Fully Engaging Your Top Talent, Part I

By Joe Santana

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Engagement is defined as a state of full-strength, enthusiastic dedication to work in which an employee is passionately connected to her or his job. Another way of saying this is that engaged employees are their employers raving fans.

Engaged employees, according to studies, are not only highly productive in their workplace, they are also very likely to stay with your organization. Unfortunately, according to a recent Herman Trend Alert, whereas 22% of employees reported being highly passionate about their jobs at a level that would be considered engaged in 2002, the latest report has dropped this figure to 17%.

Given the recent press that talks about low-morale in IT, I decided to run a survey of my own. Through my network of global and US based IT professionals, I asked participants among other things to rate their levels of satisfaction with their jobs. Not surprising, only nine percent indicated the high-level of satisfaction associated with full engagement. (For a look at the entire survey and the results click here).

For IT leaders, these results are a cause for concern. Specifically, because poor levels of engagement result in:

  • Low team productivity.
  • Less then top quality output.
  • Less than optimal care for customer needs.
  • Higher likelihood that your best people will leave.
  • On the job retirement for many of the employees that do stay.
  • In our Internet connected world, bad press that can spread very quickly at the grassroots level and make it difficult for you to recruit top talent.
  • Considering the pressure on today's IT leaders to produce more in terms of quantity and quality of services, anything short of the ability to recruit and retain an "engaged team" of top talent presents a big problem.

    The challenge for leaders is to determine how to make their teams and organizations more engaging, which in turn leads to being considered what some refer to as an employer of choice in their market.

    Addressing Engagement

    So what is the path toward becoming an employer of choice? Many organizations run annual, employee satisfaction surveys designed to determine what people dislike and like about the organization. Next they zero in any reasons for employee dissatisfaction and develop action plans for addressing these dissatisfying factors.

    The logic is that by removing the reasons for employee dissatisfaction, employees will be satisfied and the organization will become an employer of choice. The fact of the matter is that studies show that employee satisfaction does not spontaneously come into existence as a result of the systematic removal of causes of dissatisfaction.

    Furthermore, becoming an employer of choice takes a lot more than just having satisfied employees. The true key is having engaged employees that are completely, passionately and enthusiastically dedicated to your organization as a result of your having an engaging environment.

    Please don't misunderstand. Not addressing causes of dissatisfaction such as lack of training and low compensation will indeed keep you from becoming an employer of choice. The point is that addressing only these basic "hygiene" factors won't get you to the required level of engagement you need.

    So, what do leaders and companies need to focus on in addition to removing causes of dissatisfaction in order to achieve the required state of employee engagement that we are talking about here?

    That was the focus of my recent discussion with Leigh Branham, founder and CEO of Keeping the People, Inc., a company based out of Kansas City that helps companies create and implement employer of choice strategies as well as the author of The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave.

    In his work, Branham has uncovered seven key areas that need to be effectively addressed in order for leaders to attain the level of dedication and loyalty associated with engagement.

    Specifically, these are:

  • A job or workplace that is exactly what the employee expected when she or he was hired.
  • A job that makes the best use of the employee's natural talents.
  • An environment where leaders and managers provide an adequate amount of coaching and feedback.
  • A workplace that offers growth and advancement opportunities.
  • Leaders and managers that make employees feel highly valued and recognized.
  • A workload that is balanced and enables employees to enjoy both their job and personal life.
  • Senior leadership this is trustworthy and inspires confidence.
  • Before developing a strategy to increase your team or organizations level of engagement, however, you need to ask yourself a few basic questions: Are you getting high-marks on the general satisfaction surveys? If not what actions are you taking to address your basic "hygiene" items? If your company has annual employee satisfaction surveys, you can easily get a copy of the last report to tell you where improvement might be needed in order to remove causes of dissatisfaction. Once this is done, the next question is where does your team stand relative to the key factors that go beyond satisfaction and drive engagement?

    Where do you Stand?

    I invite you to use the survey questions shown below to assess your present situation relative to engagement. Accompanied by a short note explaining your appreciation for their feedback, ask your team to rate the seven statements below as follows: 1= Strongly Disagree, 2= Disagree, 3= Slightly Disagree, 4=Slightly Agree, 5= Agree or 6=Strongly Agree.

  • My job/workplace is exactly what I expected it to be when I was hired.
  • My job is well matched to my talents and enables me to excel and enjoy my work.
  • I get an adequate amount of coaching and feedback.
  • My workplace offers me growth and advancement opportunities.
  • I feel valued and recognized in my workplace.
  • My workload is balanced and enables me to enjoy both my job and my personal life.
  • I have trust and confidence in my senior leadership.
  • Combine the results of this exercise with the feedback collected in your corporate employee satisfaction survey to gain a better picture of where you currently stand. I also invite you to compare your results with the responses given by the participants in my survey.

    Since the war for talent is heating up, it is prudent for IT leaders to take steps now to retain their top team members and to become the kind of environment that attracts and holds on to more of the best people.

    In the next section of this two-part feature, I will share with you a few specific actions you can take to increase your ratings on the seven key factors that drive employee engagement.

    Joe Santana is an IT organizational development specialist and thought-leader and co-author of "Manage IT." He can be reached at joesantana2003@cs.com or via his Web site joesantana.com.