Employee Engagement – an Executive, Managerial and Individual Responsibility (Part One)

In this three part series, I would like to cover three principles of employee engagement as inspired by an article written by Blessingwhite in January 2013.  Blessingwhite spelled out three important areas well worth revisiting and expanding upon.  These principles or responsibilities can be applied to any business, group, or association, and should be carefully examined and studied by CXOs, middle-management and employees alike. These points deserve to be called The Three Fundamentals of Employee Engagement:
1. Executive responsibility:  trust, communication and culture
2. Managerial responsibility:  coaching, relationships and dialogue
3. Individual responsibility:  ownership, clarity and action
Part 1:  Executive Responsibility
As I have covered in past blog articles company culture, positive or negative, will define the outcome of an employee’s emotional attachment to the company, his work satisfaction, leadership acceptance and trust.  Positive company culture IS the most important prerequisite for employee engagement and will result in dedication, creativity and innovation.
Culture is everything, from the little things we miss when living away from home, to the way we “do” things.  It’s the way we tick and contribute to our working environment, as well as the technological and digital tools we are most familiar with. Company culture is the foundation of every employee’s well-being and work satisfaction. 
Culture is the “heart” of the company and if a culturally-responsible executive leads with warmth, care, love and concern, the “fruits” will be visibly seen in a happy, engaged workforce.  A company’s culture can be defined by what employees are saying about the company when the boss is not in the room! Some years ago, en route to an interview in Bavaria, I stopped at a local bar with the clear intent of finding out the reputation and culture of the company I had applied for a job with.   I was very surprised by the overwhelming negative comments that some of the locals, including employees, were freely expressing! The emotional reaction of the people around me was overly negative and almost compelled me to return home!  I wished the Managing Director of this medium business (€300M) had been there to assess and identify the fruit of his labor and the resulting company culture!
Negative company culture affects productivity, motivation and product development and my personal incident serves to highlight the statistics that 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged!  The cost? “According to Gallup’s calculations, actively disengaged employees — the least productive — cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year in lost productivity” … “ This is a yearly cost of at least $2,246 per disengaged employee.”. According to The Economist, 84% of senior leaders say disengaged employees are one of the three biggest threats facing their business.  
Stop! Let’s be positive and proactive, and give ourselves four examples on how to promote a transparent culture of communication and trust from the top down! Remember… culture percolates down from the top!
1. Create a coffee-shop area within your company.
This will become the place where employees gather!  Allow them to meet during work hours and not just during breaks! Don’t limit the coffee shop to just free coffee and snacks.  As a matter of fact encourage workers and especially top management, to use the coffee shop for meetings, brainstorming, after-work parties and any motivational scheme Human Resources is creative enough to come up with! The coffee shops should become company hubs where crowd-sourcing and co-creation is encouraged during, before and after work hours!
2. Create graffiti walls
Encourage people to drop their ideas on the wall! If company culture is positive, comments will be honest, yet respectful. Allow every employee, partner and supplier access to the wall, but only reward the non-anonymous comments. This will surprise many workers especially if the organization has been hierarchical from the start! At first the workforce might be reluctant, but as they observe management using it first, the employees will follow.
3. Reward the best innovative ideas
Every month, reward the 20 most exciting graffiti.  This will definitely be a sign that management does mean business, and that ideation is being encouraged from all levels and from all workers! Who knows, your employees might even get their friends and family involved and the flood of ideas could be crowd sourced.
4. Reward the best criticisms
Look for the best criticisms and encourage employees to come up with real problems, particularly if they do not have the solution!  Employees can sometimes perceive that their inability to solve a problem means a lack of competence, when actually they may not even be responsible.  Best criticism rewards allow openness and the chance to eradicate and tackle real problems.  
If management uses the graffiti walls and frequents the coffee shops, not only will it set an example of company transparency, but this will also encourage workers to follow their example! This brings us back to culture and the need for management to walk the talk and not just talk the walk! Leading by example is mandatory if a serious culture shift is to take place!  Leaders who persist in functioning as silos should be dealt with swiftly and consequently.  Silos need to be torn down.  As a matter of fact, the higher in the hierarchy the faster it should happen! Remember Tony Hsieh at Zappos: study his writing and listen to his recommendations! Could you imagine a rowing team with one of its members paddling in the opposite direction? Absurd, right? If HR accepts this type of behavior, how on earth can a business keep afloat and achieve its highest potential in the face of roaring competition.
In Part 2 of this series we will look at the challenging responsibility of middle management and the cultural door-keeper it has traditionally been.  Did you know that Microsoft has around 500 VP’s, each building their own silos?  An obvious by-product of this is hanging on to obsolete products such as Microsoft Office!

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One response to “Employee Engagement – an Executive, Managerial and Individual Responsibility (Part One)

  1. christian bibow

    This makes a lot of sense – it’s about allowing the team to make / join in on decisions and making the senior team visible in the business.

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