In short, employee engagement aims to align the organization’s mission statement, culture, and values to align with employee values so your company can turn a profit. Most importantly, executive engagement should aim to align the executive team and their values with the corporation and theirs.
One study conducted in the summer of 2021 indicated that 55% of people in the workforce intend to look for a new job over the next year. With the inevitable influx of employee turnover, employee engagement needs to be top of mind for employers (HBR, Improve Employee Engagement Right Now, October, 2021).
When we recognize an engaged, empowering leader, we tend to feel more motivated, valued, and eager to support those leaders and the company as much as possible.
At Westgate, we strive to find the right opportunity for each client. It looks different for each client because they’re different from one another. However, our values remain the same. It just so happens that this is how we find our clients the right opportunity for them. We make sure the company has a strong, clear set of values, a healthy company culture, and the right level of executive engagement to keep them motivated for the future.
Westgate also helps companies conduct a thorough gap analysis in their company branding, executive engagement, and leadership optimization. Similar to our individual clients, we want our company clients to see future success both externally and internally.
In a recent episode of our podcast, Get Hired Up!, we interviewed Garry Ridge, the CEO of the WD-40 Company and he indicates the importance of building a strong employer brand with executive engagement.
“During the Covid-19 roller coaster, it became very clear to us that our tribal promise, which is a group of people that come together to protect and feed each other, really was a motivator. And if you think about a family, what is a family? A group of people that come together to protect and feed each other, and they love each other. And I don't know what it would have been like...well, I'm glad I don't know what it would have been like, is what I should say, to try and lead an organization through the Covid-19 roller coaster, with a very low engagement, and with a lot of toxic culture. In it, I think that must have been so tough. It was challenging enough, having a culture where we have 93% employee engagement, and where 98% of the people say they love to tell people they work, but it was still challenging!”
A note from the team
A few years ago, I worked in a conference services role for a very large, global financial corporation. One day, a woman who I had the utmost respect for from the moment I met her, came up to my colleagues and me. It was during a program that would lead to an employee recruitment opportunity. She said, “please let me know who shows you kindness, who calls you by name, and who radiates respect.”
Later in the evening, after we divulged this information, we noticed that this woman handpicked those individuals to have a one-on-one chat with her (without their knowing) during the evening social event. She took the time to give these prospects her undivided attention simply based on their kindness and their humanity. I remember thinking to myself, ‘when I become a leader, I want to take a few pages out of her book.’
There are two important takeaways from this experience:
- She is taking every measure to make sure those who are recruited into the firm are in line with the company’s values. Having an executive role with the firm—she will have a ripple effect.
- She engaged myself and my colleague on a very important process. She could have gone to several other, higher ranked employees, but she saw the value in gaining intel on how these prospective employees treat every person in the office—even the “little guys”. Through this process, I caught a glimpse of a leader that I aspire to be—again, ripple effect.
Executive engagement has a ripple effect
There are short-term benefits with executive and employee engagement and there are long-term benefits. The short-term benefits include:
- A positive, healthy work environment.
- An increase in productivity.
- A broader scope of perspective and input.
The long-term benefits include:
- Increased profit.
- Lower turn-over rate.
- Increased company reputation and by extension more opportunity for external exposure.
But how far can this ripple effect reach? As mentioned, we had the honor of interviewing Garry Ridge recently and here is what he says:
“What is meaningful? I actually wrote a definition for myself...which is: Results of what I am doing matters to me and helps others. And if I put things through that lens, then they're meaningful, and then I'll do it.
Now, the reason we're chatting today, not only did we meet each other many years ago, and I really admire the work that you do, you asked me to be here. So yeah, I'll be happy to chat. Because this is meaningful work. If we can share with leaders, how they can change people's lives, by just changing the way they lead, you know…and happy people create happy families, happy families create happy communities, happy communities created a happy world, and we need a happy world. And as leaders, we have the opportunity to do that.”
What is involved in developing and implementing employee engagement?
It seems that when organizations focus on profitability ahead of people, they don't fare as well in the long term and due to Covid-19 and the impact of this massive change initiative on the human element, employee engagement is as important as ever before.
“Our findings highlight that the three most important levers managers have at their disposal right now to boost their employees’ engagement are to (a) help employees connect what they do to what they care about, (b) make the work itself less stressful and more enjoyable, and (c) reward employees with additional time off, in addition to financial incentives.
However, as we found in a follow-up study involving 302 managers, leaders are often not aware of what is most important for driving employee engagement. The levers leaders think are most important do not correspond to what is actually most important. The mismatch between what leaders think their employees need versus what they actually need is further evidence that practitioners require guidance on what will work most effectively to engage their employees.”
HBR recruited a sample of 395 U.S. professionals and measured their engagement drivers and their level of reported engagement at two different times in 2021. Their results highlighted 3 critical and evident engagement drivers:
- Connect what employees do to what they care about
- Make the work itself less stressful and more enjoyable
- Create time affluence
Source: HBR, Improve Employee Engagement Right Now, October, 2021.
