What would your workplace be like if you could dramatically improve company performance while at the same time create an environment of trust, respect, teamwork, enthusiasm, balance and reduced stress? The answer is you’d most likely have a fully engaged workforce where people enjoy coming to work and contributing to their own success as well as the company’s success.

There is a great opportunity at our doorstep to turn around the rising tide of employee dis-engagement and cynicism and cultivate organizational resilience leading to positive and sustainable business results. Much of what it takes to do this we already know; build trust, create a safe work environment, clarify goals and expectations and take the time to apply good leadership, communication and rapport building skills. If done right, all these actions lead to a more engaged workforce and form a solid foundation where personal and organizational achievement can thrive.

What Employee Engagement is along with a few “eye-opening” statistics

We define Employee Engagement as the strong emotional connection that an employee feels for their organization which a. influences them to exert greater discretionary effort to their work and b. increases the likelihood that they will stay with the company.
We have been reading a variety of articles and white papers and have come across a number of statistics which we believe highlight the need for companies to prioritize the creation of a more collaborative, engaging work environment and a strong sense of partnership between people. Here are a few that represent much of what we have seen:

  • Only 29% of employees are actively engaged in their jobs, while 54% are not-engaged, and 17% are actively disengaged (Gallop 2008)
  • 72% of employees who quit leave because they feel they are not being recognized for their contributions or sufficiently respected and coached by their leaders (David Ulrich & Wendy Ulrich)
  • 25% of top performers say they plan to leave their current job within a year (Harvard Business Review, May, 2010)
  • Only 13% of disengaged employees would recommend their company’s products or services, compared with 78% of engaged employees (Conference Board).
  • The cost of lost productivity in the US is estimated to be between $287 billion and $370 billion. (David Ulrich & Wendy Ulrich)
  • “Organizations with high engagement are 78 percent more productive and 40 percent more profitable than those organizations with low levels of engagement.” (Hewitt Quarterly)
  • Over a 10 year period (1998 to 2008) “best companies to work for” had a 6.8 % stock appreciation vs. 1.0% for the average firm. (David Ulrich & Wendy Ulrich)
  • Public companies ranking in the top quartile of employee engagement had EPS growth at 2.6 times the rate of those that were below average in terms of employee engagement. (Gallup 2008)
  • Best Buy indicates that for stores that improve employee engagement scores by 1/10 of a point (on a five point scale) will see a $100,000 increase in sales volume (David Ulrich & Wendy Ulrich)

“Research … indicates that cynicism is on the rise in American business and industry, which increasingly hurts their competitiveness and ability to accommodate today’s needed organizational change. Paul J. Rosen, President of the American Institute of Stress, indicates that recent, dizzying changes in technology and the economy are causing unprecedented burnout, cynicism, sickness and absenteeism.” – Carter McNamara

After reading these startling findings, I’m amazed that companies are not making engagement a top priority. It is hard to comprehend why most companies would take immediate action to fix a machine on their factory floor that is not operating at peak efficiency yet are willing to allow the situation reflected in the above numbers to exist, especially considering how devastating disengagement is to organizational performance and results.

The “Lay-of-the-Land” in corporations today*

Notwithstanding the urgent need to move to a highly engaged workforce, I also want to point out that moving there is not an easy task today. Many of our clients have gone through a vast amount of change in the past couple years especially as a result of the economic downturn. In many cases changes were made in an expedient fashion without a thoughtful consideration of the impact on employees and organizational culture. During this period we have had numerous informal conversations with our clients on the dramatic changes they have experienced in their working environment yet have seen little coverage in mainstream media. There was a lot of reporting on the high unemployment rate, depressed hiring forecast and productivity gains (as a result of downsizings and existing employees taking on additional work) but little coverage on the impact of these dramatic changes on the work environment. So, we decided to write a white paper on the subject using a questionnaire we developed and interviewing a representative sample of employees in companies we know. We are about two-thirds done with the interview process and our preliminary findings indicate the following consistencies in what people are experiencing:

