Leadership and Employee Engagement

Ensuring they have an engaged workforce is becoming more and more challenging for organizations to-day. Employees feel engaged when they are motivated and supported in their work and feel they are contributing to and have a stake in the success of their organisation.

Why are employers so intent to ensure they have an engaged workforce? A study by the Institute on Employment Studies on the service-profit chain entitled “From People to Profits,” indicates that an increase in employee engagement has a considerable influence on sales, both directly and indirectly; through increasing customers’ satisfaction with the quality of service provided to them.

The January 2003 issue of the Harvard Business Review highlighted substantial research conducted on workforce motivation throughout the years and revealed consistent findings that emphasized the need for employees to become fully engaged in their work in order for the organization to achieve high levels of employee commitment.

Leadership plays a vital role in influencing levels of employee engagement. To-days environment makes the work of leaders that much more difficult. In her most recent book – Perseverance (Berrett-Koehler, 2010), Margaret Wheatley writes about tenacity in the face of adversity; it is written explicitly for people dedicated to organizational leadership and change, who have suddenly found their work much more difficult.

Wheatley points out that “everyone is working harder, and in most cases, in greater isolation. The current pace of work and life, along with increasing fear and anxiety, make it more difficult to have the energy and enthusiasm to keep going”. BMC has worked for many years to bring ‘community’ to the business sector and ‘business’ to the community sector, so I find great resonance when Wheatley says that “in a time like this, of economic and emotional distress, every organization needs leaders who can help people regain their capacity, energy, and desire to contribute, and this is only accomplished when people work together in community, not in isolation.

The old models of command and control are not effective in a changing, volatile environment. The old style leads to a destructive cycle where people look for someone to blame – so leaders blame their employees, and employees blame their leaders. A climate of blame leads to self-protective behaviors, people take fewer risks; creativity and participation disappear. New rules and regulations appear, with unintended but predictable consequences; more staff disengagement, more wasted time and more fear.

Based on an interview with Margaret Wheatley, in ‘Strategy and Business’ – November 22, 2011.

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Good Communication - Good Performance

There has been a lot of talk recently about party political leaders and their communication capability.

Longford Westmeath TD Mary O' Rourke says she believes backbenchers in Fianna Fail can still be reassured by the Taoiseach, if he improves his communication skills.

Journalist Eamon Dunphy said “Enda Kenny doesn’t have great communication skills, but if you look through history you will see that Clement Attlee was a great prime minister, but had no charisma and no communication skills.

So is there a link between a leaders communication capability and their organisations performance.

Yes! is the answer.

A recent study by Watson Wyatt, the HR consulting firm, shows that companies that communicate effectively had a 47% higher return to shareholders over a five-year period (mid-2004 to mid-2009).

The study identified 3 headings for more effective communication: Courage, Innovation and Discipline.

Courage Tell it like it is.  Shielding people from bad news is akin to treating them like children; it says they are not “grown up” enough to handle the truth.  So why do companies do it?  Often they feel employees will lose heart and then under-perform.  The study showed the opposite.  Tell your people what they need to know and they will reward you with greater trust and solid performance.

Innovation Many companies are experiencing significant change in their industries.  The status quo is not an option.  If you wait for the future to unfold before you innovate – you will be too late.  Innovation and R&D must never stop.  Invite your people to participate in creative problem solving, re-thinking your business model, streamlining your activities, and continually challenging the status quo.  Ask – could there be a better way?

Discipline Have a clear strategic plan – and measure the execution of your strategic plan in real time.  Effective companies have strategic plans that all their people know and can easily understand.  They clearly communicate their strategic position and brand promise.  Sadly, many companies don’t have clear strategies, nor do they know how to effectively communicate them to their people (– is it any wonder their customers are confused?).  Their people are given direction without context.  They are told “what” to do but not “why”.  Communicating the “why” is important if you want to fully engage your people.

Companies/countries whose leaders communicate with courage, innovation and discipline during this period of economic challenge and change will be more effective at engaging their employees/citizens and will be better positioned to succeed in an uncertain future.

Based on a report published by Watson Wyatt Worldwide: Capitalizing on Effective Communication. How Courage, Innovation and Discipline Drive Business Results in Challenging Times (2009/2010).

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