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Bottom up approach to employee engagement

IN one of my previous instalment, I shared findings of a study carried out by the Boston Consulting group which established a direct correlation between effective leadership and organisational growth and/or financial performance. Given the responses from readers I felt compelled to pursue the subject further and share even more telling evidence of the value an organisation can derive from a better engaged team.

People Management Issues with Robert Mandeya

How do you rate the employee engagement in your organisation? Given everything from customer ratings and quality standards to safety incidents and turnover (regardless of industry), poor employee engagement can ultimately have a big negative impact on your business.

Now here is a story;

As revenue began to decline, this leader could not accept that the performance of the organisation was deteriorating. (The decline was blamed on the incompetent talent hired by the previous CEO). The CFO was instructed to modify the way revenue was recorded so that declines were hidden. (Revenue was also credited in such a way that the president’s initiatives were seen to be successful while the on-going efforts of the organisation were seen as deteriorating.)

Organisation metrics about performance were not shared with staff; the only thing discussed was each person’s individual performance metrics.

Reimbursements of expenses for his “favoured” direct reports were approved even though they were not consistent with company policies or financial guidelines. Similar requests for reimbursements for those in the “other camp” were denied. When challenged on these actions, the president claimed he had the right to put together his “own team”.

Promotions and pay increases were promised to people throughout the organisation to curry information, favour and support. Unless a staff member was one of his “chosen few”, however, those promises never came to reality. Soon the informal organisation picked up on this behaviour and passed the communication that “he will promise you anything but deliver on nothing”.

So what is the right employee engagement strategy to dramatically increase engagement in your organisation?
Well let us first talk about the wrong strategy.

Usually, someone from HR has to convince the CEO to spend money on an employee survey. And when the results come back, the data is hoarded by the senior leadership and a committee is formed to brainstorm ways to improve engagement.

The committee might implement things like an employee appreciation day, an awards programme, launch new employee resource groups (ERGs) and perhaps even a tweak to the benefits.

But the problem with this brainstorming at-the-top approach is that over 70% of the variance in engagement correlates to the manager (source: Gallup Business Journal, April 8, 2015). In other words, who your boss is counts more than anything. Front line leaders are the regulators of engagement. So all those top down ideas do not matter if you have still got the same boss, and if your boss has not changed her behaviours.

The right employee engagement strategy instead of being top down, is from the bottom up.

First, if you want to improve something, measure it. So you do need to conduct an employee engagement survey.
Second, make sure each manager gets his/her own score report. What is the engagement score for his/her team? How does it compare with the average score throughout the company?

Third, have managers share their results with their teams. This is not an HR meeting, nothing fancy or formal. Grab a pizza, get in a conference room and do it over a long lunch.

The manager is the facilitator in this meeting, not the problem solver.

He/she should ask: “What areas did we do well in? What should we focus on for improvement?” Managers should not try to improve every domain they are scored on; when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.

Instead, pick just one or two areas to target for improvement in each six-month period.

Managers need to elicit ideas. For example, “OK, we’re going to target communication over the next two quarters since that’s our lowest score. What can we do better to improve communication?”

Because the front line workers are the ones who completed the survey, they are the only ones who can tell you what needs to change. The answers cannot come from above.

After team members seem to have contributed all the ideas they can, the manager-facilitator should ask the Magic Engagement Question:

What has to happen in order for you to score this topic a ‘5’ (or Strongly Agree) the next time we are given this survey?

That final question will likely cut to the real issue that is on everyone’s mind and enable them to offer their most targeted solutions.

Company leaders should never assume they have all the answers. The best employee engagement strategy is one where the organisation surveys the employees at least annually, the results are shared with every manager, and in turn, each manager creates an action plan with his/her team members.

That is an employee engagement strategy that gets results.

Robert Mandeya is a an executive coach in human capital development and corporate education, a certified life coach in leadership and professional development at the Institute of Leadership Research and Development. You can contact him on lead.inst.dev@gmail.com, mandeyarobert@gmail.com.

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