Jonathan Smith: Engaging with your team - a key route to success

Jonathan Smith: Engaging with your team - a key route to success

Jonathan Smith

Jonathan Smith, Aberdeen-based business coach and facilitator at The Alternative Board, discusses the importance of having engaged employees as the UK recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. 

As a new normal emerges in the business world, having engaged employees matters now more than ever.

If the term ‘we’re all in this together’ summarises our national response to the pandemic, it also certainly applies to how companies need to respond in the coming months. 

Yet what is engagement, and why does it matter?  And what can a business, and its leaders, do to foster it? 

It can be defined in many ways, but in essence it means a working environment in which people willingly give of their best every day – in which they’re committed to an organisation’s goals, motivated to contribute and made to feel psychologically safe.

Maintaining a workplace culture which embraces employee engagement is frequently a topic of discussion among members of The Alternative Board (TAB) across Scotland.

Why? Because it’s acknowledged that engagement drives performance. Organisations with top quartile employee engagement typically record twice the profits and revenue growth which is 2.5 times higher, when compared to bottom quartile organisations.

Their customer advocacy is 12% greater, productivity is 18% higher and employee turnover is 40% lower. There is also a safety dividend – the statistics signal that bottom quartile businesses have 62% more accidents.

There are four key strands to an effective engagement strategy:

  • A clear vision – the picture of the future must be appealing, compelling and authentic
  • Bosses who care – managers focusing on their people; empowering them, treating them as individuals; encouraging personal growth
  • Engaged employees – people should feel free to speak up, to reinforce and challenge views.  Employees should be heard and involved
  • Values in action – anyone should be able to see the integrity of the organisation demonstrated in day-to-day behaviours.

One example of how not to do it comes to mind. During a consultancy project with a business, I frequently heard remarks such as ‘we’ll have to see what the boss says’ and ‘it’ll be up to the boss’. It was surprising and disappointing – these aren’t great things to hear in any workplace. It told me that the team hadn’t been empowered or engaged; there was a dependency culture, and that’s never good for team morale or business success.

Contrast that with another company, which had been experiencing product manufacturing errors. In response, the leadership team brought in a new production manager. He engaged directly with his team, asking pertinent questions. What did they think? How can we improve? What lessons can we learn from the past week?

The manager set a collective new direction, encouraged his people to speak up and earned their buy-in to his plans. The result: production errors dropped from 20% to 1% in 12 months.

The latter example captures many of the core features of engagement. The improvements weren’t down to major process changes or investment in new equipment; they were delivered by the same team using the same tools. The difference was engaging leadership – giving a voice to employees, demonstrating consistent values, setting common goals.

Gaining and keeping the confidence of employees is a key challenge facing businesses as lockdown is gradually lifted. Organisations with high levels of employee engagement will do this better. And they’ll rightly reap competitive rewards for doing so.

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