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Two Vital Steps For Fixing Your Employee Engagement Problem

If everyone felt the same level of investment in the company, surely no one would be disengaged. Here’s how to make that a reality.

Two Vital Steps For Fixing Your Employee Engagement Problem
[Photo: Flickr user Sebastiaan ter Burg]

Recently I was working with a Chief Human Resources Officer from a large Fortune 500 company and, a little frustrated, she asked me for some ideas around employee engagement. Not surprisingly, this is a topic that has come up quite frequently as I’ve spoken with executives around the world.

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Last year, Gallup released a report showing that seven out of 10 workers in America are either not engaged or are actively disengaged in their work. So why do companies care if their employees are engaged? According to Gallup, “companies with engaged workforces have higher earnings per share (EPS) and seem to have recovered from the recession at a faster rate.”

While it’s clear to see why every company should have a focus on employee engagement, it’s easier said than done. Research group Bersin reported that organizations spend some $720 million per year on employee engagement, and yet a Harvard Business Review survey found that only 24% of executives feel their employees are highly engaged. That’s a lot of money being spent with little results. So what’s broken?

Millions are being spent to help employees feel valued, from year-end bonuses to frozen eggs. But what if companies focused more on helping employees create value?

Your most engaged employees think and act like owners of the business. And if you do the following two things really well, then you’ll be on the right path to creating an engaged workforce that wins in the marketplace.

1. Focus On Purpose

One of my favorite TED Talks is by Simon Sinek on how great leaders inspire action. He makes the case that all great leaders “start with ‘Why,’” which is the purpose or belief behind the actions we take. Stephen R. Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, promoted the same idea with his habit of beginning with the end in mind. While this isn’t a new idea, it was certainly sidelined during the global financial crisis.

When employees are connected to the company’s mission on an individual level, they feel inspired and motivated to go to work in the morning. Challenges that arise at work are handled with a much different attitude, because that underlying purpose brings those obstacles into perspective.

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In short, people will work hard for a paycheck, harder for a person, and hardest for a purpose.

To put this theory into practice:

  • Have each of your employees write their own “Why” or mission statements.
  • Discuss the company-wide mission statement and how each member of the team fits into and helps fulfill that mission.

2. Connect To The Bottom Line

At my firm, Acumen Learning, we have surveyed over 20,000 people in 30 different countries and found that 90% of employees don’t understand important business measures. How can you expect employees to act like owners of the business when they don’t understand how the company is performing and the actions they can personally take to impact the bottom line?

The problem isn’t that they don’t care. In fact, individuals want to become more effective and valuable, to secure their seat at the table and influence decisions, and to impact company performance. They want to use their full potential to help their business make money, fulfill its potential, and sustain profitable growth.

As you help your employees understand how their day-to-day decisions impact the bottom line, they will not only see more value in their work, but will also work on the things that really count. To do this:

  • Have your employees list the ways they can personally impact the bottom line. Anything that reduces costs or increases sales is a good starting point to increasing profit.
  • Discuss the three or four business measures (anything from sales to inventory turnover) that are most important in your organization and how you are performing around those metrics.

The bottom line is, your employees don’t actually need ownership in the company to think and act like owners–what they need is business acumen. Whether you are the executive of a Fortune 500 company or manage a small team, as you help your employees focus on their purpose and understand how their day-to-day decisions connect to the bottom line, they will be more engaged in producing sustainable results.

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Kevin Cope is the author of the No. 1 best-seller Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career, and Company and the Founder and CEO of Acumen Learning (the leader in business acumen training). Kevin’s clients include 18 of the Fortune 50.