August 27, 2015 Anil Saxena

Employee Engagement Strategies – Give Employees The Accountability To Manage Their Own Engagement

Culture and operations are a little different for every company, and because of that, finding ways to spur employee engagement takes a unique and fresh approach for each individual business.

To get a sense for what drives real engagement (at real companies), I want to share some lessons that depend directly on “outside the box” thinking and a disruptive approach to typical engagement efforts.

You see the principles all over the place, but so many people ask me how they can actually use this stuff in their own businesses – here is the first of an irregular series of real life examples:

The supervisor of a large manufacturing company in the Northeast told me how turning over the reins of engagement to his staff really made a huge impact on the team’s performance.
Here’s his story:
– The first year we did an employee engagement survey, we scored in the 13th percentile. I gathered my group together and asked them what I could do to help them be more engaged. They gave great ideas:
• Doing things together outside of work
• Taking some training classes
• Hearing directly from senior leaders on the state of the business
The following year, the employee engagement survey scores doubled to the 26th percentile. A great improvement, but still far below where I thought my long-standing employees should be.
In the following year’s meeting to talk about employee engagement actions, I did something completely off script:
I opened the meeting by saying how proud I was to work with them, and then I asked them what they were doing to be more engaged…
There was silence in the room. A gentleman who had been working with me for almost 20 years spoke up and said:

“I am more engaged when I learn more about what we’re doing, and research the industry myself.”
There’s something particularly remarkable about that: these are all front-line workers on a manufacturing line. They are not college students or recent graduates of an MBA program, but what that gentleman told me resonated with everyone…
So, I decided that this year, engagement was going to be their riddle to solve. Our action plan as a team was no action plan at all. The only thing that people were going to be working on was answering this question:

During each daily team meeting, someone was designated with answering this tough  question. The rest of the team’s job was to ask questions, give advice, and blatantly steal really good ideas. I asked one of my employees to take notes, just to capture all of the best ideas.
By the end of the first three months, we had over 400 ideas and actions noted!
My team was talking about how to be more engaged, how to learn more about the business, understanding more about the impact of what they did, and showing their passion more than I had ever seen. It was truly amazing!
By the time the next engagement survey was conducted, our team scored in the 80th percentile – a massive improvement.
But even more remarkable was that other teams in our area were beginning to copy our “non-action action plan.” People across the organization were becoming more engaged – not by the team taking action, but by each person owning their own engagement.
If that was the end of the story, that would be a pretty happy ending… But by the following year:
• Four of my front-line employees, who had never taken an interest in managing, learning, or really anything to do with the company, decided that they wanted to become supervisors
• A group of my employees started a new employee orientation program, utilizing the 1200-some ideas that were collected in that first year
The biggest lesson I learned about engagement was to turn the reins over to employees. Ask them to figure out how they could be more engaged!

While this might not be an exact match to your organization or unique situation, you can see how some creative thinking (and a willingness to collaborate within an organization) led to BIG results. Hopefully, you can use this as a starting point for making engagement “real” for your team.  Stay tuned, there are more of these practical, tactical engagement lessons on their way.

What engagement strategies have you seen work in the “real” world (and not just on paper)? Let me know, and I’d be glad to share your story!
Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.

Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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