Employee Engagement:
Pay attention or pay for your inattention

Every organization is dependent on effective employee engagement ...

Those leaders who choose to ignore, or fail to heed, the work life of their employees will likely be challenged by the escalating and compounding impacts of a disengaged workforce. Not the least of which is a hasty exit for more fulfilling opportunities outside your organization.

Employees pay attention. They are quick to register any lack of support from leadership. Likewise, they are also fast to recognize the absence of growth and recognition of contributions. On top of which, any lip service paid to work-life balance that does not result in an actual balance, if it is not immediately called out, will register as suspect or even hostile.

Striving for engaged employees is just as much a source of frustration for organization leaders. They wrestle with their intent falling into the communication gaps between employees and departments. The difficulty of measuring employee engagement, limited by clear measures and absent the necessary technology to capture and track performance data, also leads to disappointment. It’s not that leaders don’t want engaged employees or are unwilling to do the work to build strong, positive and engaging cultures. They may simply lack the understanding of what it takes to develop and foster.

Frustration leads to blame on both sides and no effective resolution. How might they better pay attention to this vital work?

Investing in Developing Employees

Investing in employee development demonstrates a commitment to their growth and success within the organization. When employees see that their employer is dedicated to enhancing their skills and knowledge, they are more likely to feel valued and motivated to contribute their best to the company.

It is not simply a matter of offering any training opportunities; the capabilities to be developed must be aligned to the strategic and operational success of the business. The new skills have to matter. Employees should see that the company considers them to be worthwhile in supporting on the path to self-improvement. It may seem self-serving on the part of leaders, but employees recognize when their development is valued.

A software company in a competitive market provides regular training sessions and workshops for its employees to learn new programming languages, software tools and development methodologies. It prioritizes learning and development and recognizes that time in training is not wasted when it enhances performance. This investment in skill development not only improves employees’ expertise but also shows that the company is dedicated to their growth and professional advancement.

Source: Promoting Training and Development Opportunities to Attract Top Candidates by HR Daily Advisor

Coworkers discuss around a laptop

Supporting the Development of Skills that Matter Most to Organizational Success

When employees are equipped with the skills that directly align with the organization’s goals and priorities, they become more engaged because they can see the impact of their contributions on the overall success of the company. When what we do matters, there is a psychological return on our investment. We see that our efforts have an impact on results, and when our leaders give us opportunities to add to those skills that create the most value, they are signaling our efforts as essential to organization success.

For most organizations, understanding which skills are necessary to drive strategic and operational success is not a huge stretch. They usually have complete skills gap analyses across the organization to guide prioritization of development opportunities. In cases where there is no gap analysis, a quick assessment of current value-generating processes will offer a solid indication of where attention might be better paid.

The skills an organization prizes may be a part of the regular operation of the organization. We had the opportunity to work with a sales-driven organization with which we identified negotiation and relationship-building skills as crucial for its success. The company offered specialized training and coaching to its sales teams to enhance these skills, resulting in more engaged sales professionals, improved customer relationships, and increased sales.

In another case, a major producer of home appliances and electronics leadership recognized that there was a gap in the performance of rising leaders who were struggling to bridge the gap between the subject matter expertise that had been the basis of their previous success and what was expected of them as managers and leaders. They set about designing a multi-year journey for these leaders, increasing the retention of the very people they needed for the organization’s future success.

Source: Aligning Management and Supervisory Training by Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)

Team around a computer screen

Signaling the Importance of Employees to the Purpose of the Organization

When employees understand how their work directly contributes to the organization’s mission and purpose, they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and alignment with the company’s goals. It is odd that in many organizations this communication is left to the limited time and attention of the already thinly spread middle management band. Which is not to say that direct line managers should not be regularly signaling the value of individual and team contributions to the organization’s purpose. But they shouldn’t have to the only source of information that signals purposeful alignment.

After the great fire of 1666 that leveled London, the most famous architect of the day, Sir Christopher Wren, was commissioned to rebuild St Paul’s Cathedral. One day, Wren observed three bricklayers on a scaffold, one crouched, one half-standing and one standing tall, working very hard and fast. To the first bricklayer, Christopher Wren asked the question, “What are you doing?” to which the bricklayer replied, “I’m a bricklayer. I’m working hard laying bricks to feed my family.” The second bricklayer, responded, “I’m a builder. I’m building a wall.” But the third brick layer, the most productive of the three and the future leader of the group, when asked the question, “What are you doing?” replied with a gleam in his eye, “I’m a cathedral builder. I’m building a great cathedral.”

Connection to purpose matters.

Employees want to know that their work matters and is connected to a larger purpose. When organizations effectively communicate how each employee’s role contributes to the company’s mission, employees are more likely to feel a sense of pride and loyalty.

The outdoor company, Patagonia, is focused on directly supporting environmental conservation and regularly communicates to its employees how their efforts in areas such as waste reduction and sustainable practices are contributing to a healthier planet. They create systems for developing people to support these missions through their work. This clear connection between employees’ work and the organization’s purpose fosters a stronger sense of engagement.

Source: The Power of Purpose in Employee Engagement by Gallup

Connecting Employees to What Matters for the Organization

When employees understand the bigger picture of the organization’s strategies, objectives, and challenges, they can better align their efforts and feel a sense of ownership in the company’s success. What matters is meaningful. Making what matters readily accessible and transparent is a key factor in using it connect employees to the greater mission, vision, and purpose of the organization.

The poet Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.” That transparency and communication are key to helping employees understand the organization’s strategic direction. When employees are well-informed about the company’s goals, challenges, and progress, they can better align their efforts and feel more invested in the organization’s success. They can make a conscious effort to contribute to shared success.

Visualize a financial services firm that holds monthly “All-Hands” meetings. During these meetings, the CEO shares insights into market trends, discusses the company’s financial performance, and celebrates recent successes. By providing employees with a comprehensive view of the organization’s overall health and strategy, the company fosters a sense of unity and purpose, ultimately leading to higher engagement levels.

When employees understand the bigger picture of the organization’s strategies, objectives, and challenges, they can better align their efforts and feel a sense of ownership in the company’s success.

Another client of our firm, a specialty manufacturing company, holds regular “town hall” meetings where leadership shares updates on market trends, competitive challenges, and the company’s strategic initiatives. They produce high quality videos that speak to the purpose of the organization, making the featured employees almost look like action heroes. The response has been fantastic. This transparency helps employees connect their daily tasks to the organization’s larger goals, leading to increased engagement and commitment.

Source: How Companies Can Improve Employee Engagement Right Now by Harvard Business Review

The imperative of effective employee engagement cannot be overstated. The consequences of disregarding or neglecting the well-being and professional growth of employees reverberate throughout an organization, manifesting in the form of a disengaged workforce and a subsequent exodus of talent seeking more fulfilling opportunities elsewhere.

To address the challenges of employee engagement, organizations must adopt a multi-faceted approach that aligns with the core principles discussed herein. Investing in employee development signifies a commitment to fostering growth and competence within the workforce. However, it is vital that these investments resonate with the organization’s strategic direction, underlining the significance of employees’ contributions and their journey towards self-improvement. Moreover, nurturing skills that directly contribute to organizational triumph fosters a deep sense of purpose among employees. It is through the recognition of one’s impact that employees find a psychological return on their investment, propelling them to align their efforts with the company’s objectives.

Remember, while these examples illustrate how the concepts contribute to employee engagement, actual implementation may vary based on your organization’s culture, your industry, and the specific goals you are seeking to attain. Be sure to adapt these concepts to your organization’s unique context for the best results.

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