Tag Archives: employee engagement

Getting the most from your “discretionary effort system.”

One of the most popular definitions for employee engagement is discretionary effort. But when you ask the question – “Discretionary effort for what?” – the answers can go in a lot of different directions, and they’re often not very strategically targeted. Asking yourself a few key questions will help you leverage employee engagement for things that matter most to the organization and employees alike:

1. What do we want people to do?
Determine your priorities, and communicate frequently and consistently with employees on where you want them to focus their discretionary effort.

2. How do we want them to do it?
Give employees a mechanism for taking action and initiative based on what we call the 4-S principles. No, I didn’t miss one from the 5-S “lean” system. These are different – simple, streamlined, supportive and systemic.

3. How do we get them tuned in and turned on?
Explain to employees how their individual efforts to “go the extra mile” can boost company performance, and give them a stake in the outcomes with modest incentives and bonuses.

4. How do we keep it alive?
Make continuous improvement part of the daily routine by putting it in everyone’s job description, and discuss it in regular group meetings and one-on-one conversations.

5. How well are we doing it?
Monitor and measure the level of discretionary effort employees put into making improvements in your top priorities, and show them the impact it’s having on critical performance indicators.

6. How are we reinforcing it?
Recognize people’s contributions frequently and sincerely with simple yet meaningful expressions of acknowledgment and appreciation.

The actual design of your “discretionary effort system” will vary depending on a lot of factors such as type of business, size of the organization, number and locations of operations, communication tools. . .and plain old culture. But answering those questions is a great starting point for any organization to ensure that they get the biggest bang for the buck when it comes to employee engagement.

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Simple questions with big implications.

Answer the Questions
Here are three simple questions that have big implications for how you think about the connection between employee engagement and marketing communication. Rate each one on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being highest), and then compare your answers with the data we’ve collected from other respondents over the years as shown below (don’t peek until you’ve answered the questions):

1. How much impact do you think the quality of employee relationships within your organization affects your relationships with customers and other external stakeholders?

2. How much is the quality of employee relationships affected by the level of trust and the quality of communication in your organization?

3. If someone asked employees in your organization to rate the level of trust and quality of communication in your organization, what would they say?

Compare Your Responses
After administering this questionnaire to hundreds of people, we’ve found a fairly consistent pattern with the following average scores:

  • 8.5 on question #1
  • 9.2 on question #2
  • 4.5 on question #3

Here’s an interesting point worth noting about the data. Almost all of it has come from managers, and the responses to questions #1 and #2 are highly consistent across all levels of management. On question #3, however, the higher a person’s management level, the higher the scores tend to be. Front line supervisor scores are generally the lowest on that final question. It’s probably safe to assume that the gap between the first two questions and the third one would be even greater if the percent of non-management employees had been higher. It’s not a scientific study, of course, but the anecdotal evidence is pretty clear – and somewhat sobering.

Consider the Implications
So why do so many companies persist in living with such a glaring gap between where they are and where their own conclusions suggest they should be? After talking and working with numerous people in the various groups and organizations, here is what we have concluded:

1. Management doesn’t fully appreciate how much the quality of internal relationships accounts for business success.
2. They have misguided notions of what constitutes effective communication and what fosters trust among employees in the workplace.
3. Even if they do understand the requirements for communicating well and fostering employee trust, making the shift requires considerable effort and resources to do it right – usually more than they are prepared to undertake, especially when they believe the competition is really beating them at some other aspect the game of business.

It’s easy for management to ignore the significance of strong employee relationships as the core driver of marketing and business success. It’s even easier to miss the boat in trying to make a strong positive connection with employees when it comes to communication and building trust. If you want to get your management team tuned in to both of those issues, invite them to answer our three simple engagement questions. You might be surprised at just how attention-getting they can be.

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Focus first on “a place to come from” with employee engagement.

Everyone talks about wanting to improve employee engagement, but is that just because it’s like motherhood and apple pie? Or do organizations genuinely appreciate what’s at stake in getting employees more engaged?

Defining Employee Engagement

In 2006, The Conference Board published a report titled, “Employee Engagement, A Review of Current Research and Its Implications.” It was based on a review of 12 major studies conducted during the preceding four years. After sifting through the data, they ultimately arrived at a definition for employee engagement that illustrates its potential impact on organizational performance: “a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work.” Not a bad formula for winning.

Employee Commitment

If you’re still not convinced it’s that big of a deal, try these numbers on for size. In an HR Magazine article published in March 2007 titled, “Leveraging Employee Engagement for Competitive Advantage: HR’s Strategic Role,” author Nancy Lockwood reported on some remarkable research data. It showed that employees with the highest level of commitment perform 20% better and are 87% less likely to leave the organization. That’s serious bottom line impact no matter how you measure it.

Okay, so maybe you don’t need convincing. You get it. All you want to know is how to do it. How do you get that incredibly valuable bonus from employees called “discretionary effort?” You can find strategies and tactics galore if you’ve got the time to search and sort them out. But a simpler and perhaps surer way to get your arms around it is by focusing on the place you need to come from instead of where you want go.

A Shift in Focus

Instead of salivating over a 20% increase in productivity, concentrate on what matters most to the people who are going to deliver that performance for you. Instead of asking how you can motivate people, ask how you can do a better job of tuning in to what they’re already motivated by. Instead of focusing on the end game, make employee well being your number one priority. . . and let the results take care of themselves.

If all that sounds a bit cryptic and touchy-feely, it’s intended to be. That’s because the “place you need to come from” in fostering employee engagement is more a matter of the heart than it is of the head. It’s also a matter of sincere trust and belief in people. If you can stand squarely on that principle as the driving force for your enterprise, the right strategies and tactics will be apparent, and employee engagement will prove to be much more than just a nice thing to do. You’ll find it’s also the ultimate key to good business.

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