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Employee engagement. A hot topic these days. According to Gallup, “only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work.” In other words, only 1 out of 8 employees are “psychologically committed to their jobs and likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations.”
Actively disengaged employees worldwide? 24%, outnumbering engaged employees by nearly 2:1.
Employees worldwide who are not engaged? 63%, meaning they lack motivation; and are therefore less likely to invest “effort in organizational goals or outcomes.”
No matter how you slice it; it seems clear that employee engagement remains a challenge for most companies. And in today’s business environment where demands are high for profitable growth, financial market volatility abounds, uncertainty is the new norm and continually advancing technology turbocharges everything, the challenge becomes clearer. We are lost in a world of ambiguity and speed. Locked into jobs where we are overworked with high demands. Despite all of this, we still have to answer to our stakeholders. We still have to make a profit.
So who has time for engagement?
- “Businesses with more engaged employees have 51% higher productivity.” (Harter, J.K. & Schmidt)
- “Engaged employees outperform disengaged employees by 28%.” (The Conference Board)
- “Organizations with engaged employees showed a 19% increase in operating income over a 12-month period.” (Towers Perrin)
- “For organizations with highly engaged employees, the share prices rose an average of 16%.” (Serota Consulting)
- Companies who engage and effectively communicate with their employees “had 47% higher total returns to shareholders over the last five years,” (Towers Watson)
Productivity. Performance. Operating Income. Share Price. Total Returns. All very compelling business cases; and these are just to name a few. Yet effective leaders and entrepreneurs understand that building an engagement strategy for their organization should be a top priority. And it’s about more than just the numbers.
Shift your mindset…
First and foremost, recognize that employee engagement is not “soft”, “easy” or even “abstract”. It is real. And it has the power to affect your bottom line. Your Management Team must understand and agree that employee engagement needs to be a strategic function of your organization.
If you’re going to move the needle on engagement, you need to “be the change”. This must start from the top and will require you to think differently. So shift your mindset; and do it now! Profit matters. Without it, you certainly do not have a business. And people matter. They are more than a means to an end; they are to be acknowledged and valued. Without them you have no employees; without employees, you also have no business.
In your lifetime, a person will spend nearly 100,000 hours in the office; this equates to approximately 12,500 days. In that same lifetime, a person will spend just 115 days laughing. An interesting contrast, don’t you think?
The life expectancy for a male in the US in 2015 is 76 or 27,740 days, meaning that a man spends nearly 45% of his life in an office. If employees are giving to you such a large portion of their lives, should you not be investing in them as well?
There is no doubt that an exchange exists between employer and employee. An employee works for an employer and is compensated in return for completing tasks and activities. But I’m not just talking about numbers and benefits. I’m suggesting that we go beyond that, making our workplaces engaging, rewarding – and yes – even fun. A venue where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
The requirement here is that leaders and entrepreneurs need to adopt the worldview that people matter as much as profit. Make the commitment to invest in the success of your employees just as they are investing in making your company successful. Build your organization as a Learning Organization – a place where people have the opportunity to grow, develop and flourish, using daily work activities as the platform for that growth. It’s a win-win.
Adopt the Four C’s…
The senior Management Team needs to demonstrate the behaviors of what you are asking employees to engage in. Show people what it means to be “engaged”, setting a living example not only within your own team; but with the whole of the organization. A way to begin is through clear expectations and regular communication. These are strong pillars for proper engagement. Like a precious diamond, the Four C’s are essential. You need Continuous Candid Clear Communication™. A diamond’s value is determined by the quality of its cut, clarity, color and carat. The same applies to engagement. The quality of the regularity, transparency and clarity in how you communicate with people will determine the level of trust and connection people feel with you.
So make the commitment to promote open, ongoing dialogue. Demonstrate your desire to truly listen to your employees; do not ignore them! Those who listen earn trust, reaping immediate, tangible benefits. Develop the courage to speak transparently about your company’s vision, goals, challenges, and strategy. Answer tough questions in a way that is clear and authentic, leaving no room for your employees to make up stories in their heads about what really going on.
