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Why employee engagement matters more now

engagement around the work

A recent article shared by Gallup indicated that 36% of the U.S. workforce is engaged in their work. Surprisingly, this statistic is higher than it has been for many years, though the number itself is typically perceived as disappointing. However, Gallup also says that globally, only 20% of employees are engaged at work.

Equally important, their findings indicate the percentage of actively disengaged employees in the U.S., has risen to 15% through June 2021. Actively disengaged employees cost businesses a lot… higher turnover, more safety issues, more absenteeism, and so on; they generally “report miserable work experiences and are generally poorly managed. They also tend to bring-down their coworkers.

Why Now?
The reason workforce engagement has emerged as more important now is that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says employee turnover or “quit rates” are reaching record highs, and Gallup research has found “substantial differences in intentions to change employers as a function of the quality of the work environment.”

“Among actively disengaged workers in 2021, 74% are either actively looking for new employment or watching for openings. This compares with 55% of not engaged employees and 30% of engaged employees,” the article states.

With this fact in mind, and despite the recent rise in engagement levels, with only 36% of U.S. employees engaged in their work, there is much room for improvement.

The first step in this improvement process is to formalize an employee engagement plan, and to do so in the same fashion as one would implement a continuous process improvement initiative:

  • Get acceptance and buy-in from senior leaders. Little will be accomplished without this; the best results are achieved when leaders understand the benefits of engagement and take action.
  • Create a formalized implementation plan and establish performance measures so that progress can be tracked. Develop realistic, achievable, and measurable goals and objectives.
  • Work with the leaders so that they can model the right behaviors and cascade the concepts throughout the organization.
  • Create and equip project teams to identify and quantify opportunities for improvement.
  • Foster an atmosphere of collaboration, innovation, continuous improvement, and fun. Increases in productivity yield increases in engagement.
  • Make sure people have the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.
  • Implement an appropriate integrated communication plan, reinforcing the concept of improving both the “work and workplace.”
  • Reward and recognize people so that they feel supported in their efforts.
  • Measure results and ROI… and keep your foot on the gas!

Engagement Around the Work

Continuous Process Improvement Squared

Research over the past decade has consistently shown that increasing workforce engagement is a good thing:

  • Gallup: Disengaged workers cost the nation $450 billion to $550 billion per year in lost productivity.
  • Towers Perrin: Companies with engaged employees have 6% higher net profit margins.
  • Kenexa Research: Engaged companies have 5 times higher shareholder returns over 5 years.

Beyond greater productivity and profitability, additional documented positive benefits of engaged workers include lower turnover, better safety, fewer product defects and shrinkage, reduced absenteeism, and better customer satisfaction metrics.

But in spite of the proclaimed benefits of engagement, the efforts made to increase it have too often not paid off in a measurable way. .

We have identified four key reasons why so many have struggled to engage their workforce:

1. Lack of definition.

Taking a “we’ll know it when we see it” approach to employee engagement is like trying to hit a moving (or invisible!) target. The first step to a formalized engagement plan is to identify goals and metrics.

Stephen Wendel from HelloWallet, offers a commonly used definition of engagement: “Engagement means having an emotional attachment to work.”

With this definition, employees emotionally care about their work and their company. He further describes employee engagement as a mental state — it’s something in our heads and hearts that represents the attachment we feel to our work. The definition also includes an element of discretionary effort. “Engaged workers don’t work just for a paycheck or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals.”

However, as good as these definitions sound, they are not quite specific enough… instead, it would be better to use Wendel’s definitions as guides and add specific objectives based on your organization’s situation. These metrics might include “lower turnover by 25%” or “reduce absenteeism by half.”

2. Confusing Engagement with Happiness

As it turns out, a happy workforce is not necessarily and engaged workforce, as people can be satisfied or happy at work without being engaged. As Wendel further states, “Happiness is a current emotional state that is often related to many factors that have nothing to do with employment — the weather, family life, personality, etc.”

Without understanding the distinction between happy and engaged employees, organizations have taken a variety of paths to try to increase engagement. Some have focused on things such as dress-down Fridays (pre-pandemic), putting in vending machines with healthier snacks, or creating a work place with state of the art work-out facilities and a great latte bar. Those things might be nice — they might make for physically healthier and maybe even happier employees. But, there is plenty of evidence that these things do not increase engagement.

3. Misunderstanding the Link Between Engagement and Productivity

There is considerable research about what truly motivates people. Hands down, intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation! People are motivated primarily by an intrinsic desire to do a good job, to be recognized for it, and to be considered a valuable asset to their organization; in Deming’s words, “To have joy in work.”

Deming was very clear about how to make sure that employees have “joy” in work — by enabling them with the training, tools, and resources they need to do a good job; to listen to their ideas for improvement and to continuously improve the work of everyone.

