Having previously posted about disruptive innovation, challenger brands and standout businesses, Paul Forrest discusses the question most business want answers to is “how do we achieve something similar within our own sector?”. The answer is not so straightforward since it comprises a number of strategic levers all of which need to be handled in appropriate measure to deliver real success. However, one of the most obvious starting points is the workforce and the extent to which it is engaged with shared goals, common vision and a passion for success.
How you implement an effective employee engagement strategy and make the most of all that enthusiasm to create stronger business growth is one of the key factors in the success of any enterprise. It goes beyond the simple act of providing a great working environment and a decent remuneration package to making sure your staff have the tools and opportunities in place to optimise, grow and promote your business to the max.
Whilst good employee engagement lies at the heart of any successful company, it is still an aspect of business development and growth that many businesses struggle with. So where do you start? At the risk of stopping you reading the rest of this post, it starts and ends with ‘tone at the top’. That oft clichéd concept of actually leading by example really does work but it needs a helping hand and that’s what I set out below.
As usual, these are my observations as to what I consider to be the building blocks of good employee engagement. Its not an exhaustive list and its not the only answer, but these are techniques and approaches that have delivered real, sustainable benefit to businesses with whom I have worked.
The benefits of an engaged employee
- Engaged employees really care about purpose and the work they are doing. It’s not a simple case of coming into the office to earn their daily crust – they actually arrive at their desks ready to play a full part in the success of the business and with the intent of exceeding client or customer expectations (whether an internal client or an external customer).
- When companies and employees engage positively together then all evidence indicates that productivity increases and retention of much valued staff rises. If staff are on board, not only does it lead to a better working environment, but also provides a great base for businesses to promote and market their products and services through enthusiastic advocates.
- For many businesses this is actually a prime area of weakness with some research suggesting that only 13% of staff are actively engaged by the company they work for. That means that most businesses are not making good use of one of their most important assets.
- There is less conflict or disillusionment within the office environment when you have actively engaged staff. Disengaged individuals can have a serious negative impact on the office environment, spreading their dissent and discontent to other members of staff to create a potentially hostile working atmosphere that is detrimental to the success of the business.
- Employee engagement can lead to more, and higher quality, innovation as staff come up with new and exciting ideas to further the cause of the business. They want to help make the company an even greater success.
What does an engaged employee look like?
They are committed to the business – its goals and, perhaps more importantly, its values. They want to help contribute to a successful future and will go that extra mile to make sure they finish a particular job well. Engaged employees take great pride in their work and are more likely to contribute to the development of the company simply because they want to do it rather than having it written on their job description. One organisation I work with regularly is Lance Mason. I have written about LM Costs, part of their business, before. As a Law Firm, they are a stand out disruptor in their sector. When you look closely, it’s easy to see why. The team, their outlook and their role in developing a workforce derived set of values is an exemplar to all. A firm wide challenge was initiated in which the staff themselves identified what was important to them and how they wanted such values reflected as a set of tenets by which the business would be run. Impressive stuff that has contributed towards an engaged workforce demonstrating real skin in the game of the success of the business. Engaged, motivated, and passionate about the outcomes for their business, that’s what an engaged employee looks like.
Promoting employee engagement
This is the area where businesses fall down simply because they don’t understand that the act of effective employee engagement is not about implementing a ‘do-it-by-numbers’ mechanism. It’s the employee who chooses to engage and any level of measures introduced by a particular business will lead to different responses from different people. Finding out what makes the team tick is a good start. For some its financial reward, for others it may be more leave. In modern businesses and with Generation Y fast moving through the ranks, it is important to look beyond the obvious. Many such employees want to see greater social responsibility and that their employers are prepared to support, sponsor and encourage corporate giving. This is what leads to businesses such as MBN Solutions to undertake the regular charitable and philanthropic pursuits they do. Not just donating to charity but genuinely engaging the staff to get involved and develop sustainable relationships with the organisations the business is trying to help. The result? An engaged team prepared to do well for their chosen cause and are as typically keen to deliver for the business
So… how do they do it? They share some common characteristics:
- First of all they have a strong, strategic message. What the business is about is clear, useful and directed. The company knows what it is, where it is going and the role of its people in making it happen.
- They have the right managers in place who not only believe in the business but can help develop staff in the right ways, providing plenty of opportunities and scope for treating people as diverse individuals.
- All employees are a pivotal part in driving the business forward and their views are taken seriously often actively encouraging a challenge to the status quo.
- And finally, the organisation has the integrity to follow through with all its values reflected by the actions, deeds and motivations of the staff working there. Remember too, ‘tone at the top’.
Measuring employee engagement
One of the recent growth industries in the online world, measuring employee engagement has long been a complicated and difficult area for many businesses, not just in the UK but across the world. You need to collect data from a variety of sources including surveys, anecdotal evidence, and focus groups to discover the level of engagement of your staff and it’s not easy to pull all that information together and get a clear view of what is happening in your business.
Generally, the bigger your workforce the more difficult it is to measure and then promote effective employee engagement. It depends on having the right process in place and the people who can implement strategies that include and develop staff to a greater degree.
My advice, keep it simple and break it down into management activities and measures. Devolve responsibility to members of the team themselves and empower them to contribute to developing the measures so such measures are genuinely understood by the team and have real benefits in tracking progress with engagement.
Employees as advocates
If you are looking for advocates to promote your brand and boost business growth then perhaps you should start with your own staff first. The benefit of effective employee engagement is that your staff are more than ready to provide that value added extra in marketing not only your products and services but also your core values, beliefs and role in society. Today, with many of us on social media, businesses have access to a varied potential customer base through the online contacts of their staff. Yes, there are caveats for jumping onto their social coat tails but there are also some great benefits if implemented properly.
Engaged employees can help spread the word, promote your brand and develop your standing in the online world through their personal and trusted connections. Prompting any employee to act as a brand advocate means that you need to have a good strategy in place to prevent going off message but with the right training it can help boost business growth significantly.
Is any of this really worth doing? The two business I mentioned above regularly achieve exceptional growth in net profit and regularly see the business beating larger and more established competitors in the market place – even throughout the downturn. There may be a number of reasons for this but almost certainly at the heart of their success is their obvious employee engagement activities.
6 Tips for Promoting Employee Engagement
- Set strong goals and share your future vision: You can’t expect your employees to leap on the bandwagon if you don’t know where you are heading.
- Discover motivations and initiate conversations with your team: Find out what drives your employees and bring that into the mix. If you don’t know what lights a fire in their bellies then how can you expect to keep them motivated?
- Give smart feedback and check its understood: Many businesses leave their employees to get on with their work without an ounce of feedback. Keep the timeline between performance and feedback as narrow as possible and be quick to praise when it’s deserved.
- Good and effective management practices and managers: Having the right managers in place who can motivate and engage is key to any business that wants its employees to be on board and on message.
- Empowerment works: Giving your employees responsibilities and the ability to influence outcomes means they feel a valued part of the team. We all want to have an influence and feel our opinion matters.
- Set and maintain the right ‘Tone at the top’: Not just soft measures but robust deeds. Walk the talk and make the change to see and realise the benefits an engaged workforce brings.