Employee Engagement is a Strategic Goal
Posted on August 13, 2010 by Judy Mackenzie, One of Thousands of Business Coaches on Noomii.
This article invites the reader to view employee engagement as a "must have" for business success.
Effectively Managed Employee Engagement Benefits the Bottom Line
Understanding Why Engagement Isn’t a Human Resources Issue And Why Solving Problems On The Front Lines Makes More Sense For Your Organization
Savvy managers understand that employee engagement is vital for the success of an organization. When employees are fully engaged in their work, they benefit, clients benefit and the entire company benefits. If they are not actively engaged, the system tends to break down to the detriment of all.
Unfortunately, even some of the most experienced, highly trained managers fail to understand the intricacies of employee engagement. Many falsely believe this is an issue that is best handled by the professionals in the human resources department.
While it’s true that human resources specialists can provide assistance, the responsibility for day-to-day engagement actually falls squarely into the laps of management. To gain a better understanding of why this is “front line” concern, it helps to have a better idea of the aspects of employee engagement.
Just What Is Employee Engagement?
Employee engagement is a term that refers to the connections employees make with their workplace, managers and even the work they do. If engagement is strong, employees have deep, meaningful connections that inspire them to perform at their peak. If they are weak, everyone suffers.
While the term “employee engagement” can leave managers with a dry taste in their mouths, it is more important than many realize. When employees are truly engaged, managers can count on them, in good times and bad, to report every day and put their best efforts forward.
Creating positive employee engagement is a give-and-take process that can have the “Law of Reciprocity” working for or against you.
Just so we’re all on the same page, let’s be clear about what employee engagement is and what it isn’t.
Employee engagement is not:
• A human resources issue.
• An issue that is only a concern for big companies with lots of money to spare.
• An issue that has to cost a lot to tackle.
• A touchy, feely concern that doesn’t help a business meet its goals.
• An issue that doesn’t matter.
Employee engagement is:
• A series of small events that make a significant difference to both your bottom line and the timeline of your financial statements.
• Responsible for innovation and process improvement within your company.
• A significant factor in employee retention and ease of recruiting.
• Inexpensive to address if you know what you’re doing.
“Companies with highly engaged employees generate more marketplace power.”
Although this statement may seem unremarkable, the value is in the millions of dollars as shown in the Towers Watson study.
Why Engagement Falls Into the Management Domain
While it might be easier to push engagement concerns off on human resources, there are some compelling reasons why this just won’t work. Managers need to address this concern head on. Here’s why:
There are two key elements that impact engagement;
1. Management’s sincere interest in employee well-being
2. The opportunity employees have for personal and professional development of skills and abilities.
Although human resources can assist on the development front, the fact is these two issues are more readily address in the trenches, so to say. These are simply key management accountabilities.
Do your managers know how to demonstrate their interest and willingness to help employees achieve on a day-to-day basis?
Myths About Employee Engagement
The biggest myth about employee engagement is that it is a concern solely for the human resources department. As we’ve said, this is a frontline issue that can benefit from HR support. Still, it’s managers that must lay the groundwork and provide the daily reinforcements to keep engagement high.
There are other myths surrounding engagement that must also be addressed. They include:
Employees Are Just Being Lazy
While this might be the case with one or two disengaged employees, if the majority of workers are failing to perform as expected there is a management issue at the heart of the problem. The fact is every hire in a company can’t be a terrible one. If that’s the case, you’ve also got a HR problem on your hands!
Turnover Isn’t a Big Deal
Again, this might be the case with one or two employees. If, however, turnover rates overall are high, this will hurt the bottom line. The costs of recruitment, training and loss of institutional knowledge all need to be taken into account here.
A Paycheck Should Be Enough to Motivate
If only that were true! Employee engagement involves a whole lot more than decent compensation. Employees want to feel needed, respected and valued. If they don’t end a shift feeling like they’ve accomplished something positive and rewarding, their desire to continue will wane.
Employees Shouldn’t Have To Be Coddled
You’re right, they shouldn’t! Your employees, however, are human beings. They like to be told when they’re doing a good job and even appreciate insight on how to improve. They also enjoy a pat on the back for being innovative, creative and productive. This isn’t coddling, it’s good commonsense and that can increase engagement and boost productivity in the process.
There are other myths surrounding this engagement, but you get the idea. The more adept your managers are at dealing with engagement and recognizing problems with it, the better off your company will be.
How to Identify an Engagement Problem
Identifying a problem with employee engagement is easier than you might think. There are very common issues that arise in workplaces where managers are not trained to take on the responsibility of engagement. The warning signs you may notice include:
• Your managers constantly being frustrated with their employees and a lack of performance and/or achievement.
• Your managers feel like they are overworked and under-appreciated.
• You have an issue with constant turnover.
• Your sick time reports are unexplainably high.
• Your employees fail to refer their friends or relatives to your company.
• Your productivity rate gets slower over time.
• There is a real or perceived feeling that corporate appetite for change is not present.
As we have mentioned, employee engagement is not a HR issue. It is managers that are influencing their employees who have the greatest impact on day-to-day functioning. When you have weak or untrained managers, human resources department will have to step in to prop them up and even put out fires.
Don’t misunderstand; HR does play a role in the process by setting up cultures where employee engagement can flourish. This department can be your greatest partner if its own staff members understand the engagement cycle clearly and can offer training or coaching to get at the root issues versus just addressing the symptomatic problems as they arise.
