Employee Engagement: Changing Workplace Conversations

Employee Engagement

Every major consulting or research firm has the data to prove it.  Engaged employees are not only happy employees, but they are much, much more productive employees. They make companies more profitable, and shareholders richer.  (Click here to download a Gallup white paper on the power of employee engagement as a core business strategy.)

I think that most leaders are coming around to believe that this is a truth:  engaged employees are a good thing for the business. The problem is that many leaders have trouble figuring out what it takes to get those employees  “engaged”.

Let’s make it clear.  “Engaged” employees are emotionally involved with their job, their company, and their co-workers. Some of their co-workers become friends outside the workplace, and they care about and support one another.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that HR departments in companies should start planning weekly company picnics or make a return to “fermentation Fridays”.  I’m not suggesting that we run a “social Meet Up” application on the company intranet.

We don’t need to run “team building” meetings and ropes courses in every department to get employees engaged.  And no, we don’t need executives to do a weekly “lunch with the President” meeting (UNLESS the “Pres” is willing to stick with the program and actually follow through on his/her commitment to meet with employees, get to know them, and do something about their suggestions).

What I am saying is that the major reasons employees:

-         Enjoy being at work

-         Are willing to give more effort to work

-         Feel good when they tell their friends and family about their work

…are that they:-         Enjoy working with the people they work with

-         Feel pride in the workspace that they occupy

-         Feel that the work they’re doing is important and meaningful

-         Relate to the work they do and identify with it on a deep level

Just read some of the top survey responses related to employee engagement in the Gallup survey for evidence to support this:

-         At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.

-         My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.

-         The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.

-         I have a best friend at work.

-         This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Is this so hard to understand?  Probably not for most readers.  And while it looks good on paper, it’s often difficult to make happen.

And that is what we as OD practitioners do for a living. When given the opportunity to partner with visionary leaders, we can and do make it happen.

Our job is to size up a company, understand the business, get a sense of what employees are thinking and feeling, assess what it is that needs improvement, align leadership on their vision and purpose, and then to put into play a uniquely tailored strategy to completely change the relationship that employees have with one another, with their work, and with the company.

Sound a bit like marriage counseling? I suppose it is. Some marriages get better after counseling, particularly if the couple involved wants things to get better. Some marriages get worse, and people leave the relationship.  The same thing happens when employees leave for another job.

(I’m reminded of the old joke, “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change).

The key to achieving engagement is to change the conversations that employees and leaders have about the business. It’s about making time to talk, listen, and take action on what workers will tell you about how to improve the business, the work environment, and the culture of the company. It’s simple, but oh so complex in execution. These conversations can lead to changes in business processes, job design, organization design, systems, policies, management practices, hiring practices, and a number of other things. But the key ingredient is getting employees involved (and, dare I use the word “engaged”) in changing the conditions in which they work…for the better. More than just a “suggestion box” program, the idea is to change that conversation that employees and leaders have about the business.  This is “business as unusual”.

Don’t be over-confident though. While some leaders have the intuition and the experience to lead these kinds of change initiatives, it is often advised to have an experienced OD professional assist in conducting these conversations to move from talk to action. Leaders will find value in having an experienced set of eyes and ears looking at the same situation they are looking at, and seeing it with a professional perspective.   And a good OD professional will bring a variety of new approaches to consider – not just a “one-size fits all” solution.

So what are some simple things leaders can do without an OD professional to offer support?  No surprises really.  Here’s a short list:

  1. Encourage people on your team to form the natural friendships that foster a positive working environment.  (Or at least don’t discourage it).
  2. Encourage discussions about how current work processes might be improved, particularly with cross-functional work processes
  3. Set up a peer recognition program.
  4. Hold regular discussions with your employees about ways they can continually improve their skills on the job.  Consider job rotation or cross training.
  5. Listen to your employees’ ideas and, when possible, implement them

Frankly, I get discouraged working with leaders who don’t “get it”. Many leaders simply equate employee engagement initiatives with an increase in the training budget or consulting expenses. And while these may, in fact, be outcomes of an employee engagement initiative, there is a reason for that. It’s because to get a return, you need to make an investment – an investment of time, money, and effort. All leaders ask for the ROI. And so they should. Well, the ROI is there. The research proves it. If a company can get a 10% or 20% improvement in productivity, sales, revenue, profitability, market share or any other key performance indicator, would it be worth the investment?

What does your leadership team have to say about the importance of employee engagement? And if it they see engagement as something of value, what strategies are they using to more fully engage the potential of the workforce?

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Posted in Accelerated workplace, Collaboration, Groups/Teams, OD Insights, Workplace Culture, Workplace Policies
2 comments on “Employee Engagement: Changing Workplace Conversations
  1. Employee engagement has to start with hiring the right people with the right personalities as well. Some people are just not into engaging in their work place. They just want to go to work and go home with a paycheck. But I do agree with what was said in this post.

  2. Cris Hagen says:

    Hi Emily,
    You are absolutely right! We see more and more companies spending lots of money on screening systems, online assessments, etc. to evaluate a candidates' “fit” with the culture of the company. Companies are no longer willing to accept mediocrity, and are going to great lengths to ensure that new-hires show some ambition, goal-orientation, and a willingness to collaborate with other team members. If an employee is only going to work to pick up a paycheck and go home, they'd better be working in a job that allows that….and there just aren't that many jobs that do allos that.

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