The ten C’s of employee engagement

The manager-employee relationship is the most crucial connection in an organization;more than half the perception of leadership is related to the perception of the local work group.

Managers act as the agent between leadership and employees. Great managers, through their strong relationships with employees, can mitigate outside influences that affect productivity, absenteeism, turnover, and customer interactions. According to global practices, how can managers engage employees’ heads, hearts, and hands? A literature written by Dan Crim and Gerard Seijts offers several avenues for action; They summarize these as the Ten C’s of employee engagement.

Managers must show that they value employees. Employee-focused initiatives such as profit sharing and implementing work–life balance initiatives are important. However, if employees’ relationship with their managers is fractured, then no amount of perks will persuade employees to perform at top levels. Employee engagement is a direct reflection of how employees feel about their relationship with the boss. Employees look at whether organizations and their manager walk the talk when they proclaim that.

Managers should provide challenging and meaningful work with opportunities for career advancement. Most people want to do new things in their job. For example, do organizations provide job rotation for their top talent? Are people assigned stretch goals? Do managers hold people accountable for progress? Are jobs enriched in duties and responsibilities? Good managers challenge employees; but at the same time, they must instill the confidence that the challenges can be met. Not giving people the knowledge and tools to be successful is unethical and de-motivating; it is also likely to lead to stress, frustration, and, ultimately, lack of engagement.

Managers must communicate a clear vision. People want to understand the vision that senior leadership has for the organization, and the goals that managers or departmental heads have for the division, unit, or team. Success in life and organizations is, to a great extent, determined by how clear individuals are about their  goals and what they really want to achieve. In sum, employees need to understand what the organization’s goals are, why they are important, and how the goals can best be attained. Clarity about what the organization stands for, what it wants to achieve,and how people can contribute to the organization’s success is not always evident.

Managers clarify their expectations about employees and provide feedback on their functioning in the organization. Good managers establish processes and procedures that help people master important tasks and facilitate goal achievement. There is a great anecdote about the legendary UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden. He showed
how important feedback – positive and constructive – is in the pursuit of greatness. Among the secrets of his phenomenal success was that he kept detailed diaries on each of his players. He kept track of small improvements he felt the players could make and did make. At the end of each practice, he would share his thoughts with the players. The lesson here is that good managers work daily to improve the skills of their people and create small wins that help the team, unit, or organization perform at its best.

Surveys show that, over and over, employees feel that they receive immediate feedback when their performance is poor, or below expectations. These same employees also report that praise and recognition for strong performance is much less common. Exceptional managers give recognition, and they do so a lot; they coach and convey.

People want to know that their input matters and that they are contributing to the organization’s success in a meaningful way. This might be easy to articulate in settings such as hospitals and educational institutions. Good managers can help people see and feel how they are contributing to the organization’s success and future.

Employees value control over the flow and pace of their jobs and managers can create opportunities for employees to exercise this control. Do managers consult with their employees with regard to their needs? For example, is it possible to accommodate the needs of a mother or an employee infected with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
so that they can attend to childcare concerns or a medical appointment? Are managers flexible and attuned to the needs of the employees as well as the organization? Do managers involve employees in decision-making, particularly when employees will be directly affected by the decision? Do employees have a say in setting goals or milestones that are deemed important? Are employees able to voice their ideas, and does leadership show that contributions are valued? A feeling of “being in on things,” and of being given opportunities to participate in decision making often reduces stress; it also creates trust and a culture where people want to take ownership of problems and their solutions. There are numerous examples of organizations whose implementation of an open-book management style and creating room for employees to contribute to making decisions had a positive effect on engagement and organizational performance. The success of Microsoft, for example, stems in part from Bill Gates’ belief that smart people anywhere in the company should have the power to drive an initiative. Initiatives such as Six Sigma are
dependent, in part, on the active participation of employees on the shop floor.

Studies show that, when employees work in teams and have the trust and cooperation of their team members, they outperform individuals and teams which lack good relationships. Great managers are team builders; they create an environment that fosters trust and collaboration. Surveys indicate that being cared about by colleagues is a strong predictor of employee engagement. Thus, a continuous challenge for managers is to rally individuals to collaborate on organizational, departmental, and group goals, while excluding individuals pursuing their self-interest.

Managers should strive to maintain a company’s reputation and demonstrate high ethical standards. People want to be proud of their jobs, their performance, and their organization.

Good managers help create confidence in a company by being exemplars of high ethical and performance standards. Practitioners and academics have argued that competitive advantage can be gained by creating an engaged workforce. The data and argument that that we present above are a compelling case why managers need to make employee engagement one of their priorities. Managers should actively try to identify the level of engagement in their organization, find the reasons behind the lack of full engagement, strive to eliminate those reasons, and implement behavioral strategies that will facilitate full engagement. These efforts should be ongoing. Employee engagement is hard to achieve and if not sustained by managers it can wither with relative ease.



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