Tag Archives: employee engagement

The “R” Factor

In a past newsletter, Senior Associate Ellen Kendall shared some thought-provoking perspective on the importance of relationships in the workplace – a perspective that has proven to be very accurate over the past two-or-so years.

Somehow along the evolutionary path of business and commerce, it appears some of us became increasingly enamored with the efficiency that a mechanistic and impersonal focus could bring us, and concentrated on using the “hands” of employees at the neglect of
employing their hearts and minds.

We created command and control hierarchical organizations and an emphasis on functional competency and silos. In the process, we lost sight of the human need for connection and interaction and minimized the importance of productive and meaningful relationships.

Or, said another way, in the words of Don Corleone in the movie, The Godfather, “It’s not personal, it’s business.”

But for many the pendulum is swinging back, as more of us are finding that the old attitude about separating business from personal issues no longer serves us well.

In fact, there is increasing belief that becoming more personal in the workplace might actually work to the advantage of organizations; and topics such as trust, interpersonal relationships, engagement, coaching, mentoring, and values-based leadership are now critical in an increasing number of organizations.

Similarly, it is becoming more evident that relationships, and the quality of relationships in the workplace, do matter. For example, Mike Morrison, VP and Dean of Toyota University in an interview went so far as to boldly say, “My message to leaders is actually quite simple: It’s the relationship… stupid!”

He went on to suggest that human capital is useless without relationships — particularly in our fast-paced, global economy — and that leaders can be best measured by their ability to create social capital or the sum total of all their relationships.

“It is through this network of relationships that their work is conducted,” Morrison stated. “As leaders, we need to be relentless relationship-builders and be 100 times more deliberate about relating to people.

“Work is much more relational than it was twenty years ago, when you could have narrow, clearly defined jobs. Those jobs don’t exist anymore… today we get work done through others… in today’s world we achieve results primarily through relationships.”

Morrison concluded that relationships are truly the most effective pathway to the highest levels of commitment, creativity, and performance within organizations. The reason is that positive
relationships have a transformational impact on the individual. They draw out the best in each of us.

Management guru Peter F. Drucker also commented on the need to focus on workplace relationships.

“Increasingly, command and control is being replaced by or intermixed with all kinds of relationships,” he said.

“Alliances, joint ventures, minority participations, partnerships, know-how, and marketing agreements… these are all relationships in which no one controls and no one commands. These relationships have to be based on a common understanding of objectives, policies, and strategies; on teamwork; and on persuasion — or they don’t work at all”.

Spring boarding off of these respected viewpoints, we’ll take a deeper dive into the value of the “R” factor in our next post.

Retaining Talent Through Engagement

Continuing the theme of “retaining talent” from our previous post, we have found the combination of productivity and engagement drives many things, including employee retention.

In reality, and like most things in business or in life, it’s the ongoing execution, work, measurement, and improvement projects (which sounds remarkably similar to Deming’s Plan—Do—Study—Act cycle) that will yield better performance results as well as higher levels of employee engagement.

In fact, we have found engagement can be a bi-product of productivity, as opposed to the other-way-around, which is the more accepted ‘conventional wisdom’ opinion.

Thus, it is by taking a formalized approach to creating a workplace culture that is linked with team productivity, performance, and job satisfaction that an organization will achieve the fore-mentioned levels of performance gains, engagement, and talent retention.

In a white paper shared in the past, we described an approach that aligns nicely with the ISO 10018 People Involvement and Competence guidelines. It incorporates Continuous Process Improvement (CPI) as well as Continuous People Involvement (CPI), so we call it CPI².

ISO 10018 and the concept of CPI² will require a formalized plan for improving the work and the workplace… a formalized plan for helping people to achieve higher-levels of productivity and job satisfaction, which will yield better business performance as well as the “skyrocketing” levels of engagement we all strive to attain.

To achieve optimum results, a system for gathering, synthesizing, and analyzing data must be developed, followed by a rigorous method of priority-setting to decide what to work on.

People at all levels must be involved; they must be educated, empowered, and engaged so that the concept of improving both their work and their workplace becomes cultural, and so they become emotionally-invested in their work and workplace.

Supporting this perspective is research conducted this past year by Dale Carnegie and MSW Research, which revealed that although there are many factors that impact employee engagement, there are three key drivers:

  1. Relationship with immediate supervisor
  2. Belief in senior leadership
  3. Pride in working for the company

Recognizing these drivers as “targeted outcomes” is a good first step for business leaders who would like to initiate and document (a-la ISO 10018) a formalized approach to engaging people into their organization’s quality and improvement system.

