Employee Management – A Big Thing?

A few years ago, I had just finished participating in a video conference with a larger SME that was reviewing its three-year strategic growth plan. While waiting for a missing document to be found and distributed, the regional managers began discussing the topic of ‘the magic of one’; one thing over and above all other factors that has the greatest influence on business success. Suggestions came fast and furious with varying degrees of passion and commitment, including:

  • Working capital
  • Marketing
  • Product selection
  • R&D
  • Staff selection
  • Workforce skills
  • Management competencies
  • Customer service

Eventually, I was asked to contribute. Logically and historically, no one thing can be proven to be head and shoulders above all other success factors. But when pushed for an opinion, I eventually proclaimed employee engagement as being a significant stand-alone success factor.

Naturally what followed were the usual responses:

  • It’s an intangible
  • It’s immeasurable
  • It’s vague
  • It’s almost always counter to current culture
  • It’s too hard to implement and manage
  • It causes more problems than it solves

These responses were not from uninformed idiots. I had respect for this management team; they had achieved (and continue to achieve) impressive targets. Nevertheless, their responses reflected widely held views about employee engagement (EE) at that time.

In my experience, not one of the above-listed negatives is comprehensively accurate. The language of employee engagement got a foothold in the nineties and became the buzz words of the early naughties. Yet many entities in Australian commerce have still not been massive participants, which is a great ignominy given the benefits of embracing it.

Employee Engagement is personal ownership without holding any actual shareholding! It manifests a sense of personal value; an employee whose opinion is regularly sought and considered feels both respected and valued.

It’s truly amazing how many great ideas and solutions employees have. Employees are the intellectual silent majority in that they rarely volunteer their recommendations because they rarely receive genuine acknowledgement for them.

While the take-up rate of employee engagement has greatly improved, and some organisations have successfully adopted the theory, applied the principles and embraced the practices, there remain far too many workplaces that are reluctant.

Let me be absolutely clear here, employee engagement is not always easy to incorporate into an established culture, but for those organisations courageous enough to tackle it, the dividends can be huge.

Let me give just two actual examples of effective employee engagement.

The first one is perhaps the most common; a simple idea that contributed to a significant increase in productivity and profitability. It is a medium-size production line manufacturer that had certain components provided by various external suppliers. The long-established practise of requiring two complete production line circuits just to accomplish the finished product was questioned by a new employee.

Let me give you a bit more background. As part of establishing an employee engagement environment, they held weekly factory floor brainstorming meetings where past agenda items were reviewed and new items were discussed. As part of creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace culture a relatively new and reasonably inexperienced team member was asked to contribute his opinion. His initial reluctance was obvious; he did not want to be judged as a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ trying to be the expert. He eventually asked why; a certain item (originally sourced from an external supplier) got so far along the line before being taken off, and sent to another external entity for further completion work before rejoining the production line, could not be acquired as a completed item from an alternate supplier? Put simply, this led to a comprehensive review of the entire process and resulted in a single circuit product finish resulting in enormous time and resource-saving.

The second example happened when a long-standing staff member, of a well-energised sales team of a high tech medical equipment company, became the regular poorest performer of the team. After numerous attempts to rectify the situation, it was determined (by consensus within the team) that her attitude and approach were detrimental to the teams’ overall wellbeing. Nothing particularly unusual about that, but the solution was somewhat abnormal. Such was the members’ individual pride in their team, and the material sense of combined ownership, that rather than treating the errant colleague with disregard or worse, the team set about finding an alternative employment opportunity that provided a more suitable and convenient option for their workmate. It worked! This was a genuine win/win and further strengthened their resolve to believe that together they could achieve almost anything; a powerful mindset and a huge benefit to their employer.

Time alone restricts me from providing many other examples of mutually advantageous outcomes for management and staff when participating in employee engagement activities.

As acknowledged above, creating an employee engagement emphasis is not without its challenges, in both staff ranks and management.

For management, there are usually many paradigm obstacles to overcome. It’s can be a lack of subordinate respect, or devaluation of a team that is present. More perceived logistical concerns can quickly surface. Matters of access, confidentiality, trust, time and additional resources are often raised as obstacles.

Similarly for staff; matters of authenticity, mutual respect among themselves, trust, repercussions, actual value, communication channels, policy longevity (or lack thereof), and a fair share of unrewarded outstanding gains are typically raised.

So given the above, why am I so convinced that EE is ‘the one thing’? Because when it is a genuinely held and passionately driven paradigm of senior management, and it is properly implemented and maintained by all stakeholders, then I am yet to find a comparable impact on success.

In conclusion, this content remains a minimal covering of what Employee Engagement look like, but I hope it has been of interest and some degree of help to you.

Question: Do you have a good example of Employee Engagement that has worked well, or poorly? If so, please share it with us.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Alternatively, I always appreciate constructive comments on Employee Engagement.