Small changes can make a big difference. Give and receive constructive feedback on a regular basis. In particular, narrow the time gap between performance and feedback and deliver it with clarity and authenticity. Larger gaps in time create situations where employees either feel ignored or that they are doing a good job when they in fact they are underperforming. Don’t wait until the quarterly performance review rolls around. Engage in feedback sessions on a consistent basis, offering positive, practical, clear suggestions about how performance can improve. And when an employee is performing well or goes over and beyond what is expected, praise her and do it often!
Surveys are great, and…
When we think about measuring employee engagement, the first thing that comes to mind is probably “survey”. Surveys can be very useful – if you can get people to actually take them and ask the “right questions”. But what questions do you use?
There are hundreds of surveys out there, each one of them stating that they have questions which will achieve the most accurate results.
Using a score on a 1-5 scale, Gallup asks questions like:
- I know what is expected of me at work.
- At work, my opinions seem to count.
- The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
- My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
- In the last 6 months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
- There is someone at work who encourages my development.
Using a sore on a scale of strongly agree to strongly disagree, SurveyMonkey asks questions like:
- Employees in my organization willingly accept change.
- Employees proactively identify future challenges and opportunities.
- Employees here keep going when the going gets tough.
- I am determined to give my best effort at work each day
- I get excited about going to work.
- I am inspired to meet my goals at work.
Surveys can certainly be used to assess employee engagement and satisfaction. The reality is that if they are not mandatory, you are doing well if you can tap into 10% of your organization. And you may not be asking the “right” questions.
And according to Cy Wakeman, contributor to Forbes, “traditional employee satisfaction surveys make three assumptions that just don’t hold water:”
Wrong Assumption #1: Every employee response is equally important
Wrong Assumption #2: Every employee opinion is credible.
Wrong Assumption #3: Engagement alone drives results.
Her suggestion? “To put a stake in the ground and change the way we approach employee engagement.” Ms. Wakeman then lists five practices that she feels are important to re-thinking employee engagement which goes something like this:
- Not every opinion should be treated the same. Listen to the top performers vs. spending energy on the complaints of your worst employees.
- Replace entitlement with empowerment. With empowerment comes personal accountability. In caring about people’s growth and development, employees should be allowed to see themselves as creators of their own destiny. Challenge them to take on more responsibility and hold them accountable.<
- Managers and HR Departments often receive requests from employees. It’s time to turn the tables. When a request comes your way, ask that employee: “What are you willing to do to get that?”
- Foster a “Yes” culture. “Once a decision has been made, employees should use their expertise to manage the risks and make it work.”
- Don’t try to create the perfect workplace. Business comes with change, conflict and challenges. Without those obstacles, our personal and professional growth is stinted. “Instead of removing all the healthy hurdles for your employees, empower them to make the leap. It’s better for them” and your company.
This author’s bottom line view on surveys: “If you must conduct an engagement survey, try one that factors in a certain level of accountability. Don’t just take the word of the vast majority – many of whom work to collect a paycheck; not to add value.
But how do we really measure engagement?
Surveys can be useful in providing a baseline “temperature check” of where your organization stands with regard to employee engagement. And…what you do with that information is not only strategic; it’s crucial. The Four C’s come into play here. To communicate the results of the survey is absolutely necessary. And how you communicate those results along with your suggestions about how you will deal with any issues is significant.
In the same breath, it’s important to consider some of what Cy Wakeman shares with us. I agree that engagement and empowerment cannot exist without accountability. It’s not only up to the employer to create a culture of engagement and provide a great place to work. It is a two-way street that takes both employer and employee working together, taking accountability to jointly establish a culture of connection, trust and collaboration.
And I’ve landed in the same place. An organization that has or wants to create a culture of learning, growth and development and put that on an even keel with profit will win the day. The organizations who make a commitment to work towards creating meaning and passion through daily work activities are the companies who will be here 100 years from now. The engaged company is the company of the future.
