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The Move from "Hired Hands" to Engaged Employees

Posted on September 11, 2015

Employee Engagement, No Longer Just an HR Issue

Gallup demonstrated it clearly with their research - companies with highly engaged employees beat out the competition. So it makes sense that the hot buzzword (or phrase) for business right now is “employee engagement.”

But behind this buzzword lies a couple of questions:

1. What is it?
2. How does one foster it?

Answering the first question, Josh Bersin, writing in Forbes, asserts the term “engagement” is limiting and misleading. According to Bersin, engagement is not so much reaching out and “engaging” employees in their work. Rather it is better understood as taking a holistic approach and creating an organization that is “exciting, fulfilling, meaningful, and fun.”

In so doing, employers create an environment that doesn’t just encourage “engagement” but instead prompts employees to move to the next level – to inspire a level of commitment comparable to a good marriage.

Moving Beyond Mere “Hired Hands”

Creating an environment like this is done on both a tactical and strategic level. Employee-friendly moves such as putting in ping pong tables, moving to an open office floor plan, or revamping the annual performance review process would fall in the tactical level of improving engagement. These initiatives are good morale boosters and are becoming increasingly necessary. Managers should note, record, and implement these employee suggestions for improvement wherever they can.

But of equal importance is making the transition on a strategic level. This involves creating an organization where the company identity, mission, and culture inspires workers to be excited to come to work everyday.

The best companies do this extraordinarily well. There is no doubt that Google, Apple, Facebook and the other tech notables have well-defined cultures, purpose, and identities that inspire workers to bring their very best to the organization every day.

But don’t think engendering this feeling is limited solely to innovative tech companies creating the latest cutting edge technology. It can created just as well in iconic corporate institutions like 150 year old Campbell’s Soup.

The Key To Engagement

When Douglas Conant took over as CEO of Campbell’s Soup in 2001, the company was in rough shape. The employment engagement rate, as surveyed by Gallup, among top executives stood at 1.67:1, meaning that for every 1.67 engaged manager, there was one who was not.

In other words, 41% of top management was not fully active in the success of the company and operated in a state of being “tuned out.” This was among the worst employment engagement ratios Gallup had ever seen for a Fortune 500 company.

Ten years later, Conant had changed the ratio at Campbells to 77:1, one of the best in the Fortune 500. Where 41% of executives were not fully engaged in 2001, now only 1% were in 2011.

How’d he do it? The results were part of multi-pronged plan but instrumental in the initiative was the creation of something unique called One-Over-Ones meetings. These meetings featured a unique format of four attendees: The CEO, Head of Human Resources (CHRO), a senior manager who reported directly to the CEO, and (key to this arrangement) a subordinate of that senior manager.

These meetings typically took place after a traditional performance review of the senior manager’s subordinate. In the One-Over-Ones meeting, the evaluation would be reviewed and a discussion would ensue between the four. The conversation was purposefully kept informal and candid. Both the manager and their direct report could ask questions, discuss issues, and propose ideas to the CEO and CHRO.

The greatest benefit to this unique meeting was it extended the reach of the discussion. Top executives got access to more information than they would have by solely talking to direct reports while, at the same time, the CEO’s vision could be imparted to another level beyond direct reports.

This extended discussion showed the executive team cared about and valued their people. It also modeled behavior for other employees in leadership positions in the company to follow. No longer was it enough to only talk solely to those lateral in position and higher. After Conant’s plan, it was important for managers to talk to a level below.

This is important because often some of the best insights in a company are from the boots-on-the-ground. It’s a mistake for CEOs to think they must have all the answers for others to follow. A better course of action in management is to get as many ideas from others as possible and choose the best ones to follow. As Campbell’s Soup shows, using innovative concepts, tools and meetings to encourage vertical communication can make all the difference.

If your organization is ready to re-shape the way that it “engages” employees, then it’s time to call the Vocoli Team at 888.919.5300.


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