There is a huge and growing interest in determining the level of employee engagement in companies of every size and scope. Organizations such as Gallup, Mercer, AON Hewitt, and others in the Employee Satisfaction, Compensation & Benefits, and Human Capital Management arenas are deeply involved in helping clients define needs, identify gaps and assess the organizational landscape. Given all this focus and attention, one thing is clear: Globally there is a significant deficit of engaged, committed employees who are willing to go the extra mile in serving the mission of the company they work for.
Rodd Wagner, a noted author and expert in the field of Employee Engagement makes a terrific point (which I am paraphrasing here). If your company is satisfied receiving a “4 on a 5-point scale” in terms of employee loyalty and engagement, you have to question whether you are aiming high enough. For example, if someone asked your mom how much she loved you and she answered “4” on a similar scale, you would likely be devastated. Why should you be much less disappointed if your employees answer similarly about your company? One reason this matters is that there are tremendous performance differences between those who respond at a 4 (or less) compared to those who answer with a 5 in the scaling of employee engagement.
There is no silver bullet when it comes to engaging a workforce. Every study will tell you that. There is no single answer as to why your employees are not fully engaged with the company they work for. This is also to be expected. Everyone finds their own reasons to love (or not) the company they work for to an extent that they will act consistently in the shared best interests of the employer and themselves, and devote themselves to an extraordinary degree in contributing to the mission of the company.
There are some very important aspects that companies with above average levels of engagement share. Here is just a sampling:
- They have a culture that empowers the employee, supports and encourages intelligent risk-taking, engenders personal development, and deploys multiple, interactive listening posts across the hierarchy of the organization;
- They have a compensation and benefits package for the worker that is seen as competitive, and generally slightly more so than many others in their industry. It doesn’t take a lot to be seen as generous, particularly in an environment that addresses so many non-compensation related elements.
- The organization is typically flatter, with opportunities for individuals to lattice into new areas for further personal and career development. Employees feel less “invisible” and sense a greater degree of accountability and transparency for their role and those around/above them.
- There is a real sense of spirit de corps, and a value placed on giving back to the community in which the company resides. This engenders pride, and a passion for the work being done within their geographic home to benefit others and the environment.
- Leadership is visible, and seen as honest, caring, and open to innovation, no matter where the ideas emanate in the company. The quality of being heard is essential to employees using their individual and collective voices in a positive manner.
The days of platitudes like “our employees are our greatest asset” having any meaning is past. Words won’t get it done in an age where line of sight extends to the farthest reaches of an organization. Every employee pretty much can know everything that is going on in your global firm simply by doing some elementary research. Disconnects between what is said and what is witnessed or experienced will surface quickly and universally.
A simplified approach to finding a preferred course of action should be based on some fundamental constructs:
- Treat consistency as a core value in your communications with, and your responses to, those who work for the company. Candor, honesty, accountability are all vital to gaining alignment among those from the front-line all the way up to the executive suite. In the absence of an aligned workforce, you will find it increasingly difficult to deliver a common message of what is important and valued.
- Push, hard, on the need for each employee to have a continuous learning and development plan that helps them to remain relevant, and that keeps them challenged to continue growing. This won’t be hard with your Gen Y and Millennials, they grew up knowing this. The Boomers and Gen X counterparts may need some reinforcement in this regard. The future belongs to the innovators, including your company’s future.
- Acknowledgement of individual effort and contribution is critical. Employees know the difference between authentic recognition and disingenuous pandering. It is key that first and second level management be connected to their reports sufficient to be able to reinforce those who are delivering above-and-beyond the norm. Remember, accountability is key.
- If you wrap all this up in a performance measurement system that measures what is important, gives real-time data into what is being done, by whom, and where the exceptionalism is coming from, you will be in a unique place for providing kudos, added resources or corrective action. Measuring behavioral performance is as important as tracking outcomes. You need to be on top of both.
Is this an expensive process? I don’t know, how expensive is going out of business or falling to the bottom ranks of your industry? Engagement is no longer a “nice idea”. It is a business imperative as your competitive set has expanded and accelerated globally. There is no longer the option of being “good enough”. Good enough for today is already halfway down the slippery slope to irrelevance. Time to listen, lead and motivate the troops. No matter what business you are in, it’s a war out there.