How HR Can Get Involved
Your human resources department can provide valuable support to bolster employee engagement. Here are some questions you need to ask yourself to make sure you are relying on this department to assist:
1. Are you bringing HR into your planning process?
2. Do you ask HR to work with you to ensure that your managers are getting the right training or coaching needed to equip them with the skills required to keep them engaged with their employees?
3. Do you free up the money to support these key processes?
4. Do you have adequate systems in place to ensure your training dollars are being spent wisely and you are getting the return on investment you need?
Why Strong, Well-Trained Managers Make a Difference
When you have strong, well-trained managers in place, you will find they can accomplish more with less. They tend to have less turmoil in the workplace, lower turnover and high loyalty.
There is a saying that “People don’t leave businesses, they leave manager.” This is absolutely true because in most circumstances the management attitude flows downhill. If you have a mistrusting executive layer, that sentiment will trickle down the chain of command and land directly on the people that face your customers. That kind of attitude and behavior over time has some very disastrous effects.
One of my European clients has recently fallen on some bad times because of a major customer’s financial problems. This has resulted in some real uncertainty in my client’s ability to continue keeping all staff. This client has used a very clear communication strategy throughout the four-year history of his company. He is highly regarded by all his staff for his honesty, straightforward approach and his deep interest and concern in their well being.
With this potential crisis on the horizon, his staff has demonstrated their commitment to their chief by sharing his pain and working at a reduced salary until he can remedy the situation. This may be enough to see him through until additional funding is put in place. This is the extreme end of employee engagement, but it is a much more enlightening story than the awful stories we keep hearing about from managers with non-engaged employees.
Hallmarks Of Successful Managers
So, how can you tell if your managers are on the right track or if they need coaching to improve their skills?
There are a variety of traits to look for, and all are important.
One of the basic qualities of a good manager is someone who can take complicated activities and make them understandable and repeatable. They can see through complex issues and break them down to a manageable size that leaves followers with a sense of accomplishment as opposed to a defeated feeling of insurmountable challenge.
Successful managers also understand that recognition and its three main components are vital for the foundation of all workplace relationships. The components for successful management are not expensive or complicated. They can be implemented immediately.
The more your managers drive recognition and development of employees, the higher your engagement is likely to go. This holds true across all generational groups.
Excellent managers clearly understand why recognition is important to them and their employees. We’re not talking about sappy head patting, but honest recognition for work well done, or a new process that improves an activity or a cost saving idea. Employees actually do really good work quite often, but it just goes unnoticed by those who are “too busy.” Jack Welsh stated this very clearly when he said “What gets noticed, get repeated.” If you only notice when things go wrong, then you will only see more of this.
There are three qualities that make up a manager’s ability to create engagement through recognition. They are:
• Inclusion –This means that everyone has the opportunity to be recognized for work well done, or going above and beyond the call of duty. In many organizations there are pockets of groups that get this recognition while the remainder is forced to watch from the sidelines, never having the opportunity to honestly earn accolades.
• Communication – Now here is a word that get makes everyone think of “a soft skill.” This is just not the case. In fact, I challenge you on this as I have worked with many leaders at all levels who have flamed out of a great job because they were really weak in communicating. They were able to talk all right, but what they really struggled with was listening and being interested in what others said. This is where the rubber hits the road in management and leadership. Greater managers have mastered the art of active listening and interactive dialogue. This is the primary reason that leadership coaching has exploded in the past few years. Many leaders and would-be leaders are finding it helpful to work directly with a coach on issues like communication that present daily challenges for most managers.
• Trust – If employees are able to trust their managers, they are much more likely to be willing to try a new process or practice. Trust is a key element when times are difficult. Employees need to know their interests are being considered when decisions are made.
Strategies To Build Employee Engagement In Your Organization
There are a number of strategies that can help you build engagement within your company. Here are some things to consider:
• Take a close look at what is going on in your organization. Understand where your pain points are. How do you feel about your managers’ skills and abilities to lead people in this area? Most managers are hired for their strong technical skills. It is time to add another dimension to your leadership bench?
• Take stock of your communication style both as an organization and as department. How do you communicate with your staff? Is it timely, inclusive, and participatory?
• Try one thing at a time. If you try to implement too many things it will get confusing and expensive both of which are not helpful to your organization.
• You may want to survey your employees to get some feedback that will help direct you to engagement issues.
• Take stock in your in-house skill set. Does your organization have the expertise in training it needs to boost engagement levels? Coaching in this arena is a highly specialized skill. Is it time for outside assistance to kick start your efforts?
Employee engagement is the real deal. Employees do not have to be held captive by their employers in order for them to do their job. In a positive environment where engagement is high, employees will want to achieve and do their best.
When you think about it, how you can expect people to give their best when they feel they are being treated badly? Remember, the law of reciprocity works. If your employees feel like they are getting your best, they will return it tenfold.
Judy Mackenzie, MBA, CHRP, PCC, CEC
Judy founded TEVO Consulting Inc. in 2007 to focus on leadership development and talent management. Judy’s background has been primarily in human resources where she spent the last 10 years as an Executive. Combined with her strong strategic HR background she has combined Executive and Leadership Coaching to her winning formula. Judy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org