Get Off the Traditional Workforce Management Path

Engaged workers laugh during a meeting.

Engaged workers can be the key to a great company culture. Yet, 70 percent of employees are disengaged. Here's what to do.

What's the key to workforce management? Engaged workers. But did you know that 70 percent of employees are disengaged? According to Korn Ferry, 60 percent of HR leaders believe building a company culture of engaged workers is most important when it comes to meeting their organization's long-term, bottom-line goals.

Meanwhile, leadership development placed a distant second most important area at 30 percent. The importance that company culture experts place on engagement is largely matched by unsuccessful efforts to achieve it. Gallup reports that only 31.5 percent of U.S. workers are engaged at work.

Is Low Engagement Normal?

Workforce management articles abound on how to enhance engagement, but for all those industry efforts, that 31.5 percent is actually the best result from the past 17 years, according to Gallup. Business group-think could be partly at work. Leaders seeking outlier results often start by asking what others are doing, and the bureaucratic decision-making process exacerbates the problem by throwing out innovative, outlier ideas.

But when it comes to company culture and engagement, does it make sense to do what others are doing? Engagement is not a challenge that you're likely to fix by imitating others.

Engagement Is Local

Part of the challenge is that engagement resides in the roots of your organization. Hypothetical processes and template methodologies cannot solve for many of the biggest engagement challenges. A handful of deeply-ensconced dysfunctional people in an organization can wreak havoc, not just for what they do but for the organization's inability to identify and appropriately deal with them.

The good news is that there are also likely pockets of high engagement in any organization. Rather than solving for engagement from the top-down, why not observe where you already have it? Listen to engaged employees, focus on what's working and approach the challenges accordingly. This approach is called "positive deviance" and is described in "The Power of Positive Deviance."

Engagement Is Ownership

One advantage of positive deviance is that it puts ownership back into the hands of employees. People are less likely to embrace efforts and initiatives that feel imposed upon them. Looking for the bright spots makes employees the experts and can empower them to evaluate, solve and share their practices with others. That's a workforce management approach that puts the force back with your people.

Engagement Is Positive

Some brains are inherently wired for pessimism and risk-aversion, according to Big Think. Some people weigh losses more than gains, problems more than successes and pain more than pleasure. In a business environment, this can be expressed as hyperanalytical, critical thinking that focuses on problems, providing constructive criticism as feedback and faultfinding. These all have their place in a business environment, but they can overwhelm people who need celebrations, affirmations and visible signs of progress, success and improvement to stay motivated.

Strong Enough to Seek Help

Financial leaders can initiate and empower people to find what's already working within their organizations. It starts with conviction that greatly improved employee engagement can indeed provide a competitive differentiator for your organization.

If so, it's time to take a closer look at what is already working and then assess with clarity and courage how to bring those solutions forward to the rest of the organization. Doing so can establish local findings that are true for you irrespective of abstract methodologies.