Guess Who’s Trying to Sink Your Boat!

crew team

At a Gallup presentation the audience was asked to imagine their business was a ten-person crew boat.

The speaker then went on to share data (at the time) indicating approximately 30% of the US workforce fell into the “engaged” category, which meant that they were invested in their work and workplace, that they made a strong discretionary effort, and worked at a very productive level.

If these people were on your crew boat, they would be diligently ‘manning their oars.’

We were then informed that just over half of the US workforce fell into the disengaged category. These people were not highly-motivated and, though they made a fair effort each day, they were more likely to do only what had to be done – and sometimes less!

If these people were on your crew boat, they would occasionally dip their oars in the water but mostly sit idle looking at the scenery.

The remainder of the nation’s workforce, we were told, fell into the actively disengaged category. These people tend to undermine the work, spread rumors, call out sick at higher rates and do only the bare minimum.

If they were on your crew boat, they would most likely be trying to sink it!

Makes a strong case for implementing a formalized engagement plan, wouldn’t you say?

Developing Teams – Start the Engagement Process Early

Onboarding

When engaged in continuous improvement (CI) it’s important to frequently assess our approach, starting with the foundation.

When it comes to engaging employees, the process begins with onboarding, which is the process for welcoming new employees. Among other things, onboarding is an opportunity to make new hires feel confident in their decision to accept the position as well as in their new role and team.

Despite the fact that onboarding sets the tone for the rest of your new employee’s experience at your company, and despite the fact that effective onboarding has a strong impact on retention and productivity levels, data shared by SHRM, Indeed, and others indicates that over 80% of businesses don’t have a very good onboarding plan.

If you’d like to improve your employee onboarding process you might start by considering the following best practices:

  • Start communicating before your new hire’s first day
  • Prepare well in advance
  • Set up the employee’s workspace before they arrive
  • Send out a new employee announcement including name, role, etc. If done by email, cc them
  • Pair new employees with a peer mentor / “buddy”
  • Ask new employees for their feedback early-on in the process and several months into the process

Rewards & Recognition Fundamentals

rewards and recognition

Rewarding or recognizing members of the workforce is a standard component of most employee engagement efforts, but the way in which organizations approach the practice can vary.

In fact, during a discussion with our Partners in Improvement, we uncovered a variety of approaches to rewards and recognition programs. Some, like a service award, are very predictable; if you reach an anniversary, you are likely to receive one. Many other recognition programs include an element of surprise when exceptional service is spotted. Some rewards cost the organization little or nothing — such as a thank you note or a special parking place. Others are quite costly, such as a one year lease on a car or a $20,000 ‘President’s Award.’

Similarly, some programs are for teams, and others are for individuals.

Many of the rewards and recognition are after the fact, while some are announced and hyped in advance in order to encourage people to try for them.

But despite the variety of implementations, the objectives were really quite simple. An organization implements a reward and recognition program for one of these three reasons:

  • To increase the recipient’s satisfaction and happiness (and hopefully engagement) with the organization and his or her role within it
  • To motivate continuation of certain types of behaviors and accomplishments
  • To motivate people to work to achieve certain measurable results.

However, regardless of purpose, the amazing variety of program types allowed us to explore the benefits and unexpected drawbacks of each, which will be the subject of our next post.

A ‘must have’ for today’s successful business

must_have

There was a time when engaged employees were a ‘nice to have’ asset, but there were no formal processes for achieving engagement and the prevailing approaches yielded few, if any, measurable results.

Fortunately, as summarized in an article by Engagement Strategies Media, things have changed and engagement is now recognized as a competitive edge.

“With sales growth slowing and competition continuing to grow in many industries, market share goes to those organizations that “wow” not only their customers but all of the people involved with their businesses,” the article said.

“Research consistently confirms that talented “wowed” employees help create “wow” experiences for customers.”

Another fact that has changed the playing field for achieving higher levels of employee engagement is that there are formalized, proven methods for doing so.

One such approach is Engagement Around the Work, which is based on engagement with a purpose. With a clear objective of building and sustaining a high-performing culture in a measurable way, Engagement Around the Work involves specific steps for achieving a culture of engagement that is inextricably linked with team productivity, performance and job satisfaction. It 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.

You can read our free white paper about this approach here.

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.

Reducing the Cost of Disengaged Workers

Our previous post focused on the cost associated with disengaged workers and the often-unrecognized lost opportunities associated with turnover.

