Friday, 31 August 2012

Taking engagement to a higher level

Apologies for being so slow in putting up my latest blog post! I have had a crazy 4 weeks getting really stuck in to my new job, finding a new kickboxing club and meeting up with friends. However, I promise to face my blog with renewed vigour now!
After a number of posts about communication failures, I thought I would make the tone more positive in a post-celebration of the fantastic London 2012 Olympic Games (and hopefully Paralympics too)!

We talk about employee engagement as the ultimate goal for organisations wishing to raise productivity and consequently the bottom line. Often though we are not actually sure what engagement looks like or what we have to do to achieve it. To me, engagement is epitomised by the connection that people have with an organisation and the extent to which their own personal goals are aligned with that of the wider “vision” or goal.

During the Olympics I believe that I saw true engagement in action and I was thrilled to be in London whilst it took place. The dedication and passion of the 70,000 Olympic volunteers (aka Game Makers) has absolutely astounded me. I was lucky enough to attend two Olympic events and as cheesy as it sounds, it was the volunteers (including the armed services and police) that made the day for me. Smiles all round, well timed jokes and helpful directions were the norm and everyone, from the coveted positions of athletic guides to the volunteer cleaners, was welcoming and certainly shared their excitement at being part of this momentous event.

So how exactly is it that LOCOG, the organisers of the London Olympics, managed to have such an engaged workforce? Now I know some of the cynical of you will be thinking that it can’t have been that hard considering that these people chose to give up their time and work at the games for free. However, you forget that these people were often travelling long journeys to arrive at the venues and had long hours to work, something that would test anyone.

I believe that the reason that the Games Makers were so engaged was that they were able to align their own personal goals with that of the wider vision, “to set new standards, creating positive, lasting change for the environment and communities” and “to inspire a generation”. LOCOG demonstrated to volunteers the impact that each and every one of them would have on achieving the overall goal.

Turning this back to the corporate world, I think it is safe to say that companies that manage to show employees how their day-to-day work counts towards the bigger picture can often be the most successful. It is not just the “Innocent” and “Save the Children” brands of this world that can inspire their employees. Every single company has the opportunity of including their staff in the future of their business and they also have the moral responsibility to inspire them too. It may be harder to convince critics that you can ‘inspire’ those in the less ‘glamorous’ roles within a company ... and I would agree. However, it is definitely not impossible. Autonomy is the key. Allowing employees to take responsibility, be accountable and share their knowledge and opinions is an important part of engagement.

There is the story of Kennedy visiting NASA in 1962 to take a tour and meet the people. Whilst walking through the building he stopped to talk to a janitor and asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor proudly told Kennedy, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon, Mr. President” - A wonderful sentiment.

We can all work to achieve this level of engagement amongst employees – it is possible but be aware that once you begin on this journey you can’t leave it by the wayside. In fact, it is better not to start at all (raising the hopes of your workforce) then to do it in half measures. This is not to say that you shouldn’t try, but you need to be committed.
To business owners I say, invest in your people. Inspire them, nurture them and invite them to ‘buy-in’ in your business, just as you have.

To those who have not quite made the top yet, demonstrate your interest in the bigger picture, encourage your business leaders to listen and as you move up the ranks, help to inspire those following you.

Companies that engage their staff not only end up having the best pick of future talent, but they also open access to innovation, continuous improvement and importantly, increased productivity!

If that isn’t worth your time and effort – what is??

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