People not tasks

Innovative approaches to better employee engagement

by Guido Van Nispen

Future of work 11 December 2019

“People, not tasks, are at the core of your organization — create a three spoke flywheel to get them maximally engaged.”

Adding value to workers

Organizations that consistently add value to their employees, and other workers in their organization will be able to attract, retain, and keep the best people at their top level. Staff will be highly engaged by having their value improved during their time at work. 

Highly-engaged teams show 21 percent greater profitability

This finding by Gallup, as reported by Forbes, punctuates the fact that employee engagement consists of actual behavior, not an abstract feeling. Organizations that view engagement as a feeling conduct employee surveys and offer perks to improve results. The report finds that the most successful workplaces make employee engagement central to their business strategy. 

A reinforcing flywheel for engagement

Organizations that have a ‘people-oriented’ vision will, therefore, perform structurally better than their competitors and thereby create a sustainable business advantage.

The model is to deploy people where their talents and capacities are optimally utilized and rewarded. Next to that, you also have to ensure optimal learning so that they continue to develop. This makes the age-old learn, then earn, then returna continuous cycle during working life rather than following its previous linear format. To optimize this cycle, organizations have to create an accompanying flywheel to address these three elements.

Rather than organizing work around tasks, the idea is to structure work around people and their skills. Increasing skills and knowledge contributes to the potential to do valuable work, so education is part of the equation. We are seeing new forms of education emerging, like at H-Farm, partly through online access to information and partly as a consequence of longer lives and thus longer careers. It no longer seems possible to learn for a while, earn for a while, and then retire. Careers may extend over periods of six decades or more during which time technology will have dramatically changed society and its needs. Continued learning will be needed during a working career. Indeed, people with long lives may have multiple careers over time. 

Who are the role models? 

Google has claimed the top spot on Glassdoor’s annual list of the 50 best places to work, as well as Fortune magazine’s annual list of the 100 best companies for whom to work multiple times over the years. This is in part because Google offers some of the best employee perks, opportunities for career growth, work that positively impacts the human race, and innovative culture. Google has transformed learn, earn, and return into a reinforcing three-spoke flywheel.

What if you are a ScaleUp and not Google?

You might argue that once you are one of the largest companies in the world and have all the cash you can imagine, and can select and retain the very best people, it would be easy to implement this flywheel. But what if you are a ScaleUp with limited funds and significant challenges, and are struggling to keep up with the pace of growth? There are four things you can do right off the bat:

  • First, picking the right people to manage at the stage you are at (not where you will be in two years) and getting them up to speed and inspiring them, is key!
  • Second, making sure you know how engaged your workforce is. Measuring employee engagement is the first step to improving both it and productivity in the workplace. If you don’t know what’s going on, you can’t find or solve problems. As well as judging engagement on the quality and quantity of work produced, it is also essential to ask your team how they feel about the level of support they are receiving. Ask them how satisfied they are with their work, how valued they feel;
  • Third, give them the opportunity to constantly learn and improve themselves.
  • Finally, while employee satisfaction is not the same as employee engagement, it is essential to remember that when employees are given a voice and sufficient autonomy to be productive and innovative, success will follow. Engaged employees are committed to the business they work for. They are invested in achieving its potential, proactive and productive, and serve as ambassadors for the company. 

Final considerations

Usually, fully-engaged employees go above and beyond what is expected of them and will put everything into making the business a success… So you better hire the right people and treat them well and create your own three-spoke flywheel of engagement. 


Image source: United States Geological Survey