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Leadership: A Key to Employee

Engagement
*CH. Srikanthverma.

Introduction

Employee engagement is a concept that is generally viewed as managing

discretionary effort, that is, when employees have choices, they will act in a way that

furthers their organization's interests. An engaged employee is a person who is fully

involved in, and enthusiastic about, his or her work. This concept has gained widespread

recognition and credibility management practice in the last few years. The Institute of

Employment Studies (IES) defines employee engagement as "a positive attitude by

employees towards an organisation and its values". The engaged employee clearly

understands the business context of a company and works well with colleagues to improve

general performance of his organisation. Employee engagement is, therefore, a

measurement of emotional and intellectual commitment to an organisation and this has a

direct link to productivity. It is a step-up from commitment and overlaps with both

commitment and a positive psychological contract between employer and employee. This

article emphasizes the need of employee engagement and examines the role of leadership

in involving as a key to employee engagement for corporate success. This paper also

evaluates the different ways how a leader can improve employee engagement.

* Lecturer, Department of Business Management, Post Graduate Centre,


Lal Bahadur College, S.P Road, Warangal – 506007. E – Mail: -
vermasricherala@gmail.com

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Need of Employee Engagement

Most organisations today realise that a ‘satisfied’ employee is not necessarily the

‘best’ employee in terms of loyalty and productivity. It is only an ‘engaged employee’ who

is intellectually and emotionally bound with the organisation, feels passionately about its

goals and is committed towards its values who can be termed thus. He goes the extra mile

beyond the basic job responsibility and is associated with the actions that drive the

business. Moreover, in times of diminishing loyalty, employee engagement is a powerful

retention strategy. The fact that it has a strong impact on the bottom line adds to its

significance.

Engagement is about motivating employees to do their best. An engaged employee

gives his company his 100 percent efforts. This is what makes the difference in an industry

where the most valuable resource of a company walks out of the door every evening. This

is of particular importance in a knowledge industry. The quality of output and competitive

advantage of a company depend on the quality of its people. It has been proved that there is

an intrinsic link between employee engagement, customer loyalty, and profitability. When

employees are effectively and positively engaged with their organisation, they form an

emotional connection with the company. This impacts their attitude towards the company’s

clients, and thereby improves customer satisfaction and service levels. The successful

employee engagement helps create a community at the workplace and not just a workforce.

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It’s a win-win situation. Highly engaged employees strongly identify themselves

with their company’s success and gain fulfillment from making a contribution. They are

eager to expend discretionary effort, increasing their productivity and performance; this, in

turn, significantly improves business results. They act as advocates for the company’s

products or services, positively influencing the attitudes of customers. And they take pride

in their company and recommend it as a great place to work. It is helpful to think of

employee engagement in terms of measurable strategic outcomes or goals a particular

company is striving to achieve.

Leadership Key to Employee Engagement

Leaders around the business world are under pressure for results. Everyone around

them is demanding “better, faster and cheaper”. And as leaders turn to their employees,

they find that loyalty has been replaced by a free market where employees perform on

conditional basis (am I acknowledged, what do I know, will I be rewarded, is it worth it)

rather than as a matter of course. Everyday these employees make the choice to either

engage or not engage their talents in serving customers and the organisation. Yet, many

organisations regard employees as interchangeable units of cost. The challenge is to switch

these employees on by informing and motivating, and many in management are not up to

it. The jury is not out on the question of the power of engagement of employees. The

employee engagement creates more sales, more market value and higher return on capital.

Moreover, it shows reduced absenteeism, fewer accidents, greater customer loyalty and

retention. These are all direct drivers of profit and success of corporate.

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The Gallup Organisation, over at least two decades of research in the USA, has

found that as many as 69 percent of employees are “not engaged”, that only 16 percent are

engaged. The latter group drives organisational success. The vast majority that falls in the

former category drags the performance down. This sends a signal to the rest of the world,

including India: check the motivation of your people and do more to switch them on

(engagement). The good news is that most people see their workplace as full of potential;

they want to learn and make a worthwhile contribution. They also want recognition for the

same. Most importantly, people want face-to-face communication, so that they can better

understand their place in the organisation.

Who is going to provide the drive for more and more employees to switch to be

engaged? How do you motivate people to make the right decisions for customers and the

organisation, and how do you unlock the discretionary effort that the “not engaged” might

withhold? We have real trouble with this, where some seek charismatic leaders at the top

while others pursue teamwork or “let’s restructure” as a way to switch people on. We

know from research in a variety of companies exactly what are the communication needs

of employees; things like timely and accurate information, feedback, real communication,

coaching, a feeling of being valued, understanding of the business and real human contact.

