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The Art of Involvement

As managers, leaders and HR Pros we are constantly bombarded with reports, studies, surveys, etc. that tell us how important employee engagement is. You need an engaged workforce to attract and retain key talent. Your workforce must be engaged to have a strategic advantage in the labour market, etc. Many a company has made a lot of money running these engagement surveys and coming up with formulas that “calculate” what makes up employee engagement and defines what engagement looks like. Let me be clear before I go any further, I do not disagree with any of this data and these approaches. In fact, I like bringing a scientific approach to my HR practice and as HR Pros, this lends credibility to what we are trying to accomplish. However, the danger is that we get too focused on the buzz words and key concepts. We are constantly striving to make sure we have an “engaged” workforce. But what does that really mean for each individual company? What does it mean for our leaders and managers?

InvolveI prefer to start smaller, and yes, some might say simpler. I think the real key to engaging and retaining your employees is to lay a foundation of employee involvement. Yes, I do believe it starts out that easily. Now, I am not saying this is an easy thing to do, once you lay the foundation you must ensure it is maintained and remains solid. But what exactly does this mean? What it means is that while you may have a world class recruiting team, and you pay top quartile in your industry and that is supported by a phenomenal total rewards program, if, day in day out, week after week, you are not involving your employees the foundation will crumble.

Think about it, how do you/would you feel in your role if your manager never involved you in anything? Imagine you were not involved in any high(er) level department discussions, growth plans for your group, operating plan development and execution, organizational changes, talent evaluation, etc. The real challenge is that often managers hire staff, expect them to do these wonderful things, but never involve them in the act of planning and getting there. The manager ends up treating the employee like some robot who is designed to execute on simple commands – “go hire this person,” “fix this issue,” “complete this task.” Really engaging stuff huh? I am sure you have all experienced this lack of involvement – whether via observation, employee complaints or perhaps it has happened to you personally? I have seen this style of management before and I equate it to a parent/child relationship. That is, the grown-ups (managers) will go away and decide on things and then they will come back and tell the children (employees) what is going to happen or what they need to do.

You can bet how long employees will stick around in that environment, regardless of all the other world class programs you have in place. Here is the thing – this costs a company NOTHING! There is no cost to a company or a manager to involve their employees in things. The upside is that the ROI on this is limitless. So here is the challenge, if you and your organization truly believe that employee engagement is critical to organizational success, start by involving your employees. Involve them in decision making, operational plans, communicate with them, treat them like professionals. Start with these steps and then begin to measure your traction. If you find you are managing your employees like you parent your young children, you are going down the wrong path. Shed the comfort level of that parental style of management and start involving your staff. The payoff will be worth it for you.

What do you think? Could this work for you and your organization? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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2 Responses

  1. Scott, as always a well written and well thought out article. Good points and no arguments here! One word of caution … this is NOT easy, even when you keep it “small”. It requires excellent communication, follow up, buy-in from management and a consistent approach. If you start and stop it loses credibility. If your management team are not 100% aligned (and they will always SAY they are) it will not work. If it is not framed correctly the employees may feel you are getting them to do MORE work for nothing. These are just minefields to be aware of … not reasons to not do it. Go for it … with eyes open.

  2. Thanks for the insights and viewpoint – appreciated as always. I agree with what you are saying, especially when tackling this from a culture change perspective. My feeling on the act of involvement is to empower managers to make changes at an initially smaller scale. Instead of jumping right into “engagement” initiatives (which many companies tend to do) have managers focus on employee involvment – which is a foundational level activity. Involvement can, and does, mean different things to different people. Simply having discussions with your employees about their work, work processes, etc. are all elements of involvement. While it is great when this type of message comes from the top, in many companies it doesn’t (directly). However, I firmly believe individual managers still have an opportunity to be leaders and effect change in their particular work unit. Thanks Kevin!

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