Employee Engagement:  Five Fundamentals

There is an old joke about a CEO who was asked how many people worked in his company.  His answer:  "About half of them."

It has the ring of truth.  According to studies, only 30% of employees are fully engaged in their jobs.  50% of employees are somewhat engaged.  And 20% are actively disengaged.  

I've never seen a company with happy employees and unhappy customers. Engaged employees drive results, positively affect attitudes, and enable a company to outperform its competitors.  They drive customer satisfaction, product and service quality, and revenue growth.  Herb Kelleher retired from Southwest Airlines "You have to treat your employees like customers.  When you treat them right, then they will treat your outside customers right.  That has been a powerful competitive weapon for us."

When Herb Kelleher retired as Chairman of Southwest Airlines he said, "You have to treat your employees like customers.  When you treat them right, then they will treat your outside customers right.  That has been a powerful competitive weapon for us."

The five things you need to know about improving employee engagement:

1.        Engaged employees feel valued.  It's important that people fit their jobs and have a clear understanding of how they help the company achieve its goals.  But no matter how connected an employee is to the company and despite how well the person fits the job, he or she also needs to feel valued to be engaged.  Kelleher said, "Our people know that if they are sick, we will take care of them.  If there are occasions of grief or joy, we will be there with them.  They know that we value them as people, not just cogs in a machine."

2.        Leadership is required.  Managers who control, intimidate and manipulate sap energy and build resentment.  Leaders who build commitment also build engagement.  It's more a difference in respect than in style.  I know a CEO who espouses a collaborative approach in all decisions, but is actually a manipulator who is deeply resented by his people.  And I have worked with several autocratic leaders who are highly respected and effective.  The difference is integrity and leadership. 

3.        People strategies must be aligned with your engagement objectives.  You can claim teamwork is a core value, but if your pay system only rewards individuals, you're sending conflicting messages.  It's important to align people strategies to build engagement, not just efficiency.  These include recruitment and selection, retention, promotions, training, development, internal communications, teamwork, organization structure, role clarity, succession planning, compensation, performance management and culture.  You want your people practices to reinforce engagement.  For example, one client has abandoned performance ratings in favor of an emphasis on the quality of coaching and performance feedback in order to build skills and engagement.

4.        Engagement = involvement.  Employees value having input on decisions that affect them.  Whether its workflow, work hours, benefit plans, or goals and milestones, engagement is enhanced with involvement.  There is a skill to doing this in a way that is both fast and effective.  It belongs in every manager's toolbox.

5.        Only let in the right people into your culture.  Quite simply, if you're hiring people who don't fit the job or the culture, you're making a costly mistake - not just for the company, but also for the individual.  Why do call centers and airline service desks insist on hiring employees who don't like working with people on the telephone?  Why are so many people promoted into higher-level staff roles based on their task orientation without regard for their people skills?  It doesn't have to be that way.  If you hire the right people to begin with, you're way ahead.

In Summary:

Take your foot off the brake.  Weak leaders, the need for endless approvals, uncompetitive compensation, the use of information to intimidate, control or manipulate, unnecessary barriers to getting things done, complex processes, etc.  These things frustrate the best performers and make, what could be a great place to work, a place of constant discontent.  Find out what gets in the way of people getting their work done and do something about fixing it.