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How Executives Can Drive Employee Engagement

Traci Cumbay
Traci Cumbay

Around Emplify, the idea of management as the central nervous system for employee engagement guides our approach to measuring and defining strategy. Managers provide leadership and set the tone for their teams, and they monitor what’s happening not just with their reports but with those they themselves are accountable to.

All that falls apart when executives don’t support managers. Employees look to managers for motivation, strategy, and culture cues that start at the top.

Great reasons to care about employee engagement

Engaged employees stick around longer and do more — better — than those who are phoning it in. Increased employee retention and productivity should be on every executive’s priority list.

What’s more, employee engagement has proven to be closely linked to customer satisfaction, reports Kevin Kruse in Forbes Magazine. He compares its effect on customer service with other common cause-and-effect relationships. Not only is employee engagement more likely to lead to customer satisfaction than smoking is to lung cancer and sleeping pills to better sleep, it tops the effect of Viagra. It’s science!

With all we know of the tremendous effects of employee engagement, why are only 30% of employees feeling engaged? It could well be their managers, whom studies show hold the key to employee engagement. That’s where executives come in.

Engage the engagers

It’s hard to imagine anyone at this point not having heard that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses. That means there’s a short, straight line from employee engagement to executive buy-in.

If managers aren’t facilitating employee engagement, a necessary course correction has to happen from the C-suite. Management is the biggest factor in whether employees are engaged; that doesn’t stop at the first rung of an organization.

A big part of your mission as a leader, then, is prioritizing engagement by asking for feedback and then utilizing it to empower your managers so they’re not just engaged but engaging. That action? Has to come from the top.

Addressing feedback to help managers thrive gives them the right tools to motivate and retain employees. Real change comes from planning based on relevant feedback. Authentic, actionable questions asked in a culture of openness start this process. Measurement starts a feedback loop that not only provides data for improving performance but builds engagement drivers.

Break out of the bubble

Leaders get lied to. When you’re running an organization, your opinion necessarily holds particular significance to anyone in the company. This means that if your people don’t outright lie to you they almost certainly avoid telling you the truth.

Living in a good-news bubble sounds blissful (and probably is) — until it becomes catastrophic. Rare is the manager or employee courageous enough to buck office tradition and deliver hard truths. It’s up to executives to create an environment that facilitates feedback even when it’s less than glowing.

The simple way to make that magic is to ask — in person and in confidential surveys. When your interest in honest answers permeates the culture, you build a foundation for growth that reaches every aspect of the company.

Just don’t stop at the halfway: When feedback shows room for improvement, failure to act will only deepen dissatisfaction.

Set the strategy

Before you can craft an employee engagement strategy, you need to have a clear understanding of who your organization is and where it’s going. Understandably, these are executive-level questions. Start defining your organization by noodling on questions like these:

  • Why do we exist?
  • What are our key strategies?
  • How do we measure success?
  • What does our ideal culture look like?
  • What makes our organization unique?
  • Who are our employees and what do they need?
  • Who are our most engaged employees, and what makes them so?

Where the heart of your business lies and what makes it special are important questions to answer. You really can’t build the culture you want if you haven’t figured out what your ideal culture is.

More specifically, understanding who is on your team, what they need, and where engagement is high can help drive a broader employee engagement program. Feedback is the foundation of assessing these points and utilizing them to progress.

Want to learn more about how employee engagement impacts the C-Suite (and vice versa)? Check out our latest report, Insights for Executives: Employee Engagement Trends Report.

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