Editors Note: This article was originally posted for Forbes Business Development Council.
When companies miss revenue forecasts, there’s a tendency for leaders to look outward to find the reason(s): slowing economy, shifting technology landscapes, regulation changes, pricing pressures, et cetera. In my experience, when revenue starts to slow, it may be a signal that employee engagement isn’t where it needs to be, and that means you need all your leaders fully engaged to figure out why and how to fix it.
According to the 2017 Gallup “State of the Global Workplace” report (download required), 85% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. I find this number surprising for two reasons. One is that work is where we spend much of our adult lives. How disappointing is it to know that so many people are coming into the office every day without passion for what they do? The second reason is this: I haven’t met one executive who admits to having an engagement problem. In fact, everyone I speak with believes they are nailing employee engagement. How can this be when the overwhelming majority of employees report the exact opposite?
A leader’s impact on employee engagement cannot be overstated. It’s everything. If we don’t understand what motivates our employees, or worse, if we’re not able to recognize when they’re unmotivated, our entire business could suffer – from high staff turnover to poor performance and, as a result, a potential loss of business and declining revenue.
The fix is simple: Leaders should work together – from the top down – to create an environment in which employees can learn, grow and see the impact of their work beyond just delivering profit.
The Power Of Purpose In Driving Engagement
A 2011 PwC report stated that “millennials want their work to have a purpose, to contribute something to the world and they want to be proud of their employer.” And just to be clear, as of 2017, 56% of the workforce was made up of millennials.
Consider also a 2016 Cone Communications study, which further underscored PwC’s research.
• 75% of millennials would take a pay cut to work for a socially responsible company.
• 76% percent of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments before deciding where to work.
• 64% of millennials won’t take a job if the potential employer doesn’t have strong corporate responsibility practices. (In my first Forbes Councils post, I wrote about how to extend purpose in the workplace.)
A connection to purpose matters … profoundly. So, unless we’re helping employees find meaning in their work, I don’t believe that employee engagement can ever flourish.
Three Strategies To Drive Engagement
Here are three strategies I’ve found helpful for ensuring employee engagement is where it needs to be to strengthen customer loyalty, maximize revenue and turn your business from surviving to thriving.
1. Understand what engagement is and isn’t. Employee engagement isn’t satisfaction. Employees can be satisfied in their roles without being engaged. These are the performers who show up every day and meet expectations … nothing more, nothing less. Engaged employees bring something more. True engagement to me is the state of emotional and intellectual commitment to a company that leads to discretionary effort (in other words, employees going above and beyond what is minimally required). It’s having a workforce made up of employees who want to move mountains every day because they believe in and connect personally to your company’s mission and purpose. Simply put, engagement is the degree to which we have captured the hearts and minds of employees, and I believe there are six key drivers of it: meaningful work, connection to purpose, growth opportunities, independence, trust in leadership and impact.
2. Don’t rely solely on surveys. I’ve worked for companies that consistently had high engagement survey results while every performance indicator suggested the opposite. Surveys are good to understand what employees think, but they don’t always help leaders understand why. They’re a useful tool for gleaning insights about culture, performance management, pay and so on — but to measure engagement, leaders should go deeper. We need to understand what motivates our workforce in order to create the right conditions in which our teams can thrive. We need to speak with them and really listen to what makes them tick. As leaders, it’s important to see employees as individuals with unique wants, needs and motivators and respond to them thoughtfully and compassionately. We should also ensure our companies’ core values are reflected in everything we do and say and that we’re walking the talk when it comes to our own behavior and who we place in leadership positions. Remember: building an engaged culture means being in it for our teams, not just for ourselves.
3. Bring employees into the decision-making. Many admire Nordstrom, Virgin and Southwest Airlines for their strong employee engagement practices and for consistently being named great places to work. I recently read in an Entrepreneur article that when Southwest made the decision to update their airline uniforms, they put out an open call out to their global team asking for volunteers to help with the redesign rather than outsourcing the work. The company selected 43 employees to collaborate for 19 months on the new look. What a phenomenal way for employees to feel as though they are 100% invested in every area of the company. And isn’t this how it should be? Our brands are our employees. How committed, engaged and invested they are is reflected in every action, interaction, reaction and transaction they have on behalf of our company. Get it right, and enjoy the best outcomes. Get it wrong, and be ready for the potential consequences.
We can do a lot of things as leaders, but one thing we can’t do is mandate engagement. We have to invest in it, and that takes genuine commitment, time and effort — every day. Find out what your employees want, and build a strategy to support them. Then hire the right people to help execute it. After all, as Doug Conant is credited with saying, “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.”