Unleashing Employee Passion: Obstacles & Answers

A performance culture is essential to achieving sustained success within an organization. It breeds an environment that is passionate at its core. Passion is unleashed when a company has achieved sufficient line of sight in the minds of its employees between the following related elements:

  1. Company Vision - where is this company headed?
  2. Business Model & Strategy - how is it going to get there?
  3. Roles and Expectations - what is my role in that strategy and what's expected of me in that role?
  4. Rewards - how will I be rewarded for fulfilling those expectations?
  5. Personal Vision - how do those rewards relate to my personal financial goals and requirements?

Barriers to achieving achieving a culture of confidence that perpetuates the success just described are not the same in every organization. That said, they do generally fall into certain categories that are helpful to isolate so they can be addressed and a course correction initiated.

Obstacle Group 1 - Future

In this category, the company is experiencing a deficit of perspective about, and/or planning for, the organization's future.

  • The future company has not been clearly defined by ownership
  • The future company has not been clearly communicated to employees
  • Employees don't see a role for themselves in the future company

It is important for a company to determine whether or not its employees understand where the business is headed - and whether their perspective matches that of ownership. Often, leadership in a company feels as though it has been very clear about where the company is going and what that means to employees, but a survey of the workforce indicates otherwise. Don't be too assumptive about what employees understand in this regard and don't expect employees to be compelled by a vision you have not yet clearly articulated.

Obstacle Group 2 - Foundation

This barrier primarily exists in companies that have taken a reactive approach to the development of their rewards strategies. They do not yet see compensation as a strategic tool that can create alignment and line of sight within the organization. There are no philosophical underpinnings for the decisions the company makes about pay programs. As a result, such an organization is often led to make ad hoc decisions regarding compensation and benefits that are not linked to the growth plans of the enterprise.

  • The company has not established a consensus about how to use rewards programs to accelerate company growth (lack of a rewards philosophy)
  • A philosophy has been developed but it has not been properly communicated to the employees
  • A philosophy has been adopted but it's incomplete or simply inadequate

Building a rewards foundation starts with the company's belief system. A rewards philosophy should grow out of and be an extension of the company's vision, mission, values and business model. Companies that understand this have different compensation struggles than those that don't. For example, their struggle might be with striking the right balance between a short-term and long-term incentive plan - as opposed to whether or not to have an incentive plan at all.

Obstacle Group 3 - Framework

Framework has to do with building compensation programs within an investment rather than an expense context. Too many organizations still view rewards as a cost issue that has to be "reigned in" as opposed to an investment for which a return is anticipated and targeted.

  • The company does not view compensation as an investment and therefore has no way to track or measure the return it is getting on that outlay
  • The company has a history/tradition of building rewards programs as independent units and not as an integrated whole (no comprehensive compensation structure)
  • The company does not have clear standards (best practices) or methods to set and reset values that are consistent with employee performance expectations and company targets

The result of this barrier is that companies reap a harvest of mediocre execution and probably very little passion on the part of their employees. This is because the company is communicating one thing verbally about its vision and strategy, but something entirely different with its rewards programs. In essence, they are saying, "I want to grow this company from a $50 million to $75 million business over the next three years - and I am counting on your help (Mr. Key Employee) to get there." At the same time, they are also saying, "at our company, you will be paid a competitive salary, be given health insurance and can participate in our 401K plan." Where's the financial partnership that codifies the employee's role in the shareholder's vision? Just what about that rewards framework communicates to an employee - especially one that is confident in his unique abilities - that he is essential to the growth plan of the organization, or how he will personally benefit from helping the organization realize its future company vision?

Obstacle Group 4 - Focus

A focus obstacle occurs in a business when there are good programs in place to incent people to perform, but they are not understood, appreciated or reinforced. Leadership in companies that are experiencing this phenomenon is often found scratching its head while saying, "we pay our people in the 90th percentile of what the market indicates for total compensation in our industry - yet our people are not engaged and don't think like owners. There is no consistent focus on executing key performance indicators."

  • The full potential value of the total rewards plan is not regularly and powerfully communicated
  • Only some of the plans (but not all) are built to generate "line-of-sight"
  • Company systems and personnel are not equipped to handle the annual management of effective rewards strategies (they are reactive rather than proactive)

Often, companies that lack focus find themselves missing the mark in trying to solve the problems they are facing. While they may need to re-engineer one of their plans (or introduce a new one), they may just as well need to better support the plans they currently have in place. Are performance management systems operating effectively? Are incentive awards understood, promoted, celebrated and consistently communicated? Are expectations and rewards clearly linked in the minds of employees? Can employees see a path of confidence in their lifestyle through the company pay programs and understand how they will participate in value creation?

If a company is going to overcome any or all of these obstacles, it must be able to assess its current position and chart a corrective course for the future. One of the key resources to tap when making such an evaluation is the group of key people that drive the success of the organization. For the most part, these are individuals who want to see the company succeed. In that context, they hope to grow and develop personally, professionally and financially.

Therefore, tapping into this resource to determine how best to move forward is critical. However, it must be done in a constructive way that allows company owners to maintain control and infuse thought leadership into the process. Surveys, interviews and other tools are available to farm key employees as a source of valuable data to make pay decisions going forward and create greater line of sight.

The bottom line is that if the obstacles just described are not dealt with in your company, then...

  • You won't have the capacity to recruit and retain the kind of employees who generate meaningful change and growth
  • You have not fully captured the potential contribution of the people who are (and will) apply their unique abilities within your business

To read more about the impact of this issue on your culture, click here.

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