The term "engagement" is used in the workplace setting to describe the extent to which employees feel connected, involved, and valued. Engaged employees feel that the organization has their interests in mind; they have a high level of commitment to the job and their team; they believe that they have a future with the organization.
This characteristic has a strong correlation with successful business outcomes. The employee who is engaged relates better with customers, focuses more fully and effectively on the task, and connects and collaborates well with coworkers.
Many studies have confirmed that companies with highly engaged employees have significantly greater earnings growth and employee retention than those that do not. The leader who invites team members to express questions, concerns, and ideas has a platform of awareness and insight on which to build appropriate actions and behavior.
• The manager who says, “How can I help you do a better job?” builds more engagement than one who says, “Why didn’t you make that sale?”
• “You handled that beautifully—it’s appreciated” builds more engagement than “Just do it that way every time.”
• “What should our approach be to this?” builds more engagement than “Here’s what we’re going to do.”
• “How can I help you grow and develop?” builds more engagement than “If you don’t like your job, look for another one.”
A coach rather than a giver of orders, a listener rather than a lecturer, a colleague rather than a superior, a supporter rather than a critic, this manager will be rewarded with engaged employees, a committed team, and strong results.
How can we build engagement?
1. Commit to the long-term. Think process, not program. Avoid the “flavor of the month” by sustaining what you start. Gain senior management support; get managers and supervisors on board, informed, and trained.
2. Establish a benchmark. Survey employees to understand their current levels of engagement; identify factors that are helping (or not) enables you to assess progress.
3. Involve everyone. Work with teams of managers and employees to discuss ways of building engagement. Collaborate and involve; don’t impose a program.
4. Prepare and train managers. Ask this key group the questions, and seek their comments, assessments, and input. Build managerial support for building employee support.
5. Ask and listen. Encourage managers to become coaches rather than instructors or directors.
6. Align other processes. If teamwork is important, deploy incentives that reward team behavior rather than individual results. Ensure that information systems provide the data people need.
7. Show people a future. Employee turnover comes at a very high cost. Focus on career paths and development needs; map out an appealing and visible future.
8. Ingrain the culture change. When hiring and promoting, look for behaviors and values that align with the commitment to employee engagement.
9. Lead from the top. Ensure that senior leaders demonstrate their commitment to engagement-building by asking, listening, guiding, and supporting.
10. Assess and course-correct. Track results. Identify the best approaches and share the approaches that worked. Take time to resolve issues and problems. Never stop asking, enquiring, challenging, and improving.
Richard Bevan is author of Changemaking: Tactics and Resources for Managing Change. A former director of Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson) and external faculty member in the University of Washington Executive MBA program, he now focuses on writing and speaking about employee communication, engagement, and the management of change. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.