Category Archives: Engagement

Communication & A Culture of Continuous Improvement

rally_the_troops_800_10095Our previous post shared fundamental steps for building a high performing culture – a culture of continuous improvement; and a key element of doing so involves engaging the workforce.

There are 4 underlying principles to build engagement:

  1. Understand the various factors that motivate people
  2. Have excellent 2-way communication
  3. Build a great workplace
  4. Work at engagement every day

These steps may seem simple, but they are not necessarily easy.  Consider that in order to understand people and develop effective two-way communication leaders must create a systematic way of interacting with team members so they can cascade information to (and from) their reports and throughout the organization.

At the core of this communication mission is the ability to plan, run and follow-through on effective meetings, which we’ll discuss in upcoming posts.


Ten Steps Toward Workforce Engagement & High Performance

engagement4In a previous post we referenced the concept of “engaging a workforce around the work,” because while employee engagement is a necessary ingredient for high performance, it is not, by itself, enough.

An effective way of going beyond engagement involves an approach that combines engagement and continuous improvement efforts, and that also involves regular measurement (see related post on linking engagement, improvement and performance).

Since people tend to link measurement with surveys, it’s worth noting that when it comes to surveys there is a marked difference between what we say and what we do.

In other words, “actions speak louder than words.”

So hands-on leadership will involve regular interaction with the team…possibly Yogi Berra summed-up this point best when saying, “You can observe a lot by just watching!”

Therefore, if you want to get some insights into how engaged your team members are, you might track and evaluate the following indicators:

  • Level of absenteeism
  • Staff turnover
  • Participation in meetings
  • Projects getting completed on time
  • Team members coming up with new ideas
  • Team hitting targets

Here’s a “top 10” list from an article published on LinkedIn by Adrian Swinscoe, author and business leader, on how to achieve employee enagement:

  1. Link to High performance–engagement does not equal employment satisfaction
  2. It Starts at the top
  3. Engage front line leaders
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate
  5. Individualize engagement
  6. Create a supportive, motivational culture where employees can excel
  7. Create feedback mechanisms—employees may not be motivated by money, but they are incredibly motivated by achievement
  8. Reinforce and reward the right behavior (and consequences for wrong behavior). Money is not an engagement driver, but not enough money or money not awarded fairly is a disengagement driver
  9. Track and communicate progress…
  10. Hire and promote the right traits for your culture. People are hired for aptitude, but fired for attitude

Linking Continuous Improvement, Engagement & Performance

culture2In a recent post we referenced the ROI associated with engagement and continuous improvement.

A sustained culture of continuous improvement enables company leaders to more easily establish greater levels of trust with the people closest to the work. People like it when problems they have known about for a long time are finally solved and that their ideas have been welcomed-parts of the solution.

Adding support to this perspective is data from a recent study by Alex Edmans, Lucius Li and Chendi Zhang entitled Employee Satisfaction, Labor Market Flexibility, and Stock Returns Around the World, in which they reaffirm the link between engagement and financial performance.

The authors note that “employee satisfaction is associated with superior long-run returns, valuation ratios, and profitability… and that high employee satisfaction is a valuable tool for recruitment, retention, and motivation…”

Read the full article…


Engagement, Improvement & ROI

engagementroiWould you like to implement and sustain a culture of continuous improvement?

Would you like to increase the team’s focus on quality or safety, enhance overall wellness, or possibly help them to work more productively?

Would you like to increase revenue, customer loyalty, and referrals?
How about motivating your channel partners so that they place added focus on your organization?

All of the above-listed objectives are among the reasons organizations have chosen to proactively focus on engaging people; and all of the above-listed objectives can generate a measureable return on investment!

In fact, research from the Enterprise Engagement Alliance indicates that organizations will get the best results when they systematically:

  • Develop realistic, achievable, and measurable goals and objectives
  • Create a formal Engagement business plan outlining the desired outcomes, behaviors that lead to outcomes, key program components, roles and responsibilities, timeline, and return on investment.
  • Effectively assess the people and the playing field to identify opportunities and obstacles to success
  • Make sure people have the knowledge or skills needed to succeed
  • Implement an integrated communication plan
  • Foster an atmosphere of collaboration, innovation, and fun
  • Reward and recognize so that people feel supported in their efforts
  • Measure return on investment

Employee Engagement: A Competitive Edge

engagement1Among the many “take-aways” from the Enterprise Engagement Alliance / Rewards & Recognition Expo in Denver this past week is the simple premise that an organization’s employee engagement effort can be a profit center as opposed to a cost center.

