Rapid realignment is only possible when employees are energized to move the organization in a new and better direction. Energizing the system from top to bottom is a key task of leadership. But rapid realignment needs energy that is focused, that drives continuous improvement and works to achieve the organization's purpose. This energy comes when an employee is engaged, so let's take a look at what engagement is all about.
In its workplace studies, Gallup, Inc. reports that the typical world-class company has a high percentage of engaged employees (67 percent), a smaller cadre of "not engaged" people (25 percent), and a tiny group (7 percent) of what it calls "actively disengaged" personnel. By comparison, in companies with average performance, only 33 percent are engaged, 49 percent are not engaged, and disturbingly high 18 percentage of employees are actively disengaged -- coasting along and picking up their pay checks, gaming the system, and sucking the energy out everyone around them.
Engaged Versus Aligned
Engaged and aligned are two different things, and they don't always travel together. Research by the Corporate Executive Board has found that 40 percent of "engaged" employees do not align their behavior with organizational goals. Overall, it concludes that only one in 10 employees is both engaged and aligned with strategy. Clearly, many managers are failing to connect people with the strategies they are emotionally prepared to support with their daily work. This represents a huge lost opportunity.
Employee engagement, and the participative management practices that go with it, are not a panacea for every business problem. But we've seen them pay off time and again. For example, an employee engagement program at a Warner-Lambert plant led to a 21 percent increase in production and a 10 percent decrease in costs over a one-year period. A Canadian firm that engaged its employees in office space planning attributed a 15 percent productivity increase to that program.
How Leaders Encourage Engagement
If you agree that engaged employee improve results, then you're probably wondering what you can do to make it happen. We recommend that you do three things: listen, create a common purpose, and give people greater ownership of their work. Let's consider them in order.
The motto of Dartmouth College is vox clamantis in deserto: A voice crying out in the wilderness. In our experience, we've heard those voices many times. We've found that managers and employees usually want to participate and to influence the design of processes and systems that affect them. They want to make things better. And they usually do so when given opportunities to engage and share what they know.
Create a Common Purpose
Help people to understand what must be accomplished, why their work is worthwhile, and how they can accomplish their goals. We recommend the following:
1. Keep people continually connected to the environment in which they operate. They must understand what is at stake.
2. Help people think holistically. People can't make good decisions if they cannot see the big picture.
3. Always keep people connected to The Main Thing of the entire enterprise.
4. Reward and recognize people for working toward The Main Thing.
5. Use the review process to carry the message to employees.
6. Create opportunities for people to communicate and interact.
Give People Greater Ownership of Their Work
Good bosses understand the value of giving their subordinates a long leash. Over the years, we have asked thousands of managers and workers to think of the best boss they ever had. We then ask: "What did that person do to qualify as your best boss?" We almost always get the same responses:
- My best boss listened!
- My best boss backed me up.
- My best boss trusted me and respected me.
- My best boss gave me feedback
- My best boss left me alone.
When asked, "Were you engaged? Did you work hard for your best boss? Come in early, stay late?" The response was always an enthusiastic "Yes!" Those "best boss" behaviors are the building blocks of participative management. Participative management is the foundation of quality and process improvement programs and the key to employee engagement.
- When should you consider using a participative management approach? We suggest the best times are when:
- You don't know the answer either.
- You want input and buy in
- You are managing change
© 2012 Dr. George H. Labovitz and Victor Rosansky, authors of Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance
Dr. George H. Labovitz, co-author of Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance, is the founder and CEO of ODI, an international management training and consulting company, and professor of management and organizational behavior at the Boston University Graduate School of Management.
Victor Rosansky, co-author of Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance, is co-founder and president of LHR International, Inc. He has more than 25 years of experience as a consultant, helping Fortune 500 clients to drive rapid strategy deployment and alignment.