Key Drivers Of Employee Engagement In Today's Manufacturing Organizations

Jan. 17, 2007
Organizations must hire employees who fit the job requirements, develop leaders with the right skills and provide support through strong systems and strategies.

Today's business landscape has presented new and challenging demands for manufacturing organizations. Customer requirements for lower prices, higher quality and greater value are unprecedented and unyielding. Many companies look for quick fixes in the form of plant consolidations, expensive redesigns of operations, or relocations of their operations overseas. As most manufacturers continue to seek fractional reductions in cost, one of the most important drivers of improved business performance and profit margin is all but ignored -- the ongoing development of skills and effectiveness for all employees.

The world's most successful manufacturing organizations are able to build engaged, high performing workforces by investing in every employee. And the results are striking, as study after study has shown the clear link between employee engagement and organizational performance.

Unfortunately, employee engagement isn't a one-dimensional concept, something that can be increased simply by sending out a survey or instituting a program. Instead, organizations that are successful at increasing employee engagement realize that it requires culture change. Engagement is not accidental. There are actually three key elements that contribute to a highly engaged workforce, including having the right employees in the right jobs; leaders who are attuned to their direct reports; and systems and strategies for gaining and maintaining engagement in every organization.

Organizations must hire employees who fit the job requirements, develop leaders with the right skills and provide support through strong systems and strategies. Together, these three drivers lead to the formation of an engaging work environment. Once created, the engaging work environment has a positive impact on employee behaviors and attitudes. In particular, an engaging environment builds loyalty in employees by meeting their personal and practical needs, thus encouraging them to stay with the organization. In addition, an engaging work environment taps into employees' motivation to try harder and put forth the extra effort that differentiates organizations from their competitors.

Finally, when organizations have engaged employees, the long-term benefits translate to the bottom line. Organizations have more satisfied and loyal customers, increased profits, better-quality products or services and greater growth potential.

To hear more about this topic attend the IW Best Plants Conference, April 24-25, 2007 at the Hyatt Regency Indianapolis, Indiana. The session Developing and Retaining Manufacturing Leaders of Today & Tomorrow will be held on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 10:00 a.m. To register for the conference and view the entire list of speakers visit
Today's manufacturing organizations can drive engagement by proactively leveraging these three sources of influence for change: employees, leaders, and organizational systems and strategies. These three drivers work in concert to build an engaging work environment. Manufacturing organizations hoping to drive engagement must tap into employees' passion, commitment and identification with the organization. This is accomplished by having the right employees working in the right jobs, i.e., individuals who have the skills to do the job and that their jobs tap into their personal motivators. High job fit is achieved by effectively deploying employees' talents when making selection, placement and promotion decisions. Research has repeatedly shown that when job fit is high, an employee performs better and is more likely to stay with the organization. For example, a large auto manufacturing plant in the U.S. invested in an employee selection system that measured not only whether or not individuals could do the job (i.e., had the skills and experience), but also whether or not there was a strong "motivational fit" with the job and the organization. Leaders at this manufacturing plant agree that selecting employees with stronger motivational fit for the job and the organization has led to high levels of productivity, quality, attendance and retention.

The second engagement driver is exceptional leadership. Many of the work environment factors of our model are directly affected by the quality of leadership. Leaders have the influence and power to serve as catalysts for higher levels of engagement, not only in one or two areas, but also in all aspects of leadership. Even more compelling, our own assessment and testing research shows that: (1) Higher-performing managers have direct reports who are more highly engaged and (2) The direct reports of engaged managers are less likely to leave the organization.

Changes in leader behaviors can have a real impact on employee engagement. For example, a study of pre- and post training engagement scores showed that when leaders improved their skills through training, employees became more engaged in their work. Engaged leaders understand that their role is not to take charge of all the decisions, but to be more like proactive coaches. It's about recognition for a job well done; it's about giving people the room and encouragement to grow. It's also about being tough when necessary, holding people accountable for their performance.

The role of the leader is just as vital in the manufacturing industry. Leaders, especially those on the front line, play a crucial role in executing overall goals and strategies through build highly engaged teams. In a recently published report by the Manufacturing Performance institute (MPI) and Development Dimensions International (DDI), the human resource practices of successful facilities were examined, including leadership development. Four out of five of the plants that participated in the study had some kind of leadership development program, however 20% had no plans to develop their leaders at any level. This is particularly concerning, since leadership development could help them build a committed, engaged workforce.

Finally, organizations need strong systems and strategies that support and foster engagement. Examples of systems are hiring, promotion, performance management, recognition, compensation, training and career development.

Together, these systems provide a firm foundation upon which to accelerate engagement. A shaky or incomplete foundation will make your efforts to build engagement more difficult, if not impossible. It's also worth noting that the surest path to employee engagement begins with the organization's senior leaders understanding the strategic importance of developing a highly engaged workforce, and committing to make it happen.

Sections of this article were taken from the new DDI monograph, Employee Engagement: The Key to Realizing Competitive Advantage. Research was cited from Super Human Resources: A Census of Manufacturers.

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