Consider that numerous studies have consistently determined two critically-important facts:

  1. Only about 30% of the US workforce is fully engaged, and nearly 20% is actively disengaged — outwardly critical of the company and creating negativism among co-workers
  2. Organizations with highly engaged employees consistently outperform those with less engaged people:

– 50% higher profits

– 43% higher productivity

– 87% less turnover

– 7 times less likely to have a lost-time accident

– Increased customer loyalty and customer satisfaction

Clearly an engaged workforce is a competitive edge… an edge that can yield increased productivity, profitability and customer satisfaction.

When helping clients to more fully engage employees, the process begins with getting everyone at every level actively involved in:

  • Finding a better way
  • Making his or her job more meaningful
  • Making the workplace something to look forward to, not just the source of a pay check

When all goes right, the results are an enthusiastic culture of continuous improvement, a more engaged workforce, and a more profitable enterprise.

Changing & Sustaining Culture

cultureandleadershipConcluding our “culture” theme, our Partners in Improvement groups discussed this subject during one of or recent sessions, and specifically focused on ways to change, support and sustain a culture that is aligned with a new strategic direction.

While peer pressure was identified as one component of helping people try to assimilate to the group they are in, the interchange was primarily geared toward how organizations can take more formal steps to sustain this important ingredient to success.

For example, sustaining the culture may include hiring people with values that are consistent with the culture. Some organizations try to identify these people through focusing on values in the interview process or using psychological profiles to identify people who would be likely to embrace the culture and those whose values would push them in a different direction.

Some organizations use publications and meetings to celebrate, reward, and reinforce examples of the culture in action. Others design measurement systems to support and reinforce the culture and behaviors they want to see.

For example, one of our Partners, in a successful attempt to build a culture of continuous improvement, has implemented a performance management system that rewards people who participated in an improvement over the past year; and the improvement must meet specific criteria:

  • Done
  • Quantified
  • Successfully run for a period of time
  • Standardized

Another Partner company puts everyone through a five day course to help people learn to work effectively in teams. Yet another has a course that emphasizes culture that every single employee must take. And some are sent back to take it a second time!

But the Partners Forum and the literature overwhelmingly suggest that culture is most powerfully influenced by the leadership… and in particular leadership’s behavior that is consistent with the culture.

“Living it begins at the top. If people don’t see the executives living and displaying the corporate values that they expect others to live by, the end is near.” [Ryan Rieches]


Aligning Organizational Culture & Strategy

culture4Continuing our theme of how organizational culture is a key driver of continuous improvement, it is important to properly align strategies with culture because culture can support or constrain strategy in a number of ways.

For example, an organization that that fosters employee engagement supports a culture of hard work, innovation, and “going the extra mile;” a culture in which people generally like coming to work. Such a culture enables successful execution on a strategy to give customers better responsiveness and reliability.

Similarly, a culture of caring and respect for others is essential to a strategy based on providing the most helpful and caring service to customers so as to win loyalty and referrals. For example, one of the Partners described how their cultural value of giving back to their communities in donations and volunteerism enabled them to appeal to the civic-mindedness that their customers valued. Another described “maverick thinking” that prompted employees to challenge things that were not quite right as a culture that supported the strategy of constantly improving safety, quality, and efficiency.

Each of these examples described core strategies that were aligned with and supported by their cultures.

But what if an organization’s culture no longer supports a winning strategy?

Sometimes a culture becomes out-of-step with its strategy due to internal changes. For example, a change in leadership behaviors can very easily shift an organization’s culture from engaged to disengaged, from collaborative to everyone out for his or herself, from maverick thinkers to risk-averse CYA’s. Careful work is required to rebuild and to sustain the cultures that support the strategy.

