Posted by: Mike Clough

Small Business Can Benefit From Employee Engagement

happy_employees(sm)The benefits of employee engagement have been well established. In his Harvard Business Review article, Leigh Buchannan states that companies with engaged employees enjoy 20% better employee performance than their counterparts. On the flip side, Gallup’s research into three levels of employee engagement; 1-engaged, 2-not engaged, and 3-actively disengaged indicates that actively disengaged employees cost American business $350 billion annually.

So I teamed up with Barb Taylor Krantz, psychologist, consultant and coach with The Bailey Consulting Group offers her advice to small business owners and executives on the often hidden, but, significant role employee engagement plays in business success.

In a small business, employee engagement has an even bigger impact. There simply isn’t enough margin for error when it comes to employee performance. In today’s super-charged competitive environment, every organization, no matter what their size, should be monitoring and managing employee engagement. This is where Barbara Krantz Taylor spends a fair amount of her time. Here are her thoughts.

In a recent survey, over 95% of employees completing The Bailey Employee Engagement Survey reported that they are working harder because they:

  • Look for ways to do their jobs better
  • Are willing to do more than what is required
  • Enjoy challenges that stretch their capabilities
  • Set high standards for themselves
  • Set challenging goals for themselves
  • Feel others would describe them as a “high achiever”

I’m not sure any organization could ask for much more dedication to work than that!  However, when many leaders hear these results they express a degree of skepticism.  “THAT MANY of our employees?  I don’t think so…”  So, what do these results really mean?

Perhaps employees are flat out inflating their answers because of what they believe they should say. But, let’s suppose employees believe they ARE working as hard as they can and exceeding the expectations you have.  Several other possibilities come to mind:

Your employees may be telling you that they are working at full capacity. Yet, most of the leaders I know must ask these same employees to give even MORE of themselves to the job.

The perspective of employees and their leaders regarding performance may be different.  Most leaders struggle with describing what job expectations are, much less describing what “exceeds expectations” looks like.

Employees who go above and beyond do so simply because they want to.  They are internally driven to continuously improve.  They bring a personal work ethic to their job that motivates them to offer up their discretionary effort.

How do you create the opportunity for employees to offer discretionary effort?  If we believe the employee engagement survey results (and from my experience I do!), exhorting your employees to work harder for the cause is likely to backfire.  It implies they are not currently working hard.

Instead, ask employees to talk about why they work for your organization, what motivates them to achieve, and what success on the job looks like.  Find a relaxed and casual conversation for this dialogue – not during the formal performance evaluation! Include some of the following in your conversation:

  • Explore with employees which aspects of their job are most satisfying and how they could contribute more in those areas
  • Discuss areas where they are meeting performance expectations and what exceeding expectations looks like
  • Encourage employees to set challenging, meaningful goals for their own development

Notice when employees have exceeded expectations. If you notice when employees offer maximum effort you will find they are more likely to offer it again.

If you would like to contact Barb Taylor Krantz, you can do so through her LinkedIn page or by emailing her a bktaylor@thebaileygroup.com.

Those that enjoyed this article, also enjoyed:
A New Approach to Small Business Management
Leading in Times of Uncertainty and Fear
Using Generational Diversity to Your Advantage
Employees from Heaven or Hell?

If you would like to contact me, you can do so by emailing me at mike.clough@bestbizpractices.org or visiting my LinkedIn page.

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Responses

Engagement is key and is typically a result of either the culture of the Company or the “stretch” that the employee experiences in his/her role. IMHO, and from what I’ve seen in the Market, is that employees are holding their cards close to the vest and are engaging in what was historically seen as two, perhaps three positions closely related to the employee’s role within the Company.

The “backlash” that you referenced will come to fruition as employees feel that they have been low-balled from a compensation perspective, are working 50-60 hour workweeks at the same level of pay, benefit packaged is reduced or elements eliminated, diminishing quality of life. When the Market does pick up – not only will Employers find that there is reduced talent on the street – but that attrition will run rampant once Employers recognize the value of Human Capital and what that means to the bottom line.

