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Leaders in every organization have a responsibility to engage their employees in continuous improvement. Making that connection with everyone can be a challenge, though. There are the people who show up as often as they have to and work just hard enough to not get fired, and there are the people who pour their hearts into their work and the organization. The former group lags behind in engagement in continuous improvement because, for one reason or another, leaders are not getting through to them. Companies that have mastered the art of engaging employees in continuous improvement have leaders who excel at connecting everyone in the pursuit of better quality, happier customers, and greater profitability.

All companies expend some effort on employee engagement activities. Most of the time, though, these activities are geared toward forcing certain desired behaviors. For example, some companies require that all employees identify four opportunities for improvement, and that they implement half of them. Others mandate weekly meetings between cross functional groups to discuss solutions to shared problems. The sentiment behind these activities - asking for employee ideas and promoting cross functional collaboration - is spot on. It’s the approach that leaves something to be desired.



Sure, you can mandate activities that will force your employees to engage in continuous improvement - but they’re likely to just do the required minimum. A more successful approach is to focus on employee engagement activities that build an emotional connection between the employee and the organization. Inspiring people is more effective than forcing participation. These activities fall into the categories of company direction and personal growth.

 

Company Direction


When employees have a role in setting the direction for the organization, it helps them feel emotionally invested in business results. Of course, businesses are not democracies and executives bear responsibility for the overall business objectives and strategies. But, that doesn’t mean that employees can’t have a hand in charting the course of the company.

Employee engagement activities that connect people more deeply with the company include:


  • Involve everyone in defining the company’s mission and values. 

    Creating space for a conversation around mission and values is a good way to ensure that employees feel heard on these important subjects (or, better yet, ARE heard). Employees can be asked to comment on whether the current mission and values are serving the company well, or be invited to give input on how well the organization is achieving them.

    At the very least, engaging employees in this process will help them to understand what the mission and values are and why they were chosen. That increased level of understanding increases employee buy in, which ultimately influences their participation in making improvements that align their daily work with the company mission and values. 

  • Ask for (and act on) ideas for improvement

    A common mistake in attempting to engage employees in continuous improvement is to ask them for their ideas for improvement, and then drop the ball on implementing them. Employees become disengaged when their input regarding opportunities for improvement is unwelcome or ignored by their managers. Creating a culture where employees are encouraged to offer innovative ideas for improvement, and empowered to help enact them, will go a long way toward increasing engagement.

  • Collaborate on individual and department goals and strategies

    Individual and departmental goals must be aligned with overall business objectives, but there is usually a lot of room to make goal setting a collaborative process between supervisors and employees. Getting employees involved in how they will be measured helps instill a feeling of accountability and personal pride.

 

Personal Growth and Development


Studies show
that engaged employees believe that their company and direct supervisors care about them as individuals. Employee engagement activities that underscore the organization’s commitment to each employee’s personal growth and development include:

  • Offer learning opportunities


    Employees who report feeling engaged do so partly because their company provides opportunities for them to learn new skills. Keep in mind that not all learning opportunities require formal training. Opportunities to collaborate on projects with subject matter experts, or to simply spend some work time researching a new subject, are seen as development opportunities. In addition to increasing employee engagement, continuous learning also benefits the organization.

  • Provide frequent and constructive feedback


    Lack of feedback is a common theme among disengaged employees. It is difficult to emotionally connect when one’s work is met with silence. Even employees who receive negative feedback report being more engaged than those who receive none at all. Providing regular feedback, more often than an annual performance review, has the added benefit of enabling employees to adapt their behavior to align better with organizational expectations.

  • Focus on recognition


    How well does your organization recognize and reward the employees who expend the most discretionary effort and contribute to positive change? The answer to this question has a direct bearing on your level of employee engagement. Publicly recognizing employees for engaging in continuous improvement serves the dual purpose of encouraging them to continue contribute that discretionary effort and encouraging others to participate as well. 

Each of these employee engagement activities is intended to reflect the organization's respect and appreciation for every employee as both a member of a cooperative team and as an individual person. When well executed, they can help increase engagement, which in turn increases productivity, innovation and improvement.

 

For more information about engaging employees in continuous improvement, check out this free eBook:

The Savvy's Leader's Guide to Employee Engagement