Over the past few weeks, I have been involved in some very interesting discussions with people from both business and academia. We discussed the positioning of leadership and employee engagement, and where employee empowerment fits into this equation. Basically, we were discussing the need for a new employee engagement narrative.
A New Employee Engagement Narrative: why do we need one?
It is widely accepted that the employee engagement statistics are static. We all understand the business implications that comes with a workforce that is not even close to being fully engaged.
Yet, we ignore our own advice offered by leadership consultants and trainers right around the globe every day. That advice is:
“If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.”
Despite knowing that employee engagement statistics remain static and the cost on business, organisations continue to do what they have always done to increase engagement. They run surveys, get a report and an action plan. Following sometime after is a top down employee engagement strategy to be rolled out by a combination of HR and senior management. In this strategy will be Corporate Social Responsibility, social events, team meetings and a reinvigorated suggestion box. Much the same as the last one.
There is now doubt that in the majority of cases, the intentions behind the engagement strategy are good. But it isn’t working. It is time for a new employee engagement narrative.
What Will a New Employee Engagement Narrative Look Like?
The reason why the traditional top-down employee engagement strategy doesn’t have the intended impact has nothing to do with the activities involved. CSR, social events, and suggestion boxes are good things. However, to use a baking analogy, they are the icing on the cake. Too many organisations are racing to put the icing on the cake without actually baking the cake itself. The icing will taste great while it lasts, but it is pointless without the cake.
No-one ever returns from a party and exclaims ‘the icing was great’. They do, however, extol the virtues of a great cake for quite a long time after the party.
So, rather than rushing to apply the finishing touches, the new employee engagement narrative must focus first on the cake itself. Engagement is a bit like Herzberg’s theory on motivation – it needs a platform to take off from.
A New Employee Engagement Narrative: the key components
Building engagement will take time, as all good things do. There is no quick fix for engagement. Organisations should consider putting these key components in place:
Employees can’t be truly engaged if they are not empowered at work. They need to feel that they can contribute and make decisions about their job, to seek development and improvement both in their job and personally. All within the parameters of the job being done to a high standard.
There is nothing about a business environment that says it can’t be kind and intense – it’s a good mix. In ‘kind’ cultures, employees feel safe to positively debate how work can be improved, done more efficiently, faster and to a higher quality. More employees are more likely to intensely care about the work they do.
Gratitude is a very powerful thing. We love it when people are grateful. A culture of kindness and gratitude encourages better teamwork, enhances people’s moods and is good for talent retention.
These core components will require a different kind of leadership behaviour. Your managers will be asked to share control and encourage employees to freely discuss work improvements, challenging the traditional methods. The right leadership is crucial in building a culture based on kindness and gratitude.
No Status Quo
Status quo is something treasured by those who fear change and progress. They feel safe in the status quo because it is where they intend to live….forever. Forget the status quo. It only exists in the past and your business and products need to move beyond that. Treat your employees as absolute equals by giving them all a say in how work is done with the aim of high quality outputs exceeding targets. Give your people the chance to contribute, to take a personal interest in your business and to shine. Let them challenge the status quo.
Employee engagement is not a corporate strategy. It is an ethos. It is how people expect to be treated. It is how your company makes your employees feel. It is how your leaders, line managers and supervisors behave and what is considered culturally as acceptable behaviour.