spurs innovation and the search for blue ocean. We become keenly aware of the need to distinguish ourselves and the companies we start. We understand the impact and value of context, recognizing the uniqueness of culture, human needs, and environments. Further, as entrepreneurs, we are keenly aware that as important as our perspectives, these perspectives are not the sole criterion of judgment. Indeed, our own judgments are often subordinate to the perspectives and judgments of our customers, employees, and suppliers. Finally, key to our strategic planning and business goals and objectives, is our attention and ability to orient ourselves in the present. To reflect on moments of success and understand what it means while also assessing performance gaps and shortfalls, knowing we have to get better.

This mindful entrepreneur’s approach is more than just a post action reflection guide. The mindful entrepreneur understands the value of learning in the moment and adapting to environmental cues. The mindful entrepreneur builds and nourishes internal and external relationships. Finally, the mindful entrepreneur is acutely aware of how her business connects and provides value to society – above and beyond profit.

This is the true value and meaning of being a Mindful Entrepreneur.

Dr. George Taylor III, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

@drgntiii – Twitter

@entorgcorp – Twitter