Four key differentiators map a blueprint that helps encourage employee productivity and loyalty.
According to the Harvard Business Review, organizations spend over $720 million each year on employee engagement—which is projected to rise to over $1.5 billion per year—yet, employee engagement is at a record low. Just 30 percent of employees are currently considered engaged, according to Gallup—roughly the same percentage as when the fi rm first started measuring the topic about 20 years ago.What’s wrong with this picture? Why is increasing employee engagement so difficult?
The Quest for Engagement
Simply put, employee engagement is the alignment of individual and organizational goals and values to better drive both business results and personal aspirations. Ever-elusive, it seems that the more companies strive for it, the more it slips from their grasp. But the quest continues, as the topic has proven to be too important to ignore.
Without an engaged staff, managers have a challenging time accomplishing much—let alone the best work possible. HR consulting company TowersWatson has found that four out of every five workers do not deliver on their full potential in order to help their organizations succeed. It’s estimated that disengaged employees cost the U.S. $450 billion annually.
In order to reach and surpass business objectives, executives must make sure their employees are actively engaged, inspired, and generally feel excited about their work. According to Gallup, if organizations are able to create a culture of engagement, they stand to have employees that are:
• 480 percent more committed to helping their company succeed;
• 250 percent more likely to recommend improvements; and
• 370 percent more likely to recommend their company as an employer.
When employees are engaged in their work, they have a greater desire to work harder, to be more productive, and to be more responsible in completing work to the best of their ability. When organizations make employee engagement a priority, they can obtain increased organizational profitability, productivity, flexibility, and employee retention, as well as attract the right talent.
The Engaged OrganizationTo obtain higher levels of employee engagement, research from Quantum Workplace indicates organizations need to focus on those behaviors that have the most impact in the eyes of their employees. There are four key strategies:
1. Create a clear and compelling direction. The starting point of any effort to improve employee engagement is giving employees a clear and compelling vision. If employees don’t know—or aren’t inspired by —what the organization is trying to do, they’ll find it more difficult be motivated to succeed. Frances Hesselbein, president of the Leader to Leader Institute, once put it this way: “No matter what business you’re in, everyone in the organization needs to know why.”
Management guru Peter Drucker recommends looking at five questions when developing clarity around an organizational mission. These questions help organizations reach their customer goals:
• What is our mission?
• Who is our customer?
• What does the customer value?
• What are our results?
• What is our plan?
Clarifying one’s vision is a useful starting point for deciding what is most important for the organization— and its employees—to focus on to be successful. And the result needs to be a compelling purpose that can inspire everyone. “A vision is not just a picture of what could be, it is an appeal to our better selves—a call to become something more,” says Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter. The vision and mission then needs to be translated in ways every employee can impact. As management theorist Frederick Herzberg put it, “If you want someone to do a good job, give them a good job to do.”
2. Provide open and honest communication. Research suggests that the highest-ranking variable that 95 percent of employees want most from their managers is direct, open, and honest communication. In today’s dynamic, fast-paced workforce, employees look for an environment that encourages a constant dialogue between manager and employee. To keep the workforce engaged, it’s important to communicate information to employees about the organization’s mission and purpose, its products and services, its strategies for success in the marketplace, and even what’s going on with the competition.
Feedback sessions, departmental meetings, and companywide gatherings should ideally serve two purposes: to provide information and to gather feedback. When discussing major issues such as organizational changes, always host a dialogue rather than a lecture and encourage questions. Employees have to feel as though they have the freedom to express their questions and concerns and receive honest and informative responses.
3. Focus on career growth and development. Managers need to support their employees in the learning of new skills and allow them to participate in special assignments, problem-oriented initiatives and various other learning activities. They should develop learning goals with each employee for the year and even for specific projects, discussing what skills were attained in the debriefing of any completed project. Periodically, managers should also hold career development discussions with each employee to discuss career options that are available to each employee.
As organizational needs arise, managers should ask, “Who can best benefit from this opportunity?” and approach that individual. American Express developed a teaching concept called “Label and Link” that they trained all managers to use. As a development opportunity arises, a manager labels the task as an opportunity and links it to something that’s important to the employee being considered for the opportunity. This is the essence of employee engagement: aligning the needs of the organization with the interests of its employees.
4. Recognize and reward high performance. If there’s only time to focus on one thing that could most impact employee engagement, it should be employee recognition. Aberdeen Group’s employee engagement research finds: “By acknowledging an employee’s positive behaviors and demonstrating appreciation for employee contributions, that individual worker will continue those behaviors, stay engaged with the company, and feel motivated to perform.” Sixty percent of best-in-class organizations (defined as those in the top 20 percent of aggregate performers in their study) stated that employee recognition is extremely valuable in driving individual performance.
Employee recognition is fundamental to the ongoing support and motivation of any individual employee or group. Although compensation is important to employees, what tends to motivate them to perform at their highest levels are the thoughtful, timely, personal kinds of thanks and recognition that signify true appreciate for a job well done. To successfully grow employee engagement in an organization, recognition must be a part of every manager’s role. This is critical to driving engagement throughout the organization.
Dr. Bob Nelson, Ph.D. is president of Nelson Motivation Inc.