Feature Article - March/April 2013

Bringing Leadership On Board

Building C-Suite Buy-In on Engagement

By Rick Dandes

Overcoming the challenges faced by corporations in this shifting global economy requires a workforce that's completely engaged in their jobs and fully aligned with the priorities of their organization. Think of it: Employees are increasingly being asked to adapt, learn, readapt and relearn in order to ensure that companies retain a competitive edge; and executives, from the C-suite to front-line managers, need to understand what motivates those employees and drives job satisfaction, pride and commitment.

Many things add up to "engagement," explained Michelle Pokorny, solution vice president, employee engagement and recognition for Maritz Motivation Solutions in Fenton, Mo. "However, if you broadly consider that leadership believing in engagement means a desire to foster and develop employees' emotional connection and commitment to their work, their team, the organization, the customer, the purpose of the brand—then believing or not believing in engagement will heavily influence the environment and culture of an organization."

And the bottom line. Organizations worldwide are scrambling to find effective ways to attract and to not only keep the best talent, but also to elevate their performance, productivity and service levels to new heights. Nothing drives revenue, cost savings or profitability like motivated and engaged employees. Give employees the information, tools and recognition to engage them in your organization's goals, and they will deliver.

Traditional methods to motivate employees have become little more than table stakes—the best and brightest employees want to work for "Employers of Choice" and have open, trusting relationships with their managers, said Michelle M. Smith, vice president, business development for O.C. Tanner in Salt Lake City, Utah.

"While creating this kind of culture may require more commitment from employers," Smith said, "I believe the result is well worth the effort. A study by the Corporate Leadership Council found that increased employee commitment could lead to those employees exerting 57 percent more discretionary effort, which in turn produces a 20 percent improvement in performance. Similar research by Towers Watson shows that companies with employees who trust management enjoy 300 percent more profitability than companies with employees who don't."

Front-line managers also need to know that their role in employee engagement is critical. "One of the dynamics of today's modern-day workplace," said Mike Ryan, senior vice president for Madison Performance Group in New York City, "is that in many cases, they need to call upon employees who don't necessarily report to them to get projects done. We live in a very cross-metric world where you may have a manager who is managing projects that involve disciplines from areas that are not in his or her department."

It's important, Ryan believes, for a manager to understand that the approach they take in not only communicating with employees, but also allowing employees to communicate with them, is critical in establishing a level of comfort synonymous with being engaged—comfort in terms of their employees feeling comfortable that they can give their input, that they can voice their perspective and that they are excited and enthusiastic about giving their discretionary time. Managers on the front line need to understand that everything they do is going to reinforce and sustain a level of engagement.