A common question we hear from our clients is “So, how do I get employees more engaged?” Before we get too far down the road on this question, let me introduce an analogy for today’s post, which was inspired by a recent tour I took around a client’s impressive heavy equipment sales, parts and service facility.

Your employees are the engine of your company.

The facility I toured included an entire building dedicated to rebuilding engines and other complex systems from the ground up, including machining new parts from scratch if necessary. I saw more computers in the building than wrenches. This level of investment makes sense given the importance of the engine in powering the five, six, and seven-digit dollar priced construction and farming machines that our client sells and services. If the engine isn’t working properly the performance of the whole machine suffers, even if all the other parts are in perfect working order.

The same is true of your company. You may have the best brand, products, and customer friendly processes, but if your employees don’t show up every day ready to put these parts into action, your entire business sputters.

Also, individual employees and teams, like engines, can seem intimidatingly complex. Human systems are difficult to decode, let alone manage; just lifting the hood can be downright scary! So, it’s perfectly understandable that many organizations don’t put the human, “soft” systems at the top of their list of priorities and instead focus on more predictable and manageable aspects of the business. Yet as Parts 1 and 2 of this series addressed, looking past your employees risks leaving a lot of hard business results on the table.

With that in mind, let’s take a deep breath and lift the hood on employee engagement, starting with the basics.

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What is “employee engagement” anyway?

Employee engagement is the degree to which your employees are committed to their roles and likely to be making positive contributions. Having a company full of engaged employees is like having a well maintained engine running smoothly at peak performance.

How do I measure engagement?

This is a good question to ask because before being able to improve your employee engagement scores, you must first measure them. This has traditionally been accomplished via periodic surveys, often administered annually. With that said, in his recent article “It’s Time to Rethink The “Employee Engagement,” Deloitte’s Josh Bersin recommends that employee engagement scores should be measured in real time, similar to real-time NPS and customer feedback systems. In future, perhaps a combination of both approaches may make sense: Take a periodic deep dive, then monitor vital signs more frequently over time.

Getting Employee Feedback

Once you’ve determined how you’ll measure employee engagement, it’s then time to focus on acting on the feedback from your employees. Moving beyond measurement into action is essential: When you administer an employee engagement survey, you set an expectation that once you’ve gathered the feedback, you will read it and then make appropriate changes and improvements.

Make the Changes You Find in Your Employee Feedback

As you work on making changes based on employee feedback, consider becoming familiar with a model of what motivates employees to help you organize and prioritize your efforts. While there are many theories and models out there, I’ll highlight one which has stood the test of time relatively well – the hygiene-motivation model. It suggests there are aspects of jobs and workplaces which could dissatisfy employees if not adequately addressed, including job security, pay, benefits, supervisory practices and work conditions. These are hygiene factors. Separately, motivation factors complement hygiene factors by moving the needle of satisfaction and motivation into positive territory. These include challenging work, recognition, advancement and personal growth.

Let’s take a look at this model using our engine analogy. Hygiene factors are like performing basic engine maintenance – if you don’t change the oil, eventually your machine will literally grind to a halt. Likewise, if you pay employees below market rates, provide minimal benefits, and have an unsafe and poorly maintained work environment, employees are likely to become dissatisfied over time, which can negatively affect retention and performance.

Now, just as changing the oil won’t boost the power output of your engine, addressing dissatisfaction alone is not enough to deliver high employee satisfaction and motivation. Over the years, engine manufacturers have developed their ability to get more out of an engine by adding turbochargers, intercoolers, and other measures. Similarly, you can do the same thing in your company by adding motivators. This is where the rubber meets the road for management. It takes a lot of thought and effort to make sure your employees have challenging and varied work to do, are recognized for doing a good job, and have opportunities to learn, grow, and advance in the company. However, the upside, like adding a turbocharger to an engine, is powerful.

Once you’ve done the hard work of addressing both hygiene and motivation, it’s time to close the loop and communicate what you’ve done. If you skip this step, employees may incorrectly conclude nothing has been done and your employee engagement effort will run into preventable headwinds. If you get it right, you’ll get maximum mileage out of your investment, helping to power a virtuous cycle of employees feeling valued and motivated, becoming more engaged, and doing great work for your clients.

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As you prepare to begin, or continue working on employee engagement, it’s worth noting the results of recent Gallup research on the global workforce, which found that only 13% of employees were engaged, while 63% are not engaged and 24% are actively disengaged. Not exactly firing on all cylinders. If your employee engagement scores are similar, take comfort that you’re not alone and that there may a silver lining here: It appears there is plenty of room for improvement, so perhaps you don’t need to be an expert mechanic to get more performance from your company’s employee engine. Simply getting the basics right could have a high return on investment for many firms, including yours.

Doug Fowler

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