The most potent force in driving organizational performance is the leader’s style. The leader’s style determines the culture of the organization; the culture dictates the tone of the workplace environment and this plays a critical role in what the bottom line turns out to be. A leader’s style can choke productivity or give vent to it. It can either stimulate creativity or stifle it. It can inflame positive passion or take the wind off employees’ sail. The leader’s style is responsible for whether the organization remains a going concern or a sinking one. It can turn a prosperous business upside down or turn a struggling business right side up.
The reason for this is not shrouded in any mystery. Business growth is engineered by customer loyalty. There can’t be customer loyalty without customer satisfaction and customer satisfaction is a function of employees’ action, which is a whole gamut that starts with quality production and ends with excellent customer service. Employees don’t act in a vacuum; their actions are a reflection of their state of mind, their perception of their worth to the organization and their satisfaction with the organization, all of which are influenced by the workplace environment created by the leader.
So, the leader can make the employees work their hearts out for the organization even when the remuneration is not the best in the industry. In the same vein, he can make the workforce contribute just a fraction of its ability despite being well remunerated. The difference is in employee engagement.
What is employee engagement?
The term employee engagement is used to describe an employee’s commitment to the vision, mission and essence of an organization. It is making the workforce one with the leadership of the organization. It is a strategy through which employees are turned from those whose concern is the pay packet to those who care about the company’s bottom line. Employee engagement transforms the workforce from people who only have a passing interest in an organization to those who will stop at nothing to see it succeed. Where there is engagement, energy is never in short supply and targets are regularly exceeded. Employee engagement is critical to the realization of corporate objectives.
As observed by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman in the book, First Break All the Rules, “Engagement refers to an employee’s willingness to work for the success of his or her job and organization. It consists not just of traditional notions of job satisfaction but of an active commitment to doing the job well and helping the organization achieve its goals and strategies. Engaged employees take pride in their organization and work; take ownership of their projects; talk positively about themselves, their employer and the goods and services they help deliver; view working for their organization as a career, not just a job; and, above all, perform better. A highly engaged workforce is 50 per cent more productive than an unengaged workforce and displays retention rates that are 44 per cent higher.”
Also writing about employee engagement in his book, Getting Engaged: The New Workplace Loyalty, Tim Rutledge says engaged employees are not just attracted to their work, they are also inspired by it and committed to it. According to him, engaged employees say, “I want to do this”, “I am dedicated to the success of what I am doing” and “I love what I am doing”.
Engaged employees are not doing the work for what they stand to gain but do it because they see themselves as part of the present and the future of the organization. They are not working for the organization just to earn a pay but they work with a target to accomplish corporate goals. Thus, they are willing to make sacrifices and go beyond the call of duty to ensure that corporate objectives are accomplished.
Leaders and employee engagement
A leader may have the vision to turn around the fortunes of a unit, department or even a company but he cannot accomplish this all by himself, he needs to work with people who will share his vision of actualizing the objective. To achieve his objective he needs to effectively engage employees who work with him. However, employee engagement is not automatic; it is contingent on the style of the leader. So, the leader has to be open, accessible and conduct himself in a manner that will make him earn the respect of his team members so as to really engage them.
Importance of employee engagement
According to Gallup Poll, “A job has the potential to be at the heart of a great life, but only if its holder is engaged at work.” Stretching this further, The Conference Board, in 2006, noted that almost two-thirds of all employees are 33 per cent as productive as they could be because they don’t understand what they are asked to do. Similarly, Harter, J.K., Schmidt, F.L., and Hayes T.L in an article published in Psychology, posited that businesses with more engaged employees have 51 per cent higher productivity.
So, workforce engagement is at the heart of productivity and achieving corporate objectives. Organizations that effectively engage their staff members stand a better chance of being more profitable and making positive more social impact than those that do not.
How leaders engage employees
Since employee engagement plays a vital role in the leader’s task of achieving corporate goals, every leader must learn how to ensure this.
Value their person
The fundamental factor that determines whether an employee will be fully committed to the vision of the organization is what he perceives to be the value placed on him by the organization. Nobody enjoys being taken advantage of. No one likes it when his person is disparaged. Nothing turns a workplace into a toxic environment faster than when employees feel their worth is not duly recognized.
Therefore, to successfully engage employees with a view to stimulating growth and engendering profitability, the leader must ensure that he creates an environment where every staff member feels appreciated; an atmosphere where no one operates with the impression that he is seen as being of lower value than others in the establishment.
When team members understand that they are valued as individuals and not seen as mere statistical figures, they go the extra mile to ensure that the organization remains sustainable. They do not see themselves as outsiders or strangers; they see themselves as critical stakeholders and this makes it easy for them to buy into the organization’s vision.
Value their contributions
An organization is a system with different units and segments contributing different values to the actualization of corporate goals. In a properly run workplace, every staff member contributes one way or the other to the realization of the organization’s overall objective.
When employees, whether in the core operation of the organization or its ancillary, are made to know that their contributions are critical to the overall objective of the organization, they own that particular process. They transit from being mere ‘space fillers’ or marginal contributors to invaluable contributors. They bring in their best to the job and surpass expectations.
A free environment unleashes creativity. Companies that produce most impactful gadgets or devices are those that have made employees’ freedom a part of their culture. Apple, Google, Konga and Jumia are organizations that value employees’ freedom and they are some of the companies that have transformed the way we live through the innovations put forward by their employees.
When employees see their supervisors as overbearing, they become too careful and are unable to try new things. On the other hand, when they are given the free hand to explore, they give their best. Beyond that, getting them to buy into the vision of the organization becomes quite easy because they see themselves as playing a vital role in the organization.
One way to kill creativity is to micromanage. Leaders who micromanage tell their team members, implicitly, that their confidence in the team members’ ability is limited.
Communicate the vision
For a leader, communication is not just for the purpose of disseminating information but an avenue to transform employees. So, he continually engages them in communication, selling the vision of the organization to them so that they can buy into it and share the aspiration of the leaders. This is not a one off thing; it has to be continuous and consistent to achieve the desired result.
The leader has to earn the trust of the employees for them to be engaged. To earn the trust, they have to show that they care not just about the work but also about the worker. The leader has to build personal relationship with his team members. He has to show that what matters to them are of importance to him as well. He has to create opportunities for them to also accomplish their career goals and personal aspirations. He must let them know that he is not just using them to achieve his target but will also avail them of his skills and wherewithal in their quest to move up in life. If the leader does these, he wins the employees over and buying into the vision of the organization becomes a given.
Employee engagement will ensure the sustainability of any organization but the onus is on the leader to adopt the style that will make this a reality.