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Employee Engagement: Getting From “No” to “Yes”

Dec. 15, 2014
The road to employee engagement starts with developing employees who think and act like owners, not with lattes in the breakroom.

IndustryWeek’s recent article, Are You Wasting Your Most Valuable Resource? makes the case that every study, every poll, every piece of research indicates that companies who engage their employees win in the marketplace, and yet the vast majority of employees are disengaged. The author, Patricia Panchak, then throws it down:

“I sometimes think leaders' reluctance to implement employee engagement best practices comes down to the answer to a simple question: Do you truly believe the workforce -- those largely unheralded front-line production professionals, administrative assistants and customer service representatives -- are smart enough to come up with ideas and solutions that will help move your company forward?

I think the honest answer from most business leaders is "no."

I agree with this assessment, the honest answer is no, they’re not smart enough. 

At my firm, Acumen Learning, we’ve quizzed over 100,000 businesspeople (and counting); we’ve found that nine out of 10 of them don’t understand important business metrics. Further, Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton shared their findings in Harvard Business Review:  “…on average, 95% of a company’s employees are unaware of, or do not understand, its strategy. If the employees who are closest to customers and who operate processes that create value are unaware of the strategy, they surely cannot help the organization implement it effectively.”

It’s no small coincidence that most employees are disengaged and that most employees don’t understand vital aspects of business.

We’ve learned from The Corporate Leadership Board’s survey of more than 50,000 employees that the single most important strategy for driving engagement is for employees to have a strong connection between their work and the organization’s strategy and to recognize that their job is an important part of the organization’s success. In other words, engaged employees know how to move the company forward and they’re motivated to do it. Unfortunately, there’s just not that many type of employees out there.

Part of the problem is that when it comes time to get serious about engagement, which was yesterday by the way, the temptation is to focus on corporate amenities. While promotions, health benefits, challenging work, and even freezing eggs are all good – it won’t change an executive’s answer from “no” to “yes.”

And continuing to believe that people “in” business “get” business, when every study suggests otherwise, will only further disengage the workforce. And don’t forget to look in your career mirror – statistically you’re likely disengaged and a little uncomfortable holding your own in a meeting when people start discussing numbers and strategies.

While the road to engagement can be long and arduous, there’s no better time than now to get started. Here’s your first step: Focus intently on developing employees who think and act like owners, and if you don’t know how to do this, be humble enough to get some help.

If you can take this first step personally and become a catalyst within your organization to do the same, you will be that much closer to achieving a highly engaged workforce who recognizes the value of their work and who work on the things that really count.

Then, and only then, will you get the leaders of the business to answer, “Yes, I truly believe the workforce -- those largely unheralded front-line production professionals, administrative assistants and customer service representatives -- are smart enough to come up with ideas and solutions that will help move our company forward – because they have the business acumen to make it happen.”

Kevin Cope is the author of the No. 1 best-seller, Seeing the Big Picture: Business Acumen to Build Your Credibility, Career and Company, and the founder and CEO of Acumen Learning. Cope's clients include 18 of the Fortune 50.

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