Yet it is hard to numerically measure engagement. Engagement is a feeling. It’s like asking someone to measure love or happiness or the feeling of satisfaction. Forbes contributor Kevin Kruse suggests that you can’t measure a feeling; but you can measure proxies for that feeling.
“Engagement refers to one’s emotional commitment to their organization and the organization’s goals. It leads to discretionary effort. A sales person who feels engaged will work just as hard on Friday afternoon as she does on Monday morning.” People who are truly engaged at work will exhibit certain behaviors. They are:
- More likely to brag to others about their boss, colleagues or work activities vs someone who is not engaged
- More likely to share with others how happy they are
- Less likely to fantasize about what it might be like to work with a competitor or to think about looking for a new job
- More likely to refer someone they care about for employment at their company
- More likely to work extra hours because they want to
- More likely to feel pride in their organization
“So while it’s true we cannot put a numerical value on the feeling of engagement, we can certainly create proxy questions—validated over time—around the behaviors associated with engagement.”
“Imperfect? Yes. That’s why we call them proxy questions. But still an invaluable tool to understand trends and correlations.”
And we can take this so much deeper than trends and correlations.
Consider the B-corporation – a for-profit corporate entity developed in 2010 with the vision that people use business as a force for good. Now in 28 US States, Benefit Corporations are having a positive impact on society and the environment. Similar to traditional corporations, there are four key areas where B-corporations are meeting higher standards: purpose (derived meaning), accountability, transparency and performance – all while offering a positive vision of a better way to do business in a cluttered marketplace — in a workplace where people find fulfillment by bringing their whole selves to work.
Purpose. Accountability. Transparency – all foundational to employee engagement ultimately leading to high performance.
I recall a client we had some years ago – a bank in Australia. Generon was in the system to help them make some culture changes.
As we do with all of our clients, generative interviews were conducted at the outset of the assignment. I remember one gentleman in particular whose job it was to stamp “approved” or “declined” on loan applications for the bank. During our interview, it became clear to me that this person was completely disengaged. He saw himself as a “paper pusher” in a back office, rubber stamping documents – something he felt not to be very fulfilling.
Yet towards the conclusion of our engagement with this client, I had an opportunity to speak with him at length after a workshop. Through months of being open to Generon’s process, I learned that he had had a shift about the way he sees his function. At some point in time, what occurred to him was that each and every time he could stamp the word “approved” on a loan application, he was facilitating someone’s dream. Approving a mortgage loan for a new house or helping someone else to get out of debt or fund a new business. Whatever the case, each and every time this gentleman could stamp the word “approved” on to a loan application, he was having a positive impact in that person’s life. Wow! He shared this realization with me with pride and tears in his eyes. This gentleman had found a way to derive meaning from his daily tasks and activities and through this, discovered purpose.
In another client project where Generon was delivering a full-scale organizational transformation, we worked with the CEO to re-structure their bonus plan. Working with this client for about 18 months, the organization’s realization was that part of why they existed was to help people reach their highest potential. This company adopted our ideas about what it means to be a Learning Organization and wanted to create a culture that would foster empowerment, growth and development. In our work with them, the CEO and his Executive Team realized the importance of accountability – first taking accountability themselves to be a living example of the principles and behaviors they were asking of others – and secondly, making the decision to link employee development to their bonus plan. Adopting the world view that people are equally important to profit, the CEO worked with his HR team to link 50% of employee bonuses to profit and the other 50% to engagement. In short, each manager was expected to play an active role in the fulfillment and development of his people. Through frequent and transparent feedback sessions, managers and employees were able to co-create a learning platform, helping people meet and exceed their developmental goals.
Businesses with more engaged employees perform better. It’s that simple. So the question shouldn’t be: Who has time for engagement?
The more important question is:
When are you going to make engagement your priority?
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