To What Degree are You Engaging All of Your Employees?
When I first entered the world of work more than 35 years ago, employee involvement was the rage. Now, it appears that organizations are beginning to realize that both effective individual and team engagement are critical to reaching true, sustainable levels of operational excellence. To me, this is a good thing. I have found that people are the foundation of organizational success AND engagement reflects a degree of connection that goes beyond ‘mere’ involvement. True, meaningful engagement however is not easy to come by, especially if your prevailing work culture actually encourages employee disengagement. Here are some the most common questions I am asked about the topic of team engagement, and some short answers that I have for each of them.
Why do I really need to engage a high percentage of my people?
Gauging true team engagement involves looking at the degree to each employee is connected. In turn, by looking at the percentage of your workforce that you involve in decision making activities, planning efforts, problem solving, personal development events, customer contacts, and team-based work, you can get a better idea of how engaged your people are and where your engagement deficiencies might be. Unfortunately, most organizations only engage a small percentage of their people in activities that extent beyond the daily processes they are responsible for. If you doubt my opinion, do a self check by looking at how your people, at all levels, spend their time at work and the mix of people that are involved in those activities that have been traditionally reserved for middle and upper management.
If you understand the gear analogy I made in defining the term ‘engagement’, the need for high engagement percentages is obvious. I believe that there is a direct correlation between engagement levels and organizational success – as engagement levels rise across a variety of activity types, the number of gear teeth and gears that are meshing goes up, in turn leading the organizational machine to higher levels of performance. Greater engagement and stronger relationships create greater levels of understanding and ownership – if people understand what their customers want and why they want those things, your people are more apt to make decisions and take actions that are consistent with those needs. If your people have a greater understanding of what the organization is trying to accomplish, and how organizational success will affect their own personal success and growth, they are more likely to consistently behave and act in a manner that supports the mission and vision of the organization, as opposed to working only to support their own personal needs or to keep their boss happy.
What is team or workforce engagement?
My definition of team engagement is based both on my personal experience with teams and on the criteria of the Malcolm Baldrige National Performance Excellence Award. The Baldrige criteria define workforce engagement as the extent to which workforce commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organization. I see team engagement as a heightened level of ownership where each employee wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of their internal and external customers, and for the success of the organization as a whole.
For people to be engaged, they have to be given the time and mechanisms to get involved. They have to believe that their personal contributions matter, and they have to be keenly aware of the connection that exists between their daily personal actions and decisions and the success of the organization. Engagement also implies the existence of strong, meaningful relationships. Sustained organizational success is all about creating effective relationships between customers and team members. Think of your teams like a set of gears – if each of the gear teeth (each person), as well as the gears themselves (your teams), are not properly and consistently engaged, mechanical efficiency will be lost to some degree. How effectively engaged are your teams?
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How do I engage more of my people in pursuing the goals of the organization?
To increase engagement levels, you have to do two key things. First, you have to change job designs and job descriptions. In other words, people have to spend their time at work a little bit differently each day. We’re not talking about massive changes here. The time required to attend a monthly performance review meeting, participate in an annual improvement or planning day, and attend two to three hours of training or group problem solving a month does not really take that big of a dent out of the 2,000 hours a year the average person spends at work. If only these example activities are used to increase engagement levels, a 3% impact on time will be felt, and if these events are properly designed and facilitated, the benefits realized from these investments will far outweigh the costs.
The second change you have to agree too is perhaps the tougher one to make, even though the costs involved are very low – you have to decide that it makes sense to involve all levels of your workforce in those activities that have traditionally reserved for members of management. Sadly, in many organizations, even the middle and front line leaders are not involved in planning and personal development to the degree that they should be. Upper organizational leadership is often afraid to share what is thought to be sensitive information because they don’t trust their people. Unfortunately, without trust, engagement will not occur, but at the same time, trust levels cannot be increased without developing the stronger relationships that are part of true engagement. It is a vicious, systemic circle that can be spinning in either the positive (growth) or negative (erosion) direction.
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How can I measure my current level of team engagement?
