10 February 2017

The ABC of Employee Engagement: the basis to greater success as an organisation.

How to Improve Employee Engagement

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place”
– George Bernard Shaw

The basis of the ABC of Engagement is that you’ll get a better result by stimulating people and giving them more energy than by controlling them and closely monitoring their activities.

Like all models, the ABC of Employee Engagement, seems quite easy and maybe even obvious when written out, long hand. As is normal in life however, talk comes cheap. The challenge is not so much in the initial implementation, when everyone is pumped up about having something new and exciting to do. The challenge lies in the hard work of keeping it going. It becomes a challenge because our nature as humans is to develop and change things – to keep trying new stuff – instead of keeping our noses to the grindstone. Enough of that, here’s the model:

  • A: Autonomy
  • B: Belonging to a team
  • C: Having the right competencies

The Role of Competency in Employee Engagement  

This is a good place to start, as it provides some quick wins for employee engagement. Some recent research in The Netherlands suggests only 25% of employees are doing any training during the year. This low figure sounds even worse when you bear in mind that any education needs refreshing every 2-3 years.

If employees don’t have the skills to do their jobs, it’s difficult for them to act professionally and to feel in charge. This leads to increased stress, which has a negative impact on productivity.

The Value of Autonomy in Employe Engagement  

Autonomy is about the degree of ownership you have for the job you’re doing. Again, you can see the linkage to professionalism. To some extend that linkage relies on something called ‘job crafting’, which refers to adjusting the job to the person – as opposed to the more normal approach of (trying to) fit someone into a job, that maybe she or he ought not to be doing. Having people do work they are no good at saps energy and wastes time.

This is an interesting point and worthy of further exploration. People who are very career-driven often want the next job, and the next job, and the next job, regardless of skill-fit or suitability. They get onto the treadmill and quite often their ego gets involved and pushes them along. The situation is also a challenge for the employer. Had the employee not got the post they were so desperately seeking, they may well have left and joined a competitor. (See our articles on Staff Turnover). The big test for employers is to leave that aspect of their culture behind and educate their employees that their career will not only be ‘okay’, but actually improved by stepping away from the traditional career-treadmill.

Disconnecting money, power and ego from each other and from the job is a ‘must-do’ if you want to succeed at the highest level of job crafting and maximise employee engagement. Although that might seem an unobtainable objective, organisations have achieved it – and there’s a huge amount at stake, so it’s worth the effort to help people stay happy and stay engaged.

Expressed at its simplest, autonomy is about job ownership and here’s a good example from a well-known hotel chain. The approach taken by the housekeeping department to servicing the bedrooms was to start staff working at the rooms furthest from the elevators. The cleaning staff would work their way through the rooms one by one, until they met in the middle at the elevator. This work design is the typical output from a traditional ‘time and motion’ study – and it wasn’t a design the cleaning staff appreciated.

Seeing that the cleaners were unhappy, management asked for their input. The response was that the cleaners wanted to work together as a team. Managers were suspicious; believing that the cleaners would spend more time chatting and would get less work done. A six month trial proved the cleaners were right: they had more fun, worked harder and got more work done.

At the heart of the issue was job ownership – asking people how they wanted to do the job and then letting them get on with it.

The Importance of Teams to Employee Engagement 

The cleaners in the above example, were clearly members of a team. The issue is often, how does one create a sense of belonging to a team?

The most important part is that the team members know the team’s values. This is sometimes referred to as the unwritten ground rules (as researched by Stef du Plessis an expert in this area) – it’s about what people feel, but don’t openly express. To be a member of a successful team you have to know what you personally stand for – what you’re not willing to negotiate away. These are your ‘core values’ (or ‘non-negotiables’). If I know what they are and my teammates know them as well, then we can be accountable to each other, and we can talk about them and their relationship to the work the team does. This produces the most positive and open culture and provides a huge boost to employee engagement.

Lots of people are willing to talk about their jobs, but fewer about the values the provide the glue that keeps the team together.

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