Can You Cope With Engaged Employees?

We’ve all been there.

Driving our car a little faster than we should because we’re late for a meeting. Taking a short cut to get a job done by the deadline. Maybe even stretching the truth slightly to get that new job. Ok, maybe not that far!

Whatever your story, it’s a gap in our values between what we should do and what we actually do. And that gap often shows up when we’re under pressure.

It’s no different for organisations. Some may declare people are their strength and commit to a work-life balance, only to find senior management overwork and criticise employees for underperformance.

It’s unsurprising then, according to Gallup engagement surveys, only 24 per cent of the Australian workforce is engaged (work with passion and feel a strong connection with the company), 60 per cent are unengaged (commit time but not energy and passion) and 16 per cent are actively disengaged (act out their unhappiness and undermine accomplishments of their engaged co-workers).

The high cost of unengaged or actively disengaged employees motivates many organisations to put even greater effort into employee engagement.

But is the organisation ready to cope with engaged employees?

Engaged employees speak up, participate and challenge the status quo.

Take Jenny for example, who successfully completed an intensive Employee Engagement training program at her company. The program was developed to address a significant problem discovered through employee surveys: middle management was stifled. And the problem wasn’t going away.

For three years running, employee surveys highlighted that the opinions and ideas of middle management was dismissed or ignored.

Worse, some employees felt threatened. If they spoke up, mid-management believed they’d be targeted as a problem employee and possibly fired for having a bad attitude.

The company has always been a high performer in its industry. It had to act quickly to turn this around or else, performance would lag, employees stagnate and new talent become harder to attract.

Jenny looked forward to attending and kept an open mind. The program was held in five separate full day sessions over three months. That way, employees could incorporate what they learned as they progressed.

After every session, she felt inspired, empowered, and more committed to the organisation than before. And networking opportunities were a bonus.

Everyone was supportive and helpful. All participated and shared their views and ideas. There was no holding back. For every negative situation, the group worked together to come up with a positive solution.

Jenny found her voice again and the Company encouraged her to speak up.
She had her first opportunity a few days later in a meeting with two vice presidents. Jenny felt comfortable to express her opinion and make a couple of suggestions to improve the process.

But when she outlined her ideas, the VPs looked at her doubtfully. They let her finish and then, shut her down straight away.

“We’ve tried that. It won’t work and we haven’t time to consider it again,” the one VP said. And that was the end of it. Jenny left the meeting dejected and in disbelief. Obviously, there was a disconnection between what was taught and what was reality.

Next day, she asked her manager: are the senior leaders aware of the program? Had they been trained?

The manager said the leaders were well aware of the program. But none had gone through the training. Little wonder at the VPs showing the same “old” behaviour as before. It was the norm, and the cycle was to continue.

A company and its leaders need to know how to manage engaged employees. Engaged employees are willing to take initiative. They are creative in developing solutions that tackle organisational inefficiencies – sometimes even beyond their sphere of influence. Like crossing over into other departments to get the best results for their clients. Or reducing administration and the number of controls that might limit productivity.

When it comes to employee engagement, the rule is clear:

Don’t engage employees unless you’re willing to enable them to do their job and solve issues that prevent them, and the company, from moving forward.

For companies willing to engage and enable employees, it is not always easy to discern what stage an employee is at in their engagement.

Without searching carefully for the cause of underperformance, the obvious conclusion could be “they are not the right person for the role.” And unfortunately, good employees who don’t have the right support will be forced out of the organisation.

A few years ago, I conducted a Strategic Planning workshop with the senior executives of an organisation. The company’s growth was being undermined by its inability to develop new products. The entire Product Development team was retrenched only a year earlier. At the time, the CEO said they weren’t the right people for the job.

Now, the new team was starting to disappoint with a lack of results. As part of our review, we analysed the root causes of the obstacles hindering the team’s progress.

The root cause analysis pointed to issues such as management often changing priorities. That day was an eye opener for the leadership team. I still remember the silence in the room. People wondered if the previous Product Development team were just not enabled to perform.

So watch out for these obstacles:

– Departments have conflicting goals and priorities
– Processes lack a customer focus
– Decisions are short term and not made in a timely way
– Strategy is unclear at every level of the organisation
– Authority and accountability are mismatched
– Administration and controls are excessive
– Conflict between individuals and teams continues

Each of these prevents employees from being enabled. Many companies experience a number of them at the one time.

It’s vital, in order for an organisation to achieve its business goals and succeed, that these hurdles are overcome.

Solutions are at hand – just ask your employees. They know a company best and often, can work together to create the best outcome.

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