Okay, I have three numbers for you – or percentages I should say – 30, 13 and 70. According to a recent study conducted by Gallup, 30 percent of U.S. employees are actively engaged in their job.
Mull that over for a moment. That means seven out of ten folks around you will probably do enough to earn their paycheck, and nothing more. Sure, they’ll get the job done, but are by no means driven to go above and beyond in their work.
Employee Engagement – How Do You Measure Up?
Sounds pretty bad, right? Well that’s actually quite better than employee engagement worldwide, which sits at a dismal 13 percent. Thirty is starting to sound good … Don’t fret though, there’s still one more number: 70. Management is shown to account for 70 percent of variance in employee engagement.
The tone set by leadership is shown to systematically carry throughout the company and directly influences engagement. If you can manage to get the right person in the role, that 30 percent engagement can be driven considerably higher. Management is the key.
Focus and approach
I’ve witnessed the effect that management has on engagement firsthand. In a former life (or so it feels), I was a sales manager for a big box electronics retailer. The biggest driver of profitability, by and large, was television sales. The TV by itself has a high profit margin, but when you add accessories, cables, surge protectors, Blu-ray players and audio, profits can soar. These stores live and die by the success of their TV department.
As you can probably guess, sales managers place a great deal of focus and investment on their salespeople – developing their talents, honing their skills and teaching them how to educate and connect with customers. While the underlying focus is often the same from manager to manager, approach can vary wildly.
Inaction in action
I recall one manager in particular and his method of “talent development.” Employees would regularly approach him after a sale, proud of their accomplishment, and looking for a little approval and encouragement. His response was typically a back-handed compliment: “Nice, I see that you sold an HDMI cable, you should have sold the surge protector too,” or, “Great, they purchased home theater surround-sound with the TV, why didn’t you sell professional installation?” No praise went without criticism; no good deed went unpunished.
In his mind, he was placing the bar higher and higher – helping his salespeople strive to be the best and reach a standard of excellence. It worked in a few cases. More often than not however, employees disengaged, confident that they could never do enough to satisfy. They could never reach their goals, because they were always reestablished right before they were met.
It’s all relative
I always did my best to encourage performance through individual achievement rather than a single standard of excellence. The biggest difference between these two methods is the approach towards goal setting. The first method establishes a measure for greatness, and produces an all or nothing mentality. In the words of Jedi Master Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Maybe this works in the Marine Corps boot camp, professional sports and the Jedi Academy, but it’s not a prudent approach for an every-day Middle America workforce.
The other method takes a little longer, but is much more productive. We have to first take stock of an employee’s skill set and potential, and then work with them to establish a “next level.” Something that they can own; something on their terms. If we view performance as falling somewhere on a continuum, focus moves to direction and momentum. Not just good or bad, but getting better or getting worse. As long as we can keep consistently ticking along upwards, slow and steady will often win the race.
In a previous blog post, we took a look at employee engagement and how management’s approach to engagement can effect job performance. In a perfect world, all of your credit union’s employees would be firing on all cylinders, all the time. But how realistic is that? Some people will be consistent top-performers, while others show up just for the paycheck. The trick is to take the paycheck people, and inspire them; inspire them on their own terms. This isn’t done by setting an all or nothing standard of excellence, but by individual goal-setting and creating a method of achievement.
Here are some key elements of goal-setting, and creating a means of success in any situation:
- Motivation – The work that a person performs is a direct reflection of who they are as an individual – this is the psychological component of achievement. Motivation can be the hardest, or the easiest part, but is certainly the most foundational. Communicating a person’s role, why it is important and how it contributes to the larger picture can instill a sense of ownership over a process or procedure. If the situation allows, consider getting your employees involved in the decision-making process or, at the very least, allow them to voice their input.
- SMART Goals – This was first developed by George Duran in the early ‘80s, and focuses on setting the right goals. According to the acronym, goals should be Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic and Time-related. While the motivation component focuses primarily on the employee, this component is more driven by management. It’s important to allow the employee to contribute to the definition of achievement, but management has to make certain that the end product leads to a healthy bottom line.
- Consistency – Anything worth doing, is worth doing right; and consistently! Upkeep is the duty of all parties involved and encompasses nearly all facets at your company. Motivation is a spark that needs to be maintained and fanned until it becomes a fire, and then fanned some more. Situations and projects need to be reassessed and readdressed to make sure that they are consistently on track. None of these things matter if they are introduced and executed only once. Engagement is an ongoing and dynamic process that needs to be sustained in order for it to translate into performance.
- Leading – It’s not always about where you are, but where you are going. Trajectory and momentum are crucial to the process, especially when goals are near completion. We should always keep an eye on the obstacles ahead so that when our goals are met, we’re ready to meet the next challenge.
In terms of employee engagement, it all boils down to the classic negative versus positive reinforcement argument. Negative reinforcement leads to avoidance – employees will typically do as much as necessary to avoid reproach, and stop right there. When your employees are driven by achievement, they are much more likely to go above and beyond. While simple recognition of good work can certainly help, the effects are often fleeting. For lasting performance and production, a true driving force, we need to enhance employee engagement and tap into something more constant. A structured means of achievement can be just that.
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