Many of us are familiar with the term “employee engagement,” whereby the extent to which our employees are engaged and happy, our organizations will be productive and profitable. A whole host of books and articles have been written on the topic of employee engagement, including how to assess it, analyze the results, improve upon those results, and sustain good results.

Assessing employee engagement is a good thing—but where should you begin to improve it?

Who’s responsible?
Your organization might delegate employee engagement to the Human Resources department. Others believe that the CEO is responsible for engagement of his/her employees.

I personally believe that all leaders of an organization are responsible for employee engagement.

Leaders are in a visible and influential position in the organization. If they are highly engaged, they will work to ensure that their second- and third-tier leaders will be aligned with them as well.

The Top Down Approach
This is why you should consider starting at the top of your organization to improve engagement. Though your organization’s executive team represents only a small fraction of the employee population, it’s critical that their engagement be high before worrying about the rank and file. Others would argue that you should focus on the workers’ engagement first, as that is where the numbers are and will be more impactful. Starting at the top makes sense because highly engaged leaders affect the organization’s financial performance, customer service, and employee voluntary turnover.

Shouldn’t we expect our top leaders to automatically be highly engaged?

Not necessarily. CEOs would be wise to devote their energies to assessing his/her direct reports’ engagement and, if needed, developing action plans to increase it before looking deeper into the organization.

Your Executive Team Matters
Recently, in my organization at Johnson Health Center, we encountered a difficult employee relations situation. As we attempted to solve it, several executive team members constructively pushed back on each other and offered different perspectives. While it took a bit longer to really think about these different points of view, we actually came up with a better solution for the organization, and everyone’s voice was truly heard. This, to me, is an example of how a highly engaged executive team should function. Our CEO takes great care in cultivating and ensuring that his team’s performance, commitment, and engagement is among the highest in the organization, so they can truly model the way.

As referenced in “Leadership Engagement Always Trumps Employee Engagement” published in Forbes, these same executives tend to hire the very best people to report to them, and this sows the seeds for high engagement further down in the organization. If the CEO has a “weak link” in his/her executive team, it needs to be addressed. Employees seek inspiration and motivation from the top of their organization. If they’re not receiving it, it makes sense for the CEO to make changes at the top of the house. We’ve all seen examples of a new CEO changing his/her executive team to ensure high engagement and alignment with the organization’s vision and mission.

The Importance of Core Values
One of the most important components of my organization’s high engagement is a strong focus and reliance on our five core values: excellence, innovation, integrity, respect, and teamwork. They’re far more than just talking points.

They’re infused into our job descriptions, performance evaluations, policies, procedures, and how—each day—we serve our customers (which in our case are patients) and each other. Communicating with and listening to our employees and leaders are essential ingredients to achieving high employee engagement.

Don’t Chase the Trophies
Some organizations tie their leadership’s performance to the engagement score on the assessments employees take. Others warn against doing this as it can create misaligned incentives and it fosters the wrong behavior. Likewise, it’s unwise to chase after the trophies and awards that provide organizations with bragging rights for a brief period of time for the attainment of high engagement scores on their employees’ assessments. We should be more interested in sustained high engagement and what it takes to achieve it—a whole lot of time, patience, communication, active listening, recognition, feedback, and hard work.

Your executive team and employees will know high engagement when they see it. And the benefits will be well worth it.

LYNCHBURG SCENE NEWSLETTER