What makes Apple and Google among the most desirable companies to work for today? It’s not the fancy campuses filled with perks such as bean bag chairs and foosball tables. On a professional level, it’s the fact that these companies win.
However you define “winning,” whether it’s
closing a major deal, getting a promotion, or being well-regarded by your
peers, everybody likes the reward of success. People are used to being
positioned to win since childhood from parents, teachers, and coaches. To
attract top talent—rather than struggle with retention—employers need to do the
same by giving employees realistic, achievable objectives and opportunities to
As we’ll explore in this article, it’s a common mistake to try to fix low employee satisfaction with Band-Aid efforts such as changing company culture, but you should improve engagement by addressing the root problems at the executive decision-making level.
Why Employees Burn Out
Nobody expects every initiative that comes
down the pipeline to be a winner, but when employees are asked time and again
to work with unrealistic budgets, timeframes, and expectations, they’re bound
to become burned out and disengaged. Everybody needs to win sometimes, and the
employees who win the most tend to be the most fulfilled.
The problem many companies face in today’s
business world, where 50 percent of initiatives fail, is that
rough patches of repeated failures become the norm. Productivity has been
sliding in U.S. companies since the mid-1970s despite advancements in
technology. Businesses operate in a constant state of scrambling to make hastily
planned initiatives work, and they suffer the inevitable failures that follow.
Their employees rarely or never get to experience wins.
Someone stuck in that environment won’t stay
happy for long, and a movement has grown around trying to keep employees
engaged in their work. However, instead of taking steps to increase their
company’s wins, leaders chase the wrong solutions.
Companies Focus on the Symptoms, Not the Cause
What do leaders do when they notice an office
full of burned-out, discouraged employees? They bring in a motivational speaker
to talk about purpose or organize an employee-engagement session. However,
reactive efforts only distract from the problem.
Companies spend tremendous amounts of time and
money on these distractions, but the satisfaction employees get from attending
a team-building workshop, eating a free lunch, or being encouraged to meditate
during the workday provide only temporary morale boosts. Long-term employee
fulfillment comes from finding purpose in one’s role and experiencing wins. When
leaders bullshit their way through the delivery of that success, people see it
This is not to say company culture, retention,
and engagement aren’t important… only that they should not be at the center of
the conversation for companies struggling to successfully execute their
initiatives. Failing to win is a company’s biggest problem—the central issue
from which other problems stem. To fix the smaller problems, executives need to
focus on gaining critical wins before investing in cover-up solutions such as
Leaders Can Win More by Measuring Execution Readiness
Winning by properly executing ideas should be
leaders’ top priority. But with so much pressure on companies to grow, it’s
easy for executives to get wrapped up in chasing the next exciting business
idea. How are you going to attract new customers, get more clicks, or produce
The economic data shows declining growth and
productivity, yet investor analysis demands growth beyond what was considered
capable in the 1970s when today’s common management theories came into play.
Companies are trying to accomplish growth directly in conflict with the methods
by which they make decisions. To improve the 50 percent sucess rate of
initiatives, the approach needs to change.
The root cause of failure—and the employee
disengagement that follows—is the pursuit of unrealistic opportunities at the
decision-making level. If leaders started measuring execution readiness before
committing to projects, they would send fewer initiatives down the pipe that
are doomed to fail. When the company wins, employees win. As a result,
professional fulfillment, productivity, and employee engagement all increase.
What does it mean to measure execution
When you consider a new initiative, you need
to determine whether the people you’ve hired and the processes you’ve put in
place can deliver on the idea. Don’t assume a new initiative will work because
a previous project succeeded; that would be relying on an incorrect bias. You
need to assess each project on its own merits and unique variables. Instead of
pursuing the most exciting idea, select the one most likely to succeed.
We’re living through the Fourth
Industrial Revolution, driven by intelligence. People today are savvier
than ever, and the days when employees would be wooed by free lunch and
foosball tables have passed. Workers want real fulfillment, which only comes
from the reward of success.
Position your company and employees to win by measuring your execution readiness and choosing realistic initiatives, and the fulfillment and engagement your employees want will follow.
Alex Castro is the CEO of M Corp and has helped clients deliver complex corporate strategies for the last twenty years. He finds new approaches to serving and building companies by identifying their operational vulnerabilities and correcting them.