Employee engagement is one of the number one areas of focus for senior leaders. Why? Because engaged employees are more productive, more likely to stay, more likely to provide great customer service, more likely to enjoy the work they do. All of that impacts the bottom line, so it’s no surprise that it’s a focus for businesses to create a culture of engaged employees.
Driving employee engagement requires commitment, focus, and effort from senior leaders in a company. The reward for this investment is business profitability and success. A report from Harvard Business Review found that companies focused on growth counted employee engagement as a top three business priority. The Harvard survey found that while 71 percent of managers considered high levels of employee engagement to be a key factor in their organization’s success, only 24 percent of those managers described their employees as “highly engaged.” Gallup tracks levels of employee engagement monthly. In March of 2016, engagement hit a new high of 34.1 percent, but by May it slipped back down to 32.7 percent.
Given high levels of employee disengagement, how can companies create conditions to change this condition? Executives in the HBR survey reported that there are eight key factors in successfully driving employee engagement.
Most Impactful Employee Engagement Drivers
- Recognition Given for High Performers
This action was considered the most important driver of employee engagement by the executives surveyed. This is something that does not have to be complicated or expensive to implement. For example, legal records management company, Legal Monkeys, created an “appreciation board.” This simple glass frame is a place where staff members can write a note of appreciation to co-workers who then display the board on their desk until they pass it on to another colleague. At the Campbell Soup Company, former CEO Doug Conant wrote more than 30,000 personal thank you notes to employees at all levels referencing specific accomplishments. At both companies these simple gestures of recognition helped create high-engagement cultures.
- Individuals Have Clear Understanding of How Job Contributes to Strategy
Willie Pietersen, a professor at Columbia Business School described the importance of business leaders ensuring their employees understand how their work is aligned with their company’s strategy. If senior management just tells people how to do their jobs and not why their work matters, they will have a disengaged workforce, low productivity, and difficulty achieving those goals.
- Senior Leadership Continually Updates/Communicates Strategy
Quicken Loans is an example of a company that has built a highly-engaged workforce. They’ve placed in the top 30 of Fortune magazine’s 100 best companies to work for list for 11 consecutive years. The chairman and founder updates a book with the company’s values every year and then ensures that every employee knows both how they should guide decision making and what resulting behaviors will be rewarded. Also, the chairman and the CEO together lead orientation for all new hires.
- Business Goals Communicated Company-Wide and Understood
When everyone in a company clearly understands the company’s business goals, not just the C-suite, employees trust leadership and are more engaged with their work. Doug Conant demonstrated the power of this approach in an earlier role as vice president of marketing at Nabisco. There he set and communicated goals to achieve record growth in three years and set targets across 12 quarters. As the company achieved the goal each quarter, employee trust and engagement grew. Thus, they met the overall goal in two years instead of three.
- Individual Staff Goals Aligned with Corporate Goals
Even when employees understand the company’s business goals, understanding how their individual work connects to accomplishing those goals can remain abstract. Clearly connecting individual staff goals with corporate goals creates purpose and engagement for workers. Southwest Airlines embraces this approach, allowing it to successfully survive economic shocks like rising fuel prices or travel slumps after events like the September 11th attacks.
- Assessments and Performance Reviews Aligned with Corporate Goals
In addition to ensuring employees understand a company’s goals, their performance should be measured by how well they meeting expectations from this perspective. Rather than relying on an annual performance review, companies that drive engagement provide continuous feedback and coaching to reinforce strategic alignment.
- Some or All Staff Pay Linked to Corporate Achievement
Pay in and of itself is not a factor in how engaged employees are. Research from Deloitte found that as long as workers perceive compensation as fair and adequate, increasing pay does not drive increased engagement. Where pay does serve as a motivator and engagement factor is when workers see themselves as partners in achieving their company’s goals and their behavior is measured, evaluated, and rewarded on that basis. These performance rewards should be carefully crafted to encourage desired behavior. Problems can arise when linking pay to specific outputs or outcomes because it discourages reaching for stretch goals and only meeting minimum standards.
- Training and Development Organized Around Corporate Goals
Claire Kirk of talent management software company, BirdDogHR makes a case that training should align employee goals with company strategies. When training is specific and relevant in this way, workers understand how their development results in opportunities for career and business growth.
The reality is that happy employees are engaged employees, and engaged employees are productive employees. Productive, engaged employees play a big role in business profitability and success. Investing in these eight drivers of engagement can pay enormous dividends for committed leaders.