The greatness gap at the work place

Over the years I have worked for 3 international companies that will prize themselves as best in class in their respective industries. I served 4 years in flight operation in the 90’s working for the best airline in the world then, Singapore International Airlines. 2 years with the reputable parcel delivering company DHL that crowned themselves as the logistics solutions provider to turn to. 2 years with Millennium and Copthorne chain of hotels, who built a reputation for themselves as the hospitality champions for business travellers.

What employees wants

All 3 organizations lacked their ability to engage employees who worked with me then. 2015 white paper on the North American workforce shared, after compensation, employees looked to these factors at work;

  • Recognition
  • Direction
  • Inspiration
  • Purpose

Dan Pink, in his book, “Drive” shared the need to align purpose in the realm of engagement techniques you can utilise with your employees. “Purpose” is a powerful driver for functional behaviours in employees and employee engagement. In the 3 organizations none of the managers I reported to, valued my personal aspirations or took time to engage me on my “purpose” at work. The science of engagement is supported by data and here are some numbers that was featured in the white paper, The-Greatness-Gap.pdf;

  • 51% of the employees were not happy at work

We didn’t know, vision, mission and values

4 years with Singapore International Airlines working in the basement of terminal 2 our happiness level was as good as the baseline where our office was, at the basement. The hub for pilots and flight dispatchers. My guess, more then 50% of the employees who worked with me were not happy at all. To circumvent the potential loss of employees, SIA, instituted a 2 years training bond with 2 years of training that involved 1 month of study and deployment at work straight away thereafter, dispatching flight plans. What a sneaky way to hold on to employees for 4 years, when you know most would have left if not for the bond. 

The state of employee disengagement is further accentuated when organisations do not inculcate the mission, vision and values.  Here are some facts from the white paper;


How aware are your employees on your mission and vision

  • 61 % of the employees don’t know their company values
  • 57 % are not motivated by the company values
  • Only 40 % know their company values

Even for the employees, who knew the vision and mission its imperative that the organisation accounts for the practice of these values at work. Facilitating a senior team of directors, I asked a rhetoric question. How many of your employees are willing to give up their lives for the work they do. There was an awkward pause, short chuckle and eyes darting back and forth. They realised the question I posed was a serious one. Timidly one answered, ” managing a factory we do not need death as an indicator of company loyalty”. As a I explained further, when employees are moved and aligned with the purpose, vision and mission of the organization, there is usually explicit acceptance to undertake such a sacrifice. Folks who serve with special forces, like the Navy Seals, SAS, Rangers and Commandos, are one such organization. Khoi Tu, in his book, “Super Team” described the SAS as one such super team. We don’t expect your employees to die for you at work, but they should do the very best for you.

Mission, vision and values are powerful. However when they become just an artefact to dress up reception halls, complete the webpage “about us”, and where only the HR department is kept in the loop, you have a gap. Such a gap will rate you best amongst the mediocre companies, who may once have been No. 1.