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Two Reliable Ways to Ensure Employee Engagement

Posted    by Terry Gillis

In our last blog post, we discussed recent studies that reported relatively low employee engagement levels, and explained how building trust in your organization can help solve the problem.  This week’s post will look at engagement from another angle.

Perhaps the first, and most important question to ask about employee engagement is:

What does it really mean?

Experience suggests that there are many different definitions for engagement.  However, in a macro sense, it is the broad and deep connection that employees have with an organization, as well as their voluntary and enthusiastic commitment to its success.

To simplify, one of the best descriptions I have heard is from the book Contented Cows by Richard Hadden and Bill Catelette, a Partner and Senior Management Consultant for the Memphis office of Career Partners International.  They refer to something called discretionary effort.  It goes something like this…employees come to work with a full tank of gas.  The amount of gas they use is at their discretion.  Most people will give about 80% on the off chance that management gets angry and pushes a little harder (that way they still have some extra fuel).  An engaged employee is someone who voluntarily gives the organization their full tank of gas and their maximum effort (and often times even more than that).

It is easy to spot the totally engaged employee.  They are the ones that give 110% effort and output.  They are at the top of their game and always go the extra mile without being asked.  They ask “What is in it for us?” versus “what is in it for me?”

Now that you understand what employee engagement is, the second question to ask is:

How can I develop employee engagement in my organization?

This task can seem daunting.

A universal set of attributes that drive employee engagement has been developed from the extensive research that has been done on the topic (see last week’s post about engagement and retention for further insight).

However, there appears to be one key driver of employee engagement that everyone can agree on: the interest level of Senior Management in employee well-being.

This brings us to leadership

Effective leadership is critical to employee engagement.

From my experience working with companies of all sizes and industries, I have found that effective leaders do two things really well (and get really engaged employees in return).

1. They really get to know employees.

All leaders should ask themselves the following questions about their employees:

  • Do your employee’s know the company’s core values, strategy, mission, and vision values?
  • Do they know where the company is going?  How do you know?
  • Do employees know how they add value to the organization?  Do you know how they add value?
  • Do you know the career expectations of your employees?
  • What puts them at risk for leaving?
  • What do they do outside of work?
  • What do they want to learn about?
  • What gets your employees excited?  What drives them?  What are they passionate about?

If you do not know the answers, take the time to talk to your employees and find out.

2. They create an environment of success, not setbacks.

Amabile & Kramer’s 2011 BBR article “The Power of Small Wins” looks at employee engagement through the lens of employee motivation. Their research shows that employees who feel they are making progress feel motivated.  And motivated employees are engaged employees.  According to the article, managers should be “catalysts” and “nourishers” versus “obstacles” and “toxins” relative to employees’ progress.   Good leaders drive engagement by checking-in with employees and not checking up on them.

Keep in mind that in addition to the studies mentioned in this post and in the last post, there are hundreds more that show a strong correlation between employee engagement and company performance.

Can you afford not to review your engagement strategies today?

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