How to Make Employee Engagement Work

How engaged are your employees? Should you care?
Melissa Raffoni, founder of CEO Consulting said, “A manager’s job is, quite simply, to motivate people toward achieving a common goal.” A manager’s job is not to manage work, but to manage people to work towards achieving company and departmental goals.

What is the critical factor you have to get right in your business, the target you have to meet? How many of your employees know what it is and why it’s important?

One of the mistakes managers make is to assume that employees know what the company is trying to achieve, what their role is, and why it’s important. They usually don’t.

For example, employees are given a target. It is the absolute minimum, and the manager has told the employees. But, however clear the instructions were, and depending on a whole host of factors, employees may treat the target the way we treat speed limits: they are a rough estimate; do your best, but if you have to go faster, so be it.

“But I told them; I explained; I warned them about all the bad things that would happen to them if they failed.” No doubt, but if we were to ask the employees why they missed the target we would receive various answers.

Cynical Sue: “Yes, and you were really forceful about it. I just thought you were using scare tactics. I didn’t think that it was the absolute minimum.”
Mystified Moses: “I didn’t think it affected me. I did my best, but it didn’t seem to be as important as the other things I have to do.”
Helpless Hannah: will say, “I tried; but I’m struggling with flu, my daughter’s writing Matric and my husband’s been retrenched. I can’t help it. It wasn’t my fault.”
• And then there’s Wilful Wally. He won’t speak to you but he’s thinking, “You don’t care about me, why should I care about your stupid targets. I’ll do what I’m paid for; don’t push me.”

The one thing the employees didn’t get, the one thing that is usually missing in our discussion with employees, is the ‘why’. Why is it important? Why this target? And the question, “What about my circumstances?”

Susan M. Heathfield, ( writes, “What the executive team fails to do is effectively communicate (the company’s) direction and plans throughout the organization. And, they usually skip the why, the rationale, which is the most important part for employee understanding.”

It’s tempting to reject employees’ questions as irrelevant. “That’s what I want; now go and do it.” The reality is that if we want the best out of our employees we have to give them something more. Employees are not robots that do what we want when we switch them on. Human beings are much more complex, and understanding why something has to be done is part of that complexity.

Visible targets
Where does your average employee track your company’s progress, or the progress of his or her own department? Are your major targets up on your canteen walls?

Until we make clear, bold statements about what is critical for the Company, and for each Department in it, employees will not be single minded about it. They are going to have their heads down, focused on what keeps them busy Monday to Friday, with half an eye for the weekend, but they won’t know how their tasks relate to the bottom line or how they can make a difference.

What’s the big picture?
Even a driver needs a sense of how his interaction with customers can affect sales. He should be just as proud of increased sales as those more directly involved.

One of the (probably apocryphal) stories doing the rounds before the 2010 World Cup had some timber-supply employees loading trucks. They were asked what they were doing. Some said the obvious, “Loading timber.” But one crew said, “We’re building a World Cup stadium.”

How engaged is that? Employees only respond like that if their manager keeps the big picture in front of them every day. Every day they are reminded that they are not loading timber, they are supplying a customer and they are part of that customer’s success. Whatever that customer is building, they are building. The quality of the product and the service they give are enhanced because the focus isn’t on loading timber, but on building a home, a cathedral, or a World Cup stadium.

What do your employees do? What do they think they do? It’s up to you.

Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people, people-management consulting and writing and editing.

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