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Manager's Guide to Employee Engagement
By Scott Carbonara
The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.Copyright © 2013McGraw-Hill
All rights reserved.
The Case for Employee Engagement
Picture this. An old steam locomotive chugs and lumbers along the ravine—belching black billows of smoke from its stack. Long before the rise of the approaching mountain, the engineer bellows for the boilerman to pick up steam—increasing the train's speed by adding fuel.
To comply, the boilerman scoops shovels of coal into the firebox. Soon, the black coal turns to red embers, and soot and ash fill the smokestack. The heat from the firebox radiates outward, and several times the boilerman has to step back to catch his breath away from the extreme temperature and the heavy, acrid smoke.
But within minutes, his efforts are rewarded. The steam pressure rises to a level sufficient for the train's engineer to maintain a steady speed up the side of the mountain pass. To reward himself, the boilerman puts his shovel down, takes several sips of water from his canteen, and leans back to take a well- earned rest.
Yesterday and Today
Steam locomotives were a simple mode of transportation for travelers of yesteryear. To keep moving, the locomotive required at least two people and a fuel source. One served as an engineer, or driver. The engineer kept his eyes on the train's speed and the rise and fall of the land. And of course, the engineer controlled when the train started and stopped along the route. Think of this person as the boss on the train. The other key person was the boilerman, or fireman, whose job entailed monitoring steam and boiler pressures and, of course, feeding the firebox with fuel, usually coal.
Steam locomotives are a metaphor for corporations of yesteryear. Like steam locomotives, companies of the past traditionally had an autocratic boss, the person in charge who made all the important decisions. To keep on track, the boss needed a crew to focus more on the day-to-day tasks, so he employed managers to keep the company moving.
But neither the boss nor the managers could power the business alone. They needed fuel, not just of the literal type, but also in the form of people. In good times, the boss hired more employees to produce steam. Employees, like coal, were viewed as renewable resources, and they were added to projects by the shovelful whenever the business required more speed.
That was yesterday. Things are different today.
Think about your company and your current challenges. Many leaders in various industries have heard messages similar to these over the last couple of years:
* Your team needs to increase productivity ...
* Your budget's getting cut again next year ...
* We're currently evaluating various cost reduction options, and your department keeps coming up ...
* You need to lower your headcount ...
Regardless of how the message is framed, most leaders concede that they understand one central point: I need to do more with less!
That's today's business reality. As a leader, you have two options. You can find a way to maximize the performance of your employees, or you can step aside and let someone else do it. I'm guessing you don't view failure as an option, so that leaves you with maximizing the performance of your employees.
Satisfaction Isn't Enough: Survival vs. "Thrival"
If you want to maximize performance, you can't settle for satisfied employees. Satisfaction isn't enough. You don't want employees to merely survive at work. You want them to thrive.
The Satisfaction Conundrum
On a cold winter morning in 1975, I sat in the kitchen of my family's home with my father, my Uncle Wes, and my Uncle Wade. The talk hovered over my head most of the time as the men discussed topics like world affairs and the state of the U.S. economy. But finally the conversation hit on a topic I understood: jobs and work. Even though I was a child, I'd already held a paper route and routinely shoveled snow in the neighborhood to supplement my meager allowance of 50¢ per week.
So at least in a simplistic way, I understood the nature of work and I was gratified when Uncle Wes pulled me into the discussion.
"Scott, I'm going to tell you what I tell my own boys," he intoned solemnly. "When you find a job, go to work for a big company—one that's stable and pays a decent wage. Show up for work each day and don't give the boss a reason to yell at you. Then, maybe after 30 years, you can retire and go fishing."
"He's right," my Uncle Wade confirmed. "In another 10 years or so, we'll be fishing every day," he said with a nod to Wes.
It wasn't until I'd had a few real jobs of my own that I recognized that what my uncles described to me back in 1975 about their jobs formed a puzzle of sorts—but one that would only be assembled over time. Over the years, I connected additional pieces to this puzzle and came to this conclusion: My uncles depicted satisfied employees for their generation—in that they received paychecks for the jobs they did. They were surviving at work. They did not, however, represent engaged employees for our current climate—in which employees not only show up and get paid, but also feel connected, inspired, and motivated to give beyond their mere roles. My uncles were not thriving at work.
Why isn't it enough to create merely satisfied employees? Here are three reasons:
1. Satisfaction is situation-based—prone to change with circumstances. When things are going right with the world, most people are satisfied. But when things are going poorly, people get dissatisfied.
2. Much of what dissatisfies your employees as people falls outside your direct control.
3. Satisfaction doesn't drive people to want more or give more; rather, it motivates them to maintain the status quo.
Satisfaction Isn't Sustainable
There's a long list of qualities that create satisfied or dissatisfied people. Feelings of satisfaction or dissatisfaction have a way of spreading from one part of our lives to others. At any given time, each of us juggles our desires for satisfaction.
So ask yourself: As a leader, how much power do you have to remove potential dissatisfiers associated with things taking place outside of the office? For your employees—or even your closest friends—what kind of power do you have over their satisfaction with ...
* The global or national economy?
* Their physical appearance?
* Their monthly bills?
* The political party in office?
* The weather?
* Their marital or other personal relationship issues?
You see the point. Too many potential dissatisfiers occur in areas outside your immediate control as a manager. If your job description included "satisfy your employees," you couldn't do it thoroughly or consistently. It's simply not always within your power to create satisfaction. But as leaders, keep in mind these two important facts:
1. The attitudes your employees hold toward these uncontrollable factors come to work with them each day.
2. Leaders can greatly shape the general fulfillment levels of their employees, at least during work hours.
According to MetLife's 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends: A Blueprint for the New Benefits Economy (MetLife, 2011), employee satisfaction and employee loyalty have declined over the last few years.
During the economic downturn, many companies kicked into survival mode, and the mantra for many organizations became a chant: Don't sink! To stay afloat, companies t
Excerpted from Manager's Guide to Employee Engagement by Scott Carbonara. Copyright © 2013 by McGraw-Hill. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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