In other words, many organizations focus only on engagement as the strategy, but productivity yields engagement — not the other way around!

“Employee happiness and morale is NOT the critical path to employee productivity. but productivity and employee achievement are the critical path to high morale and a happy work environment. Morale and employee happiness aren’t the means to the end; they are the end itself.” —Morale and Motivation Myth…No Strings Attached

By increasing employees’ productivity, you get increased engagement, and that engagement, in turn, increases productivity, and the other positive and measurable results that come from increased engagement.

4. Seeking a Quick Fix

Engagement efforts often fail because we wishfully think and hope that a few superficial suggestions and tips for increasing engagement will actually result in substantive change It’s a classic case of one of Deming’s truisms: “I didn’t say it would be easy. I just said it would work.”

There is no magic bullet for engagement. It requires fundamental culture change and that requires commitment and
the required resources. This is a culture change in which engagement is the byproduct of having everyone involved in the continuous improvement of everything!

It’s an approach we call Engagement Around the Work, as it’s all about achieving goals through people!

We call it CPI2 his method has two parts:

1) CPI – Continuous Process improvement — improving all that we do through improving all our work processes

2) CPI – Continuous People Involvement — providing the tools, resources and environment for people to be critically involved in all aspects of improvement.

Driving Team Engagement & Productivity During the Crisis & Beyond

As noted in recent posts, many of us are struggling with the sudden shift to working remotely. Among the challenges involved is lack of clarity with respect to expectations and, in some cases, organizational mission.

In fact, reestablishing expectations or mission, and providing the tools necessary to get the job done are two of today’s most important leadership tasks according to a recent Gallup article.

Silver Lining?
Certainly, these realities pose a challenge for leaders at all levels. But might there also be a silver lining?

Consider that over the past decade the majority of workforce engagement efforts have failed to yield tangible results and have failed the sustainability test. Current research shows that because these efforts tended to be ad-hoc, lacking defined, measurable objectives, they were prone to failure.

However, a more focused approach of improving both the work and the workplace in a measurable way can result in high-levels of productivity, profitability and engagement; and now might be the ideal time to launch such an effort, as remote team members struggle to maintain both productivity and engagement levels.

Even better, this more focused approach to productivity/improvement and engagement can (and should!) continue when we all “return to work,” thus transforming yesterday’s workplace into a more highly engaged and productive one.

To accomplish this, organizational leaders should focus on two key objectives:

  • Providing productivity and continuous improvement tools and programs as catalysts to engagement
  • A strong focus on measurement and recognition

If this approach resonates, you might like to download a free white paper entitled, “Engagement Around the Work” from our website.

Poll Says More Workers are Engaged & Why

A Formula for Engaging People

One of our white papers shares the concept of CPI2, which refers to the combination of Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) and Continuous People Improvement (CPI) as an effective way of boosting both employee engagement and productivity. It is based on the premise that productivity is the key driver of employee engagement (or the employee experience), as people like to feel successful… they like to be part of a winning and productive team… and they like to feel their work is important.

More recently, the concept of CPI2 has been indirectly referenced in an article published by Gallup, which reveals that employee engagement levels reached an all-time high in 2019.

According to their research, the percentage of “engaged” workers in the U.S. reached 35% this past year. While 35% might strike you as a low number, it is actually a new high since Gallup began tracking the metric in 2000.

This increase in engagement levels is good news for all of us…

As you may know, engaged workers are highly involved in their work. They go about their work enthusiastically, they treat customers better, they make a stronger discretionary effort compared to their dis-engaged co-workers, and they are committed to both their work and workplace.

So clearly, the increase in engaged workers is good for employers.

But this increase is also good news for employees and other stakeholders! It’s good news because it shows that the more formalized plans for engaging people are working; it’s good news because it means more people are finding greater levels of fulfillment in their work. As Dr. Deming said, “Management’s overall aim should be to create a system in which everybody may take joy in his work.”

So, it’s also fair to say that this increase in engagement levels is good news because it bears witness to the fact that the process of workforce engagement can yield win-win outcomes for both employers and employees.

Why the Increase?
If you’re wondering why the number of engaged workers has risen, Gallup has a straightforward answer.

“There are several possible explanations for the changes in engagement over the past decade,” the article states. “…and Gallup has reviewed many of these previously, from changes in the economy to slight improvements in some employee benefits. But these factors are not the primary drivers of improved engagement.

“Gallup research indicates that changes in employee engagement are best attributed to changes in how organizations develop employees.“

The article also shares four themes that Gallup’s research identified in organizations with high-development cultures:

  • High-development cultures are CEO- and board-initiated.
  • High-development cultures educate managers on new ways of managing — moving from a culture of “boss” to “coach.”
  • High-development cultures practice company-wide communication.
  • High-development cultures hold managers accountable.

