Organizations Must Close The Engagement Gap In The Face Of Change

May 24, 2017

Employee engagement gap

From the C-suite to frontline managers, the only constant in today’s organizations is the exponential rate of change. Innovation is disrupting vast swathes of industries that were formerly stalwarts of consistency. Staying competitive in this new economy demands that we not only adapt to new megatrends but also solve for the human side of the equation.

Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report concludes that “70% of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ and are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces,” and that “only 22% of U.S. employees are engaged and thriving.” To stay competitive, we are going to have to close the engagement gap.

To that end, we must recognize the metatrend underlying almost every current megatrend and the key characteristics that support organizational resilience in the face of change.

Turbulence is the new black

From the boardroom to the shop floor, leaders are wrestling with the impact and potential impact of many megatrends that threaten their market share, profit margins, and ability to recruit and retain talent. In addition to the effects of robotics, social media, and mobile, we are experiencing the unsettling impact of A.I, IoT, blockchain, Big Data, digital currency, globalization, self-driving automobiles, and the collaborative/sharing economy.

I believe that if you look at any of these emerging megatrends, each can be traced back to one metatrend: the fact that technology is driving down transaction costs so rapidly. The combination and interaction of these trends are shifting the balance of information flow, and thus power, from the traditional corporate hierarchy to the emerging connected network of employees and end users.

Key characteristics that support resilience

At a recent Owners’ Edge Forum breakfast, we asked attendees to come up with the qualities that most defined owners who were thriving in a turbulent economy. These same qualities are sought in the hiring process. Here are the top five:

1. Have clarity around their individual purpose and direction in their role
2. Are willing to invest in themselves and their teams to grow
3. Take the initiative to obtain the support and resources they need
4. Are making demonstrable progress toward their objectives
5. Are resilient and willing to persevere in the face of difficulty

This list represents the qualities most often described as entrepreneurial. We know from experience that even moving the needle in the correct direction on a few of them has produced results such as increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, employee engagement and satisfaction, speed to market, and collaboration and morale.

The question is, if you suddenly had a team that acted more entrepreneurial, how well would your systems, processes, and culture support them? How long could you retain them? What would they expect besides a paycheck and how would you deliver it?

Creating an environment of change cultivation

Technology will continue to drive down transaction costs. Your organization will continue to face new competitive pressure from startups that have the advantage of a lower cost of entry. And while you will have to continue to close the technology gap, closing the engagement gap is now an economic imperative as well.

We must be responsible for cultivating “entrepreneurency,” to coin a term, within our organizations. Here are two ways to avoid using the mental models of the past as you do so:

Accept your new role and begin to self-educate. Whether you are a CEO or a line manager, you can’t manage your way out of this. You’re going to have to lead your way out. Engendering these characteristics into the workforce will require a move toward influence over direction, and respect and empowerment over command and control.

Create white space to experiment. When we work with new clients, we can usually find 10 to 15% capacity just from putting cross-functional teams in the same room and having them identify where communication, processes, and procedures could be streamlined.

This is not simply about flipping hierarchies and becoming faster. It’s about changing the way we see ourselves and the people in our employ, doing away with the top-down and dictatorial points of view that undergird traditional organizational change management and creating new ways to work that help close the engagement gap.

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About The Author

Bill Sanders helps leaders and organizations adapt, grow and thrive in rapidly changing environments. He is principal and senior consultant with Roebling Strauss, an operational strategy consultancy that specializes in delivering dramatic improvements in organizational effectiveness. He also is lead link of the finance circle for Great Work Cultures, a community dedicated to creating a new norm for work cultures that optimize worker effectiveness and human happiness, and an advisor to the C-Suite Network, the world’s most trusted network of C-suite leaders. Connect with Bill on Twitter at @technacea.

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