Erica Sosna: Why Employee Engagement is Key

It might sound ‘soft’ but employee engagement offers a proven methodology for driving ‘hard’ business outcomes. Erica Sosna, engagement and leadership expert, shares why.

Competitive advantage may be an overused term, but organisations never tire of trying to achieve that elusive, special “edge,” the differentiation that competitors can’t easily replicate. Since the ‘war for talent’ kicked off in the 1990’s a lot has been written about your workforce providing competitive advantage. How can you find and hire stars? And once found, how will you keep them?

Let’s be clear. Hiring and retaining talented people isn’t enough. As any of the coaches for the big names in UK football can tell you, if your rising stars aren’t aligned with the goals of the organisation and aren’t motivated to give 110 percent, you are unlikely to get the results that you, your boss and your shareholders were hoping for.

Time and time again, we see that the highest performing organisations benefit from a highly engaged and focussed workforce. Their teams are filled with people who get excited about coming to work and the possibilities for what they can achieve there.

Take a look up from this article for a moment and look around. How would you rate the engagement level in your organisation? How can you tell?

The funny thing about employee engagement is it is not something you can touch. And yet you can feel and sense its presence or absence as soon as you enter a workplace.

Employee engagement is often used to describe the emotional connection or commitment that employees feel for their work or their employer. These feelings include loyalty, passion, enthusiasm and contentment. In our world, at BlessingWhite, we like to take the term a step further:

Employee engagement is an intangible alignment of maximum job satisfaction (“I like my work and do it well”) with maximum job contribution (“I help achieve the goals of my organisation”).

Let’s take a closer look at that formula.

The-X-Model (4)

We map this definition in our X model. The more aligned and clear employees are are about what they need to do and the more explicitly their direct line manager understands what motivates them, the greater their chance of success in their role.

So you have the what and the why.

Now, here’s the formula for how.

Satisfaction — The Emotional Connection 

Q. How can you find one simple way to satisfy a workforce of individuals?

A.You can’t.

Satisfaction resides in the minds and hearts of each employee.  It means different things to different people. The best you can do is to create conditions that help your employees succeed.

Some pointers: 

  • Personal values matter. Employees who are clear on their personal motivators can actively cultivate what matters to them in all aspects of their life — even on the job. That’s good news for businesses, since it takes energy to compartmentalise work and bring only part of one’s self to the job. Employees who satisfy their personal values at work are more committed and more satisfied.
  • “Work” matters Research indicates that employees crave interesting, challenging, and meaningful work. They also want to make the most of their unique capabilities each day. In fact, our regular research into employee engagement in the global workplace reveals that the factors that would most improve job satisfaction was “more opportunities to do what I do best” and “career development opportunities”.
  • Relationships matter. Relationships at work — especially those with managers — can be the grease that keeps the gears running smoothly or the wrench that brings work to a grinding halt. Employees can’t succeed on their own. They need partners. Your managers need to be able to build trust, connect personally with each team member, and unleash the talent and potential of all. You cannot assume that managers have this skill within their toolbox. You have to consciously build it.

Emotional Connection Isn’t Enough 

Employee engagement requires more than committed employees, doing the work they like to do, and enjoying their colleagues’ company. If your workforce is disconnected from your organisation’s strategy, not feeling part of a whole — and not seeing how their day-to-day tasks drive the company forward — satisfaction and commitment, powerful as they are, will be almost impossible to sustain.

Most employees already want to contribute. In our engagement survey, an overwhelming majority of respondents indicated they liked their work and willingly do more than expected. So when it comes to maximum contribution to your business goals, here are a few more pointers:

  • Focus matters. Employees need clarity of direction so they can best apply their unique talents to drive your business priorities. Unfortunately, in most organisations, there’s a huge missed opportunity for greater alignment of talents and strategy. In our survey, the more senior a respondent was, the more engaged they were likely to feel – suggesting that alignment and involvement in strategy creates greater engagement. Leaders at all levels need to be able to link their team’s work with the organisation’s goals.
  • Dialogue matters. Conversation drives clarity. It’s by far the most effective vehicle for providing performance feedback. It’s the only way to efficiently generate ideas for increasing job satisfaction and results. The more you can get your managers and employees talking to (not about!) each other, the better your chances that your workforce will not only be revved up but also in gear.
  • Role Matters Once the strategy has been articulated and communicated, each person needs to have certainty around their responsibilities and role. This allows them to feel fully empowered to play their part. Murky job boundaries and poor role definitions make it hard for everyone to do their best and increase the risk of key activities and accountabilities falling through the cracks.

What Can Organisations Do? 

Realise that when you talk about “the organisation” you’re talking about people tasked with working together to execute your complex business strategies. They can provide your true competitive advantage or take their under-utilised talents out the door.

Remember that relationships help employees increase job satisfaction and connect emotionally with your organisation. So make sure dialogue, clarity of goals and regular feedback are in place and help your employees to uncover and voice their sense of meaning. Once everyone is able to say ‘This is my role. This is what I contribute. And this is why it matters – to the organisation and to me’, you are on to a winner.”

Erica Sosna is an employee and leadership consultant at BlessingWhite (a division of GP Strategies). Erica is the Author of Your Life Plan: How to Set Yourself on the Right Path and Take Charge of Your Life”. Her book is published by Capstone in March 2014. Visit www.ericasosna.com