And if you think about how employees move to greater loyalty and engagement, it is

typically a shift from the personal (I) to a sense of team (We).

Leaders at all levels are obviously the critical link, rather than just the one at the

top. “Leaders” include managers, supervisors and team leaders. In the day-to-day schedule

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of the workplace, they are the ones who win or lose discretionary effort and engagement.

Unfortunately, in the US and many countries such as India, most of these leaders, despite

their best efforts, have never been trained in communication and have little understanding

of it. We all pay lip service to how “vital” communication is; but more often than not,

among business leaders communication is poorly understood and badly executed. Many of

the people who gain promotion to management are not chosen because they have

outstanding communication skills; they are chosen because of professional expertise or

simply for being good at their job.

On the employees’ side, a major problem is the sheer volume of information they

receive, meaning that they often do not know what to do with it and what it all means. This

is the result of communicating without knowing where it will lead to. In contrast, strategic

communication is the reverse of this chaotic approach: it brings focus and understanding.

Research has shown that what employees are really looking for is “communication” that

helps them do their jobs well. They also mostly say that they prefer to get this kind of

information from their managers, supervisors and team leaders. So the challenge is how to

unlock the power of this opportunity.

There are five imperatives for those who seek to use communication as part of real

leadership.

Make the time: To say you don’t have time to communicate is to say you don’t

have time to lead. This communication is more than a few memos, e-mails and meetings. It

is vastly more than “my door is always open”. A good leader needs a strategy to shape his

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communication, and then the ability to see it through. Time, persistence and repetition are

essential ingredients of good communication.

The right information: Naturally employees want to know how information and

news relates to them. However, mostly they get swags of information and no help in

differentiating it. Information overload and communication failure are team-mates. A

discussion of developments within your company or organisation should include what the

changes mean to your team and their customers. Your people want to know the “why” of

things that happen, because with the “why” they can become engaged.

Don’t wait to communicate: A massive leadership problem is secrecy. We are not

comfortable as leaders if we do not have all the answers, so we wait until it is too late. The

result is always rumour, gossip and declining engagement. For many, the first step to good

leadership is a public acknowledgement that you don’t know everything. Being

comfortable with not having all the answers provides real integrity to your messages. So

tell them what you know, tell them what you don’t know and tell them when you should

know more.

Be open and honest: People have great inbuilt lie detectors. Nothing switches

people off quicker than a lie, it also extends to gossip and “talking big”, a failing of those

managers who desperately want to impress and think that “if I am a leader I should know

everything and be in everything”. Much better instead is to communicate in a real, open

and human way. What you “say” should match what you “do”. Words without matching

action are worse than no words at all. You cannot be a leader if you cannot lead by

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example. Actions speak louder than words. For example, if you promise to do something

by a set time, always deliver. At the least, if you cannot deliver explain what has changed

and therefore it cannot happen as expected it is worth going out of your way to get this

understood. Failure to live up to your promises is a signal to others that they don’t need to

either.

Employees are not dummies: Listen to employees. Make it a real two-way

communication. In most organisations, there are ordinary employees who have already

identified the problem and know how to solve it. Ask them and encourage them to be

forthright, even where there may be disagreement; communication has the goal of

understanding. Organisations spend a fortune on measuring customer satisfaction and

trying to find out what they want and need, yet few have a clear idea of the communication

needs of their employees. We know the stages that an employee goes through from the

initial “What’s my job?” to the fully engaged and switched on employee who asks “How

can I help?” With planning and the right strategy, India’s managers, supervisors and team

leaders can communicate so successfully that more and more employees move over into

the engaged category then India would have a real competitive advantage.

Ways Leaders can improve Employee Engagement

There is no shortcut towards creating and maintaining employee engagement, it

takes commitment and an investment of time, effort and resources on the part of a

company, but the payoff in terms of enhanced productivity, profitability and elevated

morale is well worth it. As leader drives to employee engagement, “building engagement is

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a process that never ends. And it rests on the foundation of a meaningful and emotionally

enriching work experience.”

The first step toward maximizing the level of engagement in a company is to set in

place a mechanism to regularly measure and assess prevailing employee attitudes through

comprehensive employee satisfaction surveys. Engagement levels are influenced by

individual attitudes, propensities and characteristics so managers need to carefully gauge

and consider what is most relevant and important for their own staff. A leader can improve

the employee engagement, in the following ways:-

 Conducting periodic staff briefings covering good news about the company, its

challenges and that is financial information

 Ensuring that managers and supervisors are able to give and receive constructive

feedback

 Making it a habit to get feedback from employees and customers and act on it

 Getting staff involved in redesigning their jobs

 Making sure employees have what they require to do their jobs

 Communicating clearly and openly on work performance in terms of your vision,

priorities and success measures.

