I've already blogged more than once about the difference between short term tactical approaches which have little or no lasting effect on employees' engagement with the business. These, unfortunately tend to be the rule rather than the exception. Few organisations have attempted - let alone succeeded - in adopting a truly strategic approach to this absolutely fundamental aspect of organisational life.
One impressive example which demonstrates the power of a radical, strategic approach is set out in a recent book by Vineet Nayar, the CEO of HCL Technologies Technologies, who took over an ailing business in 2005 and has turned it into a global success by cracking the problem of how to engage employees.
In 'Employees First, Customers Second', (Harvard Business School Press, May 2010) Nayar explains how he and his colleagues found ways (excuse the cliche) to create passion in the workforce. He took the view that this would only happen if employees not only enjoyed their work but also saw it as a way of developing and fulfilling themselves.
The strategy hinged largely on the leadership role pursued by Nayar:
“The role of the CEO is to enable people to excel, help them discover their own wisdom, engage themselves entirely in their work, and accept responsibility for making change.” In a recent post he sum med his view up by saying that "Chief Executive Officers (should) transform themselves into Chief Enabling Officers"
Experimentation is key: from his experience Nayar believes that:
"Unless you have employees who believe in change and believe that they can be its owners, you have no chance of transforming your organization and adapting it to new realities. In every organization, you will have a few transformers who are eager to lead change; fence sitters waiting to see the early results before they embrace change, and lost souls who will find every reason that the change won’t work. If they hope to succeed, CEOs must empower the transformers, encourage the fence sitters, and leave the rest alone."
"You must have the conviction to hand over control to employees who care about the organization’s future as much as you do. Only then will you be able to create a company fuelled by employees’ energy, which will unleash the power of the many and loosen the stranglehold of the few. Once this momentum gets going, change is unstoppable."
Stimulating, exciting, but for many, difficult and perhaps uncomfortable ideas. (Remember that this is a CEO who invited all 70000 employees to contribute to his 360 Feedback Report and then posted the results on the company's Intranet - not a risk many of us would be willing to take.)
But just possibly Nayar has found a way to resolve the hugely intractable question of how to build true engagement.
From our perspective, as labouring practitioners in the organisational vineyard, Nayar offer some useful pointers: having adopted an enabling role for themselves, leaders and managers should dedicate themselves particularly to three key tasks:
As outsiders with a mission to help our clients to engage their people we can help in all three ways.
In our case we often begin with the process of measurement - measuring and mapping current levels of employee engagement and feeding back the results addresses all three.