Leadership, Strategic HR

Rebel Against Business Norms to Build Employee Engagement

Companies are innovating and changing at a rate previously unimagined. Product lifecycles are shorter, links between manufacturing and the customer are closer, and the demands for process improvement and process change have never been greater. Business leaders have never needed their staff on their side more than they do now.leadership

But although research reveals how companies with a culture that engages their employees enjoy greater productivity and profitability, many fall short when it comes to knowing what’s needed to build a culture of employee engagement. A Harvard Business Review survey found that 71% of business leaders believed employee engagement was “critical” to the success of their organizations, but only 24% said their workforces were highly engaged.

This engagement gap can be attributed, in part, to an inflexible adherence to old-school management practices and HR policies that treat employees as adversaries. These expend huge amounts of an organization’s relationship capital with staff.

Without exception, today’s companies with the highest engagement have one thing in common: CEOs who are passionate about people and understand the power of engagement in the business. They are able to help their employees understand and believe in the direction the organization is taking and how their role affects and contributes to the organization’s purpose. Engaged employees genuinely want the organization to succeed.

How do organizational leaders implement practices that will result in a culture of engagement? For starters, act like a rebel with regard to management behaviors, and apply that rebel spirit in these key areas:

  1. Promote open and honest communication. A key goal should be a culture where staff trusts leadership enough to speak up. To build a high trust culture, leaders have to make room for dissent, disagreement and diversity of opinion. Executives need to respond to all feedback that’s given and provide encouragement to staff who give it.
  2. Re-examine company purpose, mission and values. These core concepts need to be more than words, because when clearly developed and purposely embedded, they play a key role in guiding behavior. To be meaningful, organizations need to recruit against their values, reward against their values and promote against their values. Rebels don’t waiver from this and don’t tolerate even high-performing people who fail to live the values.
  3. Analyze leadership roles. Rebel leaders understand that the world is changing and that they need to serve their people more than ever before. They champion employee engagement, using every tool at their disposal to cut through the hierarchy and bring themselves closer to their people. They must live the values of the organization and act with integrity.
  4. Align management with culture change. Organizations rarely train managers in how to manage according to their values. This is why many culture change projects fail: Leadership charts a new path, but then fails to get management on board. It’s key to ensure line managers are able, willing and sufficiently resourced to manage people in an engaging way.
  5. Eliminate disengaging jobs. Job design has a wide and often-overlooked impact on employees. The attributes of a good job aren’t complex. People need to be able to develop skills, believe they’re producing something meaningful and have enough challenge to be stimulated. Look at job design in two ways: 1) How demanding is the job for the person? and 2) How much control does the person have over meeting goals?
  6. Institute learning opportunities. A learning culture is one of the greatest gifts leaders can give their organization because it inspires the people on staff to develop and do more. To create a learning culture, empower employees with the freedom and autonomy to investigate new approaches. Hand-in-hand with this is an acceptance that failure is also part of learning.
  7. Make recognition timely and continuous. A problem in some businesses is that the same employees are recognized and the rest are starving to be noticed. Review recognition practices and align them with the goals of a high achieving culture. Since business success is so often about the many small wins, it’s important to recognize all involved. Expose quiet achievers and unsung heroes.
  8. Prioritize fairness in pay. Pay, in isolation, can’t buy engagement. However, any pay and benefit decisions must have a clear and compelling strategy aligned to the company’s values. Benefits can serve as a quick and easy first move when starting to build a more engaging culture. Even low-cost benefits, such as closing early on Fridays or time off for volunteering, can be a cultural differentiator.
  9. Improve employee wellbeing. When employees are tired, stressed or over-worked, productivity drops. Employers must make a commitment to remove obstacles to employee performance. Evolving to a culture of trust in regards to flexible work time is one step. They can also help by providing healthy snack choices, discounted gym memberships or other options that address employees’ needs.
  10. Re-think employee workspaces. Today, workspace has a broad context: It can encompass virtual, physical and working practices. Map out what work has to be done, and compare it to the spaces that currently exist. From there, assess whether changes are needed to make workspace more engaging and productive.
Glenn Elliott is founder and Debra Corey is group reward director of UK-based Reward Gateway, a world leader in integrated employee engagement technology with more than 1,800 clients worldwide. Reward Gateway developed the employee engagement platform, The Engagement Bridge™. Elliott and Corey’s new book, Build it: The Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement (Wiley, Feb. 27, 2018), highlights practical improvements that organizations can make to build a highly engaged company culture. Learn more at TheRebelPlaybook.com.