Employee Engagement is a hot topic in business lately. That can be attributed to our recognition that for our businesses to thrive we need smart, active employees who deploy their considerable brain power making the company better day in and day out. It may be the best competitive advantage we have. The one thing others can’t duplicate. Yet according to Gallup only 32% of employees feel “engaged” and almost half that many, 17%, are actively disengaged. So how do we get employees engaged?
In a recent Harvard Business Review Article Paul Zak believes the answer is a culture of trust. Neuroscience shows that trust is linked to eight key management behaviors:
- Recognize excellence
- Induce challenge stress
- Give people discretion in how they do their work
- Enable job crafting
- Share information broadly
- Intentionally build relationships
- Facilitate whole-person growth
- Show vulnerability
If you are like most of my clients, you probably have two reactions: 1) How the heck do I do that? And 2) Where do I find the time to do that with my 387 other to-do’s?
The answer: Strategic Engineering (my version of Strategic Planning). Max De Pree, Former CEO of Herman Miller said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant.” How does one define reality? The kind of reality that is exciting, inspiring and engagement-worthy? By creating a strategic vision of what the future of the company will be. Being able to define reality relies on the ability to be clear and precise about where the company is going (the business) and the type of company it wants to be (the culture). How does a leader get that clarity? By creating a plan that will guide the company.
But it is not the plan itself that make companies engagement worthy (which is why strategic planning alone is not enough). It is the ability of the leader to use the plan to inspire others, to give people an opportunity to excel beyond their day job, to challenge them to do more and better, to allow them to determine how they can best contribute, to encourage them to refine how they do their jobs and what their roles are in light of the new vision, to communicate often, consistently and in a varied way that keeps interest high, and to show that the leader doesn’t have all the answers. Plans can be generated in the board room but they can’t be implemented there. Strategic engineering combines the vision of the plan with the operational and culture shifts necessary to achieve the desired outcomes.
Most strategic plans don’t include the projects and operational shifts necessary to accomplish the plan. Ours do. Identifying new ways to target and manage customers, new infrastructure needed, shifts in product portfolio’s, and critical operational support requirements the organization can make significant strides towards its vision. But these become layered on top of an organization if there is not an opportunity to engage employees to move beyond special projects and integrate the vision with how they approach their jobs every day. It is when there is a shift in both thinking (how I approach my job) and behavior (how proactive I am) at the grass roots level that the multiplier effect can kick in and the sky is the limit.
So how can this be accomplished? Communication. Communication. Communication. Every project we “engineer” with clients includes a communication plan. It is the secret weapon of success. Without it, great strides can still be made. With it, organizations can be transformed with more speed and even better results. Organizations that change organically rather than just through projects are able to accomplish more because you can multiple how much you can touch, change or impact by the number of people involved.
So, what does an engaging communication plan look like? It may vary for every company but it must address these basic deliverables:
- Educate all employees not just managers; make them aware of major projects impacting company resources
- Keep goals visible, progress tangible and the spotlight on the direction the company is going on a regular basis in multiple ways
- Deliver clear and consistent communication across and between all layers of management to ensure alignment
- Encourage a grass roots effort to change thinking and behavior; enlist influencers in the organization
- Provide information in a way that is easy to access and digest
- Vary the way the message is delivered from board room style to fun storytelling; use internal social media
- Develop two-way communication opportunities.
- Commitment to implementation and follow through.
I would be interested in hearing what you think your level of employee engagement is and what you are doing to drive it higher or what has worked to make it high. For a better understanding of how to create a culture changing communication plan we have a couple of resources for you. Click here for a sample of a communication plan. Or you can order the book Reignite: How Everyday Companies Spark Next Stage Growth, which describes engaging the organization in more detail. However, if you first need to craft the vision that defines the future reality, let’s talk about how strategic engineering can help you do that. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.