  • More authority with less resources
  • Assuming the work of positions that have been eliminated
  • Less opportunity for career advancement within company
  • Longer work hours and the feeling of needing to be connected and available “24/7”
  • Less time for outside hobbies, sports, community and family activities
  • Little time or desire for training and development due to additional workload and not wanting to be away from the office (need to be “visible”)
  • Fear of losing job leads to not challenging the status quo and results in less innovation
  • Work not considered enjoyable or fun anymore
  • Heightened desire to leave, especially as the economy improves

“I think we too often we make choices based on the safety of cynicism, and what we’re led to is a life not fully lived. Cynicism is fear, and it’s worse than fear – it’s active disengagement.” – Ken Burns

The move to a Partnership Paradigm

We recommend moving to a partnership model to bring about the engaged workforce we so desperately need. The move is from what is normally considered a more traditional way of managing to a more collaborative way of managing. This move involves**:

  • Moving from “Strategizing & telling” to “Mutually creating a vision and empowering”
  • Moving from “Cascading through the hierarchy (i.e. one way – “down the organization”) to “Aligning the web of relations”
  • Moving from “Measuring and controlling” to “Inspiring and coaching”

The partnership is expressed through open, honest and proactive communication by all involved (i.e. all levels of management, employees, colleagues, teams, departments, processes, etc.) which enables true clarity of expectations, continuing feedback and dialogue as well as a collaborative mindset. Clarity needs to be established and periodically reviewed on the specifics of the work that is to be accomplished, roles and related responsibilities and workload, measurements to gauge success, support needed from the next level up in order to succeed (to include development and career progression). This open dialogue and mutuality sets the foundation for each to “own” what they are responsible for and communicate progress on commitments made. It also enables discussion on topics such as workload and what people need to be successful to flow up the organization and become an important consideration at all levels as strategy, objectives and resources are planned.

“For once [the shift to engagement] is made it will enable you to drop the old ways of people management – based on threats, manipulation and domination – and pick up the twenty- first century ways – based on sharing, co-operation and consensus.” – Phil Baguley

In conclusion (and beginning the process)

I am hoping you now believe more than ever the need to move towards a partnership model and create a more fully engaged workforce. We recommend beginning the process to increase engagement through inquiry and self-assessment. As a manager, inquiring and reflecting on the changes you may need to make in your behaviors to proactively drive engagement is a good first step. Then as a work team, discuss and create specific plans on what you will do to create a higher level of collaboration and partnership both within the team and between your team and other teams, processes and functions that you interface with. Some questions that will help in this process are:

  • Do you believe it is possible to create a higher level of collaboration and engagement in the workplace? If not, what needs to be addressed in order to make it possible?
  • What does your company need to do to improve engagement with employees?
  • What can your department or function do to improve engagement with employees?
  • What do you need to do to be more engaged yourself?
  • What do you need to do to support others to be more engaged?

After you answer these questions, identify two to three specific actions you will individually commit to and two or three specific actions your work team will commit to. At the conclusion of this process, ensure you identify a specific date and time (approximately 6 weeks out) when you will review your progress, make adjustments and determine and commit to next steps.

Three key actions for leaders to increase engagement:

  1. Ask questions that focus on the future you would like to see;
  2. Give employees a voice in how work gets done;
  3. Select a critical business issue to improve and invite people to resolve it”

adapted from Mike Feinson

As always, we are available to support you in this process. We have found time and again that this “human side of change” process is most successful when an objective and skilled facilitator is able to help build communication skills and trust. The facilitator will establish the atmosphere necessary for people to be willing to talk openly about the things that can be difficult to talk about.

Thus, authentic conversation can take place to discuss the “real issues” and related barriers people are facing. Once these obstacles are discussed and addressed, people will have more time, ability and motivation to resolve the business challenges at hand leading to improved results. A secondary gain of this process is an overall higher level of trust and collaboration amongst people involved (i.e. the basis of the partnership paradigm I referred to earlier) as well as the knowledge and skills to resolve future challenges.

“The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Please feel free to write or call at no obligation for our assistance in developing an approach to create the change you are seeking.

The Best!

Dave Fleck



* Preliminary DF&A White Paper Interview Results
** adapted from Vadim Kotelnikov’s New Management Model