Employee Engagement – ABC

After hearing my work was about helping clients achieve their workforce potential, a fellow participant at a recent CEO conference enquired, if it was “basically HR stuff”. I asked the CEO what he meant and he replied, “you know, hiring people, firing people, paying them on time; making sure grievances were heard; compliance with employment law and ensuring that there wasn’t any labour trouble”.

I explained that my work is quite different; it involved creating a canvas where employees were connected wholeheartedly with the business and performance far exceeded the formal requirements of their job descriptions and employment contracts. Elaborating further, I explained that my work was about ensuring employees remained engaged, felt trusted, performed their best, realised their career potential and reinforced the best interests of the business. My work helped clients create a workplace where goodwill and commitment ensured employees regularly went the extra mile. Releasing such ‘discretionary commitment’, I added, was neither a contractual obligation nor could it be mandated by a CEO. It always emerged from an organisation’s culture and ethos.

Genuinely interested, the CEO admitted his frustration at the wide variations in customer service at his retail outlets. He questioned the ability and efforts of his sales managers to improve their Net Promoter Scores and customer satisfaction metrics. He candidly expressed his disappointment at the unfolding of his company’s efforts on customer segmentation, marketing planning and product placement. Staff turnover remained a pressing issue and almost made a mockery of their sales and product training investments. Increasingly, he said, he had also been wondering if achieving staff engagement and improving retail performance were somehow connected; whether achieving engagement meant paying extravagant salaries, lucrative sales commissions and incentives. If so, he was concerned if his business would sustain the added costs.

I explained that there is a certain minimum threshold of competitiveness that the pay, benefits, employment terms and incentives at his business would need to exceed. Assuming that this was indeed the case, energies could be invested more constructively by creating a workplace culture where employee engagement is enabled and valued. Yes, there would be some short term expenditure to achieve this, but it would rapidly be recouped from improvements in customer service across the entire workforce.

Keen to assess how well the CEO understood his workforce, I enquired if he knew what brought his employees to work; whether they shared his ambition for the business and felt connected to it. Observing some hesitation, and keen to avoid any embarrassment, I explained that employee engagement was not about paying a lot of money; instead it was about creating the circumstances that would ensure Attitude, Behaviour and Consequences across the workforce. Attitude was about creating pride, loyalty, belongingness, responsibility and a feeling of ownership; Behaviour was about consistently delighting the customer, going the extra mile and bringing a smile while Consequences were about achieving business results, higher productivity, lower employee turnover, reduced absenteeism and fewer employee grievances and disputes.

This wasn’t as simple as it appeared, I hastily added, and it was also not a quick fix solution either. The efforts though are certainly worthwhile with tangible benefits to a business such as his, where its products were easily substitutable commodities.  Amongst other things it would involve creating a genuine understanding of different sections of the workforce: what motivates and excites them, what brings them to work, their career aspirations, their commitment to business strategy, their relationship with colleagues; it’s listening, understanding and creating relevant employer value propositions. It is also about training managers to understand that their primary role is to provide leadership; ensuring conditions at the workplace excite employees to go the extra mile and remain engaged. It is crucial that managers remember the adage; people join brands and companies but employees leave their managers.

The CEO invited me to meet with him and his management team after the conference to take our conversation forward. Following discussions my services were engaged to create a roadmap for employee engagement and train managers fulfil their role in ensuring Attitude, Behaviour and Consequences – the ABC of employee engagement.

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