Regardless of the industry or the size of the organization, you can achieve great results by updating your approach.
The research is unequivocal: engagement matters. Study after study confirms that when employees are highly engaged, productivity and quality increase dramatically, while turnover and safety incidents decrease. As compelling as the research is, getting executives to understand the importance of engagement at work isn't the hard part. For practitioners, the challenge has been how to move the needle on engagement in our own organizations.
Let me guess – you've surveyed, and surveyed, and surveyed, and then you focus grouped, and then you designed (or bought) some sort of program in the hopes it would increase engagement – with little to show for it. That lack of game-changing results isn't for lack of trying or investment. The problem is that traditional methods of approaching engagement miss the mark in today's dynamic work environment.
Traditional engagement tools can't account for the simple fact that work today doesn't always happen within the confines of the org chart — the organization is often blind to where and how work happens. Who's closest to the work? Your team leaders. They're not blind. They're at the heart of it – which means engagement is in their hands. And your systems had better account for that. The engagement approach that works best in today's agile organization must be agile, too.
I've worked with many organizations that have dramatically increased engagement relatively quickly by embracing the agility of their teams and team leaders and implementing practices to match the way work happens. For example, one large global professional services organization saw its percent of full engagement increase 62 percent. Another, smaller organization, a professional sports team, increased its people's full engagement by 92 percent. Regardless of the industry or the size of the organization, you can achieve great results by updating your approach. [Hear how Cicso Systems, Inc. helped employees focus on their strengths to drive excellence in their teams.]
The critical shift is to change from a top-down engagement approach to a team leader-centered approach that reflects how work is actually happening in your organization. Within that framework, there are five things you need to get right.
Here are the five engagement "rights" necessary to boost engagement in your organization:
- Measure from the right direction
Engagement doesn't happen in neat hierarchical fashion. Most of it is driven locally, team by team. Therefore, you need to measure engagement from the right direction, not from the top of the organization down, but from the team leader to her team members. Because team leaders are the center of the workplace universe, they should be able to access their own engagement data immediately – without a complex, bureaucratic process getting in the way – so they can share it with their team and act on it.
- Measure the right things
Should you measure four things, or 10 things, or 25 or 60? The answer is you should only measure the critical few things that evidence has shown to be necessary for fully engaged employees. Resist the "as long as we're surveying, we should ask …" syndrome. Guess what — your employees would like to be paid more and wish the cafeteria had better food. If you know the answer already, there's no need to ask!
- Measure at the right frequency
Engagement doesn't happen once a year. It's fluid, changing day to day, week to week, month to month. What the right cadence for you to measure it? At least once a quarter seems to work for most teams.
- Measure for the right reasons
The most effective engagement strategies aren't focused on meeting a target; instead, they are a tool for team leaders to understand how their teams are experiencing work.
- Take the right actions
Large-scale programs to increase communication or recognition are nice, but they will not radically improve engagement. The one thing that research shows has consistently created incredibly fast (within 12 weeks), dramatic (20–100%) increases in engagement is the ritual of frequent one-on-one conversations between team leaders and team members about near-term work priorities. Implementing this practice into the flow of your team leaders' work is the most impactful thing any organization can do to drive engagement.
It's hard to believe that one simple practice can have such a dramatic impact. I wouldn't believe it myself, if we hadn't seen it happen over and over, from health care to technology to financial services to education organizations. Leaders like you are making this happen in their organizations.
Isn't it time to create this culture of conversation and finally move the needle on engagement?
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