The problem with asking people what they want at work

For years we have run engagement surveys or conducted learning and development audits to help work out what our people need to be more ‘engaged’. Whatever that word really means.

We do it for all the right reasons but it’s never really sat well with me. We are asking people, who are perfectly flawed humans, what they think they need to be happier. So of course, they say more money, more team retreats, more training, more beanbags and more wine in the fridge.

It sets up an expectation that great results and awesome cultures come from changing what already is. But that’s not completely true. The culture is still as it is. The reality is still there.

We hope running training programs to boost the capability of our leaders and people will create the improvement we are hoping for.  So our engagement scores reflect that and we grow and maintain an awesome workplace. I don’t reckon it’s enough. But the answer is not as out of reach as we think.

It’s the drama that is created and not dealt with in the workplace that is causing so much grief. This is not an HR problem. It’s a people problem. It’s what we are prepared to inflict and walk past that becomes our norm. 

Cy Wakeman, in No Ego, defines drama as; “mentally wasteful thought processes or unproductive behaviour that keeps leaders or their teams from delivering the highest level of results”. It includes gossip, blaming, resistance to change, lack of ownership, not buying in, defensive and dealing with offense. She quantifies that we spend 2.5 hours a day creating or dealing with drama. Whoa!

We need to remove the obstacles that get in the way of these unproductive thoughts and behaviours. This is not fixed through training, beanbags and money. It just makes it more tolerable – for a time. Until it is no longer.

We need to create a culture where people love coming to work because of the results they get and how they treat each other. We don’t need to ask them that. We know this is true.

Asking our people for what they want is about as useful as asking a small child what they want to be when they grow up. How will they know? No wonder they become obsessed with having to have work status. It’s what they get asked all the time. 

PS – If you loved this then you might just be super keen to learn about our kickarse culture program ‘Working as One’. Send me a note if you’d like to have a chat.