Employee engagement is a buzzword that I have seen used with increasing frequency over the last year or so. I’ve long been a big promoter of the link between successful Lean organizations and job satisfaction. And since engagement and satisfaction go hand in hand, I am happy to see the increase in awareness about the importance of an engaged workforce.
I’ll skip the discussion about what employee engagement is for the time being, and focus instead on why it is far more challenging to achieve than most people realize. This image sums up the relationship between engagement, performance, and trust.
The problem is that the three things operate in a cycle. You need engagement to get top performance. Performance breeds trust. And trust is a big factor in employee engagement. Once the wheel is spinning, it is easy to keep momentum. When it is not, though, you’ve got a problem.
You can’t just create engagement. To paraphrase Deming, there is no instant pudding to make an organization perform well. The only thing you really can control is the trust you give. Employees have to let go of some of the natural distrust of their boss, and the leadership team has to show that they believe in their employees by giving them opportunities to make more decisions. For many, it is easier said than done.
But those that can leap over those emotional hurdles and remove some of the adversarial Dilbert-driven conflicts between teams and leaders stand to make some impressive gains.
So leaders, if you want to spool up this wheel and get it really spinning, you’re going to have to make the first move. Find something to show that you are making an effort to trust your team more. Give them more discretion to make decisions. Let them adjust their processes to make them better. Help them learn to manage themselves better. It won’t be an overnight change. It will take a lot of effort to give your team the tools to handle the trust you are giving. It will have some setbacks.
But once you get this wheel moving and you have your whole team aligned with the needs of the organization, you’ll see impressive gains and open up whole new opportunities.