5 Powerful Steps to Improve Employee Engagement

Today more than ever, organizations rely on the energy, commitment and engagement of their workforce in order to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century. As a former Nany SEAL, I can assure you that one of the fundamental reasons we continue to dominate our battlefield and defeat a very dangerous and decentralized enemy is due to the fact that we have 100% employee engagement. We have ecosystems of empowered teams that are fully engaged and working in a “decentralized command” environment.

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs – meaning that they are emotionally invested in committing their time, talent and energy in adding value to their team and advancing the organization’s initiatives. More Gallop research shows that employee disengagement costs the United States upwards of $550 billion a year in lost productivity. So one could see why this is both a serious problem that most leaders and managers face with today’s workforce – but also an amazing opportunity for companies that learn to master the art of engagement.

The current business environment, and the world in general, is moving faster than it ever has before. Organizations across the globe are faced with more change than most can handle – in order to compete and dominate their segment they are required to grow faster often giving them less time to focus on managing all of their financial goals. They are forced to grow quickly with fewer resource – to do more with less. Managers have to learn to excel in managing themselves, their teams and meeting organizational goals simultaneously.

It is a common understanding of a vast majority of leaders that the employees are a company’s most important asset. But in reality, that is only true when the majority of the workforce is fully engaged in their work. If not, they are either adding minimal value or actively working against the organization.

There are three types of employees in any organization:

Engaged (15% of the workforce). These employees are loyal and emotionally committed to the organization. They are in roles where they excel and where their talents are truly leveraged. They enthusiastically invest in their work and take on responsibilities outside of their job description. They are generally more likely to become emerging leaders and will stay with an organization much longer then disengaged employees.

Not Engaged (67% of the workforce). These employees can be difficult to identify because they are often relatively happy and satisfied in their role. However, they do the bare minimum and are not invested in the company’s mission, vision, values or goals. They are less likely to be customer-focused and are not concerned about productivity or company profitability. These team members are both a threat and great opportunity – because with the proper approach, they can be transformed into engaged employees that thrive in the organization.

Actively Disengaged (18% of the workforce). We have all worked alongside these people. They are consistently negative, create a toxic environment, dominate their manager’s time and are usually vocal about their unhappiness. What’s worse, is they are often subject matter experts well-respected in their unique skillset. And because of that, they often have significant influence over others. These employees can easily spread toxicity throughout an organization and can rarely be transformed into true “A” players.

Most studies point to the fact that employee engagement has a direct impact on productivity and profitability. That seems self-evident, yet many managers still struggle to define, measure and improve engagement in their teams.

The Leader’s Role in Engagement

Leaders improve engagement by defining and communicating a powerful vision for the organization. They hire and develop managers that are emotionally invested in the organization’s mission and vision and give them the resources to build great teams with the right people in the right roles. They empower.

The Manager’s Role in Engagement

Great managers ensure they acquire and develop great talent – they get the right people on the bus and make sure they are in the right seats. They actively prioritize engagement. Their team’s activities align perfectly behind the mission narrative of the organization.

In many of my articles, I dive deep in to the methodologies, tools and strategies leaders and managers need to successfully navigate the murky waters of twenty-first century organizational transformation – for leading change. I showcase how to build a culture that is more nimble and adaptive founded on the principles of trust and accountability. The issue at hand is with such low engagement in the workforce, it is very difficult to create a culture of trust and accountability.

70% of organizational transformation efforts fall significantly short of realizing the company’s goals. Why? Because change is hard, takes longer and usually has higher hard and soft costs than managers and leaders generally plan for. Change can be intensely personal for employees, causes fear and can actually reduce productivity when approached improperly.

Humans are emotional creatures – and most managers hold the misconception that their team members are largely rational in their decision-making process. Yet studies show that we base 70% of our decisions on emotional factors and only 30% on rational factors. But this can also be a great way to improve engagement. Improving engagement is simple – but clearly not easy. Here’s how.

5 Powerful Steps to Improve Employee Engagement

How do managers know who is engaged? Their team members need to be able to confidently state the following:

  • I know what is expected of me and my work quality.
  • I have the resources and training to thrive in my role.
  • I have the opportunity to do what I do best – every day.
  • I frequently receive recognition, praise and constructive criticism.
  • I trust my manager and believe they have my best interests in mind.
  • My voice is heard and valued.
  • I clearly understand the mission and purpose and how I contribute to each.
  • I have opportunities to learn and grow both personally and professionally.

The steps for improving engagement aren’t complex, they simply must be prioritized. Which means engagement must be a core function of the manager’s role.

All else then falls into place.

Step 1 – Put Everyone in the Right Role

Again, get the right people on the bus and make sure they are in the right roles. This means that all talent acquisition and retention strategies have to be aligned with meeting company goals.

Step 2 – Give Them the Training

No manager or leader can expect to build a culture of trust and accountability – and much less improve engagement – without setting the team up for success. This means providing the proper training and development while removing obstacles.

Step 3 – Task Meaningful Work

Engaged employees are doing meaningful work and have a clear understanding of how they contribute to the company’s mission, purpose and strategic objectives. Again, this is why they first have to be placed in the right role. I’ve made the mistake of hiring great talent just to get them in the door – but didn’t have a clear career path or role for them. If you don’t sort those details out quickly, they will leave.

Step 4 – Check in Often

The days of simply relying on mid-year reviews for providing feedback are long gone. Today’s workforce craves regular feedback – which of course leads to faster course correction and reduces waste. Use both formal and informal check-in strategies – and use them every week.

Step 5 – Frequently Discuss Engagement

Successful managers are transparent in their approach to improving engagement – they talk about it with their teams all the time. They hold “state of engagement” meetings and “engage” everyone in the discussion – and solutions.

Again, these principles are not complex, but must be prioritized. Companies that get this right will drive greater financial returns, surpass their competitors and easily climb to the top of “the best places to work” lists.