Engage through involvement

„How can we engage our employees?“ This question is heard in many board rooms and many well-thought programmes have been launched to increase employees‘ engagement. However, I would bet that only minority of the programmes have delivered up to the expectations and I am confident about my chances to win this bet.

Years ago I worked for Oskar (today’s Vodafone) as a manager responsible for retail sales channel (our own stores). After a very fast and intense start-up period we reached a point of being on the par in terms of coverage and services and – sadly – we had lost our price advantage. The question arose how we in retail could improve our results using only what we could influence and impact. As an answer we created a Customer Experience programme which resulted in improved sales (both in volume and value) and profitability, and by the way, the staff in the retail channel had become astonishingly engaged and enthusiastic during the period of the programme creation and implementation. And I’ve learnt something: engage through involvement.

The fundamental prerequisite of engaging employees is an open and fair culture. In other words, the management must be credible, must live what they preach. People do not hate tough bosses, they hate unfairness, cheating on them, being handled like a „stuff“, not like a staff.

An example of doing it wrong? „There’s a downsizing ahead. We must react to the current economic climate. We are very sorry of the lay-offs, but it’s the only thing we can do now. But, after these lay-offs, we’ll maintain our headcount and will keep the jobs“. Reality? The next wave of downsizing three months later, followed by another one after additional two months and one more after another couple of months. Can this management be credible and ask employees to be engaged?

Let’s assume we have a highly credible and respected management. So how to engage our employees? Involve them in making the business. Senior management bears an unquestionable responsibility for setting the direction in terms of vision, goals and strategy. But, to be honest, I have seen too many C-level executives meddling in tiny details in a desire to decide every single aspect in a fear the employees would spoil it.

Simply put: involve your people in figuring out how to make the strategy happen, how to improve your commercial performance, how to cut the cost basis – whatever the objective may be.

When asking your team to get involved, it might help to follow a few hints:

  • Explain what the ultimate goal is, why we are doing this particular exercise.
  • Encourage pilot programmes and trials. Give up a bit of the decision power and let the front line be responsible.
  • Allocate a budget for experimenting and delegate this budget responsibility as low in the hierarchy as possible.
  • Define and communicate KPIs against which the pilots‘ results will be measured and make sure that a measurement method is implemented.
  • Contest! Creativity multiplies when people are given a chance to outperform their peers 🙂 Make sure there are more contest categories, i.e. more chances to win.
  • Make it fun and allow for crazy ideas to come. Nine out of ten might be foolish, the tenth will be great.
  • It’s OK to make a mistake. It’s important to learn from the mistake. And it’s great to create an added value. Hence tolerate mistakes and celebrate success.
  • Expect that some of the ideas will likely be outside the official limits of the „Company rules and procedures“.
  • Invest people’s capacity into experimenting. How many employees these days are overwhelmed only by accomplishing their daily duties? Lots of businesspeople admire Google, but how many would follow Google in letting employees spend 20% of their working hours by doing projects on their own choice?
  • Incentivize the achievement. What will happen if we achieve our primary objective? What the rewards – financial or non-financial – will be for each member of the team?
  • If possible, visualize the rewards! If a salesperson can earn an extra bonus, what would (s)he buy for it? Should it be a summer holiday, let them put a picture of a tropical beach above their desk!

To sum it up: when people are involved in determining how to make the business, when they know their voice is listened to and get a chance to influence the decision making, they will start feeling „ownership“ and become engaged. The next critical point is connecting the business goal we are working on with employees‘ individual goals. But that’s a topic for another paper.

Petr Ševčík, July 3, 2012

Petr Ševčík

Growth & Transformation Management

+420 608 014 726