Engaged and Enabled

Employee Engagement
Employee Engagement
Customer strategy can only move from talk to action when employees are willing and able.

In their new book Rules to Break & Laws to Follow, Peppers and Rogers address such timely issues as empowered customers, innovation, trust, and balancing long- and short-term goals. The following excerpt hones in on one of these key issues: employee engagement.

Employers have long recognized that there is more to creating value for employees than mere compensation. In the middle of the last century, large firms began using surveys to focus on employee morale and general job satisfaction. It became obvious that, in addition to salary, bonus, fringe benefits, and other forms of extrinsic motivators, worker satisfaction depended on a variety of more intrinsic motivators, as well. These motivators include pride in their work and accomplishments, a sense of belonging and the support of colleagues and fellow workers, an opportunity to grow and contribute, responsibility and authority for their own functions, a clear mission or sense of purpose, and recognition for achieving goals or meeting objectives. Many believe that teams should be rewarded intrinsically for the most part, while individuals will need both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

The term "employee engagement" is now widely used to describe employees who are well motivated and committed to their work. By most definitions, engaged employees are those who show an enthusiasm for their jobs that goes above and beyond their specific work requirements or duties. These are the employees who eat, sleep, breathe, and bleed their jobs, always trying to do things better, faster, or less expensively, and exhibiting what amounts to a kind of "owner mentality" at work. While adequate compensation and other extrinsic motivators are a necessary precondition, engaged employees apply a self-directed energy to their work that can only derive from a healthy dose of intrinsic motivation, as well.

Hay Group, the global human resources consulting firm, maintains that employee engagement is more important than ever, because in the fast-changing world of modern business, organizations need employees who will actively seek out solutions to previously unanticipated problems and issues, and those solutions should be based on the organization's own core values, objectives, and culture. To do a better job engaging your employees, according to Hay, you should:

Provide clear and promising direction, with goals that are achievable and will be seen by employees as promising long-term success for your company.

Promote collaboration and collegiality, because the support and friendliness of people's coworkers is a key element of every engaged employee's job satisfaction.

Inspire confidence in your company's leadership, so employees know that their own careers are in capable hands.

Ensure that employees see clear development opportunities, allowing them to grow in their jobs, improve their skills, and advance their careers.

The truth is, because you had the energy and initiative to pick up this article and read this far through it, you're probably an engaged employee yourself, and it ought not to be too hard for you to understand how an engaged employee operates. Just think about what it feels like when you really get into the flow of your own work. How happy are you when you lose yourself in the job? What was the last thing you did that made you feel a true sense of accomplishment? Have you ever realized that sometimes, you can't tell where work ends and leisure begins?

Engagement is not a mystery. The Gallup Management Journal conducted a survey to compile a picture of how engaged employees view their jobs compared to unengaged employees. Of the 1,000 full-time employee respondents, Gallup classified 29 percent of them as engaged, 56 percent as not engaged, and 15 percent as "actively disengaged." Gallup concluded that engaged employees "drive innovation and move the organization forward" and that "engaged employees are more productive, profitable, safer, create stronger customer relationships, and stay longer with their company than less engaged employees."

The survey also showed that engaged employees are more innovative in general-with the majority of engaged employees (almost 60 percent of them) reporting that their job brings out their most creative ideas, and a similar number saying that they feed off the creativity of their fellow employees or that they have a friend at work with whom they share creative ideas. In contrast to these figures, only about 20 percent of the not-engaged employees and considerably less than 10 percent of the actively disengaged ones report similar feelings.

On one hand, this research probably shows that an employee's likelihood of becoming engaged with work is at least partly a function of his own preexisting creative inclinations. If creative people are more likely to become engaged with their jobs, then hiring more original thinkers will give you not only more creative ideas but more engaged employees, as well. Clare Hart, the CEO of Factiva, the news and business information provider, would certainly concur with this. She suggests that CEOs in her industry ought really to be hiring more young people, to stimulate new thinking, because "part of innovation is linked to lack of experience-like the child who will find 14 ways to get downtown versus an adult who will find three. We have to bring in new people-Gen X-ers and Gen Ys-who don't have preconceived views." They don't know "the way we've always done things," and as a result, they may find a better way.

But the research probably also shows that the act of creating, all by itself, tends to engage workers, as well. So ensuring a creative environment within a culture of trust is more likely to result in more engaged employees. Respectful disagreement is called for. You want employees who love their work and are highly innovative? Try throwing young workers in with the, um, less young. Men and women. Different cultural and educational backgrounds. We're not talking about political correctness here. We're talking about building a stronger company.

Positive engagement matters most

One quality that engaged employees have in common-and something more and more actively sought by HR recruiters-is "positivity," or a generally positive and optimistic attitude about life and work. In addition, increasing numbers of companies are evaluating "character." When it comes to some companies' hiring, character is now more important than credentials. What matters most in predicting the effectiveness of a new executive, says one commentator, is "how they behave, the values they hold dear, and what it's actually like to work with them, side by side, day after day."

What matters to your company is having effective, capable,
motivated employees. But what matters to the employee is having a fulfilling, happy life. And recent research has shown fairly conclusively that money really can't buy happiness. People living in poverty will tend to be less happy, but once a person's basic needs are met, additional money doesn't buy additional happiness. Studies of major lottery winners, paraplegics, and the wealthy have repeatedly documented the fact that a person's happiness seems to be much more the result of innate attitude and predisposition than external situation.

Jennifer Rosenzweig, Carlson Marketing's global employee practice leader, coined the term "positive engagement," based on the principles of the modern "positive psychology" movement, to describe employees who are not just happy as employees but happy generally: people with a positive outlook, balance, and fulfillment in their lives. According to Rosenzweig, the elements of positive engagement include wellness and good health, connections with others, and appreciation and gratitude for what they have. Such employees are also open to new ideas and innovative, they are curious and seek to improve their skills constantly, and they are self directed. In a nutshell, they are not just happy employees; they are happy people.

This would certainly not be news to Baptist Health Care, based in Pensacola, FL. One of the goals of the cultural transformation there was not just to create an organization that benefited from more innovative and engaged employees, but to ensure that the employees themselves truly benefited. According to CEO Al Stubblefield, "I am convinced that employees who are satisfied, even delighted, with their jobs make better spouses, better parents, better t-ball coaches, better Girl Scout leaders."

The Gallup survey also shows that there is a type of company more capable of attracting positive and creative people and engaging them with their jobs in the first place. For example, the majority of engaged employees agree with the statement that "My company encourages new ideas that defy conventional wisdom," compared to just 4 percent of the actively disengaged, and three out of four engaged workers agree that "At work, we give our customers new ideas," compared to just one in eight actively disengaged employees.

To have a more innovative and adaptive company, it's vital that your employees be engaged in their jobs, which will mean they are more productive, creative, mission oriented, and trustworthy.... In addition to engaging them, you have to enable them to accomplish the mission. The point is that for employees to be effective and happy themselves, they need not only to be thoroughly engaged with their jobs, but also to have the tools, training, and authority necessary to act on their decisions.

From the new book by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, Ph.D., Rules to Break & Laws to Follow: How Your Business Can Beat the Crisis of Short-Termism. To find out more, visit www.rulesandlaws.com.