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Employee Engagement – Driving Stellar Performance
By Lisa Hays, Fresh Perspective
Posted July 27, 2015

Image of switching train tracks"Performance" relative to employee engagement can refer to 1) what drives organizational performance, 2) an individual employee's performance, 3) overall employee performance, and 4) how and how well organizations measure performance.

This blog is focused on what drives organizational performance. I'll revisit performance from other perspectives in the future.

Steadily increasing performance is not easy for any organization. Expectations for doing so while juggling many other priorities adds complexity.

High-Performing Organizations
In March The Conference Board released a report defining the "DNA of High-Performing Organizations."* They set out to identify shared "building blocks" that connect high-performing organizations. Their method was to cross-reference 11 credible annual business rankings. They focused on both financial performance and people management. Only 56 companies met all criteria within their extensive evaluation. Four examples: American Express, Coca-Cola, FedEx and Target.

The connectors are three common "DNA Elements." They include:

  1. Effective and efficient alignment of resources to execute business strategies
  2. Strong focus on the customer
  3. Organizational capability to support critical business objectives

Resource alignment to execute business strategies
Resource alignment in executing business strategies dictates that employees throughout the organization understand key business objectives and strategies, know their role and understand how they contribute to overall success.

Many organizations aspire to, but haven't reached this level of alignment. Superior alignment demands a highly functional organizational structure and a culture of accuracy and accountability. Operational efficiencies combined with well-defined processes that drive financial management, decision-making and widespread accountability result in meeting objectives.

Focus on the customer
A strong customer-centric culture, including timely delivery of high-quality products and services, and internal processes centered on customer needs drives customer satisfaction, loyalty and perhaps share of wallet. And, innovative product/service development increases "will-pay-for" value.

An organization capable of supporting critical business objectives
Extensive organizational strength will integrate:

  • Leaders with a global mindset, a long-term mentality and capable of setting and articulating a vision, objectives and strategies. Managers at all levels are able to grasp current objectives, strategies and priorities, and navigate change. Organizational agility and resilience increase in importance.
  • A brand and corporate reputation that attracts highly talented individuals with diverse skill sets.
  • A culture of learning, talent development, opportunities to expand skill sets and experience, and recognition/advancement for superior performance.
  • Strong drivers of high employee engagement to drive productivity and strong retention rates.
  • Managers who, 1) clearly communicate objectives and tasks, 2) motivate employees, 3) create effective teams, and 4) successfully measure performance.
  • Remote workers who are reliable team players, and understand how their work fits.

Fortune's 2015 ranking of "Best Companies to Work For" found employees value "accountability for assigned tasks, with clear rewards and punishments for performance." People want their good work to be noticed. They also want those who don't produce good work to receive some sort of punishment. True accountability produces happy workers.

Leaders and Employee Communication
Senior leaders carry the greatest responsibility for creating a desirable culture, hiring and developing talented individuals and setting key objectives and strategies. Stellar performance is dependent on leaders clearly conveying to managers/employees throughout the organization what they need to know to execute. Superior execution requires widespread productivity at high performance levels.

When Right Management conducted a global employee career study they found that only 10% of employees define career success as high performance and productivity. Wow!

This finding highlights a serious disconnect between leaders and employees. And, this disconnect makes clear how much impact high performers have on business results. It reinforces the importance of hiring, developing, recognizing, supporting and rewarding high-performing employees.

What do employees value?
A recent Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) study, "Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement,"** identified the top contributor to overall employee satisfaction:

“Respectful treatment of all employees at all levels”

Respectful treatment was considered “very important” by 72% of respondents. Also important:

“Trust between employees and senior management” 64%
“Opportunities to use your skills and abilities in your work” 58%
“Management’s recognition of employee job performance” 55%

Each of these speaks to the need for frequent direct interaction between managers and direct reports.

Additional Important Leader/Employee Priorities
Often leaders don’t share important organizational changes with employees quickly enough. Employees are far more resilient in a changing environment when changes and “Why” are conveyed directly – with as much detail and as early as possible. Productivity and morale suffer when employees know “something’s up” – and they always do – but are left to speculate because they don’t receive real information in a timely manner.

Employees seek “real speak”, and highly value input, feedback and guidance from leaders. Leaders earn high marks when able to laugh at themselves, share mistakes they made and lessons learned, and value employee input. A genuine “What do you think?” listening and direct conversation will be remembered. The ability to speak to employees throughout the organization by name is worth the effort required.

After leaders hire the right people, assign them to the right positions and provide the guidance needed to execute, often the best next step is to get out of their way.

Productivity is highly correlated with performance. Essentially, strong performance requires consistent and widespread high levels of productivity. 

And, communication is directly tied to productivity. Thus, managers at all levels have considerable control of productivity levels.

Even great leaders and managers know numerous potential productivity killers thrive in the workplace. Noisy co-workers, smoke/snack breaks, meetings, and chitchat/gossip are longstanding distractions. Today new time suckers have become pervasive. They are electronic gadgets and related connectivity – to people and information irrelevant in the workplace. They are especially prominent among younger employees. Greatest offenders: cell phones/texting, the internet, social media and email (particularly personal email). Maintaining high productivity requires clearly setting expectations and consequences for not following direction. Then managers must frequently follow through with rewards and consequences. Setting the same expectations across the organization demonstrates fairness.

Senior leaders, as well as managers at all levels bear the bulk of responsibility for, 1) creating a workplace with a culture that attracts, motivates and retains the best employees, 2) setting and communicating organizational and individual objectives clearly, 3) establishing and executing standards of accountability, and 4) ensuring employees are consistently engaged and informed so they can meet high performance expectations in a changing environment.

As well, leaders with consistently unproductive employees and low performance results should first look in the mirror when seeking the cause and the means to transform the organization.

Action Items:

  1. Evaluate your organization's strengths and weaknesses on the three "DNA Elements."
  2. Assess the communication processes across the organization. Are they as complete, detailed and timely as they could be? Is a consistent system of accountability in place?
  3. Is employee performance being addressed frequently with resulting (established) rewards and punishment based on performance levels?
  4. Gain input from managers at different levels across the organization. What is the frequency and content of communication with their direct reports? Does current communication support high productivity with resulting strong performance achievements?

*For The Conference Board’s report, “DNA of High-Performing Companies, click here.

** For the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) study on “Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement”, click here.

Fresh Perspective
Fresh Perspective helps business leaders make key strategic decisions. We adeptly research, analyze and synthesize results to deliver only ‘need to know’ insight to leaders so they make the right decision the first time. Lisa Hays, founder and CEO, gained considerable experience from widely varied roles in large corporations. She combines her 30+ years’ experience, expertise and objective viewpoint to directly help business leaders.

Lisa Hays, Fresh Perspective, Inc.
Twitter: @Periwinkle4Lisa

Meet Lisa Hays, President/CEO