10 tips to continue to engage employees during these challenging times.
By Bob Kelleher, Founder and CEO, The Employee Engagement Group
We all want to feel engaged, motivated and fulfilled in our jobs—it’s what keeps us satisfied and loyal to our employers. And employers need us to feel this way in order to drive retention, advocacy, productivity, and, ultimately, the bottom line.
But the statistics on the state of employee engagement are alarming:
• According to December’s Economic Intelligence Unit, 84 percent of C-Suite executives who responded to the survey reported that “disengaged employees” are one of the biggest threats to their business.
• A December 2010 Corporate Leadership Council Study reported that only 25 percent of employees currently have a “high intent to stay” with their current employer and that only 25 percent of employees are giving high levels of effort.
• Hewitt research shows that 46 percent of organizations experienced a decline in engagement levels in the quarter ending in June 2010—the largest decline observed in 15 years.
The reality is that employee engagement is not about money, benefits, or things. You cannot motivate or engage employees long term by “buying” their commitment. Employee engagement is a mutual commitment between an employer and employee where the employer is helping to grow and develop its employees, and employees are helping the business or entity be successful. This commitment is built through a culture of trust, open and frequent communication, shared vision and goals, and a deep understanding and commitment that “we’re in this together.”
Money, benefits, and “things” do, however, impact the engagement equation—if employees feel their employer is not being fair regarding money or benefits, this perception of unfairness can and will foster disengagement. Here are some ideas to continue to engage employees during these challenging times:
Link your efforts around performance:Employee engagement is not about employee satisfaction. The last thing you should want is a team of satisfied but underperforming employees. Engagement is defined as “the unlocking of employee potential to drive high performance.” Employee satisfaction will be an outcome of a great culture, but shouldn’t be the goal.
Employee engagement starts at the top:Most studies show that a key employee engagement driver is the actions of senior leaders. Public leaders must demonstrate support for an engaged company culture by personally living their company’s values.
Engage first-line leaders:The old adage, “Employees join great companies, but quit bad bosses,” is true. Based on research, the key driver of engagement is the relationship with one’s direct manager. Studies show that if one’s line manager is disengaged, his/her employees are four times more likely to be disengaged themselves. However, we woefully under invest in supervisory training.
Focus on communication, the cornerstone of engagement:Successful leaders recognize the power of a robust communication plan, one built on clarity, consistency, and transparency. At the risk of disputing Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, your employees “CAN” handle the truth. With today’s technological advances, we’re also dealing in an era of information overload. Communication experts tell us you now need to tell your employees a message 13 times before they “hear” it. Learn how to leverage the various communication venues available to you (especially social media), and how to tailor communications to reach vastly different generations in the workplace.
Individualize your engagement:Today’s leaders must tailor their communication approaches, rewards and recognition programs, and training and development investments to the unique motivational drivers of each employee. It is no longer “treat people the way youwant to be treated,” the new mantra is “treat people the way theywant to be treated.”
Create a motivational culture:Leaders cannot motivate employees long-term; they must create motivational cultures with an engaged workforce where employees can flourish and motivate each other. Leaders do need to understand the different intrinsic motivational drivers of their employees. Experts agree that a key engagement driver is showing empathy toward employees. Leaders are more apt to get the discretionary effort of their employees when they think you care about them as people.
Create feedback mechanisms:You need to ask employees what they think; employee engagement surveys are a great tool to assess an organization’s pulse. The latest research by the Corporate Leadership Council is staggering: Only 5.9 percent of surveyed employees are giving their employers high levels of discretionary effort. Are your employees highly engaged? How would you know? As we slowly recover from this deep recession, some enlightened companies are beginning to ask their employees, “What do you think?” as they conduct employee engagement surveys.
Reinforce and reward the right behaviors:Employees are incredibly motivated by achievement, not money. But if there is the perception of unfairness, money issues can disengage. Focus on recognizing achievement whenever possible. Because employers will get the behavior they measure, use a blend of both quantitative and qualitative metrics. To build a high performing business that is true to their culture, leaders should have consequences for poor performance and for behaviors inconsistent with their core values. Anything less will erode alignment with employees.
Track and communicate progress:It is amazing how few companies have balanced scorecards in place. Employees are no different than leadership—they both want to work for a “winning” organization. Leaders need to reinforce “line of sight” by telling their employees where they’re going, how they’re performing, and where they fit in. These are key alignment and engagement necessities.
Hire and promote the right behaviors and traits for your culture:Although we place much emphasis on one’s educational background and skills, people generally succeed or fail because of their behaviors and traits (remember that soft skills count). I often tell clients, “You don’t have an engagement issue, you have a hiring issue—you’re hiring the wrong behaviors and traits to succeed in your culture.” To reinforce this message, use the B.E.S.T profile of staff selection: Although we place much emphasis on one’s educational background and skills (the E. and S.), people generally succeed or fail because of their behaviors and traits (the B and T).
Bob Kelleher is a speaker, consultant, and author of “LOUDER THAN WORDS: 10 Practical Employee Engagement Steps That Drive Results.” For more information, visit www.BobKelleher.com. Kelleher spent 25 years working in the A/E/C industry, most recently as Chief Human Capital Officer for AECOM. He is also the founder and CEO of The Employee Engagement Group, a global consulting firm on the subjects of employee engagement, workforce trends, and leadership (www.EmployeeEngagmen...).