Designing, facilitating and assessing employee engagement surveys keeps my firm very busy these days. And it is noble work. After all, every bit of research tells us that organizations that are successful in driving higher levels of employee engagement generate better results: more satisfied customers, higher profits, lower turnover and absenteeism, fewer safety incidents, higher quality/fewer defects.
And yet, a recent Gallup study of over 150,000 interviews found that only 30% of U.S. workers report being engaged. That means that more than 2 out of 3 workers are giving less than their best effort at work.
So, the question is this: If we know that engaging employees can have such a positive impact on customers and stakeholders, why is employee engagement so elusive?
Engagement Enables Operational Success
At Integris, we help organizations launch initiatives aimed at improving effectiveness and efficiency. Popular techniques like Balanced Scorecard, Net Promoter Score and Lean Six Sigma can have significant impact on organizational results. But for most organizations, pursuing such initiatives is putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
In organizations with high engagement ratios, these methodologies are welcomed by the workforce as tools they can use to perform at a higher level. But for the larger number of companies where the majority of workers are not engaged, such initiatives are anything but welcome.
For example, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone ask if the process improvement approach called “Lean” is an acronym for Less-Employees-Are-Needed. Such comments highlight the view so many workers have that approaches like Balanced Scorecard and Lean Six Sigma are simply management’s way of instilling more control.
Structure Will Set You Free… If You Let It.
As Jim Collins explained in his book, Good to Great, high performing cultures enable employees to operate with freedom within a framework of responsibilities. The structure that comes from formal initiatives can positively impact employee engagement if leaders use that structure to set a framework of responsibilities—and then get out of the way. This is where most organizations stumble, and it is where The Leadership Challenge can offer the greatest value.
Leadership Behavior Is At the Root of Employee Engagement.
When defining the drivers of increased employee engagement, most studies cite four specific factors time after time:
- Respect. Leaders who treat members of their team with dignity and respect.
- Empowerment. Leaders who are willing to listen to other’s opinions, and empower rather than control or restrict the people on their team.
- Clarity. Leaders who provide a strong strategic narrative about where the organization is heading.
- Values. Leaders who build trust by aligning daily behavior with organizational values.
As all of us familiar with The Leadership Challenge know, these drivers of employee engagement are, of course, the same leadership behaviors that Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have been researching for the past 30 years. Just compare the The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® and consider how closely they align with what these studies report.
New Research by Jim and Barry Confirms the Positive Correlation
Over the last few years, Jim and Barry have been gathering new research from Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI) respondents who have also completed the10-question Positive Workplace Attitudes (PWA) survey. (The PWA uses a 5-point Likert scale to indicate the extent to which respondents agree or disagree with each item.) And in their just-released e-book, Great Leadership Creates Great Workplaces, Jim and Barry report their findings from over 2 million responses. They write, “We’ve found that those leaders who more frequently exhibit The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® have employees who are more committed, proud, motivated, loyal, and productive than those whose leaders exhibit these practices less frequently. Overall engagement scores are 25 to 50 percent higher among the groups with leaders who exhibit exemplary leadership.”
At Integris we are doing our own research on the correlation between LPI and PWA scores, using the data from our own client engagements. The trend line displayed in the graph below represents a population of approximately 500 employees that rated their direct manager using the LPI and completed the PWA survey.
The data clearly demonstrates a positive correlation between employees’ self-reported levels of engagement with the same employees’ opinions of how frequently their direct managers behave in accordance with The Five Practices.
Conclusion? People are more engaged in the workplace when they witness their direct manager practicing the behaviors associated with The Leadership Challenge.
The Learning-Doing Gap.
According to a Zenger/Folkman study cited in a post by Jack Zenger on the Harvard Business Review Blog, the average person takes their first supervisory position around age 30, but doesn’t get their first leadership training until age 42. That means that most new leaders are left to figure it out on their own for over a decade. It’s no wonder leaders aren’t influencing higher levels of engagement! As Jim and Barry have been telling us for years, leadership is learnable. But for most people, learning requires training.
The Key Is In Our Hands.
By being familiar with the concepts of The Leadership Challenge, we already have more knowledge about leadership development than most people in most organizations. We know how much more engaged employees everywhere would be if all leaders—from executive directors and CEOs to front line supervisors—more frequently exhibited behaviors aligned with The Five Practices.
The question to consider then is, “How do we use that knowledge?”
Think about when you received your first leadership training. When did you learn about The Leadership Challenge? What has knowing and practicing The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® done for you? If you work within an organization, do you share the wealth of insight that comes from The Leadership Challenge with your colleagues who have not yet had the opportunity to learn what you’ve learned?
If you are like most of us in the TLC Community, The Five Practices have had a profound impact on your job, your career, or maybe even your life. And, in part, that is why I believe that the key to employee engagement is already in your hands… now go use it!
Brett Cooper is co-founder and managing partner of Integris Performance Advisors, a Platinum Sponsor of The Leadership Challenge Forum 2013. Over the past 15 years, he has helped organizations pursue transformative initiatives using Lean Six Sigma, Balanced Scorecard, Net Promoter Scores, and of course, The Leadership Challenge. He can be reached at Brett.Cooper@IntegrisPA.com