Is Your Ecosystem Engaged? 2 Errors Organizations Often Make

Is Your Ecosystem Engaged? 2 Errors Organizations Often Make image boy with globeIs Your Ecosystem Engaged? 2 Errors Organizations Often MakeHave you ever been on a school trip as a student, teacher or parent? What I’m about to describe may seem familiar if you have ever spent time observing the students. On a school trip recently to a local museum (the ROM) with a class of 11-year-olds, the students were exposed to several exhibits about ecosystems.  The content and responses got me thinking about organizational/corporate ecosystems, and a couple of the mistakes that organizations often make in the attempt to create an engaged workforce with sustainable high performance. Most would agree that in our organizational ecosystems, sustainable high performance is achieved through the productive interaction and engagement of all of its parts.

First, what do we mean by “Ecosystem”? Here’s a definition from Wikipedia….

An ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in Is Your Ecosystem Engaged? 2 Errors Organizations Often Make image globe2 border1Is Your Ecosystem Engaged? 2 Errors Organizations Often Makeconjunction with the nonliving components of their environment (things like air, water and mineral soil), interacting as a system. These components are regarded as linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. As ecosystems are defined by the network of interactions among organisms, and between organisms and their environment, they can come in any size but usually encompass specific, limited spaces (although some scientists say that the entire planet is an ecosystem).

As the various classes moved from exhibit to exhibit, I watched a class of 11-year-olds in front of a “Museum Teacher” who was sharing the importance of biodiversity in various ecosystems. The teacher would pause on occasion to ask students to respond to questions with a show of hands. As they continued on to the following exhibit, using a similar lecturing style, it wasn’t hard to see that some kids were losing interest (which became obvious with the increasing frequency of librarian-like reminders of “shhhhhhh!” from those in charge). At the same time, I also saw some classes of older teens in similar situations, and it appeared that roughly 25 to 30% were completely unengaged – with heads down, silently focused on their smart phones, rather than on the instructor/guide.

Later, I heard a visiting school teacher say that she wished the museum staff had used more varied teaching methods, rather than simply lecturing. Research in pedagogy and andragogy has confirmed that there are many different learning styles among children and adults alike. Later in the afternoon as the students were invited to participate in various “hands on” exercises, some of the previously “unengaged” students came alive.

What can this experience teach us about Engagement errors in the workplace? Here are a couple of ways in which Corporate Ecosystems fail to maximize their potential for engagement – and for productivity.

1. Making wrong hires – Although organizations are looking for sustainable performance and consistency of brand with customers, too many practice wrong-fit hiring and then waste much energy, management time and training budget attempting to make good on their intentions. In many cases this error can lead to retention issues in the affected departments or teams. The remedy for this is simple: a scientific approach of job assessment and candidate match will produce superior engagement, performance and retention.  For example, if a sales team needs a new member with the character traits, motivations, and behavioral style of Donald Trump, but instead hires someone who is more like a Mother Theresa, they are doomed. Even registering “Mother Theresa” in the 7 Habits of Highly Successful Sales Leaders course won’t bring sustainable high-performance in this arena. Clearly, both Donald Trump and Mother Theresa have been highly successful in their individual fields. It is easy to see that they have both achievIs Your Ecosystem Engaged? 2 Errors Organizations Often Make image Is Your Ecosystem Engaged? 2 Errors Organizations Often Makeed global recognition by succeeding through intrinsic engagement in their respective ecosystems. It is doubtful, however, that Mr. Trump would make a successful nurse, homeless counsellor, or volunteer tending to the poor in Calcutta. Likewise, it is hard to imagine Mother Theresa motivated to perform as a real estate tycoon. We are each motivated and engaged by different aspects of experience – make sure the people you are hiring are engaged by what you offer.

2. Managers Fail to Adapt Coaching Styles – As I observed with the students, not everyone is engaged by the lecturing teaching style. When the teaching style changed to something more experiential, other students became engaged.  Likewise in organizations, many managers manage and coach from their own behavioral style – which will unfortunately only serve to engage team members who happen to have similar motivations and behavioral styles. Again, can you picture Mother Theresa’s soft-spoken style being effective in managing or coaching Donald Trump?

Frequently in communication with others, many managers make the mistake of confusing ‘activity’ (I sent emails, had meetings, left voicemails, etc.) with ‘productivity’ (I impacted all team members to enhance performance). Managers who are educated in and practice the science of behavioral coaching will be able to engage team members in their unique styles, for superior engagement and performance.

If I could have waived a magic wand on that school trip to the museum and made a few changes, I’m sure we could have increased the degree of student engagement. Changes such as aligning students with their choice of topic (e.g., the ecosystem of professional sports, or understanding the diversity of music styles of teen performers) and offering access to different styles of content learning (perhaps with smart phone apps on biodiversity) would doubtless have increased the number of students focussing on the subject matter.

So what did we learn today, class? Remember: to lead a sustainable, high-performance organizational ecosystem, invest in right-match hires and then coach them uniquely by understanding, appreciating and adapting to their engagement style.

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