Four Steps to Massive Levels of Employee Engagement

Every day each one of your employees gets up to go to work and they have a choice. They can show up and do the bare minimum, just what they have to do to get by, running on that hamster wheel. Or, they can give you every single thing they’ve got – and then some. How an employee is treated and the culture in which they’re being asked to do their job has a major bearing on the choice they make.

Employee engagement expert, best-selling author, and Top 101 Global Employee Engagement Influencer Jill Christensen is one of the most in-demand, top-rated female speakers on the international circuit these days. During a recent WorkTango webinar Christensen looked at why employee engagement rates are stagnant and how to move the needle.

When employees are engaged it means they trust senior leaders and they feel an emotional connection to their organization.

There are reams of data that show us engaged workers sell more. They’re more productive. They provide better customer service. They make fewer mistakes. They stay longer. They’re more creative. And they’re great brand ambassadors.

According to Christensen, organizations in the top 10 percentile of employee engagement outperform their peers 147% on earnings per share and are growing at a rate that’s 90% faster than their competition. Yet in spite of all this data, the vast majority of organizations around the world are failing.

How bad are they failing? Gallup started conducting an annual fall “State of the American Workplace” survey about three decades ago. Over that time the needle has moved just five points in thirty years. The data we have today is the same as it was in 2008, in 1998, in 1988. Gallup’s findings tell us in the U.S. 65% of employees are disengaged. In Canada, 60% of employees are disengaged. And around the globe, only 13% of employees are engaged. To emphasize how dismal that is, if 65% of your employees are engaged, you’re actually best in class. It makes you a rock star. That’s how low the bar is set. But if you score 65% on a test, you’re a borderline failure.

What do disengaged employees do all day? They tend to walk around the office space. They tend to distract lots of other employees. They engage in office politics. Disengaged workers are most often the people who are regularly absent. Some will write a scathing review of your organization on a social media website like Glassdoor.

Although companies are spending billions of dollars and C-suite executives say poor engagement threatens their bottom line, Christensen’s research indicates organizations continue to cling to outdated methodologies that simply don’t work. The most popular of these is that they mistakenly think they can outsource employee engagement to human resources and magically achieve extraordinary results.

levels of employee engagement - who owns employee engagament

How to engage leaders

Executives love numbers. You don’t get to be in the corner office without knowing a thing or two about numbers. To muster their supportive muscle, gather all of the data together that shows the correlation between levels of employee engagement and profitable revenue growth, increased customer satisfaction, increased retention. These things will get executives to stand up and take notice. This data exists in droves. It’s all over the web. If you google “what are the benefits of having engaged employees” you’re going to see data popping up from hundreds of reputable organizations. Put some of those data pieces together. Share it with your CEO. A savvy leader is going to get it, and they’re going to agree to champion your employee engagement strategy.

Once your CEO is on board, management involvement is the next step. Your CEO or senior leader needs to hold a manager town-hall meeting and communicate specific actions that should be taken to drive massive levels of employee engagement.

Four key areas that meet innate needs, engage, and inspire

After extensive exposure to the Fortune 500 world, Christensen honed in on four areas that she believed would drive massive levels of employee engagement. “If we could reengage 35,000 employees in 55 countries, in an old-school telecommunications company that was political, hierarchical and bureaucratic, you can absolutely reengage the employees in your firm,” Christensen assures, noting that with the CEO of this telecommunications company leading the charge, “in one year, employee engagement increased 12 points and stock rose 26%.”

What are those four areas?

1. Get the right person in every chair

Employees want to work for a company whose leaders have the competence and courage to make great hiring decisions and to remove people from the organization who are threatening to sink the boat. Most managers hire for a job-skills fit. Huge mistake. Managers have got to be hiring for a values match. Because when a person’s individual values align with your organization’s values, that employee instantly feels an emotional connection to your organization. They don’t even know it’s happening. It’s subconscious. And their engagement instantly starts to click. Hiring for alignment with your own values as a manager is important too – things like accountability, fun, innovation. Those things describe “who we are and how we do things here.”

