Employee engagement in tough times

Oct 07 2009 by Marcia Xenitelis Print This Article

One of the things that continues to surprise me is that when times are bad, organizations still spend money on employee engagement surveys. What are they expecting these surveys to tell them? You only need to walk around the office or factory and listen into some tea room discussions to find out that employees are not engaged because they are worried about their jobs.

This leads us to two major issues to consider during tough times. The first is how we inspire confidence and innovation in an organization that appears to be in freeze mode. The second is what you should measure as an indicator of employee engagement.

Let's deal with inspiring confidence and innovation in your organization. This boils down to a change management strategy that focuses on getting employees actively involved at all levels in understanding the business and how their ideas can have a positive impact. Here's an example of what you could do.

  1. Take real business data and share it with groups of employees at all levels that deal with customers in specific sectors.
  2. Ask employees for ideas on improving or innovating just one aspect of your service offering or product line and test in a specific market segment on a small scale, say a sales territory or state.
  3. Then after testing those ideas for a six week period ask employees to examine the business results.
  4. Take those ideas that have shown a substantial improvement in sales and implement either state wide or nationally depending on your organization.
  5. Design a reward and recognition program around the impact of these ideas on the business outcomes and start to energise your workforce.

It really is that simple. Treat employees with respect, stop telling them what to do, listen to what they have to say, put some rigor around the framework for ideas and reward outstanding results. This is how innovation happens and how you can energise an organization to respond quickly to changing market conditions.

Another key is to ensure that whatever change management strategy you design it has specific activities and responsibilities for management. Often we forget that managers are just as concerned during tough times about their job security, but their team members are looking at them for direction and support.

So when we design change strategies, ensure that there are key responsibilities and clearly defined activities for all levels of the organization. But practically what does this mean with our example above? Well you would design specific activities such as;

  1. Managers would identify the real business data and share it with their teamsBR/>
  2. Managers would be responsible for selecting which ideas would be selected for testing in a specific market and they would decide which test market
  3. Managers would obtain the business results at the end of the six week test period and organise briefings with their teams
  4. The hierarchy of managers would then decide which tests produced the best result and decide which to implement and project plan that implementation
  5. Together with human resources the management team would decide on a reward and recognition program and share it with their teams.

So what about employee engagement surveys? I say save your organization the tens of thousands of dollars they cost and invest your time in a well thought out change management strategy like that outlined above. This will ensure a climate where communication is open, ideas are valued and actions are implemented.

All these steps are indicative of a workforce that is focussed, has purpose and feels a greater level of confidence about the future of their organization and therefore their role because they are actively involved in designing the future, not being told what do and when to do it.

If you just change the script from "budget cuts, budget cuts and budget cuts" to "opportunities, growth and involvement", your organization's business results will be your barometer of employee engagement - no survey required.


About The Author

Marcia Xenitelis
Marcia Xenitelis

Marcia Xenitelis experience in the field of employee communication spans 20 years. An international public speaker on the subject, the manuals she has written have been purchased worldwide by Fortune 500 companies, universities and over a thousand companies in her native Australia.