Steps to engagement

by 27 Nov 2007

Q: We are looking to track the roll out of an employee engagement program through our organisation. What sort of steps can we take with our line managers to make sure this sticks?

A: When an employee joins an organisation they start out as engaged and ready to take responsibility. On day one they are excited about getting the job, switched on and ready to make a contribution to the organisation. So what we need to consider is what happens to bring them back down to earth.

Most of the damage is done in their first six months. New employees start with high expectations and tonnes of enthusiasm. But it doesn’t take long for that enthusiasm to be blunted. The decline starts when they realise that some of their expectations aren’t being met. Most likely they will talk to their coworkers about it first and then perhaps their manager. But if they only get confirmation that their expectations are not going to be met then the rot sets in. Even if they choose to stay with the organisation it is unlikely that they could now be described as engaged.

For this scenario to play out so often there must be a significant failure at the leadership level. Leaders at all levels have not sustained the natural enthusiasm and commitment that existed when the new employee joined their organisation. So despite the thousands of dollars that are spent each year on leadership development and the hundreds of books written on the subject leaders are failing to get employees to perform at their best. Even with the increased focus on employee engagement over the past 10 years, the percentage of engaged employees has still only risen by 1 or 2 per cent.

One popular solution seems to be for employers to throw additional benefits at people to keep them happy, but there is a growing body of research that proves that this simply doesn’t work.

Engaged employees are interested in a lot more than just their pay and working conditions. They need to be respected and know what they do is valued. They need to learn and grow so that they can capitalise on their talents. They need to be treated as an insider and know that what they do has meaning and how it contributes. In fact they want to be an integral part of a winning team.

For this to happen leaders need to change their approach and concentrate on creating a work environment where everyone wants to and can perform at their best. And, this needs to start at the top.

There are three primary reasons that traditional leadership training has failed to achieve results. Firstly most of the training is an event rather than a process that develops leaders’ skills. Secondly, there is very little emphasis on emotional intelligence and lastly there is no accountability for actually applying what they have learnt.

Turning a group of employees with varying degrees of engagement into a high-performing team won’t happen overnight. It takes time, patience and the belief that the effort is worth it. And, it still won’t happen unless the employees trust their leaders.

Trust is the foundation of all successful relationships. Organisations will never achieve their potential without a consistently high level of trust with their employees and their customers. This simple, powerful concept is fundamental and applies to managers at all levels, salespeople, customer service staff and in fact anyone in your organisation that deals with people needs to know how to build trust.

The first step then is to learn how to build trust. Following close behind is awareness. Without it you are stumbling in the dark. Awareness leads to understanding and then you will be ready to make the appropriate leadership choices.

By David Flint, Integro Learning Company. Tel: (02) 9453 4555, email: dflint@integro.com.au website: www.integrolearning.com.au