By Tim Houlihan, Vice President, Reward Systems, BI WORLDWIDE
It’s no secret that to maximize results you have to drive focus, support personal goal setting, and facilitate emotional commitment in a system with transparent measurement and relevant feedback. Motivation isn’t enough.
Experts estimate disengagement in the workplace costs $300 billion in the United States alone every year. On the positive side, studies show that engaged employees produce more than 20 percent more revenue, are 43 percent more productive, and are 87 percent less likely to leave. What’s most surprising is that only one of three employees is engaged.
Motivation: Moving the Middle
It’s likely that your organization is made up of a small group of people who are intensely engaged and a large group of people who are either ambivalent or genuinely disengaged. While we cannot be certain that all top performers are among the intensely engaged, it’s likely. What we know about the top performers is that they are producing more results than anyone else in the enterprise, and it’s important to keep them doing that.
To get the middle and lower parts of the curve to move to the right, behavior and cultural change often are required. The standard distribution curve suggests that a relatively equal number of top and poor performers balance out a weighty group of average performers in the middle. The concept and graphic in Figure 1 (download at end of this article) are familiar to many. It represents a standard distribution.
However, performance metrics from more than 850,000 sales professionals in North America, Europe, Asia, and South America indicate that this standard curve under-represents the impact a global recession has had on sales organizations.
Employees who once occupied the lowest positions are gone—fired, laid off, and weeded out. That sways the shape of the curve to look more like that in Figure 2, which can be downloaded at the end of this article.
The Engagement Elevator
Engagement is not an all or nothing situation. Engagement allows for degrees of expressing commitment to the organization.
Try to visualize engagement as if it were an elevator in a 10-story top floor. Some employees will be willing and able to rise to all the way to the top floor. But not everyone will get there. In a typical organization—even one with well-designed engagement initiatives—some employees will only make it to the seventh floor, or the fifth, or the second. To maximize motivation and engagement, an organization must tailor communication and feedback to the right floor. A message that resonates with a second-floor employee may not be meaningful to someone on the seventh floor. Helping people move to higher floors requires commitment and transparency, as well as relevant rules, rewards, feedback, and communication.
Of course, any upward movement requires a solid foundation. Without meaningful work, competitive pay, opportunities for growth, and adequate working conditions, the elevator will never get off the ground.
Rather than trying to get everyone to the top floor right off the bat, aim instead to provide opportunities for moving up a floor or two at a time. Supplying tools for recognition and motivation are critical. Short-term-focused incentives, spiffs, bonuses, project recognition, and relevant feedback make an environment motivational. These tools send the message that the company acknowledges and rewards incremental effort. Just remember that a motivational environment needs to be relevant to the employees you’re trying to motivate, so tailor the tools to their situation and goals to maximize impact.
Above and beyond simple motivation are the floors where engagement happens. These are the levels where employees are living and flourishing in the culture and are contributing more because their desires align with the firm. On the lower engagement floors, the employees are starting to see the connection between what they do and their successes as defined by the firm.
In the old economy, the middle group was commonly thought to occupy 60 percent of the workforce. Today, it’s closer to 75 percent. And it’s by no means homogenous with levels of engagement varying between high-mid, low-mid, and middle-mid. This group needs support connecting their ability to engage (beyond simple motivation) and the environment in which they’re engaging (your company).
The top floors are reserved for those who combine the tools of motivation and engagement while delivering excellent results. Their performance typically has reached high levels because they have internalized the way motivation works in their lives and their jobs and for your company. They’ve gone beyond the basics of motivation and figured out how they can engage at superior levels in a work environment that reciprocates in a way that allows them to thrive.
Bridging the Gap Between Engagement and Results
Engaging employees is a significant initiative, but it’s not the final step in moving toward results. The final step is to understand how to both leverage and focus engagement to produce tangible business results. Engagement does not automatically produce tangible business results. Employees can be engaged but not focused—perhaps they want to help but don’t know how. Employees also be can focused and motivated but not engaged—perhaps they’re driven solely by personal ambitions and not at all by a desire to see your organization succeed.
Delivering results on a consistent basis requires focused engagement, emotional commitment, and individual goal setting. There are three keys to move the needle from the merely engaged to the results side of the equation. Here’s how you get more employees to ride the engagement elevator all the way to the top.
Help employees set goals. All organizations are looking for employees who go above and beyond for both themselves and the company. When goals are missed or things don’t go according to plan, how do your employees react? Are they indifferent or do they seek a solution? If your employees were truly engaged, the latter would be the case. One way to accomplish this is to give your teams the ability to set specific goals. Allowing your team to self-select their goals (often short-term goals in support of the larger, strategic initiatives) will enhance their execution every day.t them emotionally engaged.
Get employees emotionally engaged. Every organization has a few top-tier employees who are engaged and regularly go above and beyond. Where business can dramatically affect overall productivity with engagement is to “move the middle” by exporting engagement tools to the majority. With mechanisms such as regular feedback, objective measures, and reminders of the big picture, organizations can export the mentality of engagement the same way a good Super Bowl ad keeps us talking for days after the event: by resonating with the emotions of the audience. Emotional commitment to the task, the team, or the organization leads to engagement as the norm rather than engagement as the exception. . Measure for success.
Measure for success. Metric-based engagement applies these concepts not just to overall job performance but also to specific metrics that make employees truly successful. The most effective measures include two elements: objectivity and relevance.
First, objectivity often is defined in terms of transparency, which is a good thing. Trust in the measurement metrics affects performance: The higher the trust, the more likely an employee is to push a little bit harder.
Next, relevance affects the organization and its people. Measures must be known to be relevant. If no one knows about it or isn’t familiar with it, it isn’t relevant. It is critical to link metrics to the strategic objectives of the business unit or corporation and communicate them clearly.
Last, don’t hesitate to use rewards and feedback to recognize those who achieve. Motivation with incentives can drive remarkable results. It’s not enough to simply communicate the value of one’s role within an organization anymore. Employees must understand how their daily actions contribute to overall corporate success. They’ll do best when they’re reminded regularly through reliable, transparent feedback mechanisms. Help them focus on good measures, fair goals, and the emotional currency of the enterprise. These tools allow employees to jump up a floor in the engagement elevator—knowing their objectives and that their efforts are recognized.
To move the middle section of average performers (on the bell curve) to the top, address them first. Develop and implement systems that give them the opportunity to move up the engagement elevator with challenges and rewards that are relevant to them and not just the top performers.
Bring engagement from an abstract concept to a relevant level that is both measurable and achievable, and you’ll turn the concept of employee engagement into tangible business results.
Tim Houlihan is vice president of Reward Systems at BI WORLDWIDE, whose mission is to produce measurable results for its clients by driving and sustaining engagement with their employees, channel partners, and consumers. For more information, visit http://www.biworldwide.com.