It’s rare to find an executive who says employee engagement is not a priority. Yet most recent studies show the average level of engagement is essentially unchanged.
The business case for continuing to pursue employee engagement, however, has only become stronger. Engaged employees are a competitive advantage, and the impact on the bottom line is indisputable.
Smart Business spoke with Marilee MacAskill, area manager at Dale Carnegie Training of Northeast Ohio, and John Glaneman, president of Dale Carnegie Training of Pennsylvania and Ohio, about how to go all-in on employee engagement.
Why do companies struggle with achieving engagement?
Engagement is complex, organizations approach it differently, and too many simply pay lip service to the idea. One Dale Carnegie study found lower-level leaders are disillusioned, with 22 percent believing their organizations spend too much time and money trying to engage employees, and 26 percent saying efforts to engage employees are a distraction from real work.
How can employers change this perception?
Employee engagement needs to be treated like any other strategic priority and worked on daily, rather than occasionally or frequently. Organizations also must provide practical knowledge and skills. Even though increasing engagement has been front and center for some time, there are still leaders who lack the basics of how to do it.
What’s an example of the impact of training?
Hyland recently hired Dale Carnegie to help R&D and technical services leaders engage their teams and develop their leadership skills. Dale Carnegie worked with 200 managers from around the world. A blended learning approach worked well with this tech-savvy audience, to ensure time-spaced learning, application time in between the sessions, and accountability reports during the sessions.
The results: numerous breakthroughs and improved morale with more unstructured time with their boss; ‘innerview’ sessions where the leaders were able to learn more about what motivates their people; and even some innovative new product ideas and engagement-enhancing programs.
What are some practical steps to help leaders at every level improve engagement?
Companies can begin by:
- Focusing. While all parts of the employee experience impact engagement, leadership wields outsized influence on engagement levels. Immediate supervisors still matter a great deal, and with growing workplace transparency, the words and behaviors of leaders don’t just impact those they regularly work with face-to-face.
- Honestly examining top priorities. Do senior leaders truly believe engagement is a competitive advantage? Is employee engagement treated like other top priorities? Does every leader know they share responsibility for it? Have senior leaders somehow been exempted?
- Opening a dialogue with managers and truly listening to their beliefs and frustrations regarding engagement. When prior experiences have been negative, it will take more than cheerleading to change minds. Highlight early successes and use examples to bring awareness to the personal benefits of engaged employees. Assess, too, whether managers believe they have the right knowledge and skills. Leaders told to ‘engage’ and left to their own devices are put in a tough spot. Organizations should scrutinize how they spend resources on training managers to engage employees and emphasize practical skills that matter.
- Aligning policies with the intent. If engagement is a top priority, does the way in which progress is measured allow for accurate assessment? Are reward and recognition programs aligned? Are processes and procedures working alongside engagement efforts? If not, change them. However, these barrier removal projects won’t be enough without a strong focus enabling leaders to make engagement a daily priority.
When executives want to improve engagement, the leadership is the best starting point. While saying yes to engagement may mean saying no to another priority, if organizations hope to realize the benefits of an engaged workforce, it’s time to go all-in.
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