Sometimes, leadership must create a new strategy that the culture is ill-equipped to support when external factors change. For example, a company with a culture that values tradition and continuity will suffer from the entrance to the market by an innovative, paradigm-changing upstart. A company that thrived by attracting and rewarding hot shot individuals may struggle when the market begins to demand sophisticated coordination and execution. A company that thrived on risk taking may suffer when expectation about quality and reliability rise.

Clearly in some instances the culture must change, or it will devour the organization’s strategy and everyone will be out of work.

Culture Drives Continuous Improvement

culture2In a recent discussion a question about culture was raised, which has prompted us to begin a short series of blog posts about the importance of building a culture of continuous improvement and how the right culture drives continuous improvement.

The question to which I’m referring was, “Should there be a change in culture before implementing Six-Sigma or CI?”

Cultural issues have been discussed in several past posts, and this very issue was the subject of review during one of our Partners in Improvement sessions, during which participants agreed that despite a predominant focus on strategy and execution, ‘culture’ is the principal determinant of how well an organization does.

A few corroborating perspectives:

“Until I came to IBM, I probably would have told you that culture was just one among several important elements in any organization’s makeup and success — along with vision, strategy, marketing, financials, and the like. I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game; it is the game. In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.” 

— Lou Gerstner, speaking about his IBM turnaround

Culture isn’t an important thing; it’s the ONLY thing!”

— Jim Senegal co-founder and retired CEO of Costco

Mr. Senegal’s point is that if we get the culture right, all else will follow: engaged, empowered employees (who have deep experience because turnover is so low) will hit it out of the park again and again, driving the entire organization to success.

IBM and Costco certainly have results that support the view that culture drives success. In a less publicized example, one of our partners described her CEO’s successful decision to create a culture of Continuous Improvement, and over the five year effort, the stock price has increased 780%!

But what is culture? Does it really eat strategy for breakfast, as Peter Drucker claimed? How do we build and maintain this powerful stuff?

These will be among the questions addressed in upcoming posts…


Customer Engagement Dilemma?

Who will lead the way...?A thought-provoking article in the current issue of Engagement Strategies Magazine suggests that organizations of all types will sooner-or-later realize the need for a senior executive who focuses on the customer experience.

As author Bruce Bolger explains, engaged customers “buy more… are often less sensitive to price… and regularly become advocates.”

However, the article goes on to share an ideal job description and poses an interesting question: “Where will we find qualified candidates for such a position?”

What are your thoughts?


Entrepreneurial Spirit, Engagement & Continuous Improvement

entrepreneurIn a recent Pulse article, David Chung, an expert in Business Model Design and Leadership Development, suggests “entrepreneurial spirit” is a critically-important factor for team performance.

“Entrepreneurial spirit is a mindset that actively seeks out change rather than waiting to adapt to change,” says Chug. “In other words, it’s a super positive mindset that embraces critical questioning, innovation and continuous improvement.”

He also states that entrepreneurial spirit is all about taking ownership and pride in your organization, and that while it can be classified as a culture of the workplace, both team leaders and members must also take responsibility for creating and maintaining it.

Sounds very much like “engagement” doesn’t it?

Chung also suggests there are five ways to go about creating and maintaining this level of engagement or entrepreneurial spirit:

  1. First, WORK AS an owner. All team members should feel empowered to make decisions–and decision-making processes and approvals need to be simplified. Leaders may need training in how to hand off the reins.
  2. Second, WORK ON some crazy ideas. At some of the most innovative companies they have a policy that everyone should feel free to throw out any idea they have, no matter how grand or seemingly unattainable.
  3. Third, WORK WITH cross-functional colleagues. One of the reasons smaller companies are naturally more entrepreneurial is because of this – the team is small enough that everyone has a voice and input on everything, even if it’s not part of their core responsibility or strength. As companies get bigger, departments tend to be segmented off from other departments, losing the diversity of ideas, and instead working in silos.
  4. Fourth, WORK AS a role model. As with most elements of a great team spirit, the entrepreneurial spirit has to come from the top management team or business owner.
  5. Fifth, as the team leader, TREAT YOURSELF AS AN ENTREPRENEUR, then your team members will believe they are working in the entrepreneurial team.