“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …” So goes the famous opening of the Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities. As I listen to business conversations these days, those words seem to capture the emerging state of mind about our current economic climate. Times are tough for lots of people, to be sure. Still, I’m sensing a conviction that we’re gaining wisdom from the foolishness that produced the “meltdown.” I’m also seeing a firm resolve to “get things right” that’s grounded partly in a renewed appreciation for the bottom-line basics of employee engagement.
Despite the economic conditions, many companies are discovering what most of us in the “people professions” have known all along. You can count on the vast majority of employees to step up and deliver the “discretionary effort” it takes to help their organizations survive and thrive. Tapping that potential, though, takes more than sending memos, giving speeches or sounding alarms. It requires a commitment to the kind of trust-building policies, practices and processes that support and energize employees to contribute the very best they have to offer.
Engagement Gives ’em an Edge
Interestingly, hard times have reinforced the value of that commitment according to a recent study conducted by Hay Group Insight. They found that revenue growth in organizations that have boosted their employee engagement efforts during the economic downturn is 4.5 times greaterthan in low engagement companies.
The study underscores another crucial point – “engagement” alone is not enough to produce success. Hay Group Insight’s global managing director, William Werhane says, “It is clear from our research that while many organizations are focused on employee engagement with good reason, leaders must also enable employees to channel their extra efforts productively to deliver superior results.”
Enabled Engagement Helps Winners Win
Some approaches are more effective than others, of course. At our firm, we’ve devoted considerable effort to understanding what engages and enables employees most effectively, focusing heavily on what we call our ImaginAction Continuous Improvement System. Although we’ve refined it over the years, the system’s basic design is rooted in a process that’s been used successfully by a number of Baldrige National Quality Award winners. It’s produced notable results in increasing both the volume of implemented improvements (up to 500% over previous suggestion programs) … and the employee participation rate (typically more than 60% annually).
As its name implies, some features of the ImaginAction Continuous Improvement System are counterintuitive – they run against the grain of the typical suggestion program. Still, the basic premise underlying its design is pure common sense. If you want to generate substantial employee engagement in improvement efforts, it can’t be a one-off activity – it has to be imbedded as an integrated system that runs alongside the daily work routine.
In the next issue of Inside Out, we’ll look at some of the system’s success factors, including the “counterintuitive” features that make a big difference in getting employees engaged in systematic continuous improvement.
# # #