Barriers To An Engaged Workforce

by Jay Deragon on 11/20/2012

Data clearly shows the benefits of an engaged workforce. However most organizational leaders are missing the benefits due to their own leadership inadequacies.

Most companies have driven costs out to the point where there is little opportunity for further reductions. Now it seems organizations are awakening to the benefits of employee engagement and its dual promise of targeted retention coupled with enhanced innovation, productivity and performance. Every organization,  no matter what size or scope, could materially benefit from a more engaged workforce.

Chasing Engagement Using Bad Practices

Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer authored a book on employee engagement called The Progress Principle (2011, Harvard Business Review Press). In it, the authors cite considerable data to identify four key “traps” that leadership must avoid if their workforce is going to commit emotionally and behaviorally with the mission of the company.  These potential pitfalls are triggers that negatively impact the inner work-life of employees, and all of them routinely occur through failed leadership and management practices. They are, in effect, the drivers that deliver the opposite of engagement.

The factors include:

  1. Sending signals from the top of the organization that say one thing, but accept a lower standard in pursuit of expedience;
  2. When leadership lays out one set of strategic imperatives and then shifts direction in a seemingly  reactionary or haphazard manner, creating chaos and continuous misdirection;
  3. Inarticulate or confusing policies, processes and protocols that send a message to the rank-and-file employees that leadership is not aligned around what or how results are to be achieved; and,
  4. Setting goals so big that nobody believes they can be attained, let alone understanding how the company plans to achieve them.

In a previous post titled The Requirements of Social Leadership we cited  a Gallup Poll which showed that high employee engagement uplifts every business performance number. Profitability up 16 percent, productivity up 18 percent, customer loyalty up 12 percent, and quality up an incredible 60 percent.

So while the data clearly shows the benefits of employee engagement (all that previously was called intangible benefits) the data also speaks volumes to the challenges of achieving those benefits. While there are many challenges the #1 constraint is an organizations culture which is a reflection of the quality of leadership.  Culture and leadership has always been considered as an intangible and the era of engagement has made them tangible.

In the social era the intangibles are worth more than the tangibles.

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