Rick Blabolil
President
May 7, 2013

The Missing Link in Employee Engagement

We know employee engagement is necessary for our business’s success. Research has born this out, conferences extol its virtues, studies examine it, and practically every month it seems one or more of our professional magazines run an article about it. And in our businesses we regularly roll out and monitor programs that are designed to promote employee engagement.

But there’s a missing link in most of this and the missing link is us. Do we as leaders model employee engagement? Do our actions follow our words? Here’s what I’m talking about:

  • Do we make a deliberate effort to show our employees that we care about them?
  • Are we taking the time to spontaneously acknowledge our employees—outside of a structured activity or program?
  • Are we listening in a focused way, free of distractions, when an employee is speaking to us?
  • Are we responding in a meaningful, actionable way when an employee expresses a career goal or reports an obstacle to advancing or even just getting today’s job done?

Some of these suggestions sound like small matters, but when you check yourself against them, you might be surprised at what you learn. And what we learn is not a small matter because if we fail to model engagement we risk undermining the investment we’ve already made in our employee engagement programs.

In addition, the employee engagement bar has been raised outside of the workplace. As consumers our employees’ expectations have been raised by outstanding customer service from retailers that seek engagement with them. Look at Nordstrom:  Despite its higher prices, Nordstrom is succeeding in this tough retail climate because of outstanding customer service and engagement. Nordstrom shows its customers that it cares about them. It listens to their concerns, and it responds in a meaningful way. In short, Nordstrom models engagement. As a result, Nordstrom customers are loyal, and they certainly are engaged.

Employees are, in a broad sense, a business’s customers. How we treat our internal “customers” and how we model engagement has a direct impact on their engagement with our business. Leadership enables engagement, because a key factor for employee engagement is how they are treated by their manager.

Here’s an example of a relatively simple, yet extremely effective way for leadership to model engagement that is being carried out by a manager at the nation’s largest home and business security company. Twice each week, this manager carves out an hour to review all the approved recognition awards, both formal and informal recognition. He then emails or calls a dozen of the award recipients to personally acknowledge their activities and thank them for their efforts. This links management to what is going on and supports the workforce with the fact that management “cares” about what they are doing. Simple yet powerful. And worth the extra effort:

  • Organizations with high levels of employee engagement post shareholder returns that are 9.3 percent higher than the S&P 500 from 2002 to 2006 (Turbocharging Employee Engagement: The Power of Recognition from Managers, Towers Watson, April 2009)
  • Recognition is a top driver of engagement (Trends in Global Employee Engagement, 2011, AON Hewitt)
  • More than 80 percent of employees who have a high level of engagement are determined to accomplish work goals (2011 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, SHRM)

How do leaders model employee engagement in your organization? Let us know so we can share it with our readers.

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