Determining the Level of Employee Engagement is Only the First Step….

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An April 2, 2013 article in Forbes by Susan Adams surfaced a study by Leadership IQ that found that “More than a third of companies are so dysfunctional, the best people don’t really care about what they’re doing and the worst people don’t know that they are doing a lousy job…. Companies should be worried about these findings… because high performers tend to thrive on feeling involved and challenged.”

Wow, 42%!   That sounds like a big number, but since we don’t know the nature of the sample, other than that “leadership IQ’s research base includes thousands of companies and their employees” it is hard to tell how broadly these results should be applied.

Jim Finkelstein shared that if the studied companies are themselves are mediocre or poorly performing, then it’s not surprising that high performing employees will be less engaged. Further, Finkelstein adds, “It is absolutely critical to have an engaged workforce in order to be a higher performing company because an engaged workforce translates into higher productivity.”

The definition of employee engagement though is highly situational and is based on the type of business and business functionality. Vito Pandolfo shares this example. Many large businesses might have different definitions for engagement based on roles. Take a fast food franchise, the employee engagement at the customer service level translates into workers delivering a consistent product at every location. But this isn’t the only definition of engagement for these types of company. For the “headquarters” workforce, their engagement results in innovation and expanded market presence.

Employee engagement is often measured based on the results of employee surveys. According to Finkelstein, the problem with these surveys (assuming they are properly constructed and administered) is that too often (maybe as much as 60%-80% of the time) employers take no action to correct employee concerns. If high performing individuals’ concerns expressed in the surveys are not addressed, these individuals can become disillusioned and less engaged.

So the advice here may be if you aren’t going to take action on the survey results don’t do one in the first place. And if you are going to administer an employee survey, make sure you look have a clear process and accountabilities to address concerns that emerge what the numbers are run.

Jay Wolfe and Tim McConnell are investigating high performing companies and have found that one criteria is that workers are competitive rather than simply participative. Successful companies inspire competition, encouraging workers to advance the company and themselves. Tim McConnell says that this work essentially looks at organization design from a structural and motivational perspective.

The most important consideration is that organizations, according to McConnell, can grow “cold”, much like a cup of coffee left on a counter. It happens slowly, but entropy sets in and the organization often needs to get stirred up a bit, and even reheated, if you will, to remain relevant and successful.

For top performers another “downer” can be that they are surrounded by lower performing workers. It is a difficult thing to do but outplacing underperforming workers could actually increase overall productivity.

Are your employees engaged? And more importantly are your high performing employees engaged? There are several steps you can take to find out:

1) Determine the definition of engagement for your company and its various functions and roles
2) Construct and conduct a survey (if you dare) but only do so if you are prepared to address issues that emerge
3) Ensure that your company is not falling into a state of entropy, look to your organizational design to create (or recreate) motivation, competition, and engagement
4) Make sure your organization’s success is not hampered by low performing employees. Address these deficiencies through performance management, performance development, or even outplacement.

Good luck and contact any of us if you have questions.
Jim Finkelstein jim@futuresense.com
Jay Wolfe jay.wolf@jaywolfconsulting.com
Vito Pandolfo vitospeaks@lead-smarter.com
Tim McConnell tim.mcconnell@grahall.com

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