ENGAGEMENT HAS A NICE RING TO IT

I have long found it worrying that all of the numerous studies of employee engagement point to the fact that at any one point in time, in most companies, only about one-third of employees are fully engaged, with about one-third partially engaged, and one-third actively disengaged, some of these last ones being “terrorists” who actively work to recruit others to actually undermine those who are engaged.

I define engagement as being actively involved physically, mentally and emotionally with passion and energy, and with a profound connection to the company.

I have no question that employee engagement is directly related to the quality of management in an organisation, and that in tough economic times when people are being asked to do more with less, it can become harder to keep people fully engaged, as people become emotionally disconnected driven by pressures like fatigue, lack of direction, belt-tightening and downsizing of work-mates.

Author: Jonnie Nord (User:Zaphod); via Wikimedia Commons


But employee engagement needs to be a key critical focus of all managers and should be a major measurement of management performance, as it is one the most important elements of business success, significantly more than having a sexy product or marketing message, both which can be very short lived.

Gallup’s analysis of about 200 separate employee engagement surveys in 2009 found that

“business units scoring in the top half on employee engagement double their odds of delivering high performance compared to those in the bottom half, and that those in the 99th percentile are five times more likely to deliver high performance than those in the 1st percentile.” (See Gallup´s Employee Engagement Analysis).

Furthermore their survey of 42,000 randomly selected working adults showed that disengaged workers cost the US economy an estimated $ 350 billion annually.

George Gallup; via Wikimedia Commons


In France, whilst I have no numbers for the loss to the economy, a recent article in the Economist highlights the fact that French workers are not lazy, as most of Europe cares to believe, but that they just actively hate their bosses. (See http://www.economist.com/node/21538733).
The report states

“In fact studies suggest that the problem with French employees is less that they are work-shy, than that they are poorly managed. According to a report on national competitiveness by the World Economic Forum, the French rank and file has a much stronger work ethic than American, British or Dutch employees. They find great satisfaction in their work, but register profound discontent with the way their firms are run.”

A 2010 study by BVA, a polling firm showed that over 40% of French employees actively dislike their firm’s top management, ranking France last out of 10 countries for worker’s opinion of company management. Whereas in US, UK and Germany about 70% are satisfied with their management, in France it is less than 30%.

French management styles are still generally very hierarchical seeing management concepts like “empowerment” as being an Anglo-Saxon maladie. Furthermore the majority of French CEOs come from one of the handful of “grandes ecoles”, and through what is known as “parachutage” suddenly appear in CEO roles direct from the civil service. Alexandre de Juniac was unexpectedy appointed CEO of Air France in 2011, coming directly from his position as Chief of Staff to Christine Lagarde when she was Minister of Finance. No need to fight your way through the ranks in the business or even the industry, no need to develop some management skills along the way, you just need to get high marks in the school exams and keep your nose clean in the public sector long enough to end up in the top slot of a multi-billion euro enterprise.
No wonder Air France is such a moribund, infuriating airline with rude, arrogant, condescending and uncaring staff (See “I hate Air France” posted July 11, 2011), and no wonder French workers are generally disengaged from their companies and their jobs, even more than the global average.

Alexandre de Juniac (CEO Air France)

Author: priceminister; via Wikimedia Commons


Despite all this information about the impact of employee engagement on a company’s performance, very few organisations use employee engagement as a measurement of management performance.
I have seen it regularly measured in employee surveys, usually through responses to 5 or 6 questions like “I am proud to work for the company”, “I am seriously considering leaving in the next 12 months” and “I actively promote the company to external candidates”, but generally many just seem to accept the 1/3 ratios as being an acceptable metric of business reality.
I consider this to be short-sighted and believe that most companies should focus less on recruiting more people and more on increasing employee engagement as a way of driving improvements to business results.

I have managed to convince one company that I work with to use employee engagement as a key measurement in management performance and its inclusion in calculating management bonus payments. Furthermore they will not allow incremental recruitment if the business area has less than 60% of employees that are fully engaged and more than 20% disengaged. These are not world shattering metrics even though they are a great improvement on current results, as they still allow for 20% sitting on the fence, but at least they are a starting point in making employee engagement seen as a serious business metric in this particular company.

I am actually surprised that employee engagement and other metrics such as employee turnover are not seen as major decision points when people make financial decisions about in which companies to place their investments. I would always rather bet on the people as a starting point before I would even start to look at products, services and past financial performance.

I have long believed that people are the only true sustainable competitive edge, and how passionate and committed they are to the company is the only true measure of whether great performance can be achieved.

As Peter Drucker, business guru, said

“But I like to think that a lot of managers and executives trying to solve problems miss the forest for the trees by forgetting to look at their people — not at how much more they can get from their people or how they can more effectively manage their people. I think they need to look a little more closely at what it’s like for their people to come to work there every day.”

Author: Jeff McNeill; via Wikimedia Commons


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7 Responses to ENGAGEMENT HAS A NICE RING TO IT

  1. Lyn Maltus says:

    Spot on, Les. Certainly employee turn over is a vital indication of the state of a company.

    • leshayman says:

      Lynn, unfortunately in France where we live, there are many companies with very low staff turnover but where the employees don’t really care about the company or its customers, like Air France, SNCF etc., Les

  2. Jen Roach says:

    Les, a timely blog and your opinions towards the latter part of the blog are the crucial issue in many companies, not just French ones…..engagement comes from the impact of the manager’s communication and focus on the people rather than just the ‘work’. It takes a lot of thought and energy to really be able to reach out to employees meaningfully and take them on a journey to understand the strategy and what needs to be done differently to create success for the company and it’s employees. Many mangers get caught up in the tasks and outcomes without thinking about how to getbthe best from their people.

    • leshayman says:

      Jen, I think that a starting point is the ability for a manager to inspire people when he answers the question “Why are we here ?” for his people. It’s the old story about the bricklayer who is just building a wall versus the one who is building a cathedral. Les

  3. Adriana says:

    Dear Mr. Hayman,

    It remained an enigma to me that despite no or low engagement (that sums up to 85%) the Germans are still the most productive nation in Europe.

    http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/160904/praesentation-gallup-engagement-index-2012.aspx

    My speculative answer was that at the same level of engagement an American would declare himself highly engaged, and a German would declare himself low engaged.

    Would you shed some light on this issue? Thank you. Adriana

    • leshayman says:

      Adriana, you are on the right track in that it is mainly cultural differences. Americans are generally more optimistic than most European nations, and that would reflect in the results.

      One reason is that I believe that nations that have little history (USA, Australia, NZ, etc.,) tend to look to the future, whereas countries with a long history tend to look backwards, making them more pessimistic and cynical … some, rather than just learning from their history, become prisoners of it, like the Germans.

      I always found that when it came to “engagement” a higher % of Americans were “fully engaged” whereas Europeans were more likely to be “partially engaged”. When you questioned them, the true differences were really very small, and more a result of emotional and cultural interpretation than of true engagement/commitment. Les

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