Over the past two years, many companies have been in survival mode, with marginal backlog, shrinking profits, cost cutting, and layoffs being the norm. This lack of prosperity, coupled with fear and insecurity (“I don’t want to be anyone’s low man on the totem pole”), resulted in many employees staying put even if they are unhappy, or “disengaged.”
Now that we’re seeing an economic recovery, your employees are beginning to gain confidence in the job market. Are they beginning to look for new a new job?
I’m projecting that we’re entering the era of the “disengaged” as many employees seek alternatives elsewhere. Companies will start hiring again soon, employees will again believe that it is OK to be someone’s low man on the totem pole, and the musical chair aspect of job movement will take root. Is your company prepared?
Employers should take note of The Corporate Leadership Council’s November 2010 report on employee engagement trends based on responses from approximately 618,000 workers from every geographic region in the world (with 72 percent of respondents coming from the United States). The number of employees who said they have “high levels of intent” to stay in their current positions declined in the third quarter of this year, to only 22 percent! Disengagement levels remain high, according to the survey, which found that 21.6 percent of workers describe themselves as highly disengaged.
Companies need to focus on their engagement and retention strategies today to be prepared for tomorrow by adopting the following 10 engagement practices:
- Link your engagement efforts to high performance – Employee engagement is not about employee satisfaction. The last thing you should want is a team of satisfied but underperforming employees. I define engagement 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.
- Engagement starts at the top - Most studies show that a key engagement driver is the actions of senior leaders. In today’s recessionary times, leaders have large shadows – and your employees are watching everything you do! On a related note, I don’t ever remember greed being viewed less favorable than today. Although greed is never an admirable virtue, your employees, the government, your clients, potential employees, and other key stakeholders appear far less tolerant these days of leaders and companies who exhibit self serving tendencies.
- Engage First Line Leaders - Based on extensive 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 4 times more likely to be disengaged themselves. However, we woefully under invest in supervisory training. When I work for a new client, I suggest engagement training for all “people leaders” to ensure that first line managers understand the critical role they play in engagement.
- Focus on communication, the cornerstone of engagement – Successful leaders recognize a successful communication plan is built on clarity, consistency, and transparency. 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 13x 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. Engagement drivers are different by generation, culture and background, tenure, and organizational level, amongst others, and successful managers get to know their employees in order to individualize engagement efforts.
- Create a motivational culture - Mangers need to create motivational cultures where employees can flourish. Leaders need to understand the different intrinsic motivational drivers of their employees. Are you creating a line of sight between where the company is going and one’s specific job? Are you exhibiting care and empathy as experts agree that showing empathy is a key engagement driver? You are more apt to get the discretionary effort of your employees when they think you care about them as people!
- Create feedback mechanisms – Employee engagement surveys are a great tool to check your organizational pulse. As we come out of the recession, knowing what your current baseline is will allow you to track progress. If you don’t conduct a survey, how will you know if your employees are engaged? Town hall meetings, blogs, and of course, supervisory one on ones are also important feedback tools.
- Reinforce and reward the right behaviors – I’ve learned that employees are incredibly motivated by achievement – even more so than money. I do believe that money can disengage if employees perceive unfairness. I strongly suggest a blend of both quantitative and qualitative metrics to build a high performing business. And remember to have consequences for poor performance and for behaviors inconsistent with your core values. Anything less will erode alignment with your employees.
- Track and communicate progress – It is amazing to me how few companies have balanced scorecards in place. Employees are no different than leadership – they both want to work for a ‘winning’ organization. Tracking and communicating how well the company is doing is both an alignment and engagement necessity.
- Hire and promote the right behaviors and traits for your culture – 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, I share my 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).