Room for Improvement & CPI2
However, the article also goes on to acknowledge that a 35% engagement percentage is still low.

“The percentage of engaged employees in the U.S. is still far too low,” the article states. “There is plenty of room for improvement… What would the world of work look like if organizations could double the percentage of engaged workers? This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky question — all evidence suggests it is possible. Organizations have been successful, over recent decades, in maximizing process efficiency through Six Sigma and advances in technology and automation — doubling engagement would mean U.S. organizations have matched process efficiency with people efficiency.”

In other words, CPI2.

Read the full article…

Engagement 2020: Win/Win

A Winning Approach for Employees & Employers

The emerging field of employee or workforce engagement has captured the attention of most “C Suites” over the past year or two; and as more and more organizations are taking a more formalized approach to engaging employees, the correlation between engagement and Continuous Improvement (CI) has also emerged.

Consider that engagement is simply a framework for achieving goals through people in a measurable way. These “goals” can involve anything, and might include reducing team turnover, enhancing safety, or improving specific work processes.

But what many of us might not realize is the fact that today’s “engagement” plans are designed to benefit all stakeholders, including employees and employers.

Organizations that have embraced this approach have found it is not only possible to achieve almost any goal that involves people, but also, to the surprise of many, to realize a return-on-investment in the process. In other words, engagement can be a profit center rather than a cost center and the ROI can take on various forms.

For example, according to an Employee Engagement Benchmark Study by Temkin Group, highly engaged employees try harder and tend to drive business results. They are twice as likely to work after their shift ends, twice as likely to do something good for the company that is unexpected of them, and three times as likely to make recommendations for company improvements.

But these same employees can also be participants in an ongoing effort to improve their workplace. They can have a say, and they can have a hand in impacting the quality of day-to-day work life by improving the way their work is done. In these cases, which we call “engagement around the work,” many feel more empowered and experience greater levels of job satisfaction as well.

So, as noted above, engagement yields benefits for all stakeholders, employees and employers. Or, as the saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

It is important to recognize, however, that engaging people to achieve results requires top-management support and requires more than a casual or ad-hoc effort. Far too many organizations have learned this lesson the hard way, only to find half-hearted efforts don’t work. This reality is evidenced by the fact that only thirty percent of the U.S. workforce is engaged.

Here is a more comprehensive and structured approach to engaging a workforce based on extensive research completed by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance – you might also note how well it aligns with tried-and-true CI methodology:

  • Develop realistic, achievable, and measurable goals and objectives.
  • Effectively assess the people and the playing field to identify opportunities and obstacles to success.
  • 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, etc.
  • Implement the appropriate integrated communication plan, including an Engagement web portal for the program when appropriate.
  • Make sure people have the knowledge or skills needed to succeed.
  • Foster an atmosphere of collaboration, innovation, and fun.
  • Reward and recognize both progress and achievement so that people feel supported in their efforts.
  • Measure outcomes and returns.
  • Reinvest and continue…

The Pathway to Engagement

The path leading to a culture of engagement is linked with productivity, performance and job satisfaction. It follows a clear objective of engaging people around the one thing they all have in common—and the one thing that can bring about increased profitability and a sustainable competitive edge—the work.

As we all know, traditional employee engagement efforts have primarily failed to yield tangible results. They have also failed the sustainability test. As is the case with any improvement or change initiative, an ad-hoc approach involving little or no planning or structure, and lacking defined, measurable objectives, is prone to failure. This approach might be called “engagement for engagement’s sake.”

In contrast, a more focused approach of improving both the work and the workplace in a measurable way can result in high-levels of productivity, profitability and engagement!

As explained by Robin Gee, Coca-Cola’s Director of Employee Engagement, “We engage employees in aggressive efforts to eliminate waste and reinvest those savings in ways that are visible and meaningful to the employees.”

This perspective differs from traditional attempts at employee engagement in two critically-important ways:

  • A strong focus on productivity and continuous improvement as catalysts to engagement
  • A strong focus on measurement and return on investment

Of course this perspective is not necessarily new. For example, in 2012 ISO 10018 was introduced, which provides guidance on engaging people in an organization’s quality management system, and on enhancing their involvement and competence within it. The standard is applicable to any organization, regardless of size, type, or activity.

You might also note that ISO 10018 standards provide considerable leeway on how an organization specifically goes about its attainment. The emphasis placed on each requirement depends on an organization’s specific brand, culture, people, situation and goals. If you’d like to determine how close your organization is to achieving ISO 10018 certification, Engagement Strategies Media has created a chart that outlines the pathway. You can access the chart here.

Engagement, Motivation & Work

Enterprise engagement has been a frequently-addressed topic in this blog, and a recent post shared some of our Partners in Improvement group’s thoughts on an important element of an engagement strategy — rewards and recognition.

