Business · Aug 1, 2014

Employee Engagement in Business Performance – What does it take?

Engaging your people ‘well’

I’m pretty sure that there isn’t a leader left on the planet who doesn’t have some sort of inkling about the importance of employee engagement in business performance. Whether through personal experience or via some of the recent research, the link is clear. (I particularly like the 2014 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends – 78% of business leaders rate engagement and retention as urgent or important and many believe the issue of ‘engaging people well’ is becoming one of the biggest competitive differentiators in business.)

Employees who are focused on what’s important – both to the business and to themselves – and have the tools to deliver, both give more performance and enjoy greater levels of satisfaction at work. It’s a simple assertion. But the job of creating a high performance work environment is a complex problem.

Where do you begin?

Like most things in life, you need information about where you are as a starting point – and a clear and simple measure of your employees’ engagement is a must. A whole industry, primarily internet driven, has developed recently to measure employee engagement. Yet my cynical side wonders whether the ‘engagement thermometer’ is seen as the answer rather than the indicator. Knowing I have a temperature of 102 degrees tells me I’m hot – but it doesn’t offer a single answer to my problem.

More poetically, I still smile at the wonderful farmers’ stories from my childhood’s Irish holidays. “No matter how many times you weigh the calf, it doesn’t make it any heavier” was one of the favourites of Pat O’Mahoney in rural County Cork.

Pat would have known well that measuring the issue of employee engagement is one thing, but working to create a culture and environment that allows engagement to thrive is quite another.

An engaging Crazy goal?

So what can you do as a busy leader to distil the principles of high performance and employee engagement onto a busy sales floor, into a customer service team or within a complex marketing function?

Ben and I set up Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? in 2013 in order to do exactly that. Ben’s Olympic Gold medal winning story is one of a group of individuals forged into a winning team by following a set of Performance Principles, habitually and consistently, in everything they did. Their collective focus, direction and drive to succeed was captured in the clear and direct question – “Will it make the boat go faster?”

The simplicity of the question and its implied focus and action consistently resonates with leaders and individuals in business. Indeed, in our own performance consultancy we led – right from the start – the process that produced our own daunting, significant and engaging Crazy goal. To be ‘the UK’s most respected performance consultancy by 2017’. As a result, we’re far clearer on what’s important in our business. Far clearer on what Concrete goals we need to put into place to support that. And importantly, what we need to do, each day, to engage ourselves in our business and make our boat go faster.

Start with yourself

It’s not a bad time, as we look towards the last months of 2014, to think about what you can do to engage your team or organisation.

Set a clear direction. Engaged employees align their interests with organisational goals. That can’t happen if the organisation’s Crazy and Concrete goals are not defined or clear. The recession forced many organisations to re-evaluate their strategy to survive; coming out of it should mean another look at what it takes to thrive. If you haven’t yet done so, don’t delay any longer. How clear are you on your Crazy goal? When did you last clarify your team’s Crazy goal? And how long since you last gathered the team around you to hear your excitements and energy about what you’re leading them to do?

Help employees discover ‘what floats their boat’.Engaged employees not only understand what needs to be done but also care enough to apply discretionary effort – ‘going the extra mile’. As a leader, go first. Declare your motivations and ‘what’s in it for you’ to achieve the Crazy goal. Then ask them to discover the same. It can be an intriguing and uplifting process. To know why we’re all in the boat together is one of the foundations for high performance and team engagement.

Focus on Performance

Focus on the performance as a leader – and the results will come. Sitting at the start of an Olympic final is much like starting a new sales year. The results you’re after will only come from doing the right things, better every time, throughout the year. What attitudes and behaviours do you need to focus on as a leader? How can you be sure to measure your progress throughout the year? How can you set a culture of challenge, to make sure you get better every time? Dreaming of hitting your Crazy goal is one thing. But leading yourself and others to perform better every time instils an engaging attitude and belief that brings the right results, often later in the year.

Work with your direct reports – and have them work with each other. It’s often tempting to do it all alone. Working with others to achieve your goals is a fundamental concept behind Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? and one that challenges my basic maths. 2 + 2 really does equal five!

Raise your own stakes. Size up your own leadership. Be clear on how you’re performing. Understand what drives you. Leadership is a contagious, uplifting and confidence-building role; it’s something you just can’t fake. If you’re not ready to lead yourself and engage your team in your Crazy goal, make some changes. List out the key changes you need to make to raise your performance – and set a plan to deliver on them.

Engagement – a daily priority

Finally, keep engagement a daily priority

It’s challenging to deliver again and again, more and more, smarter and smarter in today’s competitive businesses. But remember our earlier comparison with an Olympic final. Focus on doing the right things, and doing them better every time can drive real change in your engagement, your leadership and your organisation.

You’ll have a heavier calf but more importantly, you’ll soon have your boat going faster!

Got you thinking about your Crazy goals?

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