 Conduct meaningful orientations

 Get to know the employees interest, goals and stresses (Show an interest but do not

pry)

 Celebrate individual, team and organizational successes

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 By being consistent in your support for engagement initiatives

Clearly an environment where employees are valued, respected, involved,

challenged, have opportunities to grow and are clear about their roles and their

contributions to the company’s goals and performance, is much more conducive to feelings

of commitment and corporate citizenship amongst the workforce is depended on leadership

qualities. The employees are loyal only to themselves and their careers and are looking to

do the minimum to get by. But turning people's energy and ambition into engagement and

ultimately into significant performance lift demands attention, focus and some very

different behaviors from senior leaders, as well as clear follow-through on a number of

organizational practices. The challenge for senior management is to recognize the value of

employees' untapped potential and to channel it in ways that yield real improvements in

business performance."

If there is one thing you should do to improve the odds that you

have an engaged workforce and low turnover, it’s this: be sure your

managers and executives have the interpersonal skills necessary to

motivate and engage employees. Management know-how doesn’t come

naturally to most. If your managers are people with technical training

who have moved up through the ranks to management positions, you

should be doubly concerned. The Gallup organization conducted a study

asking employees why they left their companies. The top answer: “My

manager.”

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The Right Training A one-day, standalone management training program will not

give you the results you need. Training programs are wonderful but rarely result in

sustainable results. Managers attend training programs on topics designed to improve their

interpersonal skills all the time (communication skills, performance management, etc.).

During the day-long program, they practice new behaviors and feel motivated to bring

those new behaviors back to the workplace. But the truth is, it’s rare for a manager to come

out of a one-day program with those new behaviors fully integrated into his or her personal

style. Why? Because when a new situation comes up that wasn’t covered in the training, or

during times of change and stress, it’s natural for people to revert back to the old,

comfortable way of doing things. Training topics quickly get lost in the pressures of day-

to-day work. However, there is a proven way to get better results from your management

training programs: coaching.

Employees can be coached by their supervisors. Managers can be coached by the

executives to whom they report. And executives within an organization may reach outside

for executive coaches, a trend that is on a major increase. Executive coaching sometimes

referred to as leadership coaching is intended to provide continuous, individualized support

for business professionals in an effort to develop the competencies associated with good

leadership. Good leadership, in turn, motivates employees, boosts productivity, impacts

service and product quality, stimulates employee morale and retention, and ultimately

increases profitability and shareholder value.

Conclusion:
Today, more and more corporate leaders are turning to volunteer employee
programs as a key strategy to help realize their business goals while positively engaging
their employees in helping to meet the needs of the local community. Leader should ensure

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that, employees are enthusiastic about getting involved, it is important to find creative and
meaningful ways for them to participate so that their efforts can really make a difference,
and they feel they have a positive role to play. Engagement levels are influenced by
individual attitudes, propensities and characteristics so managers need to carefully gauge
and consider what is most relevant and important for their own staff. A leader can improve
the employee engagement.

References:

Archie Thomas, CMA, and Ann MacDi anmid (2004) – Encouraging Employee
Engagement – CMA Management, Jun/Jul 2004.
Bernthal, P.R., & Wellins, R.S. (2005). Leadership forecast 2005-2006: Best practices for
tomorrow’s global leaders. Pittsburgh, PA: Development Dimensions International.
Corporate Executive Board (2004). Driving performance and retention through employee
engagement. Washington, DC.
Employee Engagement ABC www.employeeengagement.ning.com
Gretcher Hoover (2005), Maintaining employee engagement when communicating
difficult issues – Communication World, Nov / Dec 2005.
Lockwood, Nancy R. Leveraging Employee Engagement for Competitive Advantage: HR's
Strategic Role; HRMagazine Mar. 2007
Nitin Vazirani ( 2007), Employee Engagement, SIES College of Management
Studies, Nerul, Working Paper Series 05/07, www.siescoms.edu.
Richard S.Wellins,(2007) Employee Engagement: The Key To Realizing Competitive
Advantage Development Dimensions International Inc., MMV, P.p 1-31.
www.ddiworld.com
Ryan, Richard M. and Edward L. Deci (January 2000). Self-Determination Theory and
Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being; American
Psychologist Association
Sheena Narendranatha, Dr. K. Narendranatha (2007); Engendering Employee Engagement,
HRD Newsletter, Vol: 23, Issue: 5, August 2007,

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Sushama Khanna (2008), Increasing Employee Retention through Employee Engagement
– A challenge for HR, Published in Annual Handbook of Human Resource Initiatives 2008

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