As such, Employers need to look at creative and cost-effective ways to engage its employees in order to sustain Best of Breed in your industry space. At the end of the day your Organization will be well branded and pull the talent you need to take the Company to the next level.

Cheers,

Joni Fisher
Fisher Search Group

I consider myself an employee who goes above and beyond, is internally driven to continuously improve, and a personal work ethic that motivates me to “leave nothing on the field” every day.

When you say, “The perspective of employees and their leaders regarding performance may be different”, you couldn’t be more accurate.

Earlier this week my employer literally yelled at me for approximately 5 minutes – in an open area for all employees to witness. In 20 years of working I’ve never been subjected to such unprofessional behavior, or been so humiliated.

The article speaks to business leaders. Do you have anything for employees to help them bounce back from such an experience?

I really cannot comment on your specific situation as I was not there and there are always two sides to every story. But I do have some general comments:

1. Whether employer or employee, there is never a good time to be rude!
2. Bringing one person down does not elevate the other.
3. Being a small business owner or manager does not automatically make you a leader.
4. Opinions are a dime a dozen. They are not right or wrong. They are just opinions.

All I can tell you is what I would do if I were in your place. I would meet with my employer privately and ask if he/she has a problem with my work. In a nice and professional manner, I would apologize for what I did that displeased him/her and explain how his/her actions embarrassed and humiliated me.

I would also tell him/her that I want very much to please them as they are my employer and make it possible for me to earn a living. I want nothing to get in the way of the pride I take in my work or my productivity. Lastly, I would invite him/her to call me a side privately at any time to discuss ways that I could improve my performance and do my job better.

You don’t want to put him/her in their place, as their place is holding your livelihood in their hands. :-)

Possibly others here will have better suggestions.

Thank you Mike. I appreciate your advice. If I decide to take the risk of subjecting myself to more abuse, I will give your suggestions a try.

Does your employer have the habit of yelling to his employees? If so, then he’s got managerial problems that he should be dealing with if he expects great performances from them.

Professionalism is a huge factor in maintaining balance in a company. It breeds respect and sense of pride.

If you love job, Mike’s suggestions are sound.

I am also an employee and I agree with Mike when he says when we feel we have been humiliated by our employer we should talk about it. Confronting our employers in a professional way expressing how we feel really helps. If we don’t tell them how we feel they will continue hurting us at times they don’t realize that it demotivates us. It would be a different story if we have expressed our feelings to them and they continue to subject us to the same embarrassment. Communication is the key to everything.

I have had a similar experience with my CEO. He gave me a 10 minute scolding on how I should not have re-arranged the furniture in my own office. During this monologue the following things were said to me:

“This is not a democracy, I am the boss”, “What the hell is wrong with people walking up from behind you?”, “What on your PC screen could be so sensitive that you don’t want people to see?” , “Moving forward everything is my way”.

I have to mention that I was the Training and Development Manager and did the hiring, so that was, in my opinion, a good reason to have my desk facing the door, and not a corner.

There was no valid reason given as to why everybody in that office should each be facing a corner except that he had a vision and he didn’t want us to damage the walls which he would have to pay for when we moved to a different office (none of us had any history of damaging any office furniture or equipment).

The three of us in that office are high performers in this small company (50 employees). We are self motivated, pull at least 50 hours of work/week for a much smaller pay than we would in a bigger company and we lead by example. We understand small company challenges and do our best to help it grow and successfully take it to the next level.

In this situation I tried communicating and I was told to put my feelings aside.

I decided to resign. In my view, in a small company you should reward your top performers and give them whatever they need to feel happy, within reason of course. You should not, at any point, demean, disrespect or talk down to them.

I will be looking for a better job (better pay, better benefits, established company culture) and one of the questions I will be asking in the upcoming interviews will pertain to management style, succession pathing and employee recognition.

Funny I should stumble across this post not 30 minutes after having an experience very similar to that of “name witheld.”

I’m sitting here, working through my own issues, while attempting to also provide something useful to those who are in the same frustrating position.

