At Last We're Engaged – Leading Your Team (Part 1)

CoachStation: Leadership and Employee Engagement

Is employee engagement relevant in today‘s workforce?

I would suggest more significant than ever with the ‘war for talent‘ escalating, technology providing a seemingly endless stream of information and contact with new job opportunities being more accessible than ever.

What is employee engagement? Simply, it is how well an employee is fully involved in his or her role and the desire in meeting business interests, outcomes and goals.

Employee Engagement is the extent to which employee commitment, both emotional and intellectual, exists relative to accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organisation. Engagement can be seen as a heightened level of ownership where each employee wants to do whatever they can for the benefit of their internal and external customers, and for the success of the organization as a whole…Thus engagement is distinctively different from employee satisfaction, motivation and organisational culture. (1)

Although employee engagement has strong alignment to emotional connection and the level of commitment an employee applies to their work setting, clearly there are other variables and contributors. Whilst acknowledging the myriad influences, the key focus of this blog is the alignment between leadership and employee engagement.

Is there a link between effective leadership and employee engagement? Evidence supporting this theme is provided through various surveys and related commentaries, with results displaying a high proportion of employees leave their role primarily due to their relationship with their immediate leader and/or the broader leadership team.

An organization’s senior leadership team has a significant impact on its employees‘ overall opinions of the company and engagement levels, which have been linked to both earnings per share and total shareholder return.

A strong organizational leadership team has a significant impact on its employees’ engagement levels. Employee engagement is the extent to which employees are motivated to contribute to organizational success, and are willing to apply discretionary effort to accomplishing tasks important to the achievement of organizational goals. Engaged employees favorably rate their pride in their organization, willingness to recommend it as a place to work and their overall job satisfaction. Additionally, employees with positive opinions of their leadership team state a higher intention to stay with the organization versus those who are dissatisfied. Those who favorably rate their leadership teams are also much more likely to have confidence in the organization’s future and feel that they have a promising future with the company. (2)

An ability for an employee to relate to and understand their ‘place‘ within the workplace and sustaining a connection with the business to a level that an employee is willing to provide heightened discretionary effort above the base, are both relevant. In contrast, a disengaged employee can be extremely damaging to the business by reducing the morale and engagement of those they work with.

Supporting this concept, workplace management consultant, Tony Wilson claims that, Ninety per cent of employees who resign are leaving because of poor managers, not their job… when an employee resigns, many managers point the finger at reasons beyond their immediate control. In most cases they should point it straight at themselves. Most managers spend too much time on operations, systems, strategy, products and services. While these are important pieces in the performance puzzle, they spend relatively little time developing their people – their greatest competitive advantage. (3)

Employee engagement is neither static nor linear. As is the case when dealing with most people-based situations, engagement can and does fluctuate, depending on current situations and assumed future circumstance – and it is absolutely related to what has happened in the past, as understood and perceived by each individual.

An employee who is fully engaged today will not necessarily be in a year‘s time, or in a month for that matter.

Employee engagement can never be taken for granted. As a leader it is imperative CoachStation: What Should Leaders Do with Their Greatest Asset?that engagement levels of each person are assessed and reviewed regularly, along with that of the team as a whole and aligned with development plans and coaching sessions.

Positive morale, team-spirit, enhanced commitment and other elements have input into and are an output of strong employee engagement. However a key hypothesised advantage for any business is the link with improved financial results. Employee engagement is also a leading indicator of financial performance. The world’s top-performing organizations understand that employee engagement is a force that drives performance outcomes. In the best organizations, engagement is more than a human resources initiative — it is a strategic foundation for the way they do business. Research by Gallup and others shows that engaged employees are more productive. They are more profitable, more customer-focused, safer, and more likely to withstand temptations to leave. The best-performing companies know that an employee engagement improvement strategy linked to the achievement of corporate goals will help them win in the marketplace. (4)

Many articles and blogs debate the link between engagement and financial performance, however my experience has shown that an engaged employee makes the choice to provide more input and related outputs as a result of their level of engagement. In a broader sense, profitability is not only a financial measurement in the business-world, but is also identified with benefits such as personal fulfillment, self-esteem and contribution to society. In the business environment at the very least reduced turnover/attrition costs can be one positive financial gain. There is also a level of contribution and a ‘halo‘ effect on those who work with the engaged employee, with higher rates of sharing, peer-training / coaching and overall contribution to not only the individual‘s outputs but that of the team.

This leads to the point that application, credibility and skills of leaders are also paramount. A recent survey in Australia found that 40% of employees describe the management skills of the person they report to as average or below. The analysis underlined that there is a perception gap between how managers rate their own skills and how employees rate the skills of their manager, with 38% of managers stating they consistently lead by example, however only 20% of employees agree. In addition, 41% of managers say they consistently show interest in their staffs problems, however only 23% of employees agree. (5)

The ultimate situation occurs when a primarily engaged team works so well together that they ‘punch above their weight‘, where for example, a team of six operates like a team of seven or eight in terms of comparative contribution. On the contrary a disengaged employee (or team) displays obvious signs regarding both inputs (contribution) and outputs, which are quite clearly reduced compared to others contribution or how that employee may have been engaged previously.

So, if employee engagement is so important for a business and its employees, what is it that makes an employee stay in their role as opposed to seeking other opportunities? As mentioned earlier, an employee‘s relationship and connection with their immediate manager is critical. Emotional Intelligence, relationship-building skills and the ability to build a connection across many personalities, cultures, values and individual needs is essential to effective leadership.

Simply talking about these traits and skills is not enough.

What have been your experiences with companies you have worked for or with? Does engaging your team and employees really matter?

References
1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employee_engagement

2. Does an Organization‘s Leadership Really Affect Employee Satisfaction?  Kenexa research Institute accessed via: business.salary.com

3. Working With, Not For The Boss: CareerOne

4. Employee Engagement: A Leading Indicator of Financial Performance

5. Bad Managers Adding To Skills Shortage: CareerOne

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