Leadership and Employee Engagement: Part 3

In this 3-part series I’ll consider how leadership affects one of the most important aspects of any organization’s success – the engagement and buy in of its members

In parts 1 and 2 of this series I referenced Gallup’s exhaustive study on employee engagement and how important it is to an organization’s productivity and bottom line. Engaged employees are emotionally committed to a company, willingly go above and beyond and believe in the organization’s mission. Astonishingly, the study reveals that engagement averages, across multiple industries, aren’t very encouraging. Only 30% are considered engaged, while 52% are disengaged and 18% are actively disengaged. And the biggest influencer of engagement, the study shows, are the employees’direct leaders who impact the attitudes, morale and buy-in of front line workers. A parallel Gallup study came to the same conclusion about front line leaders, but by asking a different question – “what makes a great work environment?” They asked this from the employee’s perspective. The combined results from the two studies form a great roadmap for organizations to increase engagement by understanding what’s important to employees in the work place.

The 30-year Gallup study surveyed over 100,000 employees and analyzed the answers to over 100 million questions to create a guiding template for business owners to hone in on the issue of what makes a workplace great. Their research revealed the following: if employees can answer in the affirmative to 12 simple questions, the chances are VERY high that a given work place is a strong one. They are:

1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?

2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work properly?

3. At work do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

4. In the last seven days have I received recognition or praise for good work?

5. Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?

6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?

7. At work do my opinions seem to count?

8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?

9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?

10. Do I have a best friend at work?

11. In the last 6 months have I talked with someone about my progress?

12. This last year, have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

These questions are ranked by what’s important to the employee, with number one being the most important. After decades of compiling data, Gallup found that these 12 issues came up again and again as factors that contribute to the health of a good work environment. There were other issues that came up – 100s of them – but these 12 were far and away the most prevalent.

Survey results based on these questions accurately predicted rates of employee turnover, productivity, employee engagement, profitability, and customer loyalty. Gallup also noted that the lower numbers (1 through 3, for instance) are of such importance that weakshowings in those areas make the higher numbers (8 to 12) virtually irrelevant. If people don’t know everything they’re supposed to do (setting expectations, #1), don’t have the things they need to do the job (tools, #2) and feel like they’re miscast (do what I do best, #3) then a best friend at work or someone talking to them about progress becomes almost meaningless, and chances are good they won’t be engaged or stay long anyway. The authors of the study say that focusing on the issues as if they’re building blocks is the prudent way to go. Build a foundation of 1 through 3 and you’re on solid footing. Add on 4, 5 and 6 and you’re in real good shape. Of course, getting to all 12 would be the brass ring to shoot for.

Gallup also discovered that negative/affirmative answers to these 12 questions were influenced very little by the quality/reputation of the company itself, or the quality of the leadership at the top of the organization. The answers were always most heavily influenced by the employee’s direct supervisor, i.e. the manager on the ground floor. The leader who directed small teams and had command of their people on a day to day, week in, week out basis was the most important element in Gallup’s exhaustive findings. They found that for employees,there are only managers: great ones, poor ones, and many in between. They also found that employees are more likely to give the overall company the benefit of the doubt, giving new initiatives a fighting chance no matter how unpopular, if they’re ledby great leaders. More evidence that employees don’t leave bad companies, they leave bad bosses. But they will stick it out at a mediocre company if they have good/great bosses, a factor that will always trump perks, reputation and status when it comes to retaining good employees.

The overall findings from the two Gallup studies illustrate how influential front-line leaders are and how vital they are to organizations. These studies suggest that by recognizing the impact of employee engagement, understanding the leadership traits that most encourage engagement and optimizing the environment employees would want to engage with in the first place are crucial issues for front line leaders to embrace, as they have a massive impact on the success or failure of any organization. And if these issues aren’t taken seriously by front line leaders, it matters very little what sort of great, employee-centric philosophies are being embraced at the top, because the employees on the ground will never know it or, if they do, they won’t believe it.

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