Recent studies have revealed that up to 45 percent of employees are disengaged. Yikes! This is both expensive and counterproductive to the future success of the company. What about your company? Do you think that your employees are fully engaged and openly contributing? Are you witnessing 100 percent of their ability? It doesn’t matter if you have one employee or 100, these questions are universally important. In fact, the questions are (arguably) more critical to smaller businesses with less room for error and more opportunity to launch into greatness.
People naturally become more interested and engaged when they know where they are going and how they are going to get there.
I am reading a great book now, called Good to Great, by Jim Collins. It explores the questions of why some companies improve as they go along, while others remain stagnant or contract in their business. I have always enjoyed figuring out how things like motors, electronics, people, and businesses work, which this book explores. But it also offers a fascinating perspective that turns many common beliefs upside down and inside out with factual statistical data. I will not dive into the full detail here, but I will tell you the few companies used as examples for having successfully moved from “good to great” had strong cultures of open dialogue with their teams– otherwise known as a “culture of condor.”
According to Collins, great companies create a culture that encourages open dialogue among their teams. An example in the book discusses how one “great” company had an annual practice of assembling key members of their customer-facing teams with leadership to specifically discuss what they were doing wrong and how they could improve to become better.
More importantly, companies make a significant investment of time, energy, money, and brand/culture integration to onboard and embed good people into the company. As McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc once said: “You’re only as good as the people you hire.” Companies should create a culture to keep good people and enable them to flourish and be the very best performers for the business. If employees do not feel engaged or valued in their opinions, they will leave. Before they leave, they will be disengaged, unproductive, inefficient, and potentially toxic to the organization.
So, let’s explore how three simple ideals can improve business (small or large) and create a more cohesive team. I will call this the Employee Engagement Plan.
Enlighten, Engage, and Empower
Enlighten: People naturally become more interested and engaged when they know where they are going and how they are going to get there. This is true in life, but especially in business. A sustained path to success begins with a shared vision. What do you want to become? Then the vision takes action, with a mission. What do you need to do to accomplish or fulfill your vision? And then, a strategy: How will you accomplish the mission?
Many other elements can and should be employed to make this a successful effort, such as determining the core values of the company that guide the company along the journey, as well as tactics for how you allocate resources to achieve goals during the mission.
To achieve the best possible sustained success in a company, these ideals should be created as soon as possible and must be shared. Key members of the team must receive “ownership” of the ideals. When people understand the vision, mission, and strategy of the company, they are far more likely to become engaged and more productive contributors toward these ideals.
Engage: There is a significant difference between asking members of the team, “What do you think about my idea?” and challenging them to take an opposing view on the topic to improve upon it. My niece is in her final year of law school. A common exercise for lawyers, in school and licensed, is to take opposing views on legal arguments to prepare to argue the case in a court trial. Exercising this practice can produce amazing and powerful results to improve upon (or in some case throw out) ideas for new initiatives, policies, etc. (this, of course, must be done in an organized and civilized manner to avoid a company-wide riot). I would, again, argue that this discipline is just as important for a two-man rodeo as it is for a team of 100 people. Engaged people contribute, and when they contribute, they become engaged and more motivated and productive to help the company succeed (period).
Empower: When members of the team understand and share in the vision, mission, and strategy, they need far less handholding (I would also add core values and goals to this philosophy). With the first exercise accomplished, empowering the (leadership) teams to deliver on the ideals and create success for the company can produce magical results.
Additionally, one practice that I have used successfully in the past is to empower members of my team to contribute in areas outside of their daily scope of work. This also will help to reveal their hidden talents and professional desires, allowing you to better play to these strengths. An example of this exercise is to provide each member of the team freedom to unplug from their traditional duties for four hours a week, to work on individual projects. This was a successful effort and motivated members of my team to contribute and present new concepts for policies, future initiatives, sales promotions, etc. In fact, these employee side projects are how Gmail, Sony PlayStation, the Facebook Like Button, and many other successful developments were created.
As, John Maxwell once said, “Foster a culture that encourages engagement and you will see positive changes”