“The other day upon the stair
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish I wish he’d go away.”
OK, that creepy little rhyme isn’t the perfect metaphor for a lack of employee engagement, but its close enough. How often in your organization do you meet a co-worker who isn’t there? I don’t mean physically absent for some malady real or imagined, I’m talking about the there-in-spirit person who comes to work but never really shows up.
I’ll illustrate. Here are some examples I’ve seen in my travels through life:
- A hospital nurse walks up to a waiting room vending machine. She looks down at the used syringe lying on the carpet in front of the candy machine, in the room full of bored children. She takes her Three Musketeers bar and leaves. (Not engaged, dangerously so.)
- A customer walks into a big-box retail store, checkbook in hand, looking for a new bike. He asks a competent-looking employee for help. “All I can tell you,” the employee says, “is the bikes are back that way somewhere.” (Not engaged, and not interested in getting there.)
- Two friends walk into a restaurant for dinner. “What’s really good here,” one person asks the server. “I don’t know,” she says, “I don’t eat here.” (Not engaged, and not very hungry.)
- A shopper calls an auto dealership and tells a testy receptionist, “I’d like to speak with a salesperson about buying a new [insert car brand here].” An exasperated puff of air rushes over the phone lines, then the receptionist says, “Hold.” (Not engaged, and now talking to herself.)
- While away on vacation, a family’s garage is broken into and their car vandalized. A friend living nearby calls the police, and points out the crowbar lying next to the car’s shattered window. That’s not their crowbar, the friend says, maybe you can get some fingerprints from it. “Nah,” the cop says, after suggesting an insurance claim, “you can’t get fingerprints off of metal.” (Not engaged, but carrying a weapon.)
I could go on, but you get the sad story: There are people in all professions who seem interested in a paycheck but little else. Some of their efforts to avoid work can be amusing, but the truth is very serious: Front-line performers make the first impressions that lead to customer loyalty … or lead away from it.
And I have the numbers to prove it.
I’ve recently seen a new study on employee engagement, released by Richmond Events, producers of the annual CLO & Talent Management Forum. According to a survey of members of the groups’ U.S. Business Panel, 87% of respondents feel employee engagement is crucial. That shows the message is getting through, even if companies have been less-than-stellar at making it happen.
Here are some other interesting numbers … some might say cautionary tales:
- About 75% of respondents say their organizations measure employee engagement.
- Interestingly, 58% feel engagement levels has climbed in the past three years, and 58% expect that increase to continue in the next year.
- Questionnaires, appraisals and turnover reports are used most frequently to chart engagement, but 60% of respondents think those don’t tell the whole story.
- Most respondents felt that about 50% of their organizations is prepared to go the extra mile for customers … the “glass half empty” view is the other half won’t bother.
OK, chances are the melody of this song is familiar, even if the words are a little different. Anecdotally if nothing else, we all see examples of non-engagement on a regular basis.
Here’s the good news: You can do something about this. The Richmond Events study offered some solutions along with the problems:
- It starts just where you’d think attitude, morale and engagement would start: With your leaders. In terms of creating engagement, “good line management” and “leadership team” were to top suggestions.
- But good management only covers part of the ground. Improving career opportunities topped the list of ways to increase engagement, nearly doubling the number of those who think more money solves everything.
Aside from those suggestions, there’s no magic bullet available to make people do the right thing. Training and management and compensation certainly help, but no system is 100% perfect 100% of the time. Sometimes trial-and-error, those brave old standbys, come into play again as you try your best to find workable solutions.
Along those lines, let me invite you to an upcoming seminar in TrainingIndustry.com’s Executive Seminar Series. On Aug. 13, leading business consultant Stephen M.R. Covey , author of “The Speed of Trust,” will deliver a webinar on “Unleashing Employee Engagement.” Click here to register.
OK, so we’ve had some good examples of bad engagement and some great numbers on a terrible problem. Let’s go out on a positive note, shall we?
Here’s good engagement:
A customer walks into a big-box outdoor activities store, looking for a certain item of clothing, a fairly cheap shirt on sale for less than $15. A clerk in the gifts department walks her over to the right department and introduces her to the manager there. One employee attacks a rack of clothes while the manager goes into the warehouse. The manager is the first to find the garment and returns with it. The customer returns the next day with cupcakes for the store employees, and a friend who wants to buy a boat.
Now that’s what I’m talking about: Engagement, service and success.