The Keys to Employee Engagement

key-96233_640It’s been widely shown that a strong correlation exists between employee engagement and performance. Engaged employees work harder, producing higher volume and better quality than their disengaged counterparts. Furthermore, organizations with high levels of employee engagement realize higher profitability (through increased revenue and decreased cost) as well as positive growth in both customer satisfaction and retention. Simply put, a motivated workforce is a significant competitive advantage.

While I’m often asked by managers to help them figure out ways to motivate their team, I rarely feel as if they appreciate my answer. That’s because motivation is a loaded word. It’s an external action intended to cause an internal reaction. Managers often look for some kind of silver bullet – some nifty little checklist they can complete that will magically result in engaged employees. But motivation simply doesn’t work that way.

What motivates any given individual at any particular moment in time is difficult to pinpoint from the outside. The factors driving someone to engage and perform at a high level are as unique to them as fingerprints. Sometimes even they cannot verbalize what they’re feeling at any given moment and why their level of engagement fluctuates. People want to feel motivated, but for some reason they often don’t. Since they can’t read minds, managers are left to guess at which motivational tactics work best, hence the frequency of questions hitting my inbox.[Tweet “The factors driving someone to engage & perform at a high level are as unique to them as fingerprints.”]

When it comes to motivating others, the best don’t rely on shotgun approaches or expensive tangible rewards. Top managers work create an environment in which a person’s natural desire to engage can flourish. According to David MacLeod and Nita Clarke, we do this by focusing our efforts in a few specific areas. In 2008, they embarked on a study of organizations that had seen dramatic improvements in employee engagement. After hundreds of interviews, they discovered a common theme they call the Four Enablers of Engagement.

“Visible, empowering leadership providing a strong strategic narrative about the organization, where it’s come from and where it’s going.”

We all love a good story. We want to work for an organization that has a compelling story to tell and, beyond that, want to be part of the story going forward. Organizations that have a great story to tell and invite employees to become part of it enable engagement.

Leaders “who focus their people and give them scope, treat their people as individuals, and coach and stretch their people.”

We desire leadership. We seek structure, advice, support, and guidance from someone we trust. Managers who abandon their teams to figure things out on their own, or govern from afar using policies, excuses, and intimidation will struggle with engagement and turnover. Those who take an interest in the well-being of the team and get personally involved enable engagement.

Employees are heard “throughout the organization, for reinforcing and challenging views, between functions and externally. Employees are not seen as the problem, rather as central to the solution, to be involved, listened to, and invited to contribute their experience, expertise, and ideas.”

We need to have a voice. Everyone seeks to exert some level of influence over the work they do; it’s what makes us human. Without some degree of influence and a sense of contribution, we fail to realize our full potential and feel less than we are destined to be. When the individual and collective minds of employees are tapped into, engagement is enabled.

“The values on the wall are reflected in day to day behaviors. There is no ‘say-do’ gap. Promises made are promises kept, or there is an explanation as to why not.”

We were meant to be part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s important to feel that we share the same values as those around us and at the helm of the ship. When employees connect with the belief system of the organization (as evidenced by the actions of those in charge), they align themselves with the strategic plan and engagement is enabled.

It’s important to note that these enablers do not inherently suggest specific action steps for leaders to take. Tactics for pursuing strategic narrative, engaging mangers, employee voice, and integrity must be customized depending on the unique circumstances of the organization. There is no silver bullet. There is no magic pill. The pursuit of motivation is hard work. But there’s no doubt that, for those who see employee engagement as key competitive differentiator, the rewards are great.


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