Several months ago, I published an article on the importance of employee engagement to any organization’s effectiveness and bottom line. The topic has proven to be a fruitful one, and I’ve gotten some excellent responses from my readers. It’s possible to be highly engaged, but an absolute zero when it comes to productivity, and vice versa. However, if you can bring together maximum engagement and high performance in one individual, you’ve got a firecracker on your hands – a true SuperCompetent in every sense of the word.
While engagement doesn’t automatically lead to greater productivity, it’s certainly one of the most important factors in organizational success. Highly engaged employees are enthusiastic and excited about the company and its goals, and are fully willing to contribute to their team’s success. Which begs a question: how do you encourage engagement in the first place?
As I pointed out in my original article, engagement is driven by a number of interrelated factors. Initially I included eleven items on my list, but I feel that they can be boiled down to six factors that are most critical to maximizing employee engagement:
1. Employee confidence that they can do their job properly and will be allowed to do so with minimal oversight.
2. The nature and quality of the job itself.
3. Career development and opportunities for growth.
4. Ongoing communication and feedback from management.
5. A clear understanding of the company’s goals, and why employee contributions matter.
6. Trust in the company’s integrity, and pride in their place in it.
In other words, you have to do all you can to make an employee’s job more than just a job: you want it to be something that they’re proud of and enthusiastic about doing-ideally, something they actually look forward to. So in this article, let’s take a closer look at how to accomplish each of the above items.
Employee confidence comes in two flavors, and both need to be present to maximize an employee’s engagement level:
a. Confidence that they can do their job properly, and
b. Confidence that they’ll be allowed to do so with minimal oversight.
This is a big one. How can an employee become engaged in their work if they’re constantly stumbling over their lack of experience or training? And how well can they function if they’re being micromanaged to death? Not very well, I’ll wager.
The most engaged employees come to work and jump right in, because they know exactly what they’re doing, and they know they’re trusted to do the job. Will they make mistakes? Sometimes, but that’s just another way to learn. Breathing down their necks isn’t going to help them learn faster.
As big a deal as this is, it’s also extremely simple to fix-in fact, you should consider doing so one of your primary jobs as a manager. First of all, if an employee is feeling uncertain about their ability to do their job, then it’s your responsibility to do two things: provide them with the training they need (within the limits of your budget, naturally), and coach them toward greater confidence.
Second, take a look at your management style. If you’re always looking over people’s shoulders, stop it! Make it a basic assumption that your employees can do their jobs, not that they can’t. You do have to check on them occasionally, but you can’t do everything yourself, and you can’t ride them constantly. That’s what delegation is all about.
The nature and quality of the job itself. Let’s face it: some jobs are less glamorous than others. There’s no shame in hard, even dirty work, but I’m guessing most of us would rather be office workers than garbage collectors. Similarly, some jobs generate enormous amounts of stress: think about what firefighters and inner-city school teachers have to go through.
If you expect employees in such jobs to maintain any level of engagement, you’ve got to do things to offset the negative qualities of those jobs. Excellent benefits and liberal time-off policies can work miracles, and so can honest efforts to connect with these employees. Let them know that you appreciate their efforts, and give them an “Atta boy!” when the job is well done. In addition, you should always be there to offer coaching and counseling whenever it’s necessary.
Career development and opportunities for growth. With a few notable exceptions, most employees want a chance to get ahead. Give them that chance, because the only other option is for them to stagnate in place-or seek a more amenable employer. No matter how much you like having a specific individual in a specific position, no matter how annoying it would be to have to replace them and train up someone new, give them an opportunity to grow into something beyond what they are today.
There are many ways that you can accomplish this, starting with a willingness to provide any training necessary to help your employee to better fit their existing role, above and beyond what they need just to be satisfied with their competence (see above). Sit down with them, and ask them what they think they need and where they want to go. One way to keep them interested is to allow them to shadow a competent employee in the type of job they’d like to work their way up to. That is, let them follow that person through their day, watching how they handle their tasks, without actually doing the work itself.
Ongoing communication and feedback from management. Question: if you never heard a peep from your supervisor, how would you know whether you were doing your job right? This is the quandary that many people find themselves in. Basically, the boss just winds them up and lets them go, and there’s heck to pay if they mess things up, despite any lack of communication from above.
That’s a great way to destroy any employee’s sense of engagement, and you’d have to be pretty short-sighted to run your team that way. Once again, the fix is simple: all you have to do is keep communicating with your employees. Let them see you care. Some managers practice what’s called MBWA: Management By Walking Around. This can be useless or counterproductive if you’re wandering aimlessly or hanging around looking over people’s shoulders; however, practiced optimally, it can be amazingly effective.
