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Rules of Engagement

Nov. 15, 2007
Plants with most successful continuous improvement programs have workforces that are highly active in contributing to the company's cost-savings efforts.

One of the key workplace metrics IndustryWeek examines during its annual Best Plants competition is the level of employee engagement at each facility. Based on past winners, it's clear why an involved workforce is so critical. Typically, the plants with some of the most successful continuous improvement programs have workforces that are highly active in contributing to the company's cost-savings efforts.

But judging from a recent study, many manufacturers worldwide aren't doing enough to foster worker engagement. Globally only 21% of employees are willing to go the extra distance to help their companies succeed, according to a Towers Perrin survey of nearly 90,000 employees in 18 countries. The consequences for companies that don't empower their workforces is evident in another study cited by Towers Perrin of 40 global companies that shows firms with the most-engaged employees collectively increased operating income 19% and earnings per share 28% year to year.

Findings from the report suggest that employers:

Like most IW Best Plants, 2006 winner Schneider Electric's Peru, Ind., operations encourages employee engagement to drive improvements.Ensure senior management is more visible and accessible. (Only 10% of employees agreed that senior management treats them as if they're the most important part of the organization.)
  • Create rewarding conditions that sustain engagement, such as career-advancement opportunities.
  • Demonstrate that they're leaders in their industries. (Employees typically want to work for an organization that strives for excellence.)
  • The positive news for employers is that the study reflects an ambitious and committed workforce, notes Julie Gebauer, of Towers Perrin's HR Services department. "This lays to rest several persistent stereotypes -- that employees are loyal only to themselves and their careers and are looking to do the minimum to get by," she observes. "But turning people's energy and ambition into engagement -- and ultimately into significant performance lift -- demands attention, focus and some very different behavior from senior leaders."

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