A timely, but depressing health check has just hit my desk. Not about me you understand, but a revealing study, by Bupa, that shows the UK still isn’t performing as well as it could,  that it has shockingly low levels of engagement and employees just don’t feel valued and cared for (many people reported physical and emotional ill-health as a result).  Call me a pessimist, but I suspect we’ll be hearing these messages for a long time yet – Bupa has flagged up something that is going to take a lot of time and effort to fix.  Changing cultures is long, hard work and there is no miracle cure, no pill to end the woes – we are facing the start of what amounts to a very long period of organisational physiotherapy in this country.

As the report says, there are actions that organisations can take to help people with these performance-draining feelings of not being appreciated, valued or rewarded.  So, too, are there actions that can help people drive their own development and start to feel more empowered in their careers (even the ones who are quite happy staying where they are). 

But the persistent problem with most cultural initiatives is that it’s not behaviours that get the big piece of investment look-in. Processes, yes.  Systems, structures and software, yes. People doing things differently?  Not so much. But without dedicated investment to shape new cultures where people do feel appreciated, rewarded and developed, more and more surveys will continue to highlight our country’s performance deficit.

If leaders want sustained performance, they must build people first, invest in them and make their organisational culture stand for more than bottom-line figures.  This isn’t a new message.  At the HR events that I’ve presented at this year, I challenged HR professionals to think how they could create what I call ‘investors’ – employees who actively seek more than pay and rewards from their job and are prepared to give consistently give the best of themselves.

The majority of their suggestions focused on the things that make people feel closer to the organisation and start to shape a bigger purpose for them being there: more recognition, development and rewards. From opportunities for more inter-department training to celebrations of work well done, the responses show a clear desire from HR to help enrich employees’ personal and professional lives and represent the beating heart of the organisation.  Unfortunately, the essential role of making these intentions become a reality lose out against day-to-day transactions and time pressures.  Consequently, many ‘investor’ schemes never come to fruition and performance never achieves its potential.

Let’s not forget what we’re really here to do: build performance. Until then, another survey with the same results is just a few clicks away.

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