A new book, Employee Engagement: A Roadmap for Creating Profits, Optimizing Performance, sounds like a great investment for anyone who needs to boost engagement in the workplace (which, these days, is pretty much everyone).

The author Brad Federman takes the position that the solution to today’s economic problem is properly investing in employees, and that recruiting and retaining the right people is the most important effort a company can make. His book promises a strategy to help companies do just that.

Of course, we have to be careful about accepting a one-size-fits-all solution to the engagement problem. Organizations are inherently different in terms of corporate culture, resources, and leadership’s willingness to invest in employees.

Industry and corporate goals also play a huge role in how likely employees are to support management and advocate for the company. Being aware of unique challenges, and adapting recommendations to fit situations accordingly, is critical.

Nonetheless, this book promises to offer some step-by-step guidelines for putting a strategy in place to engage employees, create a better work environment, and gain a competitive advantage. And for these potential benefits, it sounds like a worthwhile read to me.


The missing ingredient

Dunder Mifflin, a great place to work! Anybody? Show of hands, anybody want to intern at Dunder Mifflin. We do not offer college credit, we can not give you any sort of pay, but it is a really fun work environment. Anybody? Show of hands? Dammit. Ok. I’m gonna wrap it up here. Thank you, for your time. And drive safe! – Michael Scott, The Office

Ok…maybe Dunder Mifflin isn’t a great example of a fun plactraderjoes_Logoe to work, but Trader Joe’s is. And fun in the workplace does matter.

Read: Monica Nolan on Fun: The Secret Ingredient in Employee Engagement for PeopleMetrics

Of course, it needs to be relevant and appropriate to the existing corporate culture and not negatively affect the organization or its reputation. And it certainly isn’t a substitute for other key motivators such as solid leadership and fair pay. But encouraging employees to have a good time on the job ultimately may lead to higher engagement and loyalty, which in turn means  lower turnover. The best part? A fun place to work is a fun place to shop.

To read more about Trader Joe’s and its unique approach to employee engagement, pick up The Trader Joe’s Adventure: Turning a Unique Approach to Business into a Retail and Cultural Phenomenon, a book by Len Lewis.

Levels of engagement

I read a great article today by Mitch McCrimmon on the Management-Issues website. What I appreciated most about the author’s approach is that he separated engagement into four distinct levels. I think this is an important way to view engagement, and one that management should take a moment to consider.

I suspect a number of leaders look at engagement as an “all or nothing” venture. In other words, a company should either embark on a massive internal communications initiative to engage all of its employees at the highest level or just sit back and hope for the best. Unfortunately, we can assume from survey data and research that many companies opt for the latter approach.

Thankfully, and particularly in these times when resources are so tight, McCrimmon offers an alternative: aim for something in between. To this end, he summarizes four levels of engagement that cover everything from meeting basic needs to welcoming bottom-up leadership.

Here, in a nutshell, is what McCrimmon has to say about levels of engagement:

Level One: Basic Engagement
A basic level of engagement uses motivational factors we have known about for decades, such as clear direction, good supervision, empowerment, career development, open communication, recognition and creating a great place to work. Such initiatives all involve doing something for employees, however, and are thus paternalistic.

Level Two: Employees as Suppliers of Services
A deeper level of engagement requires a culture that encourages employees to think of themselves as running their own businesses, as suppliers of services. Most organizational cultures, being paternalistic, take far too much responsibility for developing people.

Level Three Engaging Leadership
Level three engagement requires a deeper culture change because it asks managers to fundamentally reframe how they see their roles. It goes beyond level two engagement by encouraging managers to be more proactive in seeking input from employees but it also puts more pressure on employees to do more thinking and be less content to merely follow directions.

Level Four: Beyond Ownership to Passion

Level four engagement involves an even more significant culture change. Now, instead of viewing employee ideas merely as good suggestions, their contributions are reframed as bottom-up leadership.This move engages employees by making them feel a stronger sense of providing direction to the organization, or at least a small part of it.

While companies may lack the time, money, or infrastructure to ever get to the highest level of engagement, it is important to know there are interim levels of success and that it’s worth whatever effort can be made.

I highly recommend reading the full article, for further insights.

Read: Mitch McCrimmon on Four Levels of Employee Engagement for Management-Issues (11.13.09)

HR vs. IC?

Watson Wyatt apparently agrees with my point that employee engagement is not solely the responsibility of the HR department. In a recent study, the consulting firm showed that companies with effective internal communication programs are better positioned to keep employees engaged and retain key talent.

I won’t bore you with the statistics here, but I thought this is an interesting look at the role communications can and should play in employee engagement, particularly during such challenging times.

According to Kathryn Yates, global leader of communication consulting at Watson Wyatt:

As the economy continues to shift, keeping employees up-to-date on how the company is responding, and how they are affected, will help insure against their becoming demoralized and disconnected. Effective communication helps engage employees, and that has positive implications for productivity and the bottom line.

That being said, addressing employee engagement is ideally a joint effort among a number of internal departments. The stakes are simply too high, and the work too impactful, not to have buy-in across the organization.

ReadEffective Communication Can Drive Employee Engagement, Help Retain Top Performers, According to Watson Wyatt for CNNMoney (Press Release dated 11.09.09)

When surveys meet strategy

Almost everything I’ve read or written about employee engagement to this point has referenced multiple surveys—and they all say pretty much the same thing. Most companies suffer from an engagement deficit, and it doesn’t take a genius to intuit that the current economic crisis is not helping matters.

But I find that the constant focus on the numbers actually detracts from the matter at hand. The statistics, after all, do not solve the engagement problem. They merely provide more information about an issue already known to exist at least to a certain degree.

