Increasingly we are seeing data that engaged employees drive business success. As the economy recovers at the current snail’s pace, companies are also looking at their employee engagement scores deciding they’d better do something about it now before wholesale exodus occurs by their greatest resource.
Proactive talent managers planned for this factor 3 years ago.
Where are your engagement planning efforts at currently?
Just this week, another study was released by The Brand Union, a brand strategy and design consultancy. This recent study surveyed 680 U.S. professionals revealing emotional engagement outweighs other forms of employee interaction, offering critical insights for executives who want to improve employee engagement health and create business efficiencies during lean times. “Our findings demonstrate the importance of companies implementing programs that don’t just reward but further connect employees to their brand,” said Toby Southgate, managing director for The Brand Union. “In order to connect emotionally, employees need consistent and compelling brand experiences that help formulate a clear understanding of what the brand represents.”
What did we talk about in our last blog entry? Communication, communication, communication!
Communication is the key vehicle to fostering an immediate engagement impact to:
• Create an understanding of how an employee’s work impacts the brand and business strategy through tailored brand workshops and storytelling campaigns.
• Foster open and organic sharing of information, from leadership and across departments by holding town halls and cross-functional workshops.
• Be clear about opportunities for advancement, providing clarity and transparency through talent mapping, career pathing and regular reviews.
• Ensure tactics such as regular reviews, brand training sessions and an active intranet are active beyond the honeymoon stage of employment.
The study concludes that emotional engagement drives job satisfaction, having a greater impact than intellectual understanding alone of a company’s brand or financial benefits such as monetary compensation and non-cash rewards and incentives.
Empowered or Entitled?
However, there are 2 sides to this emotional engagement coin and especially with younger generations. Do they feel empowered in the organization, or do they feel entitled to the rewards and recognition for simply “toughing it out” in this environment?
“For ultimate success, executives must be sensitive to the fact that one size does not fit all with engagement programs,” Southgate said. “Successful outcomes depend on understanding your team and how best to entreat and engage them.” So, can we conclude that transparency is critical as a first step to engagement health? Does it work for all or do we need to segment our efforts?
My Millennial Example
About a year ago, one of my millennial direct reports came to me and said; “Since I didn’t get a raise or promotion this year (um, deepest recession since the great depression!), how about you give me an extra couple of weeks vacation?” I was left dumbfounded by this request.
A couple of months later, this same employee announced that they would be leaving on a 2-week vacation in a matter of days. This came at a critical time of product launches and conference sponsorships and set back a lean team already running on fumes.
This employee felt “entitled” to this behavior.
It was an emotional response to persistent corporate ambiguity about the value, function and role human capital played in the company with sustained pressure around performance.
Current data shows a lack of confidence in leadership which suggests managers may be shouldering the blame for issues related to the constant cultural change under high-ambiguity. Confused, insecure and stressed out, employees are unhappy and inclined to blame the leaders in their direct line of sight (i.e., their immediate bosses).
I said “no” to my millennial employee because I didn’t have the autonomy or tools to engage them, and took the fall in the form of viral dissention created by this person. With proper coaching, HR or leadership support to create strategies to emotionally engage this direct report I would have had greater managerial and leadership success. So, when people are asking for less pressure, how do we increasingly demand results and greater productivity?
To be effective, managers must redefine their thinking, their skill sets and seek leadership support to accommodate workplace changes. They must also believe in the important and essential contribution they make to influencing engagement.
Addressing engagement is the key to managing change. It is precisely when change disrupts established routines that employee satisfaction, commitment, loyalty and advocacy fall away. Although repairing the damage requires action on a number of fronts, we shouldn’t discount the practical measures managers can take to advance the cause. Arming direct managers with some basic tools and resources to engage the front lines is a perfect second measure after communication.
In research that identified and ranked 10 group drivers and 91 individual drivers of employee engagement, Right Management found that the managerial function touches on a large number of the most important. On the basis of this finding, they recommend that immediate managers concentrate on four areas of action:
1. Communicate! Help your people understand change — initiating conversations that lead to greater understanding is essential to effective change management. The research shows that engagement is positively affected when employees are clear about:
• What is expected of them at work
• How they can contribute to meeting customer’s needs (in other words – being part of the corporate brand)
• What the organization’s mission is and how it relates to them
• What the organization’s business strategy is
Don’t assume that employees simply understand. Be proactive in discussing change and what it means for them. Communication!
2. Provide learning and development opportunities. Employees feeling less secure in the wake of workforce reduction or simply disconcerted by major changes in the workplace want to know there is a meaningful future ahead. The same is also true of employees asked to take on new responsibilities. Providing such employees with learning and career development opportunities is among the most important ways an organization can demonstrate its commitment to them.
Immediate managers have a key role to play. Right Management research shows that initiating career discussion has a greater influence on how employees rate their managers than just about any other action a manager can take. Talk to your employees about their careers, present them with development opportunities and position them to succeed by providing the necessary tools, resources and support. You will be rewarded with higher levels of engagement, especially with millennials and generation Y.
3. Empower your people! Managing change often means learning to manage differently. As organizational structures become flatter, organizations become more global, increasingly diverse workforces have increasingly diverse needs, and as people with specialized skill sets become harder to find and retain, traditional command and control modes of management are yielding poorer results. According to our research, engagement is positively impacted when employees are empowered to succeed.
Ensure that everyone is treated with respect. Ensure that their opinions count. Encourage them to take ownership of their work. And provide them with the authority they need to do their job well. Upwards communications such as town hall meetings, company-wide conference calls and employee suggestions programs will aid in the sense of empowerment.
4. Organize work processes to minimize stress. One constant of organizational change is the almost unrelenting pressure organizations feel to improve productivity. As the leaders who interact most regularly with employees, immediate managers normally bear the brunt of inspiring and otherwise enabling employees to do more with less. In this role, a manager treads a fine line.
Productivity is tied to engagement and engagement, our research shows, is strongly impacted by the appropriateness of an employee’s workload, by the pressure he or she experiences at work, and by his or her ability to balance work with family life and personal interests.
Push team members too hard, put them under too much pressure, ask them to sacrifice too much and their engagement and productivity will actually decline.
It is ironic to me that organizations have cut human capital to the bone through the recession, and now we need to fight to retain our best talent as recovery looms ahead! Obviously we need to focus our retention efforts at the critical executive level first, but let’s not let the bottom drop out either with VP’s, Directors and managers.
Without their authentic engagement leadership with front line employees our ability to deliver results to our customers is disabled and greater problems will abound.
When an employees’ assessment of leadership is directly tied to his or her level of engagement, a manager should seek all the tools and resources they can find to engage and empower their people. As engagement fares, so fares productivity, retention and organizational performance.