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
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.”
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.
Our 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:
Understand the various factors that motivate people
Have excellent 2-way communication
Build a great workplace
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.
In 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
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:
Link to High performance–engagement does not equal employment satisfaction
It Starts at the top
Engage front line leaders
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Create a supportive, motivational culture where employees can excel
Create feedback mechanisms—employees may not be motivated by money, but they are incredibly motivated by achievement
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
Track and communicate progress…
Hire and promote the right traits for your culture. People are hired for aptitude, but fired for attitude
In 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fifth, as the team leader, TREAT YOURSELF AS AN ENTREPRENEUR, then your team members will believe they are working in the entrepreneurial team.