Improving Employee Engagement - A million $ Question
Let's understand what employee engagement is and is not. Employee engagement is not the same as job satisfaction, nor does it mean job happiness. Individuals can be satisfied with their jobs and still be disengaged. All engaged employees are, to a certain extent, happy, but not all happy employees are engaged. So what’s the difference? The answer lies in performance.
The best definition which resonates to me is “the extent to which people are personally involved in the success of a business"- Emma Bridger.
Why is it important: Many studies have shown that the majority of employees are disengaged or actively disengaged. As a result, billions of dollars are lost due to productivity loss.
Why is there a Low employee engagement:
It starts with a Leader and ends with a Leader. Now Leader does not meet only C Suite, Leaders at all levels in the organisation are responsible for employee engagement. Unfortunately, in today's capital markets, everything is measured against a yardstick, and that frequency has come down to each quarter. These mechanism and measurements create a culture that is detrimental to employee engagement. Leaders are increasing becoming self-centric (not everyone), their focus and intention is to achieve the targets, accelerate their career. They are doing what they can do to keep the indicators acceptable or look themselves right. So far the strategy seems to be working as companies/organisations are running and growing however as we are moving to Industry 4.0, Gig economy and emergence of complex organisational structures, old school traditional management practices won't work. If the management practices are not adopted or embraced to suit the industry, the disengagement will grow substantially leading to massive inefficiencies and losses.
How to Increase employee engagement:
Best way to increase the employee engagement is to strengthen the leadership team; Many organizations take the easiest route, i.e. to promote the best-performing employee, in a few cases the best-performing employee has been a lousy leader. Finding the leader and grooming the leaders is a long drawn and painful process, if organisations take a short cut due to lack of time and energy by putting the best performer assuming that will automatically yield results as the person is habituated to get results and in future he or she will get results, however please remember past success does not guarantee future success. What I am not saying is "High performer" cannot be a Leader, Anyone can be a leader, as long as the person possess a growth mindset, accepts feedback and takes action. Organizations need to invest time, focus, money and energy in grooming leaders. Leaders have to understand the intrinsic motivation of every employee working under them.
Leaders need to develop a good observation skills coupled with powerful questioning. Leaders firstly need to be very clear in their Goals and most importantly need to focus on delivering through people, they have to believe in people without this, subconsciously one will behave which will be a hinder to employee engagement. Leader have to be energetic, positive and clear headed. And look for below traits and encourage each and everyone one in the team/org to increase these traits.
Energy Level: Firstly as a Leader look at the group first, do you see the energy in the group, can you feel it, do you see or feel the buzz. Then zoom into an Individual level, Is the person energized, does he/she looks and speaks with excitement. He /she is showing interest /passion on the Job. Do you need to spend too much time on motivating this employee? Does the person asks lots of questions, and demonstrate intellectual curiosity. Some suggestions to increase the energy level is, reduce ambiguity, define clear roles and responsibility, define clear goal/outcome expected from each. Are your team members resourceful, action-oriented and bold? Do they see the big picture and pursue a purpose, and not just money, if not, think about how will you communicate the meaning and value they get in return (mostly regarding growth and learning) help bring back them as engaged.
Relationship/Collaboration: Again start with Group observation, can you see constant talking/chatting, do you see smiling or happy faces when talking with each other than zoom into individuals, How well this person can work with others. Is he /She comfortable speaking to individuals or groups outside of his /her domain?. Leaders have to foster a collaborative environment instead of a competitive environment. Leaders have to role model diversity of thoughts and inclusiveness by actively listening to all viewpoints. Most conflicts, disagreements come from poor roles and responsibilities, unclear job description, and vague job expectations and finally and most importantly is to communicate how an annual appraisal works both in the process and also concerning how individuals are rated and ranked. These are the basics, and if done well, there will be fewer disagreements, finger pointing and team will work coherently towards common goals and vision.
Discretionary Effort: Do you see many individuals coming up with great ideas, owning them and driving it through finish lines. Most of these usually are outside of defined job scope; driven by passion and enthusiasm. Alternatively, do you only see the selected few (you can easily guess who they are) come up with ideas and like to drive projects (There is a clear engagement issue from a broader group)? If you create an environment of trust and fairness, you will see higher engagement. This topic is sensitive, and it entirely depends upon each and also how you communicate it, firstly remember, not all are looking for growth, promotion or advancement. Hence some will be shying away for any discretionary effort as they look for right work-life balance. A good leader will stretch themselves. One who will able to inspire and motivate everyone in the team to pull. Also most importantly think about a good organization design whereby each's needs are met.
Majority of the workforce is disengaged, and traditional management practice would not help. If you follow "if-then" methodology to motive and inspire, this won't work and will cause more damage. "if-then" is great for simple and short-term objectives and not so great for complex and long-term goals. Industry 4.0 is headed for more complex and knowledge-based vs. simple and transactional base. The onus and responsibility lie with Leaders to increase the engagement levels in the organization. Invest in Leaders, Invest in people in time, training and energy to improve the engagement levels at all levels.