In our previous post we shared reasons why leaders at all levels (as opposed to “just CEO’s or Senior Management”) must step-up to engage their team members during this time of need.
While that post identified important areas of focus based on employee surveys and polls, this post identifies three key managerial best practices that will help leaders improve the effectiveness of their efforts to help and support team members:
Communication is critically important. A recent Harvard Business Review article states, “Communication is often the basis of any healthy relationship, including the one between an employee and his or her manager… consistent communication – whether it occurs in person, over the phone, or electronically – is connected to higher engagement.”
However, Gallup research also indicated that “mere transactions between managers and employees are not enough to maximize engagement. Employees value communication from their manager not just about their roles and responsibilities but also about what happens in their lives outside of work.”
This perspective aligns well with the data shared in our previous post
Effective performance management is also important, but it must go beyond the “annual review.” Given the significant and rapid changes we are all experiencing in day-to-day protocols, many people do not clearly understand their goals or what is expected of them. They may feel conflicted about their duties and disconnected from the bigger picture.
Consequently, managers must more frequently discuss and possibly redefine mission, priorities, achievement and expectations.
Focus on people’s strengths. Given the above-referenced changes in protocols, this might involve some reassigning of responsibilities – especially for those who are struggling to maintain productivity while working remotely.
Gallup researchers have discovered that building employees’ strengths is a far more effective approach than a fixation on weaknesses. In the current study, a vast majority (67%) of employees who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths or positive characteristics are engaged, compared with just 31% of the employees who indicate strongly that their manager focuses on their weaknesses.
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 post identified the role that trust plays in an organization’s success, and referenced it as “the soft concept producing results that are hard to beat.”
While trust may seem too soft a concept to produce a competitive edge, the facts indicate otherwise.
In fact, a high level of trust is essential to creating an agile, highly competitive organization and here are four reasons why.
1.)No Trust — No Speed In a world where new challenges arise very quickly, it is the failure to act, failure to improve, and failure to innovate that poses the biggest risk to a company — not the risk of making a mistake. However, to an individual in a low-trust environment, by far the biggest risk is making a mistake. For these individuals, trying something new is much riskier than doing what’s been always been done. Innovation or even simple improvement is not going to happen. The whole organization slows down.
Covey, in The Speed of Trust, puts it this way: “When trust is low … it places a hidden ‘tax’ on every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision.” People don’t fully hear what their leaders are saying, because they factor in guesses about the leader’s intentions. They wonder how transparent their leader is being. Employees don’t buy-in to decisions that they don’t trust.
Aron Ain, author of WorkInspired, How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work, and CEO of Kronos (a leading global provider of workforce management cloud solutions), points out that lack of trust places “a huge overhead burden on a relationship.” He insists that when you employ someone, you should go ahead and trust them! Will you get burned on occasion when trusting people?
“Absolutely!” Ain says, “But almost always my trust in team members has proven well-founded. And the benefits are numerous.”
By building a culture where employees know they are trusted and where they trust their managers and teammates, Kronos has created an organization where it is safe for people to be creative and to aim for the best possible outcomes, continuously getting better and better.
2.) No Trust — No “Exposing Reality” Exposing reality means trying very hard to look at things the way they really are, rather than the way we wish they were. As Ain points out, “the faster you see things as they really are, the faster you can get to work on improving them.”
But in a low-trust environment, people are especially motivated to gloss over uncomfortable truths and to declare victory and move on rather than checking to see if they did or didn’t get the results they expected. Trust enables us to admit what we don’t know, recognize and recover quickly from mistakes, and to put uncomfortable information, questions, and contrary opinions out in the open, where the team can work through them with honesty and passion to arrive together at the best strategies and decisions.
3.) No Trust — Poor Results In a low-trust environment, employees hold back information or ideas that seem risky to share, so leaders make decisions based on incomplete information and without knowing all the potential consequences. And when employees believe their managers are making decisions without all the relevant input and information, they often question or even slow-walk the decisions.
Covey cites polls showing that only 45% of employees have trust and confidence in senior management. Lencioni, in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, places lack of trust at the foundation of his pyramid of dysfunctions culminating in poor results. Without trust among a team, people keep their cards close to their chests. They are afraid to admit the limits of what they know, afraid to admit any vulnerabilities. Because they don’t trust one another, they fear conflict and withhold uncomfortable information and dissenting views. Without complete information, these teams make poor decisions, and the decisions they do make are poorly executed because they do not arrive at a shared commitment to the decision unless they have aired and resolved dissenting views. Thus, a lack of trust leads to both flawed strategies and poor execution.
4,) Trust Inspires and Engages Covey observes that “trust is one of the most powerful forms of motivation and inspiration. People want to be trusted. They respond to trust. They thrive on trust.”
This is exactly what Ain sees happening at Kronos. “Because we place so much faith in employees,” he explains in WorkInspired, “they return the favor, placing a remarkable degree of trust in us. Their trust in turn leads to far better performance — more innovation, quicker recovery from mistakes, more energy and enthusiasm at work.”
The next step, of course, is identifying the best way to build a “culture of trust,” which will be the subject of our next post.
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!”
Our previous post summarized “The Four Disciplines of Execution,” a book by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling that presents four key “disciplines” for achieving strategic goals. The disciplines enable people to look beyond the day-to-day requirements of their jobs (the “whirlwind”) to move the organization forward to accomplish something great… to improve both the work and the workplace.
