The Key to Achieving Your 2014 Goals: Employee Engagement
Executives for virtually any organization want to achieve one or more of the following: higher revenue, greater profitability, more market share, more loyal customers, better productivity and other worthy goals.
The persistent, strategic question is what is the best way to achieve any of these?
There are plenty of possible approaches, but one that is often overlooked and represents a vast source of potential energy is the workforce: highly engaged employees can create a powerful and sustainable competitive advantage.
As evidence of this, a recent Demand Metric study shows that organizations with more engaged workforces report customer retention rates 18% higher than organizations with lower levels of engagement.
Employee engagement is defined as the measurable degree of an employee’s positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues and organization that profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work. Most executives intuitively understand that having a more engaged workforce must have some benefit, but few have developed a business case for higher engagement.
In previous decades, most executives believed that providing employment, a decent wage and benefits, was enough to gain an employee’s full commitment and best effort. This view left out a critical component: an employee’s emotional connection to the organization.
Today’s employees want work that has a purpose, and they want to do it in an environment where they can work autonomously while building their skills. Organizations that create this type of work environment have the most engaged employees, and as a result, they convert the potential energy of the workforce into the kinetic energy of engagement, and they get a significant, sustainable competitive advantage in the process.
A high level of employee engagement doesn’t just happen organically, it is the product of leadership, culture and investing in efforts to build or nurture it. The Demand Metric study shows there is a clear divide at the 50% employee engagement level, with approximately half of companies falling on either side of this divide.
The key factor in determining which side of this divide a company falls on is leadership: 81% of organizations with high engagement also have a leaders that deliberately emphasize it.
The culture of many organizations, however, is not conducive to encouraging employee engagement. Many organizations are exclusively oriented as customer-centric or customer driven. It seems like a sound business principle to strive for a deep understanding of one’s customers and work diligently to deliver what they need.
As a result, many companies that have completely sold out to serving their customers are hailed as service quality champions, revered and esteemed by their customers; envied by their competitors.
However, data from the Demand Metric study suggests that the most customer-centric organizations are also employee-centric. In other words, to get the full benefits of being customer-centric, an organization must also focus on the employees.
The reason is simple: the often-overlooked element in a total customer-centric culture is the workforce, which is the delivery mechanism for serving the customer.
This insight seems obvious: it defies logic to expect a workforce that is not highly esteemed by its employer to provide stellar customer service.
An example of this comes from MSN’s 2013 ratings of worst companies to work for and its customer service hall of shame, where the same company occupies the #1 and #3 spots, respectively. Organizations that wish to boost employee engagement and be world-class solution providers cannot emphasize the customer at the expense of the employee. In fact, the path to producing world-class customer outcomes starts with the capacity to produce those outcomes: the employees.
A workforce of highly engaged employees is the product of company culture, which begins at the top of the organization. Achieving it requires investment, leadership, commitment and time. It does not come about because of the right words on the mission statement poster in the break room.
The process for nurturing employee engagement is simple, but the execution not so easy. It involves wooing employees to an emotional level of commitment: they must see a clear link between the organization’s success and the fulfillment of their own, personal dreams and goals.
Organizations expecting to buy the blind loyalty and devotion of its employees through a paycheck are far from having engagement levels that propel the organization forward.
But when an organization orchestrates the mutual achievement of employee and business goals, it unleashes a tsunami of energy focused on a shared purpose. Organizations that figure this out are virtually unstoppable in their pursuits.