So, where do we start?
We start with the board and the executive team.
Run a survey to establish a baseline to see where people are.
Garry Ridge has successfully achieved a 94%+ employee engagement score at WD-40 company:
“…we need to go and just do a check in to make sure we're not losing, you know, cultural equity, make sure our tribal equity is not draining out, you know, are we still connecting, as well as we can be in all these things we had to learn? And when we did the check in survey, the results were as good as ever before and there were a couple that were even better. And one that blew me away, was 98% of our tribe globally said they're excited about the company's future. It went up four percentage points.”
Look at what is important to people—Maslow's hierarchy is a good frame of reference. Based on what people actually tell you, build activities based on their feedback.
In marketing, it’s said and proven that knowing your customer is very important for success. It’s the same with employees. How can you really understand what is important to your employee without directly asking them?
In an article by World Economic Forum, they emphasize the importance of employee engagement when working through global changes such as a pandemic—making a shift to remote work was a major change in the world of work:
“Listening to employees is critical to making sure the hybrid environment is working. One-on-one conversations, focus groups, recognizing and rewarding employees with in-person or virtual kudos for their achievements. Performance incentives, such as financial rewards or tokens of appreciation including good delivery, help develop a supportive culture that increases employee commitment” (World Economic Forum, The future of work is hybrid—here’s an expert’s recommendations, November, 2021).
Based on a study involving 2,000 knowledge workers and 500 HR directors conducted by HBR, there are 3 priorities:
- Employees expect flexible options. 88% of knowledge workers say that when searching for a new position, they will look for one that offers complete flexibility in their hours and location.
- Employees want to re-imagine how productivity is measured. Today’s employees want to be measured on the value they deliver, not the volume. 86% of employees said they would prefer to work for a company that prioritizes outcomes over output.
- Employees want to work with a diverse team.
Source: Harvard Business Review, What Your Future Employees Want Most, May, 2021.
Invest in appropriate professional development for employees.
Garry Ridge acquired and benefited from a leadership program at the University of San Diego. From a first-hand understanding of how it benefited him as the new CEO of the WD-40 company, he incorporated the program into the company’s professional development. Garry says:
“…the company (WD-40) have sponsored 34 people through that program. So, we have probably, for those that haven't retired, 30 people now in the company that have master's degrees in leadership from that program.”
“Benefits to employers of increased skills engagement include ‘financial returns’ such as increased productivity, efficiency, and business innovation as well as ‘non-financial’ returns such as improved organizational culture, employee motivation and reduced staff turnover” (International Labour Organization, Policy Brief: The Role of Employers in Skills Development Systems, August, 2020).
Something for business leaders to consider is to prioritize learning and development. 82% of employees and 62% of HR directors believe that workers will need to hone their current skills or acquire new ones.
“It bears repeating: Organizations will need to prioritize reskilling and upskilling to attract and retain the talent they need to make their businesses grow. Those that do will not only boost the motivation of their existing workers but will gain the attention of the brightest new recruits and position themselves to emerge from the pandemic not just where they were, but in a stronger, better position to move forward.
The last year has forever changed the way employees view and approach work, but one thing holds true: Businesses that want to attract and retain the talent they need to move forward must understand the top priorities of their future workforce. They must embrace new, flexible work models and cultivate a workforce that can design their own careers. In doing so, they will not only boost the motivation and engagement of their existing workers but will gain the attention of the brightest new recruits and take their business to new heights” (Harvard Business Review, What Your Future Employees Want Most, May, 2021).
Create simple mechanisms to engage employees such as a weekly email that comes directly from the CEO (it doesn’t come from the PR department).
From a Fortune 1000 Tech/Energy CEO (paraphrased):
“It’s important to know exactly what your strategy is and have a clear understanding of what your short- and long-term objectives are. From there, your role is to communicate the game plan for the company, but most importantly you need to explain to every member on the team what their role is. Every person needs to understand the key objectives and how they will contribute to seeing those objectives through. You must communicate often and sincerely. People must feel seen.
Early on, I established an on-boarding program which involved new employees listening to our strategy being clearly explained, their role, and who I am, as well as the executive team. We repeated this with employee meetings a day or two after our quarterly earnings call with The Street.
I also established a weekly email to explain current challenges. It was very personal note that I wrote to employees and invited them to write or call me anytime. I also established employee award programs in which peers could nominate one another for exceptional job performance. This reinforces the team aspect, which is consistent with my internal brand of sincerity and transparency.
I also visited all of our substations each year to personally meet with the different teams around the country, some in very remote locations.
While all these are required above anything else, people need to know you are sincere and authentic. If you aren’t being real and showing passion about what it is that you are doing, no number of initiatives or awards or communication matters. You must be real!”
Do a walk-about within the company and if Covid-19 prevents a physical walk-about, do a virtual walk-about once a quarter.
People want to be taken seriously—especially in their career. What better way to show your team you take them seriously than simply showing up?
If possible, invite employees to contact you as the CEO—literal engagement.
What would you do? Consider what makes you feel most valued.