Steps toward employee engagement

Photo: ©istock.com/boygovideo
Photo: ©istock.com/boygovideo

Imagine being able to attract and retain the best people—frontline workers, managers, salespeople and others. How different would your life be not worrying about selling more work due to operational capacity constraints? What else could you accomplish if the burden of hiring and training vanished? How much more profitable could you be?

There are a few employers in every industry who’ve developed the right mix of ingredients to make their companies attractive and rewarding places to work, while their competitors struggle to find people and hold onto them. Profitability mirrors this fact. A few firms are extremely profitable every year, while others struggle.

One of the essential ingredients is incentives, rewards and recognition. It’s not the only one and perhaps not even the most important one. However, it’s one that’s often not seen as a critical component, even though it is.

Incentives, rewards and recognition affect employee engagement, which in turn affects satisfaction and turnover. Engaged employees are less likely to seek out greener pastures or be interested in having a conversation with a headhunter or competitor.

A tale of two employees

At the core of employee engagement is the sense of being connected to something that has meaning—mission. We all have a natural desire to achieve something meaningful versus just going through the motions and collecting a paycheck. Connecting mission to goals, incentives, rewards and recognition is powerful. But it’s difficult and that’s why so few companies do it well.

First, a company’s mission needs to be clearly articulated and inspiring. Furthermore, a company needs to establish goals, track and report accurate data, establish feedback mechanisms and celebrate when it achieves its goals. Plus, folks at the top of the organization must commit to make all of this a reality.

Let’s compare two hypothetical employees. The first one works for a company where the mission is unknown, goals are unstated, rewards are few and recognition is rare. What’s his or her incentive to go above and beyond? Not much, other than pride, a sense of professionalism or some other factor. He or she will most likely leave as soon as something better comes along because engagement is low.

As the company searches for this person’s replacement, it will operate short-handed, burdening the remaining staff. Recruiting, onboarding and training are expensive and time consuming. The new hire may or may not work out. Everything suffers in this never-ending cycle.

The second employee works for a company with a compelling mission that gives everyone a common purpose. There are team and personal goals, and there is a sense of unified effort toward something meaningful. Managers track and share key data so everyone knows how far from goal things stand. When goals are met, people and teams are recognized, rewarded when appropriate and celebrated by everyone. What’s this person’s incentive to go above and beyond? Everything. Because engagement is high, this person is not likely to leave.

In the second scenario, the company benefits greatly. It retains institutional knowledge year after year. Productivity and efficiency improve. Mistakes drop. Quality improves, which boosts customer satisfaction and retention. Recruitment costs are low. Profits climb.

Examples of Fortune 500 companies with high employee engagement are Disney, Ritz-Carlton and Southwest Airlines. Examples in the landscape industry are few, but they do exist. It’s possible to obtain high employee engagement, satisfaction and retention in the green industry. I’ve worked for both types of companies, and I can tell you it’s way more fun and rewarding to work for the second type.

Where to begin? Start slowly and with simple recognition to develop a culture of appreciation. One of my clients has started to acknowledge individual achievements at its semimonthly all-staff meeting—something it had not done before on a regular basis. It’s a small step but it’s a step in the right direction. What can you commit to doing to get started? Or, what’s the next step you’re willing to take?

Photo: ©istock.com/boygovideo

To top
Skip to content