How Much Employee Engagement Can You Expect?

Committed to company goals?

Today’s holy grail of management and business performance is employee engagement.  Everyone is being told to focus on forging the emotional connection and commitment to mission that results in high-performing employees and exceptional shareholder returns. Companies who have achieved a high level of employee engagement are reaping the rewards in tangible, bottom-line results.

But how much engagement can we realistically expect from employees? The answer to that question is elusive and depends on a number of factors:

Lack of Ownership is a Deal Breaker

This last question can be a deal-breaker when it comes to engagement, because an employee will never be engaged the way an owner is engaged.  

Historically, small business owners have lamented the lack of commitment shown by employees who clock out at 5:00 pm while the boss works on into the wee hours. This is often what motivates the family business model that generates engagement through kinship, obligation and ownership (or the promise of ownership!).  

Startups often tackle the issue of ownership (and avoid the potential complications of family ownership), by dividing ownership among founders; using stock or stock options as an incentive; or offering early-stage “skin-in-the-game” positions. 

Stocks as Incentive

Other firms establish employee stock/share ownership plans, ensuring that employees are also owners and have a vested interest in the company’s success. Some of the most Winning Workplaces are employee owned.  In the UK, the employee owned business sector is growing because, according to their evidence, “co-owned companies tend to be successful, competitive, good to work for, and sustainable”.  This stance was echoed in a presentation by Charlie Mayfield, Chairman of John Lewis Partnership, entitled Employee ownership, happiness and business success.

When Ownership is Not an Option

Of course, it’s not always possible to offer actual ownership in an organization—what then? Interestingly enough, under the right circumstances, employees will behave and respond like owners, if you help them feel like owners. This doesn’t just happen. There are a number of elements that must be brought into play and specific actions that are required.  Here are a few of the things you’ll need to do to engage your employees and help them feel and act like owners:

  1. Start at the top. If your leadership is not committed to the idea of employee engagement, it just won’t happen.
  2. Make sure employees understand and are aligned with the company mission and values. This starts with clear communication from the top combined with HR’s commitment to hire for fit.
  3. Develop a strong onboarding process that makes a great first impression and quickly connects new hires to your people and your systems.
  4. Put people first. Treat employees with respect and communicate the value they bring to the organization and how it contributes to the mission.
  5. Reward and recognize according to employees' preferences, not yours. (Remember the Platinum Rule!)
  6. If you can’t give them share ownership—give them task ownership.  

The strongest and most successful organizations have a mission, culture and values that are embraced and celebrated by the entire team. When everyone is engaged and aligned, your company performs more effectively and more consistently and you can expect a heck of a lot from your employees!

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