Complex challenges, simple solutions
August 15, 2012
Research shows that regardless of the economic circumstances, having an engaged workforce contributes to better business performance.
A business strategy can be pretty straightforward — find an unmet need in the marketplace and develop a plan to satisfy it better than every competitor.
But in the everyday grind of the real world, delivering on that strategy day in and day out in a manner that will build customer loyalty and referrals is one of the most difficult and enduring problems leaders in plants all around the world face.
Research shows that regardless of the economic circumstances, having an engaged workforce – one that is enthusiastically willing to give more than just what is required to hold on to their jobs — contributes to better business performance.
Consistent, flawless execution of business strategy requires a dedicated and committed workforce. But practically, it can be very difficult to do. Why? Because, according to a Gallup Organization poll, 80 percent of employees surveyed say they dislike going to work and 40 percent dread showing up.
Hewitt Associates found in its annual survey that since the onset of the recession in 2008, those organizations with less than 40 percent “engaged” workers had shareholder returns that were 44 percent lower than the average. In contrast, when 65 percent or more of employees were engaged, shareholder returns were 19 percent higher than the average.
Why do companies with engaged employees have such dramatically better results? It’s because engaged employees are both passionate about their jobs and emotionally bonded to their organizations.
They are willing to give that elusive discretionary effort that drives a more intense strategic focus, higher efficiency, and better productivity. Accordingly, eliminating workplace alienation and creating an engaged workforce have become the new mantras for companies climbing their way out of the recession.
And it doesn’t need to be complicated. Concentrate on the following three actions.
1. Make sure employees know what to do – and why
Be extremely clear about organizational goals and obsessively communicate to employees how their work, both collectively and individually, contributes to the organization’s success.
Everyone wants to feel important and to feel that what they do matters. Those feelings are not always easy to obtain, especially for employees who perform routine and repetitive jobs.
But it is your responsibility as a supervisor to help those individuals see the higher purpose in their work and that their company is measured, through the eyes of the customer, on every single activity, regardless how big or small.
Everyone, therefore, is depending upon them to do their job with excellence or else the whole organization could fail. This needs to be explicitly stated.
2. Say thank you – and mean it
At the top of the list of practices that increase an organization’s level of employee engagement is the simple act of regularly and sincerely thanking employees and praising them for their work.
Publicly acknowledging exceptional work is considered especially important, though rewarding the routine and commonplace is also encouraged, such as for good attendance.
One organization thanks employees by giving each of its team leaders $100 per week for undefined team-building activities, with the only restriction that the activities must occur outside normal working hours. The idea is that if a team leader can strengthen the personal, nonwork bond between team members during off-hours, those employees will help each other out at work because now a friend is asking for help, not just a co-worker.
3. Develop and train
Finally, most employees want to know that they have avenues for advancement in their companies if they want them. This means making available career development and training opportunities at every level in the company and regularly discussing ways to help interested employees obtain them. Nowhere is this more important than for employees at the bottom of the ladder.
Great organizations search for ways to get the competitive edge, but many are overlooking a strategic weapon that is standing right in front of them – their workers. Creating an inspired and engaged workplace will not occur by chance; it requires a leadership team -- from the shop floor supervisor to the top boss -- that understands and values its importance. And when you create this culture of engagement, it won’t be long before your competition’s customers choose to do business with you.
Dr. Chris Bart, FCA, is the author of the mission implementation and leadership book A Tale of Two Employees and the Person Who Wanted to Lead Them.