Fortunately, there are proactive steps that can be taken to avoid these costs and the collateral damage to team morale and brand that is a regular side-effect.

Based on research and data shared by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance (EEA) and The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the following five steps can drive employee engagement, and reduce the number of disengaged workers and the associated costs:

  1. Enhanced recruiting and on-boarding — At a recent Engagement World Conference leaders from several organizations explained how they had increased employee engagement and retention beginning at the recruiting stage. The first steps involved the inclusion of the organization’s mission and vision into interviewing conversations, and a more conscious effort to identify and hire people with aligned goals. Adding a mentor program to the on-boarding process helped new hires assimilate faster so they became more productive in less time. Enabling people to achieve higher levels of productivity and success early-on promotes greater engagement levels, and reduces first-year attrition rates. Early churn tends to demoralize everyone, so in addition to reducing re-hiring and re-training costs, the costs associated with negativity within the existing workforce are also reduced.
  2. Consistent performance management and communication — People need to have meaning in their work, and understand how their work aligns with organizational objectives. This point was well made by several speakers in an episode of TED Radio Hour, called The Meaning of Work. If managers communicate a shared purpose or sense of direction, and encourage employees to openly share their perspectives and input, then they can increase employee engagement.
  3. Learning and development — a past post shared the fact that, for the first time in two decades, the percentage of engaged workers in the US rose in 2019. The increase was due to positive changes in how organizations were developing people. In addition, a recent article in Human Resource Executive magazine identified “continuous learning opportunities and personal development” as being two of the four key criteria (scheduling flexibility and social responsibility being the other two) recent graduates value most as they evaluate career options.
  4. Recognition and rewards — Recognizing and rewarding employees is not a new concept, but if the goal is to engage people rather than simply acknowledge milestones (such as length of service), then the approach must be aligned with what is meaningful to each recipient. An EEA article outlines an effective approach, which begins by stepping-back from the traditional monetary rewards.

    “To receive a deeper level of benefit that can come from sincere recognition, look beyond monetary rewards and get to the human connection – reward employees in ways that connect with them
    emotionally and psychologically,” the article suggests.
  5. Flexibility and work/life balance — Employer/employee relationships, expectations, and engagement criteria have evolved significantly over the past decade. In the Human Resource Executive article referenced above, data from a PwC survey of 44,000 workers who had become less-engaged indicated that “71% said their jobs interfered with their personal lives, and 70% said they wanted to be able to work from home.” The current pandemic, which has necessitated higher-levels of working from home, will no doubt add to the number of people wishing to do so more often.

ISO 10018: Quality People Management

Our previous post referenced the fact that a formalized approach to enterprise engagement yields a positive result for all stakeholders, including both employees and employers.

For more perspective about what constitutes a “formalized” approach, you might consult ISO 10018 guidelines on people involvement and competency.

These guidelines were created by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) Technical Committee ISO/TC 176, Quality management and quality assurance, Subcommittee SC 3, Supporting technologies.

They are based on the premise that “the overall performance of a quality management system and its processes ultimately depends on the involvement of competent people and whether they are properly introduced and integrated into the organization,” according to a summary of the standards published by ISO.

“The involvement of people is important in order for an organization’s quality management system to achieve outcomes which are consistent and aligned with their strategies and values. It is critical to identify, develop and evaluate the knowledge, skills, behavior and work environment required for the effective involvement of people with the necessary competence.”

This international standard provides guidelines for human factors which influence people involvement and competence, and creates value that helps to achieve the organization’s objectives. While the standard was created specifically for the application of quality management, its creators suggest that it has application for any management system.

Key Principles of Quality People Management
The underlying distinguishing factor of ISO 10018 is the attempt to bring a process approach to Quality People Management. The standards are based on the following Quality Management Principles created by ISO Technical Committee 176:

  • Customer focus to align activities and priorities in service to the consumers of an organization’s services or products.
  • Leadership that insures people feel inspired, have the information and knowledge needed to do their jobs and feel part of a community so that they have a sustainable passion for success.
  • Involvement of people so that everyone acts as the eyes and ears of the organization.
  • A process approach to provide a systematic, as opposed to an ad hoc, approach to achieving goals.
  • A systematic approach to management that ensures alignment of all key tools of engagement.
  • Continuous improvement: a culture committed to innovation.
  • A factual approach to decision-making rather than influenced by political or factional biases.
  • Mutually beneficial supplier relationships.

Ream more from the Enterprise Engagement Alliance…