Employee Engagement Matters

David Ivers is from Sydney, Australia. He is a qualified Primary and Secondary School Teacher. In total, he has served on school leadership teams for 16 years in senior leadership roles.

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long.  

We keep moving forward, opening up new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious…  

and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths” (Walt Disney Circa 1954).

As the New Year begins and our work life starts to move into first gear, we can be tempted to think back to yesteryear and ponder the ‘if only…?’ question. Not that reflection is a bad thing mind you, indeed, done purposefully it can be positive. That said, there is a lot of wisdom in what Walt Disney had to say. Curiosity is what impels us to move forward. This impulse power (to use a ‘Star Trek’ expression) is a sure way to achieve goals/targets and perhaps lead to innovation. The other issue of course, at the start of the New Year, is employee agency. The fact is that to move from impulse power to warp speed (to again borrow from Star Trek), requires employee voice, a mechanism, a protocol, a tool, that gives voice to the ideas that the ‘curiosity’ alluded to by Walt Disney, might lead to. Tom Peters in his last blog for 2018 and in his first blog for 2019, names ‘Deep / Extreme Employee Engagement’ as a major issue.

“Deep Employee Engagement. I think it is the answer to a lot of issues, including uncertainty and tech change/AI.” Tom Peters. January 2019.

Whilst one might argue about the words, it makes sense. Engagement pertains to how an individual connects to something, work, family, learning. In the world of school education globally, student engagement is very much the current focus. To have students that are engaged behaviorally, cognitively and emotionally in their learning is to have students very much invested in what they are learning and doing. The outcome expected is better results and better learning outcomes.

Logically, if you don’t feel connected to your work, then it is unlikely that you will put in your best effort.

DAVID IVERS

Given that engagement is to do with how you connect to whatever it is you do, the work of Tom Peters makes sense. Logically, if you don’t feel connected to your work, then it is unlikely that you will put in your best effort. The outcome of that scenario is poor interaction with the people your organization seeks to serve. By way of example, if you work for a Government Department, say Public Works, in an administrative role, and you do not see how placing an order for a requisition for screws is serving your city or your state, if you cannot see that in a small but significant way, ordering those screws means that a new Government building can be finished that will provide extensive services to the people of that city or state, then the work becomes a mundane, routine job. You become disengaged from the real purpose of the work you do and indirectly this impacts the citizens you seek to serve. Tom Peters in his first blog for 2019, indicates that this is the antithesis of excellence and the way to improve it is ‘Deep Employee Engagement’.

The question, of course, is how do you achieve ‘Deep Employee Engagement’ or ‘Employee Engagement’ of any kind? The starting point is key here. It is imperative that leaders within the organization, including the C-Suite, must start from the premise that they have hired the very best people for the positions they have, to achieve the outcomes for the organization. If leaders are not starting from this point, then trust and the organization’s health is at issue. In their excellent work ‘The Leadership Challenge (2012)’, James Kouzes and Barry Posner give a clear indication as to where a good starting point ought to be. If an organization promotes a certain set of ‘values’, then ensuring a shared-values across the whole organization would seem important.

“Organizations with a strong corporate culture based on a foundation of shared values outperform other firms by a huge margin.  Their revenue and rate of job creation grow faster, and their profit performance and stock price are significantly higher. Furthermore, studies of public sector organizations support the importance of shared values to organizational effectiveness.  Within successful agencies and departments, considerable agreement, as well as intense feeling, is found among employees and managers about the importance of their values and about how those values should best be implemented.

In our own research, we’ve found that shared values make a significant and positive difference in work attitudes and commitment.

For instance, shared values

  • Foster strong feelings of personal effectiveness
  • Promote high levels of company loyalty
  • Facilitate consensus about key organizational goals and stakeholders
  • Encourage ethical behavior
  • Promote strong norms about working hard and caring
  • Reduce levels of job stress and tension
  • Foster pride in the company
  • Facilitate understanding of job expectations
  • Foster teamwork and esprit de corps

Periodically taking the organization’s pulse to check for values clarity and consensus is well worthwhile.  It renews commitment. It engages the institution in discussing values (such as diversity, accessibility, sustainability, and so on) that are more relevant to a changing constituency.”  (James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. (2012). The Leadership Challenge (5th Edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. p59-60). Of course, how well structured a questionnaire or survey is and how much information they provide is an important consideration.

