Employee Engagement is a largely misunderstood concept and one that management often undertakes through programs initiated in the workplace. It is not, however, possible to “engage” an employee, but it is possible to create the environment where employees will choose to become fully engaged. So what is a manager or executive to do, because we do want our employees fully engaged in their work, right?
People say, “Let’s increase productivity by 10%.” This isn’t the 10%. We’re talking about hundreds of percent.
KIMBERLY: Yesterday we were talking about leadership and how to manage people and the topic of employee engagement came up, because it’s a really hot topic these days, and so Dad, I just wanted to ask you, what is employee engagement?
BENNET: Well the Holy Grail of management has been for many, many years attempting to get the most out of employees, really improve and significantly improve their performance on the job.
And engagement just happens to be the latest buzz word, unfortunately, that’s been applied to this. Engagement is not something that management can do. It’s pretty well misunderstood what engagement really is. Too many managers think that they’re going to go out there and engage their employees. Now that’s a verb. Really engagement is not a verb. Engagement is a condition that the employee chooses on their own.
It’s an employee decision and it is based on the conditions that management sets in the workplace. And engagement is when I come to work and if I’m engaged I apply 100% of my brainpower, 100% of my productivity, 100% of my creativity, 100% of my innovation on the work and I’m fully committed and motivated to do the work as best I can.
KIMBERLY: So the difference between an engaged and disengaged employee then is the level of motivation, productivity? Tell us a little bit more about what the differences are.
BENNET: Well absolutely. The experts —there are some real experts in this world that have studied this thing. And probably the one I like the best to refer to is Stephen Covey. And Stephen Covey in his book indicates that the difference just in productivity between say, a disengaged employee and a fully engaged one — and of course there’s a full spectrum in between. But the fully engaged employee is maybe, according to Covey, about 500% more productive than a disengaged employee. So that’s a huge gain.
People talk about, “Let’s increase productivity by 10%.” This isn’t the 10%. We’re talking about hundreds of percent. And so it’s really something.
It sounds like a soft skill. People would much rather figure out how to do a better marketing job, have a better product etc. Engagement is really something to go after and pays you back in spades, because the employee who is engaged not only gives you all this 100%, but they love to come to work. I mean, their morale is sky-high and they just chomp at the job. These people even think about the job when they’re off the job and they dream up things that they can do when they’re on the job. I mean, they apply themselves to the job at home, so that when they come to work tomorrow they can do a better job. So engagement’s a really big thing.
KIMBERLY: But if we can’t engage employees, how do we create engaged employees?
BENNET: Well the how is really pretty simple.
An employee when they are first hired, they really are engaged. They want to be engaged, they want to commit themselves to this work, that’s why they become employed.
What happens to them most generally? Management takes all sorts of actions which disengage them. The top-down, command-and-control approach to managing people, that’s the most standard approach. Society teaches us that. It’s an authoritarian society. We all know how it works; that’s the one that’s used in the workplace and that naturally de-motivates, demoralizes and demeans employees. And so they come to work all charged up and in the first week they find that management really isn’t willing to do that.
So really, management, in order to produce this, they’ve got to get rid of telling people what to do. You need to go down and ask the people what they need to do a better job. And they will tell you. It will take a while because in the beginning they’re not too sure they dare tell you how they really feel, but they will eventually tell you more and more and what it comes down to is supporting them better. And doing that 24/7.
This isn’t something that you go down on a one-time shot. This is something that’s done every day and eventually this employee, if you give them all the information they want, if you give them the best tools that they need, you give them the best training, you give them the parts when they need them and the material when they need them and all these things that they need to do a better job. And at a high standard you give it to them. Suddenly they decide along the way to become more engaged. And as I said, it’s a spectrum. So they could be for a while 40% engaged versus 10% and they could increase from there on average. Some people will go faster and become engaged faster because they’ll say, “Gee, the conditions are great here and I really want to engage myself,” and they do.
But it’s a personal decision that’s made on the basis of how they are treated by management. And if management treats them like they’re valuable, they will become very valuable.
KIMBERLY: The reward system then, is not as impactful as one-on-one and the asking you, “What do you need?” Is this what you’re saying?
BENNET: It’s not that it’s not as impactful. The rewards program is actually negative because what we do is we try to figure out what we have to do to con the system into giving us a reward and we learn how to game the system very quickly because human beings are really good in their head. They can figure this stuff out. And so a reward program doesn’t help you at all. I mean, it actually has a negative impact because once they figure out how to con the system, that’s what they spend their time doing. They don’t spend their time trying to do a better job, they spend their time trying to game the system. It’s what management does is they’ve got to get out of the way of the workforce, they’ve got to stop doing all the things that disengage the workforce. They’ve got to get out of their way and allow them to make the decision to become engaged.