Over the past nine months, I have been involved with the Common Purpose Trader programme, which encourages participants to see the bigger picture – giving leaders the inspiration, knowledge and connections needed to produce real change. The course has been fascinating yet as it draws to a close, I am aware that many businesses have been forced by the recession to undergo radical change over a two year period now – relying heavily on employees who have had to deliver over and above at a time of scant resource and often under overwhelming pressure.
A very different scenario to proactive, positive business evolution and one that, due to its nature, highlights in a very public way successes and failures. It’s therefore worthwhile to look around and note some of the elements that are consistently present in the companies that have continued to do well commercially, or have successfully moved through a difficult phase, thanks to strong employee engagement.
The first element that is a key contributor to success is strong and open internal communication - critical at any time but particularly during periods of turbulence when strategic narrative about how the business is doing and where it is going needs to be clear and concise.
Interestingly, the companies that handle this best are those that combine optimism with realism, setting out the truth of the situation while outlining the steps being taken to address the challenges faced. This works because staff then understand the context the business is operating in. Hearing any issues direct from the boss’s mouth is much more palatable than water cooler rumours or learning about something from the media, both of which can create misunderstanding and confusion - not to mention a rush to desert what may appear (wrongly) to be a sinking ship. By building a ‘circle of trust’, employees feel valued and cared for and are much more likely to step up to the plate when they are most needed.
Listening organisations also fare much better when the business environment is tough. Those that give their teams the freedom to voice their ideas often pinpoint solutions that might not have occurred to the management board, or are able to progress options in a positive manner that might have had to be forced through otherwise. Just think about the businesses that took a different approach during the economic downturn by asking staff to consider reduced hours or pay rather than enforcing blanket cuts. Never an easy dialogue but many employees in that situation were able to keep their job while the business retained its skilled workforce for the future. Many of those businesses are now able to return to their previous working arrangements as the climate improves – and some are already even in a position to reward the people that supported them at such a difficult time.
Finally, the businesses that have empowered employees and allowed them to develop their roles also appear to have come through more strongly than others. We all know emotional and physical engagement is not just about the salary and overall package but personal development, available advocacy and job satisfaction, and achieving this requires staff to have the resources to perform well. Those businesses that opened up new opportunities for their employees discovered wider abilities within their team, saw greater drive, commitment and results and they now continue to reap the benefit of a more motivated workforce going forward.
There is a proven link between employee engagement, productive businesses and the bottom line. Great managers get the best out of their teams by inspiring them to work towards a common goal. With the right communication and appropriate systems in place, this is possible even in the darkest of business times – take heart!