There are three key factors HR leaders should work on to help improve employee engagement, according to Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup.
The single most important factor for employees in improving engagement levels is having a manager who genuinely encourages their development, he said.
“I think HR can really go to work on that, and help fix it,” said Clifton.
“It’s very fixable, and I think people don’t know what a real game changer that is.”
“Development is more important than anything: it’s more powerful than money,” said Clifton.
“There’s so much low-hanging fruit for HR in that question about does somebody encourage my development.
“The fact that over 50 per cent of people in workplaces just say no to that, is pretty amazing,” he said.
Clifton’s observation was backed up by Gallup’s recent report, The State of the Global Workplace, which found that businesses that orient performance management systems around basic human needs for psychological engagement, such as opportunities for personal development, positive workplace relationships, frequent recognition and ongoing performance conversations, get the most out of their employees.
“One of the most important ways in which command-and-control leadership can stifle productivity is by denying employees the flexibility to gravitate toward roles and responsibilities that play to their inherent abilities,” said the report, which is based on data about employees in 155 countries.
“Strategies that allow individuals to identify, develop and use their natural talents so they become strengths have the potential to dramatically improve workforce productivity.”
“Development is more important than anything: it’s more powerful than money”
The second most important factor for HR in improving employee engagement is to work with the executive team on culture, according to Clifton, who said this is a consistent driver of employee engagement throughout all organisations.
“It is a kind of engine for employee engagement,” he said.
“But culture is highly individualised and personal, so HR should sit with the CEO and ask ‘what kind of culture do we want?’”
In a company such as Chevron, for example, Clifton said it has a culture of safety and this is important for a number of reasons.
“A culture of safety makes a lot of sense,” he said.
“With really well-run companies in energy or construction, safety is as important as profit,” said Clifton.
“So HR needs culture to come out of the CEO’s office – not out of HR.
“Real development should come out of HR, but HR making a command decision on a culture ought to come out of a CEO’s office, or it never works.”
In an organisational setting, Gallup’s research has found that business leaders must recognise when traditional patterns in management practices, for example, become roadblocks to workers’ motivation and productivity, and when selectively disrupting tradition will help clear a path to greater prosperity and transformed company cultures.
“Employers who focus on replacing outdated management processes with ones that enhance workplace cultures and support engagement can drive their percentage of engaged workers much higher than average,” said Gallup’s The State of the Global Workplace report.
It found that low percentages of engaged employees represent a barrier to creating high-performing cultures around the world.
“They imply a stunning amount of wasted potential, given that business units in the top quartile of Gallup’s global employee engagement database are 17 per cent more productive and 21 per cent more profitable than those in the bottom quartile,” said the report.
“Many universities and well-meaning leadership development consultants assume that there’s one leader profile that works”
The third most important focus for HR in improving employee engagement is to move away from a “one size fits all” approach to leadership development, and instead focus on the unique strengths of leaders.
“This is a big mistake that is made in leadership development,” said Clifton.
“Many universities and well-meaning leadership development consultants assume that there’s one leader profile that works.
“So, you could be talking about Jack Welch, or Colin Powell, for example.
“By the way, I know both those guys, and they don’t have anything in common at all – except that they’re great leaders.
“The point here is they pull off leadership in different ways, so if you really want to get the very most out of your leaders, figure out what their leadership strengths are and focus on those,” he said.
“I know this sounds simple and very functional, but it’s a spectacular leadership development mistake we’re making – and that is that there is no single profile for great leaders.”
Clifton added that he thinks leaders “are born, and then made”.
“I think we can be born with some really good leadership strengths that could be developed, but these could get missed or not developed properly,” he said.
Engagement in Australia
The State of the Global Workplace report also found that employees in Australia/New Zealand rate their overall life higher than employees do in any other global region.
On a scale of zero to 10, with zero being the “worst possible life” and 10 being the “best possible life,” the average rating among employees in Australia/New Zealand is 7.36.
“We can be born with some really good leadership strengths that could be developed, but these could get missed or not developed properly”
Despite employees’ high overall life evaluations, the report found that that workers in Australia/New Zealand have lacklustre employee engagement scores:
“Just 14 per cent are engaged in their job, showing up every day with enthusiasm and the motivation to be highly productive,” said the report.
Gallup suggested there are several strategies to help employers boost engagement, productivity and performance.
Strategies include giving employees more opportunities to do what they do best, recognising that not everyone will make a good manager, and creating an employee value proposition that emphasises work-life balance and overall wellbeing.
“The last approach may be particularly important in a region where residents appear to enjoy their overall life more than they enjoy their job,” the report said.
“However, especially for those who spend 30 or more hours each week on the job, having a great life outside of work isn’t enough.
“Organisations need to ensure that they are creating a culture of wellbeing within the workplace and should adjust and highlight what they offer to help employees maintain high levels of well-being due to reasons beyond receiving a regular paycheque.”
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