In the previous article we described employee engagement and the benefits of maintaining a strong climate of involvement. When employees are engaged, they feel valued and have a higher degree of job satisfaction. These intrinsic rewards benefit the company because they lead to higher productivity, higher quality levels, and lower turnover. It stands to reason that every company with a desire to succeed would want to invest time in developing and nurturing an engaged workforce.
However, some employers believe that developing a higher level of employee engagement might be too difficult or too expensive. After all, they say, we aren’t Google and we can’t afford to provide free gourmet meals 24 hours a day or on-site child care. What they miss in their conclusions is that building employee engagement does not require the phenomenal benefits that you might read about at high-flying companies. Employee engagement is simply the product of good leadership and the relationships that are developed as a result.
To demonstrate the methodology of building employee engagement, consider this simple case study. For years I made my annual trek for license renewals—in the days before it could be accomplished online—to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) office near my workplace in the eastern suburbs. Visiting this office was never an enjoyable experience and the workers were a major part of the unpleasantness. Of course no one goes to the BMV expecting a pleasant experience, but after waiting in line I was typically greeted with a gruff series of questions followed by a curt, “That will be $27.” Clearly the clerks did not enjoy their jobs and they subsequently made the experience worse for their customers.
After a job change moved me to the western suburbs, I went to a nearby BMV office. I was so accustomed to the unfriendly experience of visiting my old one that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this one felt more like a visit to Chick-Fil-A than to the typical BMV. When I was greeted with a genuine smile and a friendly, helpful attitude, I had to take a look around to be sure I was in the right place. On the first visit I thought perhaps the clerk’s good mood and welcoming demeanor was because she had won the lottery and decided to be nice on her last day on the job. On the second or third visit to this office, with consistently pleasant experiences, I asked the clerk why this office was so much different than the BMV offices to which I was accustomed. Her reply was quick. “It’s because of our boss, ‘Robert’,” she said. “I would follow ‘Robert’ anywhere.”
The difference in the atmosphere and attitude between these BMV offices was remarkable. They had the same policies and procedures to enforce, they had similar customers, and they were performing the same transactions. Neither BMV office had childcare facilities, a free cafeteria, or even a ping-pong table in the break room. In fact, they both operated in the same manner and on identical budgets.
So what was it about the pleasant office that made a difference in the climate of employee engagement? In short, the unfriendly office had a manager who was capable of establishing work schedules, verifying that the proper documentation was examined or prepared, and that the cash drawer was correct. The pleasant office had a manager who could do all of those tasks just as well, but where he made the difference for his employees was in his leadership abilities. It was evident that the climate in this office led to greater job satisfaction and resulted in better interactions with customers.
Fast forward to a few years later when I had the pleasure of becoming friends with this leader, ‘Robert’. On several occasions we discussed just how he had built a climate of employee engagement in his office. His explanation was simple. “I just treated my people like I would want to be treated,” he told me. He practiced what might be termed as the four C’s of employee engagement.
- He was Committed to his people and provided a good working environment for them.
- He Cared about his staff as people and did not treat them as interchangeable cogs in the process.
- He Communicated with his people, not only to keep them informed, but also to keep himself aware of what was happening in both their professional and personal lives.
- Finally, he valued their Contribution and provided them with the means to measure their own performances.
By the year 2020 millennials will comprise 40-50% of the United States’ workforce. As the number of younger employees in our workforce grows, the development of stronger employee engagement becomes increasingly more important. Millennials value empowerment and other intrinsic rewards more highly than a steady paycheck. Building a climate of employee engagement is not complicated or expensive and it doesn’t rely on programs. Instead, it hinges on people; specifically, capable leaders who build relationships and care about their employees and the climate of the workplace. Good leadership characteristics are the most critical requirement for improving employee engagement. In the next article on leadership we will begin a series focusing on the skills and traits of good leaders.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.