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How To Have Employees With Skin In The Game

Do organizations go forward virtually or in person?  Some of our clients are staying 100% remote.  Some are almost 100% back in the office.  Most people are creating their own hybrid model.  The experience of our clients seems to track what we read and see more generally.  But, to be sure, no one knows exactly how things will shake out and they will definitely continue to evolve. 

But one thing is certain.  It will be ever more difficult to maintain organizations with people who feel they have “skin in the game.” 

In a post-pandemic world, many people have re-thought the whole way they think about the role of work in their lives.  First, there was the Great Resignation—now it’s becoming the Great Regret.  People didn’t want to do what they’d always been doing, but then came the reality of the monthly bills or the reality of a new employer that may pay more but has a culture that is uninspiring or disrespectful.
Now we’re living in an era in which most or all interactions are online, employees have never met each other in person, and many have never seen the corporate headquarters (if there even is one anymore).

What most people see each day is a home with two home offices—one for each spouse or partner, with one often one being the kitchen table and the other doubling as an exercise room.  There is the computer and the schedule of virtual meetings interrupted by children going to school and calls to the plumber to fix the toilet. 

“Skin in the game” has never been more difficult, and what does that mean anyway?

“Skin in the game” means employees identify with the mission of the organization and feel identified with it to the point that they will give their best for their organization to succeed. They feel that the challenges to their organization are their challenges and the success of the organization is their success.

If you have a team of these people, you are amazingly blessed.  Research shows that people still hate their jobs and have little identification with the organization.
 Remember the old classic movie, Office Space?  The 1999 movie was made in Austin, and I think you’ll enjoy watching this 40-second clip. It’s fun and horrifying. Peter Gibbons, the main character, tries to dart out the back way from work on a Friday afternoon, only to be caught by his sleazy, sneaky boss, Bill Lumbergh, who brings him the bad news that Peter has to work on Saturday because Peter has to “catch up,” although the work is boring and unnecessary.
I’m finding out that Office Space in all too many cases is closer to a documentary than the dark satire it was intended to be. 

Research is consistent over time.   51% of employees are unengaged, and 17 percent are actively disengaged.
YouTube—I Hate my JobA trip through YouTube is a revelation about employee engagement. Here was my search, and I encourage you to join with me. I searched the term:
“I hate my job.”
 There are well over 300 YouTube videos in the YouTube category “I hate my job.” Individual topics include, “I hate my job worse than I hate my life.” “I need the money but I’m desperate to leave my job.” If any of us had the time to see the 100,000 clips on “I hate my job,” you could be led to suspect that millions of people are in jobs they despise.

That being said, there are a great many people who are employees with “skin in the game.”  Here is the profile you’re looking for.  

  1. Your Likability.  A few years ago, whether you were going to like your team leader and those you work with was way down on the list.  We often hear people saying now, “I work for my company because of the person I work for.  If they leave, I leave.”  Skin in the game today often amounts to personal loyalty to an effective and caring manager. 
  2. A Significant Role in an Organization that Matters.  People who make the change to a new organization want to join a company that is in a space that matters, a field that is growing in importance, makes an impact, and can be an environment for learning new skills. We find that people will work for a lower salary for a company that is pioneering important work or has a mission that makes the world a better place either through the technology or service it provides or through the people it serves.  
  3. Flexibility.  Many employees are simply refusing to go to the office every day.  It’s a tug-of-war between management, who writes the paycheck, and people, who bring the skills.  There will be no clear winner, but the employer who can offer greater flexibility will gain more loyalty from employees.  
  4. Compensation.  The battle is brutal for top employees.  They are a telephone call away from a better job than they presently have. Money and equity still make a huge difference. 
  5. Inspiration.  Successful organizations have the charisma of inspirational leaders.  Without their inspiration, there is no “skin in the game,” only a revolving back door.  Leaders must sell and re-sell their employees on the value of staying.
  6. Organization-wide Events.  With organizations now being remote, the energy and inspiration of bringing people together for the annual or semi-annual meeting will be even more important. The meeting must be seen as an employee perk, both business aned social.  It has to be well designed and well executed.  It needs to meet business needs for employees, provide social connection, and build relationships.  And it needs to be fun.

No organization can be successful without employees with “skin in the game” running deep into the organization.    In the age of virtual meetings, people tell us that team meetings have become perfunctory and boring and fail in building relationships and trust.  Building an environment where people can have “skin in the game” is critical.  It’s challenging.  And it just might be your greatest competitive edge. 

Austin, Texas

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Carol Kallendorf, PhD. | (512) 417-9756 

Jack Speer | (512) 417-9428


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