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Creating Engaged Employees

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Society for the Advancement of Consulting® (SAC) canvassed its members over the past ten days to determine how best to engage employees in their organization's goals. SAC CEO Alan Weiss, Ph.D. has chosen a representative sample of members' comments to suggest to business leaders.

Dr. Maynard Brusman is a consulting psychologist and leadership coach and president of Working Resources, a strategic talent management firm in San Francisco, CA. He specializes in executive coaching for developing emotionally intelligent leader and lawyers. He offers a couple of insights:

"Employees who are not engaged tend to feel their contributions are being overlooked, and their potential is not being tapped. The best way to get people to become a part of an organization is through relationships. Employees who feel disconnected emotionally from their coworkers and supervisor do not feel committed to their work. They hang back and do the minimum because they don't believe anyone cares. The manager who takes the time to have a dialogue about an employee's strengths and how these can make a difference forges essential ties and connections that lead to employee commitment."

"The single best way to improve employee involvement is to ask for employee input," said Jennifer Schade, president of JRS Consulting, Inc. in Wilmette, Illinois. "This is particularly true during economic downturns."

Schade has interviewed more than 2,500 employees worldwide. "It may seem counterintuitive, but during tight economic times, it's more important than ever for companies to be spending efforts-and dollars-on third-party employee research. Asking employees for feedback gives them some skin in the game in any initiative and conveys that the organization values its team members. Quite often we find that the benefits of asking employees for their opinions begin as soon as we start our interviews. We hear, 'I'm impressed that they've hired you to talk with us. That tells us they care.'"

"The single best way to improve employee involvement is to make it easy for your people to experience the positive impact of their contributions," observes Seth Kahan, president of Performance Management Group In Bethesda, MD.

"First, choose initiatives that really matter to the organization. Everyone wants to make a difference where it counts. Second, make it easy for them to see that their participation has real, positive impact. Third, set them up for success: solicit their input in ways that allow them to be both candid and constructive. Finally, share any resulting success. If there are significant cost-savings or revenue increases, provide a perk at an appropriate fraction of the accrued worth."

SAC member Gary W. Patterson, President of FiscalDoctor in Boston, reports he still finds the best way to improve employee involvement is to treat them as a valued resource, not an expense. He still remembers the client who wanted better involvement and stressed their need to manage their departments better. That same CEO would not pay for employee training unless it was a course he wanted someone to attend, and refused to distribute monthly financial statements with a comparison of actual results to budget. Morale, employee involvement and bottom line results were so much better at another client, who budgeted and scheduled training, and distributed useful financial information.

Gayle Lantz, President of WorkMatters, Inc , in Birmingham, AL, notes the single best way to improve employee involvement has to do with fostering dialogue at all levels about key business issues. A leader's ability to engage employees in meaningful dialogue about those issues is critical. Leaders who spend too much time in management meetings behind closed doors risk alienating employees who want to know more, and who can offer ideas and support.

Organizational performance expert Ann Latham recommends frequent discussions about priorities, challenges, progress and options. "Employee involvement, whether in the form of speaking up, stepping up, or sticking with it, all hinge on their understanding of what is important and how they are involved," said Latham, president of Uncommon Clarity, Inc. "Most people want their talents and efforts to make an important contribution. Most would be energized by the opportunity to provide more of their particular expertise or creativity if they believed it could make a positive difference for themselves and the company."

Ross Mitchel, president of Implementations, Inc. in Austin, TX, notes:
"Improve employee involvement by engaging employees in the development of initiatives that relate to them. It sounds obvious, but it's often overlooked by management who is then surprised when employees have a lackluster response to something once it is rolled out. Informal information gathering, employee surveys, and internal focus groups are all easy and effective ways to let employees know you value their perspective, and of creating buy-in and ownership at the outset of a change or new development in the organization."

Weiss concludes, "Employee engagement and involvement is often just a matter of listening to people and then confirming that you've heard them. There are few leadership issues as productive and cost effective as that!"

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