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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.