I’m considering the possibility that I’ve just joined the 5% who are less-engaged, or even actively dis-engaged at the moment. I know I’ve been in the 95% for a long time. Somehow, those same de-motivators take their toll over time.

I guess the thing to remember is that we are all the creators of our own experience, and when the situation becomes toxic, we have to decide whether or not it’s worth our time and effort to change what is, or simply remove ourselves from the situation as Irina did.

With the current perceived state of the economy, I must admit I’m hesitant to resign so easily.

The important thing in the communication may be to extract the intent of the person doing the yelling. If you can feed that positive intent another way, and still do your job, and still keep yourself motivated toward acheivement of the common goal, then staying with the company, and covertly improving the environment piece by piece may be the best choice. If it seems like too much work, and you can’t seem to maintain your own internal states of health and well being in the process, then perhaps it’s time to move on.

I’m not here to co-miserate, but rather to understand a shift that seems to be taking place. Clearly a portion of the suppsosed 95% are becoming frustrated with the remaining residue of old management methods, and rather than get caught up in our own emotion cyclones, the best choice is to put ourselves into an environment where the feedback matches more closely the effort. I beleive we’re moving this direction slowly, and that the methods of old are a long time going away.

It is encouraging to believe that 95% of the population truly believes that they are willing to go above and beyond what is asked, in order to benefit a greater good. I for one, am excited to be a part of this shift, and am eager to experience the participatory world we are now moving into.

When I wrote this article, I did so for the small business owner. I did not expect an outpouring of comments from the employee. Now I feel compelled to share my thoughts with the employees reading this post. However, as a serial entrepreneur, I understand the POV better from the business owner than from the employee. So understand my bias when reading this.

First a little preamble to set the stage. Employees are not slaves that we own. They all have a mind of their own. Employment is at will. They can quit any time they desire or we can fire them if we so choose.

Just as a great work environment stimulates productivity, a poor work environment stifles productivity. Turnover is expensive in terms of lost productivity. On the other hand, “a rotten apple spoils the barrel.”

It is the job of a small business owner to look out for what is truly in the best interest of the company. If the company goes under, everything is lost and everyone is unemployed. Treating employees poorly is not in the best interest of the company. Letting them call the shots and decide what is best is also not in the best interest of the company.

I meet with small business owners everyday. That is my job. So after this preamble, allow me to address this from the small business owners perspective.

These are very tough times for small business owners. Although the government (and each of us since that is where the money comes from) is pouring billions of dollars into large companies and has totally neglected the small businesses in America (chances are this includes your employer whoever you are).

Many small business owners have put everything (and I do mean everything) on the line to create their business and create jobs for their employees. If the business goes under, the employees lose their job, but can find another job at some point in the future. The business owner my lose his/her job, his/her life savings that they invested into the business, their home and virtually everything. They may even lose money from investors that could include family members (image what that would do to family relationships).

Business owners are under untold pressure at this time like you can only imagine. Many are on the fence. If they can pump just a little more out of their business, they can make it succeed. If they cannot, they lose everything including the jobs of the people entrusted to their care.

As I replied to “name withheld”, there is never a good time to be rude or scream at anyone. It is not good for business or humanity. But remember that small business owners are human too. They have families and a livelihood to protect. They also feel responsible for keeping the employees employed. It certainly is about money but it isn’t ONLY about money.

While under all of this pressure, they can explode just like anyone and say or do something that is not in the best interest of the employee or the company. I hate to admit this, but I have done it. They key is what happens after the fact. In my case, I went to the employee and apologized for taking my frustration out on them. They did not deserve it and I was out of line.

I guess my point is that most employees have no idea the amount of pressure that small business owners are under at this time. And they should keep this in mind when passing judgment on their employers.

This does NOT mean that owners have the right to treat employees in an abusive manner and employees always have the right to quite. That is the price that employers pay.

What an excellent post Mike.

I have argued elsewhere http://strategyweb.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/training/ that employee engagement is fundamental to the success of social media plans for small and medium-sized companies.

Thank you so much for givng me so much ammunition in the pursuit of that worthy goal of employee engagement in any and all Web 2.0 projects.

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