Employee Engagement

A 2013 report on the state of the American workplace provides remarkable insights into what leaders can do to improve employee engagement and performance in their companies.

It includes an overview of trends in U.S. employee engagement, the impact of engagement on organizational and individual performance, and tips on how companies can accelerate employee engagement. 

In the executive summary, the report states that the vast majority of workers are not engaged in their work and reaching their full potential (70%). Does this surprise you? Are you thinking of your own organization now and what those percentages may look like?

"Leaders often say that their organization’s greatest asset is its people — but in reality, this is only true when those employees are fully engaged in their jobs." 

It is not uncommon for the subject of work to arise in dinner conversation with peers. In fact, I think most company's would be not only surprised with the number of dissastisfied employees, but how sometimes 'small' changes would make a big impact. And it might come as a surprise to many company executives that part of this dissatisfaction may come from 'wanting to do more'. Statistics don't lie, and only 22% of US Employees are engaged and thriving.

What Gallup found was not only the impact hiring the right manager has on its team members sentiment about work, but how it can impact the companies' bottom line. It was found that managers who focus on their employees' strengths can practically eliminate active disengagement. It is also apparent that different types of employees (Millennials, Women etc) respond to different engagement strategies.

It is hard for larger organizations to pinpoint problem areas across multiple regions and divisions, and it is suggested that employee surveys are used to collect data and analyze further. However, the benefit that startups have from day 1 is...you are small, you are nimble and if you foster an environment of communication and transparency - you will not only earn your employees trust, but they will work harder and be more engaged.

At any stage, it is important to consider what your company can do to improve engagement, and set your organization up to succeed. 

1. Utilize an employee engagement survey that collects specific actionable data.  

2. Select the right managers. These leaders should not only be able to drive performance for the company but have skills to know what motivates different individuals, and how to empower team members to achieve their goals. 

3. Coach managers on how to keep employees engaged and hold them accountable. Implement reviews, not only for employees, but for managers.

4. Define Engagement goals in realistic and every day terms. Who takes ownership? Everyone. Many employees that I have encountered were surprised to find that they were responsible for 'knowing' a company's product, but were not provided training or materials to learn. This causes employees to disengage and feel their company does not have realistic expectations.

5. Take criticism to heart and focus on making a difference on the 'local level'. While change often happens from top-down, managers and employees in remote areas need to feel like they can make an impact. If employees grow complacent with the lack of direct access they have to leaders, and do not have outlets to communicate problem areas, they are likely to leave.

6. Find a way to connect with each employee.

How can increased engagement impact your organization?

Gallup’s research also shows that companies with engaged workforces have higher earnings per share (EPS) and seem to have recovered from the recession at a faster rate. 

Factors such as EPS, profitability, productivity, and customer ratings are all key indicators in determining an organization’s health and its potential for growth. For leaders who are responsible for these outcomes, this standard of testing has shown to be critical for create sustainable growth. 

What can startups do? My perspective on this comes from having a front seat at startup success and failure. Steps that you can take?

1. Create a mission statement. One internally for how your company views its employees and what the company's commitment is to employees every day. The second statement should describe in 1-2 sentences, what problem your company solves, in addition to expressing commitment to customers. 

2. Conduct monthly meetings. In the early days communicating often is key. Employees who feel they understand the company's vision and critical steps to success will be likely to participate and be engaged further in building its success.  

2. Transparency. It is a common theme: If your employees don't know what is going on, they become disengaged. Its a BIG mistake to assume everyone in your organization doesn't know, or need to know what is going on - people who join startups are not adverse to risk, in fact, many of us expect that there is going to be turblulence along the way, a few pivots, and maybe a bad product release or two. But knowledge is power. It is important to hire a team you can lean on and trust in the ups and downs of your company's early days, because with trust you are able to reveal what's under the hood, and with more hands on deck, you can address issues faster.

3. Accountability. Small teams have the ability to keep eachother in check. Set collective objectives and assign them to team members, and to leadership. Schedule accountability meetings to follow up on progress and identify obstacles. 

4. Designate one or two people internally to plan team building events. This doesn't always have to involve 'beers'. Teams that volunteer together grow a greater commitment to do good both in and out of the work environment.

5. Brainstorm. Call it a hack-a-thon - call it a brainstorm, just make sure to involve team members in problem solving early on. Its important for employees to feel that they are a part of the 'vision'. These sessions may render ideas that contribute to future product roadmaps.