First of all, it lets you inform your people about what they need to know. It may take a little more effort than an email or a phone call, but it’s more personal. While you’re at it, ask them if they have everything they need or want, and urge them to be honest with you. This can be an opening gambit in your coaching or counseling strategies. You can also use this time to give them feedback on how they’re doing. Frankly, though, I’d suggest that you only give them positive feedback in public, because you don’t want to chew someone out in an open-plan office…not if you don’t don’t want their engagement to tank. As always, criticize in private.
A clear understanding of the company’s goals, and why employee contributions matter. Some employees could give a rat about the company’s mission and vision; I call these people Campers and Defectors, per last month’s article. These employees don’t much care about anything. But here’s the deal: I believe most employees do care, and having a solid idea of what’s going on can help them stay engaged or become more engaged. And let’s be honest here: explaining this to Campers and Defectors, in a clear way that emphasizes their contributions, might just move them up the scale engagement-wise.
That’s what Ford Motor Company does. Employees at all levels are made aware of the company’s mission, strategy, process, and infrastructure, and precisely where their contributions fit into that framework. Ford decided that they had to start doing this right at the turn of the century, back when they were getting beat up by GM in the marketplace. This held them in good stead and let them pull ahead during the subsequent meltdown of the once-proud GM brand.
Imagine how something like this could help your organization. At the very least, it would eliminate one of the excuses that unhappy workers have for their disengagement, and at best it could boost them to a more engaged and productive level.
Trust in the company’s integrity and pride in their place in it. It’s hard to become actively engaged when you don’t feel you can trust the company you work for and you’re embarrassed to work there anyway. Now, these things don’t always coincide; it’s possible to be assured of a company’s integrity and still not be proud of working there. (Would you want admit you worked quality control in a Preparation H factory?) But generally, these factors do occur hand in glove.
Let’s look at the pride issue first. I know some employees who work for certain companies who hide their workplace badges when they go out for lunch, so that people wouldn’t know who they were…or they’d be ill-treated by most people they encountered. Where’s the pride there?
Of course, some companies toss integrity out the window, and to heck with employee pride. Remember Enron? That company was riddled with opportunism and corruption at the highest levels. Imagine how the rank-and-file employees of Enron felt. I know someone who worked for Enron indirectly: he was a contract archaeologist hired to assess archaeological sites along gas pipeline corridors in the South. This person (let’s call him Bob) dealt with Enron employees on a daily basis and was well aware of how shady the organization was. Bob wasn’t in the least surprised when Enron blew up in 2001. He knew how they functioned and worked for them only from economic necessity, not because he liked it. His embarrassment at their lack of integrity ensured that he was never truly engaged with the work, though he tried to maintain a high level of productivity.
The solution here is obvious: you have to maintain the highest possible level of integrity within your team or organization. If you’re above reproach, it’ll give your employees a handhold to cling to. You must lead by example, and even then you have to be willing to reach out to each employee and show them how much you value their work, and how much it really is worth to the company.
This may not be easy, especially if the company in general seems a little light in the integrity department. But if this is the case, then I have to ask you: why are you working there? Where’s your pride of place? If you don’t have any, then unless you’re an Oscar-quality actor, you can’t expect your employees to have any, either. And if that’s the case, you’ve built a house of cards that will fall apart at the slightest breeze.
Maximizing employee engagement is crucial if you want to maximize your team’s performance. While the two concepts aren’t synonymous, the most productive people do tend to be highly engaged, and they’re much less likely to want to leave you. So take a look at the above factors and consider how you might implement them among your employees.
It may not be easy, and you may not succeed with everyone. However, I guarantee that if you’ll genuinely try, your collective productivity will soar. If you implement these methods in conjunction with the ones that I’ve outlined for the five categories of my Productivity Matrix, as described in both last month’s newsletter and my most recent round of blog entries, then I honestly believe you’ll thrive.
Laura Stack is a personal productivity expert, author, and professional speaker whose mission is to build high-performance productivity cultures in organizations by creating Maximum Results in Minimum Time®. She is the president of The Productivity Pro®, Inc., a time management training firm specializing in productivity improvement in high-stress organizations and the 2011-2012 President of the National Speakers Association. Since 1992, Laura has presented keynotes and seminars on improving output, lowering stress, and saving time in today’s workplaces.