“Good management is not just organization. It is an attitude inspired by the will to do right. Good management is taking a sincere interest in the welfare of the people you work with. It is the ability to make people feel that you and they are the company – not merely employees of it. Good management is your worthiness to have and hold the confidence of others” (Jim Casey, UPS, 1985).
Today I will be discussing the importance of engaging your employees properly. Often heard is the saying “Our employees are our most important assets”, but what does that actually mean? There is an entire body of literature relating to this concept titled “Human Capital”, which explains the strategy companies take when investing in employees.
The Gallup Organization has conducted large amounts of empirical research on employee engagement. Since 1997, Gallup has analyzed responses of over 3 million employees who have participated in the Q12 survey, a 12-question assessment regarding employee engagement levels. Based on the extensive measurement and analysis, Gallup has been able to determine that 29% of the US workforce is engaged, 55% is not engaged, and 16% is actively disengaged. It’s become a statistical benchmark that if more than 29% of your workforce is engaged in your organization, its mission and work, than your company is among the most productive in its class. Now I don’t know about you, but 29% still seems a little low for my taste.
While measurement of employee engagement is necessary to performance improvement, it is not sufficient to achieve productivity improvement alone. Managers play a key role in this function as well. Gallup research shows that well-managed, well-engaged workgroups are 44% more profitable, 50% more productive, and have 50% more customer loyalty than those with low engagement or poor management.
Employee performance is directly related to skills, knowledge, and talent. Skills and knowledge can be taught, but talent can only be selected or hired. It is important to keep in mind that not only do high-performance employees have talent, but so do all other employees.
Talent feedback is critical to engaging employees. Employee’s awareness of their own strengths is a major asset in setting personal and professional expectations. It is important for both the employee and manager to understand that talents vary widely among people and while one person may have strength in one area another may excel in another. Assigning employees to jobs and responsibilities that align with their strengths is a critical step towards successful employee engagement. Naturally, people will feel more positive about succeeding and thus are more likely to succeed if their responsibilities align with their strengths.
Buckingham and Coffman write in First, Break All the Rules: “We have discovered the manager – not pay, benefits, perks, or a charismatic corporate leader – was the critical player in building a strong workforce”.
Examples of employee engagement:
In order for an employee to feel truly engaged in their work they must feel like they are a part of the organization. They need to feel that the work they are doing is in some way significant, necessary, and beneficial to the company’s success. This will give the employees a sense of purpose and drive them to ensure the work they complete is done well and correctly. Employees who are convinced that their work doesn’t matter or that they are insignificant within the corporate structure will never be fully engaged in their work and therefore are more likely to make foolish mistakes or errors.
Having professional and courteous relationships within the workplace can significantly increase employee engagement. This is not only important for employees on the same level, but for those in management positions as well. Having a volatile relationship with your manager or staff can greatly decrease employee engagement and cause significant reductions in work performance. Managers should remain courteous and friendly with their staff in order to increase positive affect within the department.
The motivation to perform better and to invest more effort into their work is also important for employee engagement. Motivation can be in the form of anything from stock options to an extra day off per month based on performance evaluations. Simply telling your employees how good they are doing is also enough for them to work that much harder the next time around.
Recent research suggests that companies with high employee engagement will have a shareholder return of 19 percent better than the average. On the other hand, organizations that do poorly in employee engagement will return as much as 44 percent less to shareholders than the average. Because of this, employee engagement should be considered a crucial factor in determining how successful your business can become.
Many new age companies will offer unorthodox incentives to increase employee performance and creativity. One famous example is Google’s commitment to offering 20% of their employee’s time to work on personal projects. Google’s “20% Time”, inspired by Sergey Brin’s and Larry Page’s Montessori School experience, is a philosophy and policy that every Google employee spend 20% of their time (the equivalent of a full work day each week) working on ideas and projects that interest that employee. They are encouraged to explore anything other than their normal day-to-day job. As a result 50% of all Google’s products by 2009 originated from the 20% free time, including Gmail. By giving employees the personal and creative freedom to work and create something they are passionate about allowed the company to thrive in the following years as well as make Google one of the best places to work in the entire world.
However, it is important to understand how Google was able to be successful at doing so. Google established a “people analytics team” to figure out what makes their employees happy now vs. tomorrow. It’s a work in progress and the answer changes based on the business environment, the economy, and the employees currently in their organization. It is not an event, but a commitment to people analytics (talent analytics). We will talk more on this with our next post…
Sam Fricchione is a Human Resources Consultant for Twinbrook Associates. He is currently completing a Master’s in Behavioral Science at Brown University, where he is active in recruiting and research related to employee performance and productivity.
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