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June 29, 2015

Employee Engagement – How Do You Measure Up?

Filed under: General HR Buzz5:10 am

bored employee

Okay, I have three numbers for you – or percentages I should say – 30, 13 and 70. According to a recent study conducted by Gallup, 30 percent of U.S. employees are actively engaged in their job. Mull that over for a moment. That means seven out of ten folks around you will probably do enough to earn their paycheck, and nothing more. Sure, they’ll get the job done, but are by no means driven to go above and beyond in their work.

Sounds pretty bad, right? Well that’s actually quite better than employee engagement worldwide, which sits at a dismal 13 percent. Thirty is starting to sound good … Don’t fret though, there’s still one more number: 70. Management is shown to account for 70 percent of variance in employee engagement.

The tone set by leadership is shown to systematically carry throughout the company and directly influences engagement. If you can manage to get the right person in the role, that 30 percent engagement can be driven considerably higher. Management is the key.

Focus and approach

I’ve witnessed the effect that management has on engagement firsthand. In a former life (or so it feels), I was a sales manager for a big box electronics retailer. The biggest driver of profitability, by and large, was television sales. The TV by itself has a high profit margin, but when you add accessories, cables, surge protectors, Blu-ray players and audio, profits can soar. These stores live and die by the success of their TV department.

As you can probably guess, sales managers place a great deal of focus and investment on their salespeople – developing their talents, honing their skills and teaching them how to educate and connect with customers. While the underlying focus is often the same from manager to manager, approach can vary wildly.

Inaction in action

I recall one manager in particular and his method of “talent development.” Employees would regularly approach him after a sale, proud of their accomplishment, and looking for a little approval and encouragement. His response was typically a back-handed compliment: “Nice, I see that you sold an HDMI cable, you should have sold the surge protector too,” or, “Great, they purchased home theater surround-sound with the TV, why didn’t you sell professional installation?” No praise went without criticism; no good deed went unpunished.

In his mind, he was placing the bar higher and higher – helping his salespeople strive to be the best and reach a standard of excellence. It worked in a few cases. More often than not however, employees disengaged, confident that they could never do enough to satisfy. They could never reach their goals, because they were always reestablished right before they were met.

It’s all relative

I always did my best to encourage performance through individual achievement rather than a single standard of excellence. The biggest difference between these two methods is the approach towards goal setting. The first method establishes a measure for greatness, and produces an all or nothing mentality. In the words of Jedi Master Yoda, “Do, or do not. There is no try.” Maybe this works in the Marine Corps boot camp, professional sports and the Jedi Academy, but it’s not a prudent approach for an every-day Middle America workforce.

The other method takes a little longer, but is much more productive. We have to first take stock of an employee’s skill set and potential, and then work with them to establish a “next level.” Something that they can own; something on their terms. If we view performance as falling somewhere on a continuum, focus moves to direction and momentum. Not just good or bad, but getting better or getting worse. As long as we can keep consistently ticking along upwards, slow and steady will often win the race.

In part two of this post, we’ll look at some tangible methods of engaging employees. In the meantime, if your organization would benefit from more streamlined and simplified performance management, click here to learn more about Performance Pro!

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