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The issue of engagement

By PJ STEVENS Published 7th Mar 2014
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Why is engagement suddenly such a hot concept in business? Someone who is well worth listening to on the subject is Kevin Panozza, founder of Salesforce. He makes the point that if you upset a Baby Boomer (someone born between 1946 and 1964) they would, as the old theory goes, tell between 6 and 10 people. However, we now have Generation Y and if you upset one of them they take to social media and the situation may go viral.

So we have companies who spend millions on advertising and marketing with the express goal of telling people about the customer experience they are likely to receive if they visit one of their outlets. However, it's not the management of the company who are in control of that. It's the person on the front line. If that person is disengaged, perhaps grumpy or not disposed to be helpful, then the money invested in advertising is wasted. When you think about this you start to understand why engagement is a big issue.

Essentially engagement revolves around how employees feel about working for a company. What are the things that are important?

Faith in a product or service

First of all employees must believe in a product or service. Does it work? Is it reliable? Does it deliver on promises? It would be hard to stay engaged in your work if you didn't have faith in whatever it is that you're delivering.

Avoid unnecessary rules

As businesses grow they need to create a structure and, inevitably, create rules. Rules can make an organisation more effective but they can also stifle individuality. People need to have a certain amount of authority within their own role and to have the ability to solve problems when they can.

Discourage corporate sterility

The standard corporate office functionality is a good example of this problem; grey office furniture and 'neutral' colours. Take a look at Google's Googleplexes around the world and pimp up your office by adding some colour and perhaps a slide to get from one floor to the other. This goes beyond offices and into general corporate culture. Don't be a boring company.

Isolation is demoralising

Put simply this is a feeling of being alone. Human beings are social animals and like to feel the support of a team. This will be a controversial point for some because there are people who are natural introverts and who like to be left alone to get on with their work. However, for those who do not feel this way a sense of isolation will be very demoralising.

Recognise contributions ... authentically

The famed general Napoleon first invented the campaign war medal and he is quoted as saying; 'Give me enough medals and I will win any war'. He understood the power of recognition. Many companies use certificates and, while these are simple pieces of paper, when given with a genuine word of thanks from someone in a position of power they are very effective.

Remember; nobody likes to feel taken for granted. As Dale Carnegie said; 'Everyone wants to feel important'.

Support people when they need it

When people first join your organisation or when they change jobs make sure they have an effective induction. On an ongoing basis people need access to coaching as and when they require it and they also need to have access to people with experience that may help them to deal with new situations.

Provide career opportunities

Again, this is a controversial issue. In some cases people just want a job and don't want to progress. However, many people are ambitious and want to know that they can progress in a job if they do well. It is often assumed that people who 'just want a job' will tend not to do it particularly well but there is conflicting evidence for this.

There are some organisations, for example large call centres, where it is difficult to provide genuine opportunities for progression. In these cases the requirement to be on top of other engagement issues is critical.

Have fun

Fun and silliness is the antidote to boredom and tedium. Judgement is, of course, required and you need to create a balance between regular fun activities and a culture which promotes goodwill and one which just irritates the hell out of anyone of a sane mind and normal disposition. Social activities and fun activities are one example of what might be done.

Measuring engagement

The most common measure is staff retention. Very broadly you will hear that staff turnover of 10% is good and 30% is bad. However, there are some teams in which a higher staff turnover is more acceptable than others. It will depend on the particular company and the particular types of role.

One important issue which will affect staff turnover and general levels of engagement is attracting the right people in the first place. This is a recruitment issue and a subject in its own right. It does deserve a mention though.

This has been a very brief look at the issue of engagement in the workplace. It is without a doubt high on the business agenda at the moment, particularly as the economy is emerging from recession and companies need to retain effective employees who are, finally, seeing a wider range of career opportunities ahead of them.

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