April 7, 2021

Trouble Hiring? Here is Another Option


Aaron Hurst

In July 2009, there were 6.6 people seeking work for every unfilled job. It was the height of the great recession and companies that were looking to hire had a bounty of talent available to them. Today, the ration is 1-to-1. For every manager looking to hire, there is only one person looking for work.

For companies seeking to grow (or even maintain their current position), especially in services and manufacturing sectors, today’s labor scarcity often means failing to meet critical hiring objectives.

The retail sector is feeling the pain of labor scarcity more than many other sectors.  Indeed, for many retail employers, the inability to attract new sales staff has meant asking their existing employees to double-up on shifts or, worse, accepting lower levels of customer service. The scarcity of retail talent has resulted in lower sales and productivity.  It has also led to higher turnover and impact on the physical and mental health of many retailers’ current workforce.

A Korn Ferry survey found that turnover for hourly store employees is now over 65%. That means that the odds are low that the barista you just hired will still be with you in a year.

Why do some people get more done?

There is an exception to this trend. From 2008 to 2015, Bain & Company’s Michael Mankins and Eric Garton studied employee productivity and published their findings last year in a new book from Harvard Business Review Press entitled: Time | Talent | Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag & Unleash the Productive Power of Your Team.

Mankins and Garton studied relative productivity across hundreds of large organizations. Productivity, in their analysis, was defined as the relative level of output per employee hour.  How many people did a given Starbucks employee serve per hour? How quickly did people working in a factory complete specific tasks? How much usable code did a software developer write per day?

They then asked leaders of the companies in their global sample to estimate the differences in productivity between unsatisfied, satisfied, engaged and inspired employees,  Mankins and Garton treat employee experience as a hierarchy. To be satisfied, employees need to feel that a number of “qualifiers” are met: e.g., they need to feel safe on the job, properly resourced.  To be engaged, employees require more from their work: e.g., they need to feel that they have autonomy in their work, having an impact, part of a great team, learning at work. Finally, inspiration requires even more: e.g., they need to feel a tight alignment between their individual purpose and the company’s purpose, the company’s leadership or their direct supervisor is so inspirational that they are inspired to come to work every day.

When they crunched the data, they found that an engaged employee is 45% more productive than those that are merely satisfied. That means in the same hour, a satisfied employee was able to complete 100 tasks and the engaged one completed 145.

This is a major difference. Imagine if your company could increase your revenue by 45% with the current team you have. But, this isn’t anything new. Gallup and employee engagement advocates have been showing the impact of engagement on productivity for years.

What the Bain & Company’s team found that was a breakthrough was the impact of inspired employees. Where the satisfied employees could complete 100 tasks and the engaged workers 145, inspired employees could complete 225 - 125% more than their satisfied counterparts.  Stated differently, an inspired employee could complete the same work as a satisfied employee in less than half the time.

In short, inspiring your employees has more than twice the impact as merely satisfying them.

How Do You Inspire Employees?

Mankins and Garton, encouraged by their findings, dug deeper to understand why some employees were inspired while others were only satisfied or engaged. They found two sources of inspiration that made the difference.

“Employees reported being inspired when they felt a strong alignment between their personal purpose and the purpose of the organization,” Mankins shared with me. “The more common reason, however, was that they were inspired by the leadership of their company or, most often, their direct supervisor.”

1. Align Organizational and Personal Purpose

In an economy where there is a shortage of people to fill all the open roles in our organizations, we need to rethink leadership and management. It isn’t enough to simply define your organization’s purpose and post it in your lobby. You need to help every employee align their purpose with the organization’s and regularly adjust their approach to work to remain in that inspired place of alignment.

2. Develop Inspirational Managers

“Inspirational leadership can be taught. Companies that recognize that and invest in making it happen to create a meaningful impact on the productivity of their company,” Mankins shared recently in an interview with Fast Company.

To do this, we need to train managers on the science of purpose and motivation so that they can create a virtuous circle of high performance.

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