Employee engagement: Who owns it and how to drive it

HEATHER PETERS, SENIOR CONSULTANT, KNIGHTSBRIDGE ROBERTSON SURRETTE  

The Chronicle Herald, March 21, 2015

Employee engagement has headlined business articles for years, yet many employers and managers still don’t understand what engagement is—let alone how it can impact their bottom line. Top 500 firms in North America tend to be more in tune with the benefits of an engaged workforce; namely decreased turnover, increased client satisfaction, revenue, earnings per share and profit (up to 2.5 times that of competitors with low engagement). Sadly, there is still room to grow with only 60 per cent of employees worldwide partially or fully engaged. (Aon Hewitt 2013).

WHAT DOES THAT ACTUALLY MEAN?

There are hundreds of definitions of what engagement means, however one thing rings true throughout — engaged workers go above and beyond for their clients, colleagues and organizations. You know that engaged employee, don’t you? The one whom you rely on most. You know he/she will be there and committed to your company during tough times. For every four employees, there is one actively engaged, two partially engaged or disengaged and one actively disengaged. That actively disengaged worker, who is really not performing, could be actively sabotaging ongoing work.

So how do you tap into higher levels of engagement? Based on decades of research here are some key drivers of engagement:

HOW MUCH DO EMPLOYEES TRUST YOU?

If they trust you, they are more willing to go the extra mile. The hard part is earning their trust.

Key areas to consider that instill trust include the ability to truly listen, follow-through with action, deliver difficult messages well, and “walk the talk” — insuring the company’s values are demonstrated by the leader. These are key traits of successful leaders, so what is one area you personally can commit to improving? Who can support you through training, mentorship and/or feedback?

DO I MATTER?

Employees need to understand the company’s goals, performance and, more importantly, how he/ she fits into the goal and helps drive it forward. From cleaning a floor to managing a major project, there is value in all work that helps the organization achieve its goals; you just have to communicate it!

DOES THIS COMPANY HAVE OPPORTUNITIES FOR PROMOTION?

The ability to “move up” within the ranks is critical. Don’t panic if your organization has few opportunities to go “up” as long as you can offer the capacity for career growth. This growth can be lateral, taking on other projects, or advancing skills within a current role through training, delegation or mentorship. The key is to have the critical conversations, understand what is possible within the organization and ensure leaders work together to develop highpotential employees.

WHAT ABOUT ME?

It is fine to have a career development program, but each employee needs to feel that efforts are being made for them specifically. Managers need to understand that programs can’t take care of their employees; it is up to them to have the conversation with each employee, understand their interests and help them develop.

Sound daunting? One conversation to understand their interests and then follow-through with action to give them an opportunity to grow within their current role, could take less than a few hours of conversation and planning. So what is stopping you?

Despite these tried-and-true strategies, one thing can make or break engagement — your leaders! They hold the key to whether engagement will drive the business. Programs and policies won’t succeed without the team-leads who buy in to the idea and understand how to implement and drive engagement through effective communication. In fact, how an employee feels about his/her manager is the number one influencer of engagement as the manager impacts what an employee does within their role, how they are compensated, promoted, recognized and communicated with. So when an employee leaves the organization, who owns that?

As a leadership consultant and coach, I hear about the challenges within organizations which can often be crippling and result in higher turnover and limited levels of productivity. I heard an interesting statistic recently: we hire 80 per cent of new hires for their experience and technical expertise while we fire 80 per cent of the time for their inability to communicate and lack of “people skills”.

To engage workers, the latter is critical, so let’s make sure we think beyond the rsumand explore with potential managerial recruits. Let’s focus not on what they have done as leaders over the years, but how they did it and the impact on their teams.

Realistically, most current leaders lack these people skills so employers need to invest in their development; first to help drive engagement and performance and ultimately, to hit the bottom line.

With increased revenue up for grabs through an engaged workforce, what is there to lose?

Heather Peters, Senior Consultant and Coach with Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette, has over 20 years in leadership, entrepreneurial and strategic HR roles in the insurance, IT, healthcare and financial industries. Heather is passionate about learning and holds a Master of Employment Relations (MER) from Memorial University, a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Comm) from the University of Ottawa, is a Certified HR Professional with IPMA (IPMA-CP), and has attained the Associated Certified Coach (ACC) designation from the International Coach Federation. A version of this article was previously published in 2015 by the NLCA Construction Journal. Learn more about Heather at KBRS.ca.