There's an apocryphal story about a visitor to the NASA Space Centre in the late 1960s. On his way to see the latest Apollo space module, the visitor fell into conversation with a cleaner who was sweeping the floor of a long corridor. “What do you do here?” asked the visitor. “I'm helping to put a man on the moon” was the reply.
Someone – probably that cleaner's manager or supervisor – had done a wonderful job in con-necting what's often called the “purpose” of the organisation to the daily activities of a person who keeps the house clean and tidy.
If I came into your business today and repeated the question around your office or factory floor, what answer would I get? Would I meet men and women who are clear about the purpose of the business and the significance of what they do? Or would I meet employees who can't see beyond the end of the broomstick or keyboard with no clear view of what your business is about – or indeed why it's exciting for them to be working in it?
A much overused and woefully misunderstood word, “engagement” is a key market differentiator between newer organisations with broadly similar access to people and capital. It's also a marked competitive advantage that helps exceptional and established companies stay exceptional. Leading brands and employers stay leading because high employee engagement drives customer loyalty, retention of key employees, discretionary effort and greater profitability.
Yet our latest global study at BlessingWhite revealed that just 30 per cent of European em-ployees are fully engaged. Take a look around your organisation. Who are the seven out of 10 employees who admit to not being fully engaged? What can you do about it? Where do you start?
Individual employees – you, I and all those we work with – continuously look hard to find purpose and satisfaction in their
Did you join your organisation to increase market share of the AB21d Plus Widget by 12.7 per cent per quarter in emerging and sub-continental markets? Maybe! But I bet you also joined your organisation, and continue to thrive in your job, because of a range of other factors – from excit-ing work, to decent opportunities, to freedom to make your own decisions, to being able to do more of what you're great at. And it's different for each and every one of us.
The mix of these two is the point of engage-ment. Full and sustainable engagement represents an alignment of maximum job satisfaction (“I like my work and do it well”) with maximum job contribution (“I help achieve the goals of my organisation”).
While important, engagement is a complex equation to solve. Many factors that influence engagement may feel out of your control as a leader. If you lead a fast-growing start-up, for example, how do you maintain contact with all employees as the workforce expands from 12 to 120 to 1,200? Too often the strong culture that propelled your initial success gets diluted or the innovative projects that created meaningful work are replaced by maintenance activities and a routine of office bureaucracy.
In larger organisations, employee engagement often becomes a formal initiative. Surveys are run, metrics are benchmarked and task forces are established. If, like many organisations, the initiative stops there, you may actually end up do-ing more harm than good. Our research indicates that employees reporting that their company ran a survey but took no visible action are less likely to be engaged than employees at companies that did nothing at all – and substantially less engaged than employees reporting visible actions across the enterprise.
Start with yourself. What's your equivalent of putting a man on the moon? Often I find that leaders are only too keen to authorise “engage-ment initiatives” (horrible phrase) for others – but do little to work out what they need to do to find maximum satisfaction and maximum contribution for themselves.
Working with the leaders of a global bank re-cently, a room of talented individuals all admitted that they were not as engaged as they should be or wanted to be. Yet their role was to help drive the engagement of others. Start with yourself.
Let me give you some of my thoughts, experi-ence and research on what you might do to put your men and women on the moon.
Individuals: clarity and action
Individual employees need to be clear on their core values and goals. If they don't know what's most important to them, they will not find it in your workplace (or potentially any other).
Employees cannot wait for a tap on the shoulder to signal an exciting project or their next career move. They need to take initiative to build their BlessingWhite defines full engagement as the alignment of maximum job satisfaction and maximum job contribution skill sets, articulate their interests and find opportunities to apply their unique talents to achieve your organisation's goals.
Managers: coaching and relationships
Managers need to understand each team mem-ber's unique interests, talents, and aspirations. They then need to align individuals'passion and proficiencies with organisational priorities and projects. And finally, managers have to keep the dialogue going, providing feedback and course corrections to ensure high performance.
There is also a high correlation between engagement and solid manager-employee re-lationships. The more employees feel they know their managers as people, the more engaged they're likely to be. So managers must drop the veil of their position or title and become known to employees. Managers must monitor and take control of their own personal engagement every day.
Leaders: trust and communication
As a leader in your organisation, you must set the direction that your workforce aligns to, communicate that direction clearly and create a culture that fuels both engagement and business results. You must also fulfil the roles of manager and individual described above. . It's a tall order, one hampered by workforce distrust. In 2010, 51 per cent of employees in Europe trusted senior leaders, compared to 74 per cent who trust their immediate managers. (See box for more on leadership tactics.)
A daily priority
Don't rely on task forces and special action plans. Don't separate engagement as something to ad-dress in addition to the work that must be done. If you lead with results and engagement at the forefront of your mind every day, you'll succeed in creating a more engaged workforce. You'll soon have your own band of men and women helping to get your organisation on the Moon.