Find the Missing Pieces in Your Employee-Engagement Effort

It’s not about providing motivation; it’s about providing good management.

From March 19, 2012

By Lonnie Wilson

When I teach engagement to a new management team, I teach that engagement has five measureable behavioral traits. An engaged worker, floor worker or manager alike:

1. Knows what to do to accomplish the task at hand. That is, they understand and can execute the major steps to their job.

2. Knows how to do the job. That is, they have the skills, techniques and talent to produce a quality product safely and efficiently.ADVERTISING

3. Has the resources to do the job. They have not just the physical tools but the training, support and leadership as well. The resources also include such items as a plantwide support system of just-in-time problem-solving, JIT management support and JIT maintenance, to name a few.

4. Wants to do the job (more on this later).

5. Wants to do the job better (more on this later).

As management teams attempt to make employees engaged, they almost always give a lot of attention to the last two attributes. That is, they believe: If only we had enough employee want-to, then we would have engaged employees.

They could not be more wrong!!

The vast, vast majority of workers who enter your facility have tons of want to, at least at day one. Most of the workers I have encountered — be they factory-floor workers, engineers hired right out of college, line supervisors hired from the outside, or recently appointed or promoted managers — act the same. They want to do a good job, and, furthermore, they instantly have ideas about how to improve their new work. At day one.

They come motivated. They come wanting to do a good job. They come ready to make it better.

So what happens?

In a sentence: We, managers and leaders, get in the way of their desires.

Continued Engagement Requires Fuel

Not all efforts at work enrichment and employee empowerment are unsuccessful. Some people have found a formula that works. Here is what I have observed: If you as a manager fail to supply any of the five key elements I list here, you will, sooner or later, de-motivate your employees and steal from them some measure of the power of employee engagement.

The five key elements are:

  1. A sense of meaningfulness
  2. A sense of control
  3. A sense of accomplishment
  4. A sense of growth
  5. A sense of community

Think about each of these:

1. A sense of meaningfulness: Do your workers show greater interest in the work when they understand they are working for a meaningful task? When they are serving a higher purpose? Do they understand the company mission and vision to represent a company that seeks to be competitive, thriving, growing, a company that not only makes money but gives back to the employees and is a good corporate citizen in the community? Or are your management actions solely focused on the goal of making money?

If managements actions are heavily focused or solely focused on the bottom line at all costs, your employees sole focus will, predictably, be, Whats in it for me? They wont want to work for the company, only for themselves — and they wont want to improve the workplace. Can your employees see that their contributions are not only necessary but significant? That their ideas are considered? Or are they just another fungible piece of easily replaced hardware?

2. A sense of control: Do your workers have some way to get input into the things they can affect and the things they should affect? Do they have ways to control what and how they do things, or are they just following the instructions some engineer wrote from his desk away from the production floor? If it is a my way or the highway management style, employees will find the highway as soon as something slightly better appears.

3. A sense of accomplishment: Do your workers have ways to determine whether they have done a good job? Can they answer the question, How did I (we) do today? Can they go home knowing they did well? Or is not getting your ass chewed out the definition of a good day? Can they tell each hour of each day if they are doing their job well? Are their visual indicators in place? Can they codify and quantify their contribution?

4. A sense of growth: Do your workers have a way to contribute and grow as individuals? Can they improve their skills via cross-training and advancement? Is there a conscious effort to create future opportunities, or does your company supply no sense of hope for the future of the individual? Can your company reward your employees with opportunities to exercise their demonstrated skills, such as writing new procedures or training other employees to their level of competence?

5. A sense of community: Do your employees have a true sense of teamwork at work? Do your employees have reason to proudly wear the company logo on their shirts, or do they only proudly wear their Big 10 Killers shirt from the bowling league? Or worse yet, is there a sense of community focused on the union and not the company? Humans are a social animal, and if their sense of community is not fed at work they will seek it out elsewhere.

You can perform a reality test on these five key elements. Simply ask yourself, How is it that volunteer organizations can function and persist year after year? For the most part, volunteer organizations understand how to utilize these five elements to acquire and retain their workers. Consequently, for-profits can learn a lot by studying how not-for-profits retain a highly engaged workforce.

More Pay Does Not Equal More Work

For-profits need to give up the belief that if they pay people more, employees will work harder. This thought might have worked to motivate workers in the United States 100 years ago and still might be true in some Third World countries, but it simply is no longer true for our North American culture.

Managers must learn that developing continued engagement — beyond day one — among their employees is largely an issue of recognizing and feeding the five key elements. Some call this motivating the employees. Since I believe they come to work motivated, I have another name for it, which I will share soon.

Once recognized, what can managers do to feed the five key elements? Four suggestions cover most of the ground needed. They are:

  • Create and live — and I mean live — your company mission and vision. Many create them; far fewer live them. Give your mission and vision the tombstone test. That is: Is this a mission and vision that I would want on my tombstone to represent me and the type of company I work for?
  • Create goals, and metrics for those goals, that properly reflect all of the vision and mission. Make sure the goals are aligned and focused throughout the organization. Hoshin kanri planning is one method to get aligned and focused, and its use of catchball is a simple tool to assist this effort.
  • Provide the support needed at each level so everyone can contribute to the execution of the goals and, hence, the mission and the vision. This includes providing clear work instructions, training in those instructions and the other resources to accomplish the goals.
  • Make the goals and metrics transparent at the floor level with the use of visual management tools. With such tools, everyone is clear on what is required and how were doing right now. Support these visual tools with management feedback systems that include going to the gemba and finding someone doing something right and recognizing that accomplishment.

If you find the list of four suggestions above not very earthshaking neither do I. This thing that many call motivation, I simply call good management.

Good management is what is required to satisfy the first three measurable behavior traits of worker engagement, which I outlined at the beginning of this article. Since your employees come to work with No. 4 and No. 5 — and if you as a manager supply No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 — that covers all five. And voila, you get engagement not just at day one, but long-term engagement that works to the benefit of not only the company, but the employees as well.

Or, as I like to say, Its all about the management. The rest is just details.

Lonnie Wilson has been teaching and implementing lean and other culture-changing techniques for more than 40 years. His book, How To Implement Lean Manufacturing, was released in August 2009. His new book on how to lead and manage a lean facility is under construction . Wilson is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. In addition to IndustryWeek, he has published articles in Quality Digest and is a frequent contributor to iSixSigma magazine. His manufacturing experience spans 20 years with Chevron, where he held a number of management positions. In 1990 he founded Quality Consultants,, which teaches and applies lean and other culture-changing techniques to small entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 firms, principally in the United States, Mexico and Canada. In particular, he specializes in lean revitalizations, assisting firms that have failed or failing lean implementations and want to do it right. In his not-so-spare time, Wilson is the mens varsity soccer coach at Cathedral High School in El Paso, Texas. You can e-mail Lonnie Wilson at

Go to the original article here.