How to get employee buy­in and employee commitment to boost your company.

An architect was asked to design a university campus. She designed and built the different department buildings on the site, but contrary to the expectations of staff and students, she didn’t design any routes or pathways. Instead, she simply planted the whole site with grass. After the first semester, pathways have formed in the grass. The architect then came back and paved them. Not only were the paths in unusual locations that the architect couldn’t have predicted, but none of the paths were also straight. The architect honoured both of these features when she finally paved the pathways.

This story illustrates the single most important practice when it comes to creating employee commitment: the practice of facilitation.

employee commitment

With being an HR Manager – in any size organisation, in any industry, and on any continent – comes the inevitable question of employee commitment. Engaging your employees in your company is always part of your focus. There are many ways to keep employees engaged in the workplace. See our article: How to keep employees engaged?

However, through our years of experience working with companies, we have found that in order to employee commitment in the most effective manner, you first need to create the right context that will set the right foundation for engagement.

Before they can be committed and engaged, employees need to want to be engaged, and that is something that cannot be imposed, only encouraged, indeed facilitated. It’s important to note here that facilitating does not have to be done verbally, it can also be offered through the context. Similarly, the ‘response’ or reaction of people does not have to be verbal, it can be behavioural. This was exactly the case in the campus story above, where the invitation from the architect as well as the feedback from people were both non­verbal.

employee commitment
employee commitment
employee commitment

When it comes to facilitating the right context to create employee commitment in your company, there are three guidelines that can help you in your role as the facilitator. Here are three tips to keep in mind. They are rather provocative, so I would encourage you to hold them in your mind for a moment, and instead of  thinking: “I could never do that” or “this doesn’t work in my company”, or even “this doesn’t make sense in my HR role”, ask yourself:

  • How could I incorporate that into my role in HR?
  • How could I make that work for me, in my specific situation, in our organisation?
  • In what (small) way could I make a shift towards this?
Tip #1: Facilitate by creating an incomplete context.

The architect in the story above did not finish or seal the design. Instead, she left it incomplete, unfinished. The incompleteness was exactly the – non­verbal – invitation for people to share their – non­verbal – feedback. Incomplete contexts are an invitation to interact, participate, contribute and co­-create.

Creating an incomplete context is creating an opportunity to engage.

Tip #2: Facilitate by creating an impermanent context.

The architect did not cover the site with asphalt, but grass, which is alive and organic. Grass is in continuous conversation with its context and reflects the passage of time. Impermanence creates flexibility and allows us to record the feedback and input of people over time. Impermanent contexts are an invitation to interact,
participate, contribute and co-­create.

Creating an impermanent context is creating an opportunity to engage.

Tip #3: Facilitate by creating an imperfect context.

The paths that appeared in the grass after the first semester, were unusual and not straight. Imperfection invites people to engage with the humanity of inanimate things. Imperfect contexts are an invitation to interact, participate, contribute and co-­create.

Creating an imperfect context is creating an opportunity to engage.

Facilitating is creating contexts that are incomplete, impermanent and imperfect, to invite other people’s input. Creating contexts that are incomplete, impermanent and imperfect is how you can facilitate employee commitment and engagement in any kind of company and under any circumstances.

Facilitating interactions is the secret towards engaging people in your company.

This is what facilitation is all about: creating an invitation for people to offer their insights. Incomplete, impermanent and imperfect contexts and situations are the very invitation that people naturally respond to.

So, whenever you are looking for ways to engage your employees in your company, think about the power of facilitating interactions and the three simple ways you can do this.

Are you interested in the Power of Interactions and in engaging your employees using innovative yet simple tools? Download here the book The Power of Interactions and get the mindset as well as the practical.

Align and Engage your entire workforce to achieve massive growth in your Organisation.

Is the open-plan design suitable for the people in your workplace?

To open or not to open. That is the question… that has been haunting most Human resources (HR), Facility Management (FM) and Real estate (CRE) professionals in organisations around the world, when it comes to the workplace (open) plan design. Just like the miniature angel and devil standing on someone’s shoulders and whispering in your ears, we have all heard the argument and its opposite:

Collaboration comes more naturally in a workplace where there are no barriers. Open plan offices foster team spirit and create a social space as opposed to a closed-off individual space”.1

“Face-to-face interactions dropped by roughly 70% after some Fortune 500 firms transitioned to open offices” 2

So what is a workplace professional to do?

Over the years, the pendulum has swung from one extreme end of the spectrum to the other. After offices made of an endless maze of closed-off cubicles and closed offices lining endless corridors, we have seen a 180 degree shift to offices made of a vast open landscape with no walls to be seen as far as the eye can see. Throughout this transition, we have also clearly realised that none of those extreme scenarios actually work. The truth is; it is not about the open plan office design. It seems to me we are asking the wrong question.

Today, we are facing a series of challenges that, whether new or not, are of a magnitude never faced before. The solutions that worked yesterday, do not work anymore today. We need new solutions, new answers. Furthermore, we need new questions. In other words, we need to innovate. By innovation I mean the sum of asking the right questions and creating new answers. 

