Keeping Employees Engaged in Tough Times

As the economy improves and baby boomers retire, employees will have more job choices, and keeping them engaged in their work and their company will be crucial, management consultants Peter Stark and Jane Flaherty write in "Engaged! How Leaders Build Organizations Where Employees Love to Come to Work" (Bentley Press, 2009).

?Practicing the skills and strategies of the best companies will help keep people engaged?and give their companies a competitive advantage over those just focused on survival in tough times,? Stark says.In their book, Stark and Flaherty examine the results of employee surveys using two performance measurements: an overall benchmark of all companies surveyed and the best-of-the-best benchmark, which isolates the top 25 percent of the firms surveyed. The authors identify the following key attributes that differentiate top companies.

A compelling, positive vision with clear goals: This is essential for increasing morale, motivation and productivity?and for weathering tough times, Stark says. Nearly 90 percent of the survey respondents at best-of-the-best companies said they were clear on their organizations? goals and future direction, compared with about 75 percent overall.

Communication?the right stuff at the right time: At leading companies, employees are encouraged to express opinions, and managers relay the organization?s perspective in a timely manner. ?Providing up-to-date information on what?s going on in the company and in the economy?and discussing what actions are being taken?helps people cope with challenging situations,? Stark says.

Select the right people for the right job: Four-fifths of the employees at best-of-the-best organizations said their companies hired the most qualified candidates for jobs. Respondents at these companies also said that high-performing organizations are more likely to promote qualified, well-trained people into management positions.

Remember that we?re on the same team: More than 80 percent of the respondents in both benchmarks say they value teamwork. However, best-of-the-best organizations are stronger at teamwork?both within their own departments and across departments.

Cool stuff?continuous improvement and innovation: Best-of-the-best companies excel at establishing a climate in which employees are encouraged to improve quality by creating new products, processes or services. At these firms, 85 percent of the respondents said people in their organization are recognized for coming up with innovative ideas, and 91 percent said their organizations place a high value on continuous improvement.

Recognize and reward excellent performance: At best-of-the-best companies, 73 percent of the respondents said their organizations appropriately reward the highest achievers, compared with 56 percent of the respondents in the overall benchmark. However, the old adage that money can?t buy happiness rings true. Most employees who leave an organization do get a raise?about 6 percent on average?but people usually resign because of a poor relationship with an immediate supervisor, Stark says.

Accountability counts: Best-of-the-best organizations are better at clearly defining what is expected from employees, providing feedback on their performance and holding team members accountable to performance standards. Important strategies associated with accountability include taking responsibility for mistakes, getting rid of time clocks, and giving gossipers and whiners more work so they have less time to complain.

Every employee learns and grows: Employees at best-of-the-best organizations have access to good training programs that are relevant to both the workers? and the organization?s success.

Problems are no problem: At best-of-the-best companies, 76 percent of the employees surveyed said their organization identifies and handles problems early on, compared with 60 percent of the respondents overall. The top companies are also better at recognizing employees for innovative ideas and assuring them that management wants them to solve problems.

It?s all about the customer: Most companies place a high value on exceeding customer expectations (94 percent of the best-of-the-best organizations versus 83 percent of the companies overall). However, leaders should never underestimate their responsibility to create an environment in which their employees enjoy coming to work?and with which their customers enjoy doing business, Stark states.