Why is employee engagement such an important topic?


By Elisabeth Goodman

My blog on employee engagement (Employee engagement – some interesting data and perspectives for Lean and Six Sigma practitioners) is, of all the blogs that I have written since 2009), the one that has attracted the most attention.  I wrote it in response to an article I read in the business section of the Sunday Observer1 – a very informative study that the Observer had commissioned, rich in case studies and data from FTSE 100 companies.  So why has this blog attracted so much attention?

Employee engagement is the key to organisational and team effectiveness

The Observer article caught my attention because employee engagement, or involvement is intrinsic to business process improvement through such techniques as Lean and Six Sigma.  If people are not engaged, they won’t be committed to the organisation’s goals, won’t be able to communicate those goals as part of building strong customer relations, and won’t be looking for ways to achieve those goals through efficient internal processes.

People also need to be engaged in order to achieve effective business change.  Participants in my Change Management courses sometimes find it a revelation to hear that resistance from those experiencing change is a good thing, something to be welcomed.  Resistance is an indication that people are actually beginning to engage with a change:  that they are considering what the impact will be on them, rather than oblivious to or ignoring it.

And without engagement, people will find it impossible to identify and share the learning and insights, which are essential to healthy and thriving teams and organisations if they are to learn from their mistakes and build on their successes.

As I wrote in the December 2011 version of my RiverRhee Newsletter, “The answer comes from within… with the help of others”, it’s only possible to have an effective team or organisation if people are engaged.  Employees have the key!

‘Empowerment’ and ‘Intrapreneurs’

One of the big themes in my life as a corporate employee was ‘empowerment’: encouraging employees to appreciate and act upon the idea that they had ‘the power’ to make decisions and carry them out without necessarily referring to their managers.

As someone who is now self-employed and runs my own business, the idea of acting otherwise makes no sense at all!  I work in teams in an associate relationship, and we collaborate in our decision-making and actions.  I meet a lot of entrepreneurs, and have often wondered what it would be like if people took an ‘intrapreneurial’ approach to working within organisations.  In a 2010 newsletter (‘Finding our voice’ – a route to greater employee engagement and empowerment?), I suggested that what might help people to do this is to take a more active perspective of their careers – so that they view their current job as one that they have chosen, and are in control of, rather than something that they are being subjected to (to put it a bit bluntly!).

What if there weren’t any managers?!

I really enjoyed reading the case study of Morning Star in the December 2011 edition of Harvard Business Review.2   Hamel describes a leading food processor, with revenues of over $700 million and 400 full-time employees, which functions entirely around the principles of self-management.

At Morning Star, no-one has a manager, each employee negotiates responsibilities with their peers and is responsible for finding the tools that they need for their work, everyone can spend the company money, there are no job titles or promotions, and compensation is decided between peers. The only ‘boss’ is the overall mission of the company.

This model works at Morning Star because it combines an individuals’ responsibility (and freedom) for managing their work within the context of the overall mission, and collaboration between peers to define and review individual roles and expected performance.

The article goes into a lot more detail, but one of the many interesting aspects of this model is that engagement and empowerment are not issues at all in this kind of scenario.  As a result of this approach, every individual inevitably has to:

  1. Use their initiative
  2. Continuously develop their skills to enhance the quality of their work
  3. Display flexibility to respond to the changing environment of the organisation
  4. Work in a collegiate way to fulfill their role in relation to their peers
  5. Make decisions that directly affect their work

These are wonderful illustrations of process improvement / Lean and Six Sigma (1,2,4,5), Change Management (3), and Knowledge Management (2, 4) in practice.

Some final thoughts about thriving

I love my work, and welcome Monday mornings as the start of another week of new discoveries, opportunities to work with others and practice and develop my skills.  I meet many others running their own business that feel the same.  It sounds like the employees at Morning Star may also feel like this.

Another Harvard Business Review article3 suggests that giving employees a chance to learn and grow will help them and the organisation to thrive.  This time the managers are in charge again, but some of the themes re-occur:

  1. Providing employees with the discretion to make decisions directly affecting their work
  2. Ensuring that people have the information they need to understand how their work relates to the organisation’s mission and strategy
  3. Encouraging good (civil) behaviour – positive relationships
  4. Offering performance feedback

The authors suggest that these 4 mechanisms will foster vitality (or energy in individuals and in those with whom they interact), and learning (or growth from new knowledge and skills).

Conclusion

It seems that, unless people are running their own business or are self-managing themselves in an organisation such as Morning Star, employers need to study and support the mechanisms that will enable employee engagement and so help individuals and the organisation to thrive.  We’re obviously not there yet.

Why are you interested in employee engagement? It would be great to read your comments.

Notes

  1. Are more firms listening to their staff or are they just paying lip service? Observer, 22 August 2010, pp38-39
  2. Gary Hamel.  First, let’s fire all the managers. Harvard Business Review, December 2011, pp49-60
  3. Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath.  Creating sustainable performance.  Harvard Business Review, January-February 2012, pp93-99

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

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4 responses to “Why is employee engagement such an important topic?

  1. Employee engagement always keeps your employees motivated, it gives them the feeling of being important in the decision making process of the organization and keeps them full of zeal to keep on learning new things and be productive for the organization.

    I was surfing through the net, & came across an interesting post. http://bit.ly/N2RKHb [Note from Elisabeth Goodman - this reference is to a blog on Sapience's web site - it does have some promotional content.]

    • elisabethgoodman

      Thank you Ruhi. As the ‘interesting reference’ that you refer to is actually on your own site – I thought it only fair to my readers to edit your comment to make them aware of that :-)

  2. Pingback: My 2012 blogs in review | Elisabeth Goodman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Creating and finding those inspirational managers for our teams – a Cambridge Network event | Elisabeth Goodman's Blog

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