If you have people in your organization who have a toxic attitude or who are incompetent in their job to the point that everyone around them is having to pick up the weight – and you’ve tried to develop them and they’ve failed their development plan – these people, Christensen stresses, need to be terminated. Not moved from one department to another. Because if they’re not changing and there’s inaction on management’s part, active disengagement is brewing. Other people are thinking to themselves, why isn’t leadership doing anything about this? Managers have got to have the confidence and courage to remove these people from the organization.

2. Goal alignment

Employees want to work for a company where their goals are aligned with the mission, vision and values of their employer. Where they feel like they’re making a difference, they feel like they’re adding value, they feel like they’re connecting to something bigger than themselves. The easiest way to do this is goal alignment. Your CEO’s goals need to cascade out to the entire organization; then every individual goal in the company needs to be written in support of these goals.

When everyone has objectives based on the CEO’s goals two things happen, says Christenson. “One, you’re all marching arm in arm together towards the same north star. And two, you’re going to make serious progress because when everyone is working towards achieving the same goals, that’s when your organization is going to have success. This causes people to engage.”

Along with goal alignment, align feedback to the moment rather than annual management performance reviews. No manager should wait until a formal meeting to tell someone they did something well or poorly.

levels of employee engagement - collaboration

3. Build a two-way communication culture

Employees want to have a say at work and want their voices to be heard. Christensen points to the emerging workforce to make her point. Currently, 50% of workers in the world are millennials. By the year 2025, 75% of workers will be millennials and Gen Zs. These people are accustomed to a bombardment of communications.  It’s not okay if they join your company and hear from the CEO once a year. Or from their manager once a month. Or no one asks them what they think. That drives active disengagement.

Weekly staff meetings are a must. But rather than take charge, managers would do well to appoint somebody on the team, each week, to run the meeting. Christensen explains that when you pass the reins off to an employee you’ve basically said to that person, “I trust you. Run with this.”

Christensen also recommends assigning a quarterly question for every manager to ask during one-on-one conversations with each member of their team. A great question to start the quarterly habit might be: What do you love about your job and what do you dislike about your job?

And when it comes to making decisions that affect team members, inclusivity is crucial. Give people a say. Ask for input. Use pulse surveys, staff meetings, one-on-ones, focus groups and casual conversations.  Then, when a decision is reached, thank everyone for their input. Let them know their voice was heard by explaining what decision was made and why. That decision will land on people so much better because they’ll know their manager didn’t just go into a corner office and make it on their own. They leveraged people’s thoughts and opinions.

4. Recognize people

Employees want to be recognized and appreciated for a job well done. Create a culture of “rampant recognition,” where your managers are recognizing people constantly and where employees have the opportunity to recognize one another constantly too.

  • Create an Intranet “wall of honour” or “wall of fame” where people can post the amazing things that individual contributors and teams are doing.
  • When somebody joins your team – on their first day – put together a zoom video conference or, if you’re working live, give that person a standing ovation for being a part of your team.
  • If somebody does an amazing thing set up a video call and have everyone on the team show up in the various quadrants, clapping. Applauding, calling out “bravo.”

These simple kinds of things let your people know they work for a company that gets it. They acknowledge people. They appreciate people. They recognize people.

Be deliberate in creating a workplace culture that meets people’s needs. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a culture by chance, mediocre at best. And mediocrity doesn’t drive business results.

Put people first.

Believe employees are your greatest asset.

And partner with other people in your organization to champion this.

As the title of Christensen’s latest book reads, “If not you, who?

Additional Resources

Check out our guides on workplace culture, employee engagement, and employee surveys. Learn about every aspect of a successful employee voice initiative!

WORKPLACE GUIDES

Read great blog posts on workplace culture, remote training, employee engagement, employee surveys and other great workplace topics.

WORKPLACE BLOG

Watch the webinar that inspired the article: So, You Think HR Owns Employee Engagement? Think Again

Webcast

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