The need to engage with work forces to help drive the economy forward is receiving much attention. Many attempts have been made to define engagement (1) but put simply it is about connecting with employees and others associated with the organisation to produce an effective and customer focused firm that adapts successfully.
Academic studies have concluded that there are certain characteristics present in engaged firms. However, the studies are not conclusive about whether those are the key causes or simply indicators. One fact is certain – engaging people is not a once only initiative but a continuous investment of time and energy by senior managers in the good and bad periods.
The level of engagement oscillates over time whether in a new or existing company. In a new venture, it is hard work but easier to gel people together, to nurture the buzz, sense of challenge and ‘let’s go for it’ attitude amongst all staff. However as the organisation evolves, that first exhilaration begins to feel tarnished as things begin to change. From the management viewpoint, experience exposes ways in which more effective practices can be implemented e.g. better route planning in distribution but employees may experience that as changes for the worse. Adapting and improving is part of organisational life but connectivity can be undermined.
How do you go about re-engaging employees and others who are vital to the success of the business?
First consider your beliefs about your employees
- The majority of staff understand that a company must make a profit and a public body or charity must attract revenue and be prudent in expenditure. Many will be surprised by where the money goes and the streams of income. Would you share such information with staff regularly whether the figures are good or poor?
- Delivery drivers, customer service and sales staff all gain feedback from customers about the service and see issues quickly that could improve customer loyalty and increase sales/income. Do you trust and encourage them to feed that back to you? Do you let them know whether or not it has been acted upon? Studies have shown that customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction are intertwined – each feed of the other and the outcome can be increased sales. (2)
- Do you help your employees to understand that their roles are important in the chain of activities even if the tasks are mundane?
- Do you believe that your employees want to work for an organisation that they believe is on the ball and a reasonable employer?
Second beware of quick fixes. Managers often see a bonus scheme as a way to engage staff. Reward systems decay over time and so the original purpose becomes less effective and even counter productive. Watch for signs that engagement is dropping off e.g. increases in waste or errors, a lack of ideas being given or forthright views on issues to senior managers. When employees are engaged with the direction of the firm they want things to be right and will give voice to any waste or weaknesses.
Stand back and consider the following points about your organisation.
How will you measure the gains from investing time in re-engaging employees?
Engagement is not just about employee satisfaction. It is about how they perceive the business – are they proud of the services/products given to customers? You can take stock of the degree of engagement via an employee survey. That should cover perceptions about:
- how focused the firm is on customers and service quality
- how the company uses their skills and knowledge and makes their performance requirements explicit
- their view of pay and benefits (do not be afraid to ask this)
- whether they believe you are a reasonable employer
Just asking such questions provides you with a rich source of information that you can work on to re-engage staff and see how improvement occurs. A recent report from Randstad (3) cites that many organisations are out of touch with what employees value about companies. For example, senior managers emphasised their employer brand and business values as their most attractive attributes but employees attach more importance to work that is meaningful and competitive remuneration. 44% of the employees surveyed stated that their skills were under utilised but 40% of the organisations surveyed alleged that the lack of skills was holding back innovation and development. Re- engagement may provide you with a competitive edge.
Hall marks of re-engagement
An organisation that is serious about engagement will practice many of the following:
- explaining the business facts in a brief and interesting way that is done regularly not just when major issues arise
- providing feedback on staff performance
- staff and managers are encouraged to try new ways of working and to take acceptable risks rather than accepting paralysis by what might or might not happen
- development of a high degree of trust between senior managers and staff thr0ugh meaningful communication in the good and bad times
- making use of gifted individuals and teams to solve issues, set up new products/services
- ensuring that internal processes are focused on delivering services and products to retain customers and grow profitability or income.
The latter point is part of making sure that it is not all talk – employees and managers see that senior management is determined to address new revenue streams and fix issues to retain cust0mers and improve margins.
Those are just some of the hallmarks.
Engagement demands consistency
Employees and managers notice who gets recognised or rewarded. Ensure your reward and recognition practices reinforce appropriate attitudes and actions
Engagement also necessitates making sure that your processes are effective and that poor performance is addressed. Managers need to address weaknesses amongst staff and processes in a fair but firm way. Staff respect managers who are consistent and that engenders their belief that they work for a reasonable employer.
However, employees also notice groups that are treated shabbily and such examples are a barrier to developing trust. A common example is the way in which temporary staff and young people are treated but that in itself is an article for another time.
© 2011 HR Management Dimensions Ltd.
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(1) Is engagement working, People Management Magazine Online Anat Arking 24 October 2011
(2) The Service Profit Chain, James L. Heskett, W. Earl Sasser, Leonard A. Schlesinger, Harvard Business Review
(3) World of Work report by Randstad 2011 and press release 26 October 2011 ‘Organisations don’t know what makes them attractive to workers’.