In that post, several points were made about being careful with the use of extrinsic, or monetary rewards as motivators.

To add some additional perspective,  the Enterprise Engagement Alliance shared information from a past New York Times column “The Secret of Effective Motivation,” in which authors Amy Wrzesniewski, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management, and Barry Schwartz, Professor of Psychology at Swarthmore College, suggest that the most effective type of motivation in terms of actual long-term results is action based on an internal motive — that is, “the pleasure derived from the activity and results themselves rather than from an instrumental motive such as the desire for fame or money.”

“Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also… their financial success,” the article states.

This viewpoint is well-aligned with our “Engagement Around the Work” approach, which involves specific steps for achieving a
culture of engagement that is linked with team productivity, performance, and job satisfaction.

This approach incorporates a clear objective of engaging people around the one thing they all have in common—and the one thing that can bring about increased profitability and a sustainable competitive edge—the work.

As Bill Conway often said, “It’s all about the work!”

Read “Engagement Around the Work” white paper.

Ready to Change?

Change is a critical component of growth and ongoing success, yet two-thirds of all change initiatives fail.

In fact, change is not always perceived as being good. In organizations of all types, people tend to look with skepticism at innovations and new methods, processes, policies and procedures; and people at all levels cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!

Yet without change comes stagnation and risk of obsolescence and loss, a-la Kodak, Polaroid, Blockbuster, and so many other once-robust organizations that experienced significant declines in market share (or worse) and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.

Long-term, the goal is not only a change in attitude, but behavioral change. The first step is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that change is a constant part of long-term success — to help them develop a readiness for change.

One way to achieve these objectives is to involve people at all levels in ongoing organizational change by making continuous improvement a permanent part of your corporate culture… by using the fundamental principles of continuous improvement and workforce engagement in a way that gets people at all levels to change the way they think, talk, work, and act… by educating and empowering people to improve both the work and the workplace – their work and their workplace!

People tend to become engaged when they feel productive… when they feel like they are achieving success and that they are an important part of the organization’s success; when they feel that they have a voice in creating a better, more productive workplace as well as a better future.

Make this type of measured pursuit a part your culture and the results can be astounding!

Read more …

4DX & Engagement Part 5: Accountability

Our previous few posts have focused on “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” a book  by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling, and how the disciplines impact achieving goals as well as employee engagement.

These previous posts have shared perspectives on disciplines one, two and three. However, the fourth discipline ― accountability ― is the discipline that enables you to win.

Without a cadence of accountability, teams will have a much more difficult time and will tend to become less engaged. The threat, of course, is that the whirlwind of running the day-to-day business that will consume all the available time.

By ‘cadence’ the authors mean an inviolable regular schedule, commitments, and expectations.  Teams should meet every week, and it’s best to schedule the meetings at the same day and time each and every week. These meetings should never canceled ― they must be viewed as important and productive, thus promoting strong feelings of belonging, commitment, productivity, and accomplishment, which are all drivers of engagement.

At the end it is all about employee engagement; working on the right things in the right way and in a way that involves understanding and applying some paradoxical insights:

  • The fewer the goals, the more you get done.
  • Clarity of goals increases engagement, even when a vague goal seems safer.
  • Know your LAG measure, but find and act on LEAD measures to get the results you want.
  • People play differently when they are keeping score and they know if they are winning or losing; the commitment, consistency of focus, and the resulting sense of productivity are all key drivers of engagement.
  • Without a rhythm of accountability, the whirlwind will win.

Productivity & Workforce Engagement

While employee engagement has emerged as a key objective in today’s business world, a surprising number of organizations have no formalized engagement strategy.

Or they fall prey to the misconception that “happy employees are more productive employees,” which has been disproved time-and-time-again. As it turns out, dress-down Fridays, free pizza or flex-time programs might create some short-term buzz, but the excitement doesn’t last; and the impact is neither greater productivity nor higher engagement levels.

In fact, the opposite is the reality — that is,
“productive employees tend to be engaged
employees,” not the other way around.

Consider that people like to feel successful… they
like to be part of a winning team… a productive
team. You might also consider three important
and corroborating data points that were
published on Forbes.com:

  • A happy worker is not always a productive worker, and job satisfaction yields membership but not always productivity.
  • People differ in what they value and in what motivates them.
  • While it is typically better to have higher, rather than lower, engagement scores, engagement alone is not enough. In order to improve organizational performance, engagement, motivation, and performance must be addressed… and must be used to make data-based changes that will drive employee retention, performance, and commitment… not “just” engagement.

Driving productivity as a means of achieving and maintaining high-levels of workforce engagement enables an organization to more easily promote and reward desired behaviors, measure and document progress, and ultimately realize tangible results.

Equally as important, the measured return on investment enables leadership to further invest in the workforce as well as the workplace, thus promoting a culture of continuous
improvement and engagement throughout.