Sunday, December 1, 2013

Is Employee Engagement Worth All the Effort?

by Tom Hinton

It’s no coincidence that most of the best-in-class companies also have fiercely loyal and dedicated workforces. When top-performing CEOs from companies like Apple, Amazon, Southwest, Starbucks and Berkshire Hathaway talk about why their companies are most admired, they always cite their people and, specifically, employee engagement as one of the keys to their profitability and success.

What exactly is Employee Engagement? I define it as a person’s emotional connection to their company. Twenty years ago, it was enough to merely pay your employees a fair wage and provide good working conditions. Today, however, things have changed in the workplace. Your best and brightest employees have choices. They won’t settle for the status quo. This is why your company and its management team must challenge employees with meaningful goals and assignments. Leaders must set the bar high with a corporate visions that inspire employees and tasks them to help customers use the company’s products and services to make the world a better place. This is how the era of Employee Engagement is defined.
How can your company or organization successfully engage its employees? Having learned by trial and error over the past 15 years, here are three keys steps I recommend:

1.     Take the Pulse of your Workforce. There’s no point in running a race if you don’t know where the starting point and finish line are, right? So, it’s imperative that you assess how your employees are feeling about their company, their work, and their ability to contribute to its success in meaningful ways. We always conduct an in-depth assessment that includes a cross-section of employees as all levels of the company. What we learn is invaluable and helps leaders chart their course for innovation, improvement and implementing a strategy for long-term growth and customer loyalty.

2.     Fix What Doesn’t Work and Fix it Fast!  Once you’ve completed the assessment phase, you will know exactly what is working and what is broken in your organization. Trust me, your employees will tell you. The next step is to challenge your management team to fix it – and fix it fast! The key here is to demonstrate forward progress. Don’t be surprised if your management team resists. Most managers are not visionaries and they are comfortable with the status quo. So, be prepared to kick a few butts and shake things up in order to demonstrate you mean business! Effective leaders understand the status quo is a fatal flaw in any organization.  This step requires courage and conviction.             

If your company has been stuck in neutral for some time, your employees will be favorably impressed by any significant action you take to implement positive changes that help them do a better job and get better results. This is why it’s important to prioritize the things that you need to fix, change or improve within each department and business unit. Basically, you have 90 days to act if you want to have any credibility as a leader.  People will embrace your new vision, but only if they see actions after words.  Remember the words of Ray Kroc, who put McDonald’s on the global map. Kroc said, “People are like bananas. They’re either green and ripening or yellow and rotting!” You always need to keep your people greening.

3.     Set the Bar High.  Most companies under-challenge their employees. As a leader, you need to set the bar high by inspiring your people with a vision that challenges them to be the best. This means soliciting their ideas, asking them to make a commitment to be the best, and incentivizing them to reach that bar. Then, you need to give them the tools and resources necessary to accomplish that vision. Finally, as the leader, you must always be the “voice of success” and be relentless in your pursuit of your vision. This is how you convert followers into believers, and believers into evangelists.                                                     

As your employees make progress and achieve various levels of success, be sure to reward and recognize them. Salute and praise your top performers in each department. Invite them to share their success stories with others in the company including other divisions. Create a culture of “success and celebration” within your organization that motivates your employees to raise their performance levels and inspires them to set the bar even higher while achieving new records for sales, productivity, innovation and cost savings. 

This is the stuff success is made of. This is how good companies become great, and great companies become legendary. Employee Engagement is a key part of every company’s success formula.

About the Author:  Tom Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council. For more information, please contact: 

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