Equally as important, this achievement and the related sense of accomplishment are key ingredients for engaging the workforce; and the research is clear: an organization with a highly-engaged workforce enjoys a significant competitive advantage, including:
50% higher profit
43% higher productivity
80% less turnover
7 times less likely to have a lost-time accident
In addition, and as noted in our previous post, people become increasingly engaged when their goals are clear.
Thus the importance of the first discipline, which is to identify the Wildly Important Goal (WIG). This is the thing that will make the biggest difference for the organization.
Simplicity and focus are important elements in selecting this key goal. More improvements and more goals and objectives can and will be sought, but not at the same time; and while subsequent goals can be different from the first goal, they must ensure the success of the first, most important goal.
An analogy presented is that the first WIG is like a war, and all subsequent or supporting WIG’s are battles; ultimately, winning the battles ensures winning the war.
Each WIG must also have a clear finish line or statement of success. It must be stated in this form: we will get from x to y by when.
This leads to a quick realization… once the goals are identified, then specific action steps for “getting from x to y by when” must also be identified.
Which leads us to the second “discipline,” which we’ll review in our next post.
As noted in a previous post, new ISO Standards (ISO 10018) are about to be introduced, which will focus on employee engagement. This development is considered long-overdue by many, as surprisingly few organizations have a formalized engagement strategy.
If you would like to create such a strategy, here are ten behaviors you might initiate, which are based on our research and experience that shows productive employees tend to be engaged employees (as opposed to the other way around. Read more on this perspective…).
As with all change initiatives, 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 to their reports and throughout the organization.
Create and equip project teams to identify and quantify opportunities for
Foster an atmosphere of collaboration, innovation, continuous improvement, and fun.
Make sure people have the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.
Empower people to take action.
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 return on investment, and reinvest appropriately in the above-listed activities.
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.
A blog post by Dr. Dr. Alison Eyring, the founder and CEO of Organisation Solutions, a global consultancy specializing in organizational design, references the the degree to which so many world-renowned journalists are commitment to their work.
“Their work has meaning,” she writes. “It is important. It matters. They matter.”
Eyring goes on to discuss engagement, and how it can mean many things to many people. But overall, “it has to do with the degree to which people are willing to expend discretionary effort… to do great work, to stay in the company and to contribute to the community of employees around them.”
Yet despite the millions of dollars spent on various activities attempting to “engage” employees, many employers find the majority of their employees are disengaged (70% based on recent Gallup polls).
Eyring also states that “work motivates and satisfies us when it has meaning, offers autonomy, and leverages a variety of skills. If we want high levels of engagement, we have to go beyond leader behavior or employee characteristics and look to the way we structure work.”
Our previous post provided a definition of “engagement,” and noted that a failure to properly define the concept is only one of the most common reasons why so many organizations are unable to engage employees.
Three additional reasons why organizations have traditionally had difficulty or failed in their attempts to engage their workforce include:
Confusing Engagement With Satisfaction And Happiness It’s important to note that these two concepts are not the same; while both satisfaction and happiness have positive emotional rings to them (as does engagement), they are not the same as engagement. One can be satisfied or happy at work without
being engaged. It’s like the difference between being satisfactory versus being excellent.
Stephen Wendel from HelloWallet, whom we also quoted in our previous post, 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.” There are happy employees who enjoy their workplace and their colleagues. They are happy to talk with anyone who passes by but happy employees may or may not be involved in doing productive work.
Misunderstanding The Link Between Engagement And Productivity Another reason for failed engagement efforts is a lack of understanding 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 considered a valuable asset to their organization and 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, this new paradigm is: Productivity yields engagement, not the other way around.
Seeking A Quick Fix Engagement efforts fail because we wishfully think and hope that a few superficial suggestions and tips for increasing engagement will actually result in substantive change. There is no magic
bullet for engagement. It requires fundamental culture change and that requires commitment and the required resources.
Several prior posts have focused on the concept of enterprise engagement, and we’ve shared some of the research showing that increasing engagement is a good thing.
For example, companies with engaged employees have 6% higher net profit margins (Towers Perrin), and engaged companies consistently generate higher shareholder returns (Kenexa). In addition, organizations with highly-engaged workers enjoy lower turnover, higher safety ratings, fewer product defects, reduced absenteeism, greater productivity, and higher profitability with better customer satisfaction metrics.
We’ve also shared some troubling-but-true realities based on research by Gallup and others, such as the fact that only 30% of American employees are engaged at work; and the 70% that are not engaged costs the nation $450 billion to $550 billion per year in lost productivity!
But in spite of the clear benefits, traditional engagement efforts have failed to yield tangible results and have also failed the sustainability test.
The reasons for this lack of success are varied, and over the next few posts we’ll share some thoughts on some of the more common causes of failure to engage employees and customers.
To begin, one reason for unsuccessful engagement efforts is that people often fail to understand what engagement is and what it is not.
Defining Engagement – We Know it When We See it!
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.”
Engaged employees are willing to go “above and beyond” what is expected of them. You can call it “being all in” “or doing 110%.” Whatever we call it, we know it when we see it.
We Know What Engagement is Not
On the other hand, disengaged employees are unlikely to “go the extra mile” or even go the first mile.
They do the minimum or sometimes even less. They take more sick days, are tardy more often and sometimes even undermine the work. Many actively disengaged employees also bring about documented increases in customer dissatisfaction and complaints, and decrease morale among potentially-engaged workers.
Now that we’ve confirmed what engagement “is-and-is-not,” our next post will share some of the additional and most common causes of a failure to engage…
Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement