Engaging an Unstoppable Force

by Melanie Long
McDaniels Marketing Communications

The support of leadership, coupled with the recognition of a job well done, is foundational in developing an engaged workforce.

Businesses and industries across the board are in a similar struggle to do more with less. Today’s customers expect service that connects, engages and discovers their needs in order to meet their desires. Service happens when frontline employees deliver on customer expectations, but accomplishing this feat consistently can be challenging. It might sound trite, but it really does take happy employees to gain customer loyalty.

According to a recent study, 86 percent of customers will pay more to experience great service. Let’s face it: Consumers are calling the shots, and if brands can’t bring it, they will find one that will.

Searching for ways to find and keep happy employees is now — or should be — at the forefront of any successful business strategy. The increasingly popular phrase defining this scenario today is employee engagement. The emerging discipline of enterprise engagement is practiced at various companies under different names and often very different meanings. For our purposes, employee engagement is defined as “employees truly caring about the organization’s well-being, doing whatever they can to help a company succeed.”

Today, the nation’s job satisfaction rate is at its lowest point ever. Only a third of the workforce is actually engaged, and about a quarter is completely disengaged. Considering these dismal statistics, what can leaders do to create an environment in which employees thrive and are engaged? People desire to work not only for income, but because they matter. The support of leadership, coupled with the recognition and appreciation of a job well done, is foundational in developing an engaged workforce.

Leaders with their fingers on the pulse of their organizations have a clear understanding of the culture that defines the behaviors of their workforce and how the work is achieved. Understanding what drives the culture is the first step toward an accurate analysis of what motivates employees. Jumping to solutions without focused attention could have undesirable results. Shape the culture to one that is customer-centered. We want employee engagement — commitment and loyalty. Begin by hiring the best people who possess service competencies. Support is realized, in part, by creating a positive atmosphere where workers can feel proud to be employed.

Engaged employees willfully and eagerly believe in the organizational mission, vision and values, and will work hard to accomplish their goals. They understand how they fit into the big picture and take pride in their work. Disengaged employees share their discontent with everyone, take more sick days, are habitually tardy, take care of personal business while on the clock, and otherwise create havoc, costing their companies large amounts of money. Even more dangerous are the passively engaged, who sleepwalk through the day and are not interested in how their ideas can contribute toward better outcomes. The passively engaged are motivated by a paycheck and will accomplish their work at the most basic level. Leaders who take an interest in knowing their employees can begin to see how the pieces of the puzzle fall together. When leaders don’t take a stand to address underperformers, the high performers grow increasingly frustrated, which sends a bad message to the entire organization.

Develop people to deliver service quality. Take the passively engaged and provide training for technical and interactive skills, and empower all employees to make decisions that directly impact customer service. Employ a “yes, we can do that” philosophy, not an “I’m sorry, we can’t, our company policy…” response. As customer stories come to life, recognize team efforts and appreciate the extra work put forth to achieve service excellence. Promote teamwork. Take action to change the behavior of the disengaged, and if necessary, help them find a better suited position somewhere else. Leaders who practice healthy performance management support their employees by providing consistent and fair labor practices and protecting the positive energy within the work environment.

Cultivate a means to measure progress over time, and allow employees the opportunity to provide feedback on internal processes. Teams can only achieve their objectives as well as the tools and resources given to them. Remove the barriers that prevent them from delivering service excellence, and supply them with the necessary technology and equipment to do so. Setting the direction for sustainable engagement requires leadership to embrace a personal and authentic connection with employees, which in turn provides incredible insight. Support is a small word that is packed full of expectation.

Support prepares the soil for seeds of growth. Tending and nurturing the people, support systems and work environment strengthen the organization as a whole. Creating and maintaining a customer-centered culture can be done simply by thinking of your own employees as customers. Southwest Airlines, pioneers of this philosophy, consider their employees as the number one customer, with the idea that if they experience service excellence first, it’s easy to deliver that practice to their patrons.

Recognition is imperative, whether offering praise, a simple thank you or just a one-on-one moment. Rewards recognize accomplishments that transcend expectations and characterize innovation, ownership and high-performing contributions. Establishing recognition and reward systems that fit with the organizational culture builds momentum and increases excitement.

Leaders shape the culture of their organizations and set the tone and pace for accomplishing the work. Words spoken, decisions made and actions taken are all weighed against the mission, vision and values of the organization, and any misalignment breaches trust. The frontrunners in today’s most fruitful organizations are those who interact with their personnel regularly, encouraging the voice of employees, and bridging any gaps of trust. When leaders focus their efforts on support and recognition, a combination of mental and emotional spirit and entrepreneurial drive can ignite an unstoppable force throughout the organization. iBi

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