As managers in today’s organizations, during an economic recovery that is challenging even to the world’s top 1% of businesses, our primary concerns are about building business performance and growing. The fact is, the top 1%, including Fortune 500 companies, are not necessarily the models of successful leadership that we might emulate since many of them have been recipients of government interventions designed to support them financially: aid totalling $63 billion in government subsidies funded by taxpayers during the past two decades – according to a February 26, 2014 article, “Fortune 500 Companies Receive $63 Billion In Subsidies” by David Siroto on pando.com. This surprising-to-me statistic aside, it is incumbent on us as business leaders to create paths to the successful achievement of high performance and growth, despite the challenges we face.
Our solutions must be found within our organizations since business performance and growth are in the hands of our workforce. According to the S&P 500, today’s businesses are primarily valued based on their intangibles, including assets such as intellectual capital, talent, and leadership’s ability to execute the strategy. Engaging our people, developing them, leveraging their skills, knowledge, and experience, and retaining them which are the recognized keys to our success.
In recent years we have learned that Employee Engagement is primary in driving performance. Fortunately, we have lots of knowledge and many experts on engagement to guide us but, as with other strategic objectives, our challenges lay in the execution much more than in developing the plans.
Analyzing engagement, we can see that Trust is the essential foundation. How do we develop trust? Many would say that we build trust by being honest and by doing what we say we’ll do. But, when you think about it, there is more to trust than that, isn’t there? I trust people who care about my well-being; who value me and my work and who I can count on to help me to succeed. Do you use similar criteria (and more) in deciding who you will trust? On reflection, in the past decade, leaders and managers have been faced with challenges we have never before encountered. Leaders have made difficult business decisions with hard trade-offs that impacted the employment of millions of people. People have been downsized, work schedules were reduced with pay reduced accordingly, salaries were frozen, and managers’ focus shifted from people-leadership to tasks, goals, efficiencies, metrics, and measures. Training and development budgets were cut, rewards and recognition diminished, and jobs were eliminated by management choices to off-shore them. Looking back, it is not surprising that the over-riding message received by employees from these collective actions in recent years is actually counter to any message of caring about our people. Trust has been lost. But now, more than ever, leaders and managers need their workforces to improve business performance.
Interestingly, decades ago, multi-year studies by Elton Mayo and Nathaniel Hawthorne that involved changing lighting in a Western Electric plant resulted in a conclusive result that became well known as The Hawthorne Effect. The Hawthorne Effect is described as increased performance resulting when management shows that they care about their people. This early research discovery fits with today’s knowledge about the impact of employee engagement levels on organizational performance. Indeed, managers showing they care about their people and people’s performance are interconnected.
Today’s leaders are reading articles and books about engagement, strategy, and execution regularly. By integrating these ideas and assessing our organizations, we gain insights and solutions can be crafted and tailored to fit our business needs. I am convinced that employee engagement needs to become a priority within the business strategy. Then, organizational leadership, systems, policies, and practices must be aligned with the strategy. And, like other business strategies, it is the execution that needs executive-level attention and support.
Showing employees that leaders and managers care about them is critical to building trust, which is the foundation for engagement. Engagement is the driver of business performance improvement and growth.
Following are 5 targeted tactics managers can include in initial action plans to build organization performance and growth, through a strategy of Employee Engagement, starting with Trust.
- Providing broadened, company-paid, proactive wellness programs that do not require employee disclosure of related personal information. For example, on-site fitness centres or reimbursement for memberships conveniently located for employees; cafeterias serving affordable, healthy foods; child day-care options reducing related stress and expense
- Designing safety initiatives that support employee well-being. For example, a manufacturing organization might, well in advance of summer, set up a team including employees and managers to locate water and other beverages enabling quick and easy access to all employees, to ensure people can remain hydrated during the hot working conditions we know will come in the months ahead; providing safety coaches who walk the floor to provide helpful coaching or reminders to employees in safe lifting, proper use of PPE and other safe practices
- Making time to follow annual performance planning with regular, frequent, and supportive (individual and team) feedback and discussions
- Sharing information that enables employees to find meaning and purpose in their work. For example, managers might find various, interesting ways to educate employees about the business strategy, so that each employee understands clearly how he contributes to delivering on the company’s differentiation through the work he does and how he does it daily; sharing information about competitors, customers and the use of the company’s products and services.
- Solicitation of employee input on changes that impact their work, before change decisions; including employees in monitoring change initiatives to obtain and utilize their feedback throughout implementation.
To drive strategic performance such as this, managers are usually good at setting goals and developing action plans to execute the strategy. And, some organizations use systematic approaches to monitor and measure execution. Participation by senior leaders and/or support from the right consultants can be invaluable in turbulent times such as these when managers are pulled in many directions due to pressing operational demands for their time.