Last night, I tested a number of surveys for a market research class I am taking. As the respondent, they seemed long and tedious. I spent more time than I care to admit trying to draw a meaningful distinction between a “4” and a “5” on the satisfaction scale.

But as the person who helped design the surveys, I understood why the questions were necessary. I knew why we were asking the questions and what we were trying to learn. Most importantly, I understood how we would use the results to inform our communications strategy.

Employee surveys are no different. They require substantial investments of time and money, and risk annoying the employees who are asked to take them. What is done with the results is critical and is the only justification for conducting the survey in the first place. So, I realized last night, it is absolutely crucial that companies take a strategic approach to conducting employee surveys.

I found a great article about this subject today, coincidentally. It focuses on a collaborative effort by Amway and Towers Perrin to incorporate business goals and strategy into the design and implementation of an employee survey. In doing so, the authors uncovered four guiding principles. In a nutshell, they are:

Integration: Questions should be designed to get at the heart of what matters most to the company. Results, therefore, become as valuable as key strategic and financial indicators.

Alignment: Surveys should be centralized (particularly across geographic regions) to ensure the focus remains on improving the culture of the organization as a whole. Consistency assures that results can be compared across regions later.

Discovery: Results should be presented in such a way that the organization’s leaders want to engage with the data and can collect insights that are relevant to key strategic initiatives.

Execution: Emphasis on organizational effectiveness, including survey roll-out and use of technology, is as important as design. Training at the local levels further supports a global leadership team and ensures uniformity and credibility across the board.

The results of this strategic approach were impressive. Not only did Amway achieve an extremely high response rate while reducing overhead, leaders were able to correlate employee feedback with business metrics. The ability to quantify corporate culture in terms of business performance was an extremely enviable outcome. Survey results also provided an opportunity to compare results across regions, thereby enabling leaders to leverage strengths across the organization and develop local solutions where necessary.

The article goes on to list seven also very useful steps for optimizing employee surveys (for strategic impact, of course).

Read: Jon Brickner and Joe Dettmann on Beyond Engagement: Using Surveys to Drive Strategy for Talent Management Magazine (11.09)

I’m not convinced that this process rests entirely with the HR function as the authors seem to suggest. Therefore, this article comes highly recommended from me, as an internal communicator.

On the value of engagement

I skipped rather quickly over the definition of engagement in my last post, so I’d like to step back for a minute to review this concept in more detail, and particularly its business value.

Generally speaking, engaged employees are passionate employees. They understand and are committed to their company’s mission, vision, and values. They recognize that their individual role and actions will impact the company, and how. They voluntarily spend additional effort and exceed job requirements to help a company meet its goals. And employee_engagement1they do all of this not for tangible benefits, but because they are personally committed to the organization and its success.

Sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not.

Top performing businesses understand that these employees do exist and the tangible benefits they bring to an organization. Several independent studies (by very credible sources) support the correlation between engagement and business results. In its Global Workforce Study 2007-2008, Towers Perrin reported that companies with high employee engagement enjoyed a 19% increase in operating income over a one-year period. In the same timeframe, companies with low engagement saw a drop in operating income of more than 32%.

Watson Wyatt’s 2008/2009 WorkUSA Report found that engaged employees are more likely to be top performers, exceed expectations, and support management change initiatives. Their employers, on average, boast 26% higher employee productivity, have lower turnover, and attract top talent.

But while the numbers are compelling, they are not the entire story.

Engaged employees can, and likely will be, a company’s best advocates and brand ambassadors. They create a positive corporate culture that supports an organization’s values and moves it toward its goals. “Best places to work” rankings and word of mouth leave no doubt companies can build a strong reputation founded on an engaged workforce.

But if, as most estimates say, only a small percentage of today’s workforce is actually engaged, there clearly is a significant business opportunity to be had for companies willing to invest the time and effort on an internal communications plan to further engage this critical audience.

(Photo credit: Pacific Adventure)

Are you engaged?

In a recent study of nearly 30,000 employees around the world, Right Management concluded that commitment to an employer’s core values is the top driver of employee engagement. If that’s the case, it would seem that companies who adopt and promote CSR within an organization are on the right track.

But beyond values, there are numerous reasons for employee engagement. Right Management identified five:

  1. I am committed to my organization’s core values
  2. Our customers think highly of our products and services
  3. My opinions count
  4. I have a clear understanding of what is expected of me at work
  5. I understand how I can contribute to meeting the needs of our customers

Read: Sharing an Employer’s Core Values is Leading Driver to Boost Employee Engagement (Press Release dated 10.30.09)

But in what is probably the most well-known indicator, Gallup outlined 12 key elements (known as the Gallup Q12, below) designed to measure just how engaged employees really are.

* Do you know what is expected of you at work?
* Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your work right?
* At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
* In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
* Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
* Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
* At work, do your opinions seem to count?
* Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
* Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
* Do you have a best friend at work?
* In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
* In the last year, have you had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

But what does all this mean?

Exact definitions of employee engagement vary slightly, but the basic idea is that it is the willingness to exert discretionary effort to help a company reach its goals. Engaged employees care about their employer and want to do their best to help that employer succeed. And they are willing to go beyond immediate job key_employeeTypesrequirements to do so.

In fact, analysis has revealed that those with high Q12 scores exhibit lower turnover, higher sales, better productivity, better customer loyalty and superior job performance. It’s no wonder, then, that employee engagement has been closely linked to an organization’s higher shareholder value, solid business results, and positive corporate culture.

Unfortunately, engaged employees are hard to come by; by most estimates, they represent less than 30% of the workforce. I’m curious to know, are you engaged?

(Photo Credit: Gallup)