Going Beyond Engagement

Learning and development leaders can increase organizational performance by looking at the complete picture of employee engagement, including the relationship between leaders and their workforce.

As CLOs have long been aware, employee engagement can make or break an organization. And engagement is rooted in leadership development and delegation. People are most engaged when they can trust in their organization’s future, and they feel most engaged when they are empowered to provide extraordinary service during an ordinary day. It is this give and take on the part of both the employer and the employee that creates the most powerful workplaces.

“Employee engagement is the art and science of engaging people in authentic and recognized connections to strategy, roles, performance, organization, community, relationships, customers, development, energy and happiness to leverage, sustain and transform work into results,” said David Zinger, a consultant specializing in employee engagement

The message is clear: Employee engagement produces results. The Gallup Organization echoes this, indicating that engaged employees are more productive. According to Gallup, “They are more profitable, more customer-focused, safer and more likely to withstand temptations to leave.”

This suggests a euphoric work environment, one where work itself is exciting and fulfilling. But a key catalyst to employee engagement is providing staff with a great deal in the way of resources, which can be prohibitively expensive. No modern organization’s leader would ignore his or her fiscal responsibilities in favor of engagement. So then how can organizations fully engage their employees without breaking the bank?

The answer is stewardship. In an organizational context, stewardship refers to management’s responsibility to properly utilize and develop its resources, including its people, property and financial assets. Leaders within organizations need to walk the talk, showing a united front that makes it clear that everyone’s oars are in the water, rowing in the same direction and on course.

Transparency is a key element of organizational stewardship. To be true stewards of the organization, leaders need to communicate with employees. When leaders of an organization avoid communicating bad news, the grapevine will buzz constantly, and the gossip will be significantly more negative than the truth. Communication allows for employees and employers to be curious and discover what is truly possible for the greatest success. This curiosity allows everyone to question and explore perceptions that open the view of the system that makes the organization function.

A year ago, Bob Ebers, founder of the workforce development professional association Organizational Development Network’s Long Island chapter, began to look at organizational engagement assessments and realized they only look at a piece of the organizational puzzle. They focus on leadership skills or engagement or some other aspect of the organization. They typically examine this from either the executive or employee perspective.

Ebers realized there was a need for a survey that went beyond engagement, a survey that would also look at the stewardship and service aspects of organizations. He concluded that what was needed was a system to identify how good an organization was to work for. The result was Workplace Stars, a complete assessment of organizational engagement. Workplace Stars prescribes that organizations have engaged, empowered employees who create the internal climate necessary to unleash discretionary effort by staff that furthers the organization’s interests. Their leaders are true stewards of the organization—leaders who do the right things to protect the long-term viability, financial health and well-being of the organization’s people. They have an authentic commitment, cascading down from senior management to the front line, to being safe and environmentally conscious in service to customers and each other.

The survey assesses organizations and gives them a rating from zero to five stars. For example, a survey at a two-star company may reveal that its employees trust the leadership but want more say in how process could be improved, or that they understand the reasons for cutbacks but would like more learning opportunities. Addressing these deficiencies can make such an organization a five-star company. As another example, a three-star company may see its locations with the highest revenue growth also showing the highest rate of turnover and the greatest threat to retention. The survey would conclude that management wasn’t communicating enough to high-performing employees at these locations about opportunities within the company.

Implementing a performance management and succession planning process that develops high performers for future leadership roles would aid retention.

Organizations looking to achieve engagement need to move past seeing it from a limited perspective. They need to look at the total picture of employee engagement to survive and thrive.