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This post is based on several research findings by Gallup and McKinsey.
Fighting disengagement is a defensive strategy; offensive strategy will be to promote engagement.
Multiple strategies must be employed to promote engagement level across the organization. We take a brief look at some of these strategies.
Recognizing and Valuing the Presence
The first step in creating and sustaining an environment of engagement is to recognize the people who work here.
This basic step is needed because in most organizations, the impression repeatedly conveyed is that the organization is more important than the people; people can come and go, and it will have no bearing whatsoever on the organization. A further extension of this line of expression is that people need the organization so that they can find work, the organization does not need people. Yet another extension says that people should be grateful that they have a job and should understand that it can be lost any moment. Engagement cannot survive in this environment.
There was a time when larger companies had personnel departments whose main job was to keep the record of employees; other things related to employees were handled by the line managers. Then it was promoted that people are ‘resource’ like land, building, equipment, and capital, and the term ‘human resource’ came into vogue. As jobs became more complex and workers became knowledge workers, it was suggested that the staff should be considered as ‘human capital’. Presently, owing to much greater complexity of jobs, there is a further shift, and everyone talks about talent now; talent hunt, talent acquisition, talent retention, talent management are the current buzz words. Old HR managers now prefer to be called Talent Managers. Top of the line organizations in Pakistan are following the same trend.
I showed in the last post that the cost of employee turnover is quite large. Despite high level of unemployment, it is difficult to find the right candidates, which further escalates the cost of replacement.
Recognizing and Rewarding the Performance
Performance should not just be recognized; it should be rewarded also.
The first and the most desired recognition comes from the reporting manager. If the managers keep an active feedback loop, they would be automatically talking about performance. All good managers ensure that performance is recognized privately and publicly.
I had mentioned about the importance of justice and fair play in a pervious post also. A small reward given justly has greater impact than a large reward given unjustly. It is natural that every person needs motivation to keep doing better and better; recognition has a more lasting effect than material reward. Managers have several tools to motivate and engage people which they use effectively in pursuit of keeping the team performance up.
Engagement is at three levels: physical, intellectual, and emotional. Engaged employees work with great energy and can put in longer hours, if needed, without burning out. They use their best intellectual capability in strategizing, executing, and supporting the team. Lastly, emotional engagement keeps employees connected and tied up with the organization. These are the reasons why engagement leads to great performance and low turnover.
Another very important factor identified by McKinsey is the connection between the work people are doing with the higher purpose. People working in the social sector may relate to it more easily since their work is directly related to purposes like people welfare, maternal and child health, mental disorders etc. While they do a job, they know they are contributing to a cause. In the commercial sector, the same can be simulated by having and showing a higher purpose. Environment protection is a universal higher purpose currently.
McKinsey summarizes four action: ensure that the performance management system recognizes and rewards high performance; make sure that managers are trained in providing individualized praise and public recognition for a job well done; connect the work that star performers are doing with a higher organizational purpose; and provide star performers with advancement opportunities that reflect their high performance and potential.
Personal Growth and Career Advancement
The last point above brings us to this area where Gallup has worked extensively. Their research has shown consistently that people remain engaged if they know they are learning, developing, and growing personally and professionally. Of course, it will translate into status growth also.
Based on extensive experience, Gallup developed a questionnaire of 12 questions. 6 out 12 questions are related to development, which shows it resonates so strongly with the employees. The employers and managers unfortunately are not paying the same amount of attention to this critical area.
Along with the development, career advancement opportunities create a highly engaging environment. For every position, its career track with requirements for growth, and approximate timelines should be elaborated. This helps employees to see where they can be in so many years, and this becomes a reason for striving harder.
Career track should not be kept linear only; lateral growth opportunities should also be explored. Change of department, change of function within the same department, change of place in the same function are just some of the lateral pathways for career growth.
Career growth must not be restricted to number of years of service; rather, it should be based on a cohort of parameters including knowledge, skills, teamwork, leadership potential, and length of service.
Employee wellbeing is an integral factor in development. A person not doing well due to unnecessary stress, physical discomfort, harassment, fear, and financial difficulties will not be able to develop and compete at the same pace.
Space and Freedom to Work
Based on my own long experience, I have concluded that employees feel strangled and suffocated in both cases; not having enough space to work, and not having enough freedom to work.
Space to work means the available opportunity to contribute. If the organization declares that they only want as much and no more, it eliminates space for innovation, extra work, or higher performance. If everyone is forced to push the same papers all the time, it will kill initiative and drive to perform better than others.
Freedom to work means that enough room is given to employees to experiment, innovate, learn, and apply new learning to improve performance. This can vary greatly, for example, a micromanagement fanatic shall usurp all freedom to work. Such a manager will require that everything is done either under his direction or with his information.
In both cases, the workplace becomes an energy-sapping vampire where people are left half dead by the end of the day.
To promote engagement, space, and freedom to work must be built into the system.
Employee engagement is essential for the growth of organization and its people, and both must be considered together; one will not thrive at the cost of the other. No organization shall sustain for long if the employees are dissatisfied and disengaged; the interests of both parties are intertwined.
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