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Winning Results Through Employee Engagement

By Dr. Chris Bart |

Creating a winning business strategy can be pretty straightforward: Find an unmet need in the marketplace and develop a plan to satisfy it better than every competitor.

For most companies, this means providing a brilliant experience to customers that is both uniquely superior and highly differentiated relative to their nearest competitors. But in the grind of the real world, delivering on that strategy day in and day out in a manner that will build customer loyalty and referrals is a completely different matter.

Research shows that, regardless of the economic circumstances, having an engaged workforce - one that is enthusiastically willing to give more than just what is required to hold onto their jobs — contributes to better business performance.Consistent, flawless execution requires a dedicated and committed workforce that is passionately focused on achieving the company's aims and aspirations.

Conceptually, this all makes sense. But practically, as experience has shown, it can be very difficult to do. Why? Because according to the Gallup Organization, 80 per cent of employees surveyed say they dislike going to work and 40 per cent dread showing up.  Yet there is clear evidence that a significant relationship exists between the level of personal commitment and involvement (or "engagement") an employee has towards his or her employer and organizational performance.

Hewitt Associates has found in its annual survey of employees in client companies around the world that, since the onset of the economic recession in 2008, for those organizations having less than 40 per cent of their workers "engaged," shareholder returns were 44 per cent lower than the average. In contrast, when 65 per cent or more of employees were engaged, shareholder returns were 19 per cent higher than the average.

And according to, in a Q3 2007 to Q3 2008 comparison between the 100 Best Companies to Work For and the top Fortune 100 firms, the Best Companies had 30 per cent revenue growth and no bankruptcies compared to the Fortune 100 with only 3 per cent growth and nine bankruptcies. And while both groups experienced significant drops in their share prices as part of the recession, the Best Companies bested the Fortune 100 by 10 per cent.

Why are there such dramatically better results for firms with engaged employees?

It's because engaged employees are both passionate about their jobs and the work they do as well as emotionally bonded to their organizations. They are willing to give that elusive "discretionary effort" which can make the difference between good service and extraordinary service. Companies that engage not just the minds but also the hearts of their employees, therefore, have a more intense strategic focus, higher efficiency and better productivity. They execute better by beating out those competitors that aren't able to produce the same level of human - some say "spiritual" — commitment.  It's for these reasons that eliminating workplace alienation and creating an engaged workforce has become the new mantra for firms climbing their way out of the recession.

While creating and maintaining a high level of employee engagement can be a challenge, it's also not that complicated. After two decades of research on how companies can better execute their missions and visions, I shared the five essential practices to capturing the holy grail of employee engagement in my book A Tale of Two Employees and the Person Who Wanted to Lead Them. 

At their heart, the practices concentrate on three themes: the degree to which an employee knows and clearly understands what's specifically expected of him/her at work and how it is meaningful to the company's mission and vision; giving rewards for good work that are actually valued by the employees receiving them; and having leaders who show they really are interested in and care about their (subordinate) associates as human beings and their development (and not just as instruments of production).

Act 1: Say "thank you"—and mean it!

At the top of the list of practices that increase an organization's level of employee engagement is the simple act of regularly and sincerely thanking employees and praising them for their work. Publicly acknowledging exceptional work is considered especially important, though rewarding the routine and commonplace is also encouraged, such as for good attendance. One auto dealership I know even gives each of its team leaders $100 per week for undefined team-building activities - with the only restriction that the activities must occur outside normal working hours. The idea is that if a team leader can strengthen the personal non-work bond between team members during off-hours, then asking for job-related favours at work will not seem like such an imposition because it's now a friend—someone you've grown to like—asking for help.

Act 2: Make sure they know what to do—and why

Being extremely clear about organizational goals and showing employees how their work contributes to the organization's success - especially its mission and vision — is another high-value contributor to employee engagement. Everyone wants to feel important and that what they do matters. Those feelings are not always so easy to obtain, however, especially for persons performing those boring, routine and repetitive front-line jobs. But it is the responsibility of the "nearest leader" (i.e., their immediate supervisor) to help those individuals see the "higher purpose" of their work and that an organization is measured, through the eyes of the customer, by every single activity regardless how big or small.  Everyone is depending on them to do their job with excellence, therefore, or else the whole organization could fail. This needs to be explicitly stated.

Act 3: Development and training—the rewards they value

Finally, most employees want to know that they have avenues for advancement in their organizations - if they want them.  This means that there must be career development and training opportunities available at every level in the company and supervisors should be required to regularly discuss ways to help interested employees achieve them.  Nowhere is this more important than for employees at the bottom of the ladder.

With more and more organizations searching for ways to get the competitive edge, especially as the economy is beginning to improve, many are overlooking an effective strategic weapon that is standing right in front of them - their workers. However, creating an inspired and engaged workplace that leverages the talents and passion of everyone will not occur by happenstance.  It requires a leadership team, from the shop-floor supervisor to the top boss, that understands and values the importance of a cohesive workplace culture and that is prepared to work diligently to achieve it. When you create this culture of engagement, it won't be long before your competition's customers hear about your company... and choose to do business with you.

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