As a business advisor, one of the most disheartening things I see in business today is a serious lack of engagement at all levels, consistent with Gallup’s most recent global engagement survey, finding only 13 percent of workers fully engaged in their job. I see people walking around every day like zombies in a trance. The sad part is that is seems to be getting worse, rather than better.
I’ve heard many views on how to fix this, but I was most impressed with the specifics in a new book, “The Workplace Engagement Solution,” by David Harder. He speaks from years of work with companies now leading the way, including Walt Disney, HBO, and Morgan Stanley. In my view, every company needs to follow all his action items, including the ones paraphrased here:
- CEO takes charge personally of improving engagement. Simply walking down the hall to human resources and telling them to fix the problem doesn’t do it. When the HR executive launches an employee engagement initiative, employees look past his or her shoulder to the CEO for cues that mean “business as usual” or no real commitment.
- Leaders walk the talk and use a democratic approach. If employees don’t see their leaders stand up and lead by example, employees will feel less engaged—and be less willing to do their best work. The most effective leadership style for today’s workers (Millennials and Boomers) is the democratic participative style, while retaining final say.
- Express continuous, and genuine praise to employees. Praise alone is one of the most powerful engagement motivators. Take the time to give genuine, specific feedback in a friendly, yet professional manner, in front of peers. A once-a-year bonus check or award is nice, but private occasional monetary awards will not increase engagement.
- Seeks ways to keep talent current and relevant. It all must start with hiring people who are the right fit for your desired culture. The right culture fit is actually more important than skills or previous experience. After the hire comes mentoring and continuous training as the key to engagement. Provide growth opportunities to retain the best.
- Packages engagement as an asset, not an expense. Your company’s success is dependent on your customer’s happiness, which is set primarily by engaged employees. Thus it’s important to stop thinking about the cost of employees and look at the benefits the employee can bring to your company. Treat employees as an extension of yourself.
- Moves the vision from short-term to shared value. Without a clear sense of purpose, employees will not be fully present, awake, or deeply involved in their work. Simply creating shareholder return each quarter is not enough. Today, every company needs a value-driven culture that is shared by employees, customers, and shareholders.
- Is transparent and fosters transparency at all levels. In this age of extreme access to information, no one can hide relationships, business problems, or economic impacts. In this new landscape, we can no longer ask workers to take on more responsibility without demonstrating the same in ourselves. Trying to hide the truth at any level reduces trust.
- Shows respect for employees and learns from them. When we interact with others in the workplace, it pays to conquer our differences by finding ways to connect first. Learn from and listen to that new co-worker or have lunch with someone in another department. Mentors can be particularly powerful in helping colleagues break out of the trance.
Organizations around the world claim to spend billions of dollars every year to awaken and engage their employees, but it hasn’t changed much. In fact, I’m convinced that the escalating rate of change in technology and the market is a large part of the problem. It has more than offset the conventional approaches to engagement and productivity.
Most workers hesitate to engage because they are overwhelmed trying to keep up with change. Rather than trying to change and drive them, we need to teach our workers how to change themselves, starting with the points outlined here. When was the last time you were a role model for embracing change?