One of the new questions that we need to ask is not about what the workplace design needs to be, but rather what is the organisation’s goal when it comes to people? Are we aiming to increase collaboration? protect uninterrupted focused work or facilitate social interactions? Is the increase desired intra-teams, inter-teams or intra-departments, online or face-to-face? Further than defining the needs, we also need to identify the risks, what could this transformation destroy? What is working now that we want to preserve? 3.

What we quickly realise is that, when it comes to the open plan offices question, it is not about either or. It is not about open plan or ‘closed’ plan. Rather, it is about finding the right combination for the right needs, a combination that is able to offer employees two essential dimensions: choice and control. 

Workplace at KIT Tropical Institute in Amsterdam designed by AKKA Architects

Over nearly a decade, we have observed first hand in our projects that when the design of the workplace 
a) offers people choice among a good variety of different work settings, and,
b) empowers them to exercise control over when, what and where to work, employees are invariably less stressed, more productive, and happier (as they reported in their own words). In fact, as we dug deeper, we were pleased to find that our own findings were backed by research.
Research from the Harvard Business Review found out that knowledge workers whose companies allow them to help decide when, where, and how they work were more likely to be satisfied with their jobs, performed better, and viewed their company as more innovative than competitors that didn’t offer such choices. 

“Employees with choice are 10% more innovative than employees without choice. Their job performance is 5% higher, their job satisfaction is 10% more than the others and the workplace satisfaction is increased by 12%4.

This of course has to be checked against the specific goals of the company to ensure the results (such as, in the example above, an increase an innovation, performance and job satisfaction) are aligned with the company goals (See the cautionary tale in footnote #3). “Leaders need to make the call about what collective behaviours should be encouraged or discouraged and how. Their means should include not just the design of workspace configurations and technologies but the design of tasks, roles, and culture as well5.

Furthermore, I believe that the workplace culture, behaviours and subsequent needs of every company, should constitute an essential part of the workplace architecture and design process and it is indeed the role of the architect to facilitate this not only by engaging the leaders, but in fact the entire workforce in an iterative participatory process

As an HR manager, you can now stop struggling with the question of open plan or not open plan. It is actually neither and both. It is not about what the open plan is, it is about what it goes.

"It is not what it is. It is what it does."

Your workplace is a context to the interactions of everyone in it. And the context can only be as important as the quality of the interactions it fosters. In a workplace, nor design or architecture should be the star of the show, people should be. And architecture should be the facilitator of better interactions. The key to the open-plan office design question is therefore to find the right balance that is constituted of a variety of space settings that support the culture, behaviours and needs of the workplace. It goes without saying that once the balance is found in one organisation, it cannot be the answer to all other companies, in fact, I would be surprised if it was the answer to even one other company. 

Just as varied and unique people are, so are organisations. So how do you find the right balance of between your workplace design and the needs of your people for your organisation? My best answer is to run experimental pilots; easy, inexpensive and fast prototypes to understand the culture, behaviours and needs of your own organisation. This approach is what we at AKKA, call Workplace Acupuncture. 

In fact we are currently working on putting together a detailed case study of one of the Workplace Acupuncture projects we have performed for a bank in The Netherlands, where you will be able to read about the series of experiments and prototypes we have performed for them. Now, that is what we call Agile Architecture! Architecture! Get in touch with us at letstalk@akkaarchitects.com to be the first to receive the case study as soon as it is ready. 

Your workplace is a context to the interactions of everyone in it. And the context can only be as important as the quality of the interactions it fosters. In a workplace, architecture should not be the star of the show, your employees should have this role. And the architecture is a facilitator of better interactions. The key to the open plan office question is therefore to find the right balance that is constituted of a variety of space settings that support the culture, behaviours and needs of the workplace. It goes without saying that once the balance is found in one organisation, it cannot be the answer to all other companies. Just as people are unique, so are organisations. So how do you find the right balance of work settings for your organisation? The best answer is to run experimental pilots; easy, inexpensive and fast prototypes to understand the culture, behaviours and needs of your own organisation. This approach is what we at AKKA, call Workplace Acupuncture.

If you are interested to see how a multitude of work setting can be achieved by architecture, download here AKKA’s Innovative Workplace Expert guide which will help you to achieve the right balance in between open plan office and close plan office. 

Use your workplace as a strategic tool to attract and retain the best talent.

1. https://www.workspacedesign.co.uk/the-benefits-of-an-open-plan-office/

2. https://hbr.org/2019/11/the-truth-about-open-offices

3. A cautionary tale illustrating this point comes to us from Mori Building, one of the largest property-management companies in Japan. After implementing some changes to increase productive collaboration among the teams in its corporate headquarters, Mori discovered that although it achieved the results it wanted, it also inadvertently created a new problem. While the interactions between teams increased, those within teams fell drastically. Initially this was a good result since it meant that people were bypassing managers who appeared to be communication bottlenecks. The problem appeared 6 months later, when it became clear that quality of the work dropped. It seems that managers, while they may have been communication bottlenecks, were also gatekeepers of quality.

