Employee Engagement: Making the Invisible Visible

by | Aug 9, 2016 | Blog, High Road Accountability and Ethics, High Road Cooperation and Unity, High Road Leadership

Invisible Man

CEOs and all senior executives need employees to

  • Keep them apprised about what is going on;
  • Offer ideas and suggestions;
  • Share their concerns; and
  • Express their opinions.

However, CEOs are frequently dismayed that employees are unwilling to engage in these behaviors. This reluctance is a common occurrence in many workplaces and exists for three specific reasons.

The easiest and best way to engage employees in an open dialog that provides this needed information is to implement a strategy that creates a feedback methodology.  If this methodology is managed properly, it will provide the executive team with information about how employees feel and insight into their concerns, while soliciting solutions and ideas.

The true causes for the dearth of feedback about what is going on from internal sources are twofold. First, executives are not listening to the informal forms of feedback.  Secondly, executives lack a formal feedback system that:  1) encourages feedback to be given; and 2) the feedback is utilized to make improvements.

Why are employees so disengaged that they don’t offer suggestions, raise concerns, or tell me what’s going on?

The short answer is: They do not want or feel that they need to keep you informed. However, their silence and reluctance does not help you be in the loop about what’s happening.

Marsha, a CEO, complained, “I keep getting surprised! Things are happening all over the company, but no one tells me what’s going on until the situation turns into a major crisis. Recently, we had an unhappy vendor, an accident that led to a lawsuit, and an unexploited opportunity we missed. No one spoke up about these until it was too late. Whenever I get an opportunity to be with employees and ask them to tell me what is going on, these subjects never come up. We have a comment page on Facebook, a comment page on our website, and suggestion boxes in every building. Yet, on average, we get about one comment or suggestion per month. What can I do to get my employees engaged so they tell me or other executives what is happening in real time? I hate the unknown!”

My response is a recommendation to establish an easy-to-implement methodology that encourages employee engagement. This system innately induces employees to provide honest and unfiltered feedback and share their ideas.

54% of American employees are categorized as ‘not engaged,’ 17% identified as ‘actively disengaged,’ and only 29% classified as ‘engaged.’ Source: The Gallup Organization


Why They Rarely Engage

Let us start with the three causes of why employees most often will not share their opinions and ideas. In most companies, employees:

–        Are not engaged or encouraged to be;

–        See providing feedback to their superiors as a punitive task; and/or

–        Are afraid of the consequences for being honest or sticking their neck out.

Throughout your organization, employees swap stories about who spoke out and what happened to them. The juiciest stories are those of employees who faced negative repercussions and consequences for taking a risk, being honest, raising a hand, or even engaging in a conversation with an executive. These stories universally have the same moral: “when in the presence of management, keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.”

These tales of caution get embedded into your culture and stay there, even if the event took place 15 years ago.

Sadly, the stories that do not get shared are those with successful outcomes such as these:

–        John made a great suggestion and received a letter of commendation.

–        Tracy warned of a potential problem and saved the company thousands of dollars.

–        Warren, acting on his own, followed up on a lead that generated over $1 million in new revenue.

These sorts of stories, if they ever get out in the open, are rarely shared. Therefore, your messages of “become engaged, feel empowered, take risks” never take hold as cultural norms.

Have Some Empathy

Place yourself in the shoes of an employee who is worried or stressed. She has been told by her boss, “Never go above my head!” She has been the recipient of numerous stories about employees who were chastised for being honest or delivering bad news. You then show up unannounced and ask, “Tell me what you think about…?” without providing a reason or context as to why you need that information. Would you be honest and open with someone who has tremendous power and could fire you in a heartbeat?

Not likely.

By now you may be wondering, “Does this concern or fear exist in my company?” and “How can I change this condition?”

Today, the average employee carries large amounts of fear regarding their job and livelihood. They know that they could be out of a job at a moment’s notice. Fear is prevalent in a large number of workplaces and it grows stronger each day.

My answer to the first inquiry “Does it exist here?” is “yes.” Both wariness and even fear likely exist in your company as a whole or in sections of it, especially if you are a large and decentralized organization. My answer to the second question “Can I change this condition?” is “yes.” You can improve the culture so that employees are engaged enough to:

–        Be fearless.

–        Take risks.

–        Offer suggestions that help your company be more successful and profitable.

Organizations with highly engaged employees realized an average increase in operating income of nearly 20% in the year they were studied. Source: Towers Watson

Next week’s blog post will cover some tactics for soliciting feedback from employees.