If ‘Employee Engagement’ relates directly to the culture of an organization, it is worth considering a definition of culture. In Organizational Anthropology, “Culture is the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization, that operate unconsciously and define in a basic ‘taken for granted’ fashion an organization’s view of its self and its environment.” (Schein, E. (1992). Organizational Culture and Leadership, (Jossey-Bass Psychology Series). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. p6-7). If our organizational culture is a shared phenomenon, it makes sense that meaning is derived by determining the shared-values that sit behind the assumptions and even the ‘Vision and Mission Statement’ that drive the organization and its well-being.

Starting with the creation of a ‘Shared-Values Statement’, requires either an initial staff meeting or the creation of a steering committee that leads and guides the process. A ‘Shared-Values Statement’ gives concrete detail to the what is often the more ethereal ‘Vision and Mission Statement’ of the organization. The ‘Shared-Values Statement’ is an agreed statement as to what are the key things that the staff collectively name as being not just important but valued as being essential to the fulfillment of the ‘Vision and Mission Statement’. For example, a school might have as its ‘Vision and Mission Statement’: ‘Achieve Excellence in Education’. In support of that, a ‘Shared-Values Statement’ might state that as a school we value: student-centered learning, positive learning environments, student voice, teaching skills to students. Such a statement might even be renamed as a ‘Shared Learning Belief Statement’.

In developing a ‘Shared-Values Statement’, the steps recommended by this article are:

  • If the process is being driven by a Steering Committee, the first order of business should be to ensure that key stakeholders are represented, the second should be the establishment of the ‘Terms of Reference’.
  • Garner agreement of the need for a ‘Shared-Values Statement’ and the status/authority it will have within the organization. Ideally, once a common agreement is reached across the organization, it should become a standard to which all employees from the C-Suite down are accountable.
  • Using a survey instrument, ask staff to identify the ‘Big Ticket’ items that staff think should be in a ‘Shared-Values Statement’.
  • The ‘Steering Committee’ drafts the initial version of the ‘Shared-Values Statement’.
  • Establish focus groups of staff members or representatives of the staff members, including members of the ‘Leadership Team’, to test the current version of the ‘Shared-Values Statement’.
  • The ‘Steering Committee’ revises the ‘Shared-Values Statement’ based on feedback.
  • The ‘Steering Committee’ tests the revised version with the focus groups.
  • Steps 6 and 7 are repeated until 85% of staff or better are supportive of the drafted statement.
  • The ‘agreed-to’ draft of the ‘Shared-Values Statement’ is forwarded to the full ‘Leadership Team’ for approval.
  • The approved ‘Shared-Values Statement’ is released to the organization for implementation and becomes a key item in the ‘On-Boarding’ process of the organization. Leaders model the implementation of the ‘Shared-Values Statement’.

In the implementation of the “Shared-Values Statement,” there are some things (not in any order and not an extensive list) that a leader can do to promote ‘Employee Engagement’.

  • Ensure that there is clarity of roles, avoid role confusion
  • Ensure that professional learning is a key part of employee goal setting each year.
  • Ensure that there are clear understanding and alignment between the ‘Mission and Vision’ of the organization and the ‘Shared-Values Statement’.
  • Ensure that staff are trusted.
  • Ensure that staff have appropriate opportunities to add their voice to issues facing the organization and in aspects of decision making.
  • Ensure the creation of synergy within the team and between team members.
  • Ensure and encourage feedback, in both directions.
  • Celebrate team successes collectively and individually. Challenge when necessary.

In the end, when it comes to ‘Employee Engagement’, the wise words of Walt Disney seem apt.

“You can design and create and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” Walt Disney

 

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