4. https://hbr.org/2014/01/employees-perform-better-when-they-can-control-their-space

How can a senior HR manager attract and retain millennials by balancing their work expectations?

New young people are entering the workforce every day. They are what is being loosely and sometimes mysteriously referred to as “the Millennials” and they represent more than 50% of your organisation workforce. If you are already working with millennials, you have probably already some challenges, such as: How can you keep them engaged, let alone keep them? How can you meet their desires to be flexible, work anytime, anywhere and yet have plenty of social interactions? How can you reassure them that their contribution to your organisation is meaningful? See our article: How to keep employees engaged in the workplace?

Millennials want, above all, one thing: meaningful work, a sense of purpose, and the opportunity to change the world.

meaningful work
There are a number of characteristics that describe this generation, however, the core can be distilled to the following:

As a LinkedIn survey revealed, 74% of candidates want a job that fills them with meaning.1 The problem is, meaningful work is most obvious at senior positions, that cannot – yet – be matched with the current level of expertise and experience that most Millennials exhibit. So, as a senior HR manager yourself, even one working for an organisation with a clear sense of purpose, you may find yourself struggling to attract the right talent for entry and junior level positions. You may even find yourself in interviews, struggling to explain, at the explicit request of the Millennial applicants, the purpose and meaningful component of this junior position.

The good news is – assuming your organisation is indeed driven by a strong vision, a strong sense of purpose and meaningful contribution to the world –, every position is or can be reframed to be as meaningful as the overall company mission. The secret is in establishing a clear link between any position and the ultimate company purpose and making that link visible to everyone in the organisation. It doesn’t have to be a dilemma between a junior position and meaningful work.

meaningful work
meaningful work
meaningful work
The top 3 secrets for establishing and living the meaningful connection.

Tip #1: Millennials have a reputation – true or false – of wanting things handed over to them on a silver platter. This attitude is one that you absolutely want to eliminate from your organisation. So, what I would suggest you to do is to clearly describe that link in the job opening, and at the beginning of the interview. Then, ask the applicant to elaborate on that, to describe how they think they can keep the link alive, hold them responsible for that link, for living it and making it effective, i.e. hold them responsible, accountable and make them proactive about the actual contribution that this position can deliver to the overall company mission. Encourage them to explore both the company mission and their own individual mission.

Tip #2: Renew the commitment regularly: Make these questions a stable agenda item in your performance reviews. These questions of meaningfulness need to be asked as often as possible and as regularly as possible.

  1. How is what I am/we are doing in my position / in our team on a daily basis meaningful?
  2. How can I/we make (notice the intentional proactive use of language) my/our work more meaningful?

Don’t forget to encourage them to explore both the company mission and its own individual mission. It is essential to continuously check alignment and whether you are all still moving in the same direction.

Tip #3: Use one of your most expensive yet most underused resources: your workplace. Your second most expensive resource is your workplace. Most organisations’ second most expensive cost is their real estate/office space costs. Recent research has shown that 89% of people blame their physical work environment for their dissatisfaction and lack of  ngagement at work.2 Beyond being a “roof over your head” or a backdrop to your activities, your workplace can and should  communicate to every person visiting it, and – even more importantly – to every person working in it on a daily basis, why they are there and how they are connected to the company’s mission. This is crucial because if the  connection between the employee’s contribution and the company’s mission is weakened, the employees can easily lose their enthusiasm. In order to avoid this, you need to ask yourself: what can I improve in my organisation’s workplace to communicate to my employees the connection between their work and the overall mission of the company? I am not suggesting you have the company logo and a few motivational words displayed on the wall. What I am suggesting is to think about the non­verbal communication your workplace is broadcasting – whether by design or by default – and consider how your workplace can capture the energy, values and the mission that is driving your organisation. Once your workplace can capture and communicate the meaningful purpose of your company, it can keep millennials and all other employees connected to the purpose of the company. And the best thing is, your workplace can do that while you sleep.

Alignment is the key to your organisation’s success.

These three tips can help you not only attract, but also retain talent in your organisation. These methods will also significantly boost the impact that your organisation aims to have because they not only remind each individual of the meaningfulness of their work, but they constantly remind, re­align and reunite every person in the organisation towards the one mission.

If a company can help individuals with their search to find meaning in their work, then the organisation will benefit from having more productive and successful employees.

Are you interested in boosting your efforts of attracting and retaining millennials easily, swiftly and for good? Are you wondering how to address this and other millennial­related challenges in your own  organisation? Download here the book The Power of Interactions to learn how to align and engange any group of people and therefore retain and recruit talent easily and effectively. Solve the challenges you are facing as an HR professional now.

Align and Engage your entire workforce to achieve massive growth in your Organisation.

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