Employee Engagement 2.0

The Secret to Raising Employee Engagement

Early in my career, I recall a senior executive who told a story of how he saw a company employee on the soccer field on a Saturday morning.  She was cheering from the sidelines with a passion he had never seen from her at work.  He asked himself, “How can I get that person to show up at work on Monday morning rather than the person I typically see going through the motions?”   I realized, then, that most people do not bring their best self to the workplace.

The State of the American Workplace

According to Gallup, only 30% of the US workforce is engaged.  This is a truly unfortunate state of affairs.  Not only is it a sad commentary on how people are living their lives, but organizations are leaving a lot on the table in terms of lost productivity.

It is not surprising, then, that Raising Employee Engagement is one of the top 5 human capital strategies that CEO’s plan to pursue this year (according to the Conference Board’s CEO Challenge 2015).

The Not So Big Secret – It’s About the Manager

Since raising employee engagement is a high priority for organizations this year, I imagine we will see many companies implementing engagement surveys, followed by some “flavor of the month” programs that are designed to address gaps identified in their survey results.

If I had the ear of the CEO’s of these organizations, I would tell them to skip the “flavor of the month” programs, and possibly the engagement survey as well, and focus on the company’s managers.  Based on Gallup’s research (and my own personal experience over the years), managers are the primary drivers of employee engagement levels.  In this regard, I love the following quote from Jim Clifton, Gallup’s Chairman and CEO:

“Here’s something they’ll probably never teach you in business school: The single biggest decision you make in your job – bigger than all of the rest – is who you name manager.  When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision.  Not compensation, not benefits – nothing.”

If you don’t believe this statement, take a look at the questions contained in the Gallup Q12, one of the leading surveys used to assess associate engagement in organizations.  As you review each of the following 12 items, you can see why the manager role is so critical to fostering (or destroying) employee engagement.  Nearly every item is impacted by manager behavior.

The Gallup Q12

  1. I know what is expected of me at work
  2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right
  3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day
  4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work
  5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person
  6. There is someone at work who encourages my development
  7. At work, my opinions seem to count
  8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important
  9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work
  10. I have a best friend at work
  11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress
  12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow

Integrated Talent Management Trumps “Flavor of the Month” Programs

If employee engagement is essentially a function of an organization’s collective manager behavior, then CEO’s and CHRO’s should focus on integrating their company’s talent management systems.  Only when the following HR systems are aligned and integrated, along with a supportive “tone from the top” provided by the C-Suite, will you be able to create a culture of engagement:

  • Selection – Hire managers that demonstrate the leadership and people skills required to engage employees.
  • Development – Provide managers with formal and informal programs to develop their leadership, performance management and coaching skills.
  • Performance Management – Hold managers accountable for exemplary performance management, talent development and employee engagement practices. Provide rewards to incent the behaviors you want managers to demonstrate.
  • Promotion and Succession – Elevate people into managerial roles and key positions not just for their functional or technical competence, but for their people skills as well.

Engagement is Key to Competing and Winning

Our business environment is highly competitive.  Organizations cannot afford to have a high percentage of their workforce simply going through the motions.  So, how do we get our employees to show up for work and be fully present?   How do we get our employees to show up on Monday morning with the same level of passion they demonstrate on the soccer field on Saturday morning?  We have to create a culture of engagement that begins with our managers.

In an integrated and systemic way, we have to hire, develop, reward and promote managers that care about people and have the skill to address employees’ needs and motivators.  We have to make managers understand that talent management and employee engagement are part of their job.  Only then, will people fully show up at work and provide the much needed collaboration, productivity and innovation that their employers need to thrive in our competitive marketplace.

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