There are three primary ways in which engagement levels can be measured – employee surveys, personal time investment analysis, and information access analysis. The survey-based measurement approach can be as simple as asking a question on the annual employee opinion survey, but the high performing organizations at minimum will ask multiple questions of an engagement nature to gauge the degree to which each of the approaches that they are using to engage the workforce are effectively working. Those organizations that are willing to give each employee an e-mail address and some form of intranet access are discovering that such connectivity allows for more frequent, and specialized, surveying as well.
Doing a spreadsheet or database-based analysis of how your people spend their 2,000 hours a year also provides an effective means of assessing engagement levels. For example, what percentage of your people spend time on training each year? What percentage of each person’s work time is spent attending monthly performance updates or annual planning sessions? How many hours a year does the average employee spend with at least one external customer? Percentages can also be used to gauge the number of people in your workforce that have access to performance information on the company intranet, receive updates on performance to company goals and objectives, or participate in team meetings of some type. A team infrastructure matrix can be used to give you a quick look at team engagement and involvement levels.
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How can Great Systems! help me increase my team engagement levels in a meaningful way?
Great Systems! can help you assess your current team engagement levels and develop a plan for increasing those levels over time. I can help you design and install more effective work systems to help drive up engagement levels, such as employee opinion survey, recognition, and team infrastructure processes. I can also provide you with workshops that are designed to help you learn more about, and practice, those skills that are needed to effectively lead and facilitate team meetings, build stronger relationships between internal and external customers, or supervise in a manner that helps build more effective teams and higher levels of engagement.
High levels of team engagement are requisite for sustained, best in class performance levels. I believe that this fact will become more and more important as our workforces become more diverse and the expectations of our customers continue to shift and grow. I invite you to learn to do what the high performers have already proven as being effective – change your work systems to foster higher levels of workforce engagement. If you do so, greater results will follow.
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What is the most “critical factor” for achieving higher levels of team engagement?
Outside of the information access and job design change decisions that upper managers must make, the most critical factor that can help or hinder engagement levels lies in the abilities of EACH of your process owners to promote and increase team engagement levels. In particular, the performance of your front line supervisors in this area is most critical. A very high majority of your people get daily information about what the organization is trying to accomplish from these people, both intentionally and unintentionally. Front line leaders are the key to developing stronger relationships between internal customers. These people also decide how much effort they are willing to make to ‘free people up’ to attend training or participate in team meetings, and they are often the people that expected to effectively lead most of the training and meetings the bulk of your workforce attends.
In order to develop effective engagement skills in each of your leaders, you have to require them to demonstrate effective facilitation skills and prove the degree to which they are engaging their people in a formal manner on a regular basis. These expectations have to be part of their job description, and they must be expected to demonstrate increased skill proficiency in these areas as time passes. Too many organizations fail to ensure, let alone increase, the skills of their leaders in these key areas. For true team engagement to both exist and improve over time, the front line leaders have to be involved themselves and be capable of demonstrating that they are personally involved and effective in involving their people.
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What is the link between compensation practices and team engagement levels?
I want to start off by saying that I have learned that money is much more a demotivator than it is a motivator. In other words, I don’t think money is the primary, or even the secondary, reason why people do things that they are expected to do at work. I strongly believe however that people will quickly become demotivated if they get the impression that a compensation system is not fair. That said, one mechanism for increasing engagement levels lies in the structure of your compensation system. What types of compensation differences exist between organizational levels? Who gets the perks and who doesn’t, and what perceptions exist relative to what has to be done in order to become one of the haves, instead of being a have not? What types of pay rate, benefit, work environment, and recognition differences exist across the organization, why do they exist, and how do these differences affect team engagement levels?
There are some compensation system best practices that are used by high performing organizations to help drive up team engagement levels. One of the key practices involves extending some form of profit sharing to all employees, not just those at the top. Similarly, formal recognition for team successes should exist for all teams. Most importantly, you should strive to design a compensation system that is fair – one that appropriately recognizes each employee based on the contributions they make to the success of the organization (one that is not based simply on one’s job title). Unfair, or poorly deployed, compensation systems will drive down engagement levels. Keep in mind however that while the “What’s in it for me?” question is very pervasive and powerful, it also focuses on much more than pay – be sure to look at other forms of compensation, such as work environment, formal recognition opportunities, and benefits, that far too many companies ignore.