Employee engagement done right can unlock commercial value
Employees swamped with emails, texting and checking social media platforms on their phones 24 hours a day. Workers completing repetitive tasks hour in, hour out with little enthusiasm. The line between work and personal time blurring ever more. None of that would matter if employees weren’t absolutely vital to a company’s success.
Little wonder that CEOs today are embracing the term Employee Engagement as if it were new. It isn’t, of course. What’s new is the recognition that no relationship matters more in business than that between top executives and their employees. Gone are the days of Chainsaw Al, the days when ax-wielding executives boasted about the number of jobs they’d cut. Now top leaders understand that harmonious relations with investors and the media begin at home, with their own employees.
We believe it misses the point to think of employee engagement as a process, tool or methodology. The engaged employee is actually an outcome. Engaged employees are ones who conscientiously behave in ways that deliver extraordinary value to businesses and their customers.
Engagement is a behavior. This is good, because you can measure behavior. It can be defined, observed and its resulting outcomes tracked. Given that the required outcomes in every business are different, so too are the behaviors needed to achieve them. We’re not proposing any investigation into employee thoughts and feelings (although it can be useful to understand those as well). We’re looking at what employees actually do.
The best news about behavior is that it can be influenced. This fact is obvious to parents, teachers and coaches. It’s also obvious to casual observers of popular culture. We know that celebrities are role models for multitudes of fans. Are the leaders in your business role models for employees? Do they display the behaviors you want employees to copy?
This throws up some important questions for CEOs and other leaders.
1. Is internal communication the secret behind employee engagement?
No. When a CEO asks, “How can we better communicate our strategy?” what she actually means is, “How can we better inspire employees to do the things that will execute our strategy?”
Achieving that goal requires more than effective internal communications. Efforts to engage employees should include models of leadership not only at the top but throughout the organization, supported by a culture that appreciates individuals, recognizes and takes full advantage of their talents and shows concern about their overall experience. There should also be a strong link to what management says internally and what it is saying to the media and investors. Now more than ever, employees see and read external communications with a skeptical eye, searching for inconsistencies. While good internal communication is always a feature of employee engagement, the two are not synonymous.
2. Should we start with the message?
That’s the standard approach for most internal comms-focused employee engagement campaigns. But we believe you should start with your desired outcomes and work back from there. What is it you need to achieve? What do employees need to do to deliver that? And what will influence them to behave in that way? Then build your engagement programs around those drivers.
Maybe you need to think about reward and recognition differently. Maybe you need to look at the systems and tools employees use to do their jobs. Maybe you need to improve management or leader capability. Or maybe it’s something else entirely.