Employee Engagement . . .


I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.  ~Winston Churchill

Winston Churchill was a crafty and wise politician in the British Parliament, and also served as Prime Minister of England during the difficult years of WWII.  His determination and resolve rallied the British people to defend their homeland against Nazi aggression and led them to take the fight to Hitler himself.

I like this quote because it says a great deal in a short sentence about business and organisation dynamics, although not directly.

When looking through the lens of today’s uncertain global economy, it is imperative to get everyone, from the CEO to the night janitor, fully engaged in helping the company survive and thrive. Budgets are tight, new business acquisition is more competitive than ever, cost containment is paramount, and to be sustainable the business needs “all hands on the pump”. Yet that doesn’t always seem to be the case.

For example, the Gallup Management Journal publishes a semi-annual Employment Engagement Index. The most recent U.S. results indicate that:

  • Only 29 percent of employees are actively engaged in their jobs. These employees work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company. People that are actively engaged help move the organization forward.
  • Fifty-four percent of employees are not engaged. These employees have essentially “checked out,” sleepwalking through their workday and putting time – but not passion – into their work. These people embody what Jack Welch said several years ago. To paraphrase him: “Never mistake activity for accomplishment.”
  • Seventeen percent of employees are actively disengaged. These employees are busy acting out their unhappiness, undermining what their engaged co-workers are trying to accomplish.

So it seems to me that just about every Human Resource article I come across has something to say about “how to increase employee engagement”.  There are the 10 secrets for greater engagement, workshops on how to improve employee engagement, the 10 “C’s” of employee engagement, and lots of other tips on how to get employees more engaged.

Let me suggest a different point of view.  Engagement is not something we “do to employees” or something that can be taught in a workshop or built during an “all hands meeting”.  And definitely, employee engagement is not an HR issue.

Motivated, enthusiastic and dedicated employees is a result of motivated, enthusiastic and dedicated leadership! It’s a leadership and a business issue, not an HR issue.

Organizations are shadows of their leaders . . . that’s the good news and the bad news!

Employees who are excited about the company and it’s future, who routinely come up with new and better ways of doing things, who encourage their friends to join the company, are the result of leadership behaviours and business practices that foster engagement.  What are these?

There is no one single employee engagement silver bullet (so stop listening to consultants and training companies who promote their workshops or training). Effective employee engagement is a combination of many factors, just like reputation or brand value is a combination of many factors.

  • Leaders who listen to employees: not just at Quarterly meetings, but every day. Not-listeningIn the canteen, in the halls, in the parking lot, on the shop floor.  They listen with genuine respect and curiosity. They ask questions.  They ask about their families.  They seek to find out how things can be done better.  But most of all, they listen.
  • Policies which make sense to employees:  I can’t tell you how many policies I have run across inside of companies that just don’t make good sense!  They are either too cumbersome and don’t add value to the customer or product, or demand information that nobody every looks at.  Stupid policies irritate everyone and after a while people get unmotivated.
  • An understanding of where the company is headed and how my work fits in to the overall strategy for success:  Too many company strategies are locked up in the executive suite as if they were national secrets.  And since most strategies are contained in several thick binders and 300-page documents, very few of the senior team really understand the entire business strategy (most just read the executive summary and the section on their function). In the majority of companies, all employees ever see is the sales charts or the quality metrics.  Employees are not stupid.  They go home and manage small businesses, run the church or city council finances, restore old airplanes or cars, set up websites at home.  They are interested in the world, yet we shut them out at work by keeping the strategy and forward plans a “secret”.
  • The behaviour of my direct boss or manager.  Too often engagement is damagedthe-impact-of-bad-bosses-L-BzvjMB by a direct boss who gets away with bad behaviour.  Bad mouthing employees, demeaning language, lack of respect for others and other forms of poor behavior go against almost every company’s values, yet they are rarely brought to task.  As a result, respect for management and leadership is eroded, and engagement decreases.

These are just a few of the elements inside of an organization that erode employee engagement.  Employee engagement is a leadership and business issue, not an HR issue.

Fastbreak 2In the recent book, FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, a new leadership and business process for execution excellence is presented, the Line-of-Sight™ Strategy Execution Roadmap, which is essentially the entire business strategy on a single page in visual format.  It tells a clear story of what is important, what we are doing to win in the marketplace, and how all work in each department fits into the overall strategy.

A visual map of the business strategy is easy to communicate to all employees and quickly gets them engaged in understanding how they make a difference to the business.  And since the Strategy Execution Roadmap is updated every month, everyone can be kept abreast of progress and issues that need attention. It also gets management away from “death by powerpoint” and into real dialogue with employees.

Employee engagement is a business and leadership issue.  What will you do differently tomorrow to help everyone find more fulfilment and engagement at work?

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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