Mind of the Manager

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3 Ways Companies Can Improve Employee Engagement

A key goal is a clear line of sight from the shop floor to the balance sheet.

Employee engagement equals emotional commitment, emotional commitment equals hard work, and hard work equals productivity. It’s a logical formula, but reliable Gallup data from more than 350,000 American employees shows that only 30% of them are fully engaged—meaning working as hard as they can. Put another way, at a macro level, companies have a vast opportunity to improve productivity for 70% of their workforce. Against this backdrop, here are three substantive ways companies can invest in employee engagement.

 

1. Make it economically obvious for employees at all levels that their organization’s success is their own success. It doesn’t matter so much how it’s done as that it is done. Whether the mechanism is stock options or some form of profit sharing or bonus or incentive comp—the key is that employees at all levels can participate. And that all employees have a clear understanding of what constitutes organizational success, what factors drive that success and—most importantly—how hard work is rewarded and why they should care. The goal: a clear line of sight from the shop floor to the balance sheet.

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2. Construct a well-integrated network of employee-focused programs that offer meaningful opportunities for career development. Again, as in point number 1), the exact form is less important than the substance. Talented employees want to improve themselves, and successful organizations recognize that. The mechanism can be well-structured career paths… active mentoring or job training… or support in acquiring valuable skills, etc. This dynamic I well know from experience. Many years back a company invested in my own MBA. I had a young family and little discretionary income, couldn’t easily have afforded it and most likely wouldn’t have done it. Several decades and one career later, I’m still grateful for the support and the doors it opened.

3. Focus not just on leadership development, but also on middle manager development and supervisor development. An old saying goes, “People leave managers, not companies,” and the old saying has truth in it. No doubt in the army of disengaged employees noted in the Gallup data above, a great many are managed by middle managers and supervisors who are learning by trial and error the challenging practice of management. Companies have a subtly dysfunctional tendency to invest heavily in “leadership development” while ignoring development for those in the lower echelons who actually do most of the day-to-day management. Again, to draw on my own experience, I had minimal training in the early stages of my management career when I really needed it—but lots of training in the latter stages when I didn’t.

Full disclosure: None of these suggestions are cheap or easy.

Like all investments, they have a cost. They take time, thought, and tailoring to the specific nuances of an organization.

All are at least somewhat complex and substantive.

But just as substance has a price, it offers value. And payoff in productivity from a more engaged work force has long-term substance too.

This article first appeared at Forbes.com.

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Victor Lipman recently retired from the corporate world after 25 years with one of America's largest life insurance companies. He writes about management from a psychological perspective.

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