Playing to Win

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employee engagement

Competitive organizations need to engage their people in a way that focuses on performance that matters to the enterprise. Here’s how by Jim Shaffer


16 Communication World • March–April 2009

ncreasing employee engagement during an economic downturn is akin to tuning up your car so it runs on eight cylinders instead of six. The car performs much more effectively and efficiently with the additional power. Understood correctly, engagement can improve performance, quality and productivity. Engagement is not a synonym for involvement, although involvement is required in order for people to become engaged. Engagement isn’t the same as employee satisfaction either. Employee satisfaction is about happiness. Employees can be happy while they put the company out of business. Engagement is not a program, an event or something you get from a motivational speaker. Engagement enables improved performance around things that matter to a business. It’s a condition where employees are willing and able to help their organization win. Our day-today client work, as well as research performed by the Gallup organization and my former employer, Towers Perrin, proves that engaged employees are more profitable, more customerfocused, safer and more likely to stay with their employer. Companies that focus engagement efforts on specific performance goals have seen significant improvements, with as


When people know how they’ll benefit from their individual and collective actions, they’ll work to help the organization win.

Communication World • March–April 2009



employee engagement

much as 1,500 percent returns on their investments. Engagement has three components:

Companies that focus engagement efforts on specific performance goals have seen significant improvements, with as much as 1,500 percent returns on their investments.

People share the organization’s values and identify with its purpose. This is often called ●

cognitive identity.
People have an emotional attachment to the company.

They’re proud of their relationship with it.
People are willing to go the extra mile to make the organization a success. When they’re ●

confronted by options on how to act, they’ll choose the course of action that best meets the organization’s operating or financial goals. They go out of their way, in part, because they know they’ll share in the gains they create. This is often referred to as discretionary effort. There is a significant opportunity to improve operating and

financial performance through increased engagement worldwide. Most research shows that only about a fourth of the employees in North America are engaged and that engagement levels elsewhere are low but vary widely. A study of one of our global clients revealed that only 56 percent of its employees were engaged. That’s the equivalent of operating at only 56 percent capacity. The CEO of our client company told his leadership team, “We’re paying our people full market price but only getting 56 percent of their capacity. We have two choices. Continue to operate at less than capacity or lead these people in a way that increases that capacity. This is a no-brainer.” While it may be too much to expect 100 percent engagement, low scores may—and probably do—reveal opportunities to

improve performance by doing a better job of leading people.

Inside an engaged organization
When people are engaged, they are proud of their company, believe it is customer-focused and want it to succeed. They understand how their role fits in the organization and contributes to a greater good. They have opportunities to collaborate with others and to learn and grow, and have confidence in their leaders. They believe they have the right amount of decision-making authority and that pay is fair. How communication is managed is critical to creating this environment. It plays four...
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