Rules Of Engagement

I doubt many of you remember the CBS sitcom by that same name, running on-air from 2007 to 2013, with roughly 100 episodes. The show was the handiwork of Adam Sandler’s production company, and although episodes were charming at times, Rules of Engagement had poor reviews throughout its run. Critics never seemed to catch on. The sitcom’s premise? The show was about two couples and their single friend, how they engaged one another, and frankly, the complexity of relationships.

Relationships, and how we engage one another, are indeed complex, whether on TV, at home, and even more so at work. This is why Gallup pioneered the employee engagement movement back in the 1990s to take our pulse on how we feel about our work and our employer. Gallup has regularly tracked employee engagement since 2000 and today describes our U.S. workforce as being in “an employee engagement crisis.” In fact, you can go to Gallup’s website on any given business day to see how engaged workers are in American workplaces, usually finding a range fluctuating somewhere between 30 to 35 percent across a survey of 1,500 different workers daily.

What does it mean to be “engaged at work”? Gallup defines engaged workers as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace,” and their relationships there. More specifically, engaged workers find meaning in their work, they know they make an impact at work, and they believe their employer cares and is committed to growing and developing them over time.

So, is that how you feel where you work today? Are you enthusiastic about your job, co-workers, and employer? If not, you’re not alone.

This country historically hovers around 32 percent for engagement over Gallup’s 17 years of measuring, and there are no signs it will improve on a national scale anytime soon. Why? Because 80 percent of our organizations and their leaders don’t want to regularly measure workplace culture and engagement, let alone try to intentionally shape the culture, so co-workers can be more engaged. And frankly, it can be hard, messy work. Please, we’ve all been part of organizations that “chase the next shiny new thing.” We’ve worked for, or been around, managers or leaders who read some new business self-help book, or attend a conference where a speaker simply repurposed ideas. The company tries something new for a bit, it’s allowed to peter out, which only raises skepticism when the NEXT “shiny new thing” comes down the pike. And yes, some companies do “measure” both employee and customer satisfaction, but so few then make the hard, necessary changes when the numbers don’t add up.

Measuring engagement must be more than a book or “survey;” it must be an ongoing, disciplined approach to improving an organization’s performance. Remember 16 years ago (yes, it’s been that long) when Jim Collins coined the phrase, “right people on the bus, in the right seats?” Or, as we’ve simply shortened it today, “right people, right seats.” Well, here are three tips to help frame your thinking a bit and get you closer to “right people, right seats,” especially engaged people on your bus:

1. Perhaps start by asking a few questions: How are you currently recognizing and rewarding ALL your co-workers? Yes, it correlates directly to how engaged they feel. How are you communicating mission, vision, and values? Is career-coaching happening? Do your co-workers understand their purpose and contribution, and do they also have some autonomy in their work?

2. Remember that for any program, to “move the needle” of engagement begins at the top and must follow with 100 percent buy-in throughout management. So many relegate efforts like these to HR, and that is simply not adequate, although human resources SHOULD be involved. And once you’ve started, don’t stop. Everyone must buy in and be on board for the long haul.

3. Then research ways to effectively gather data and measure results accurately over time. Benchmark organizations that are already doing this type of work and ask them about how they got started. Measure where your culture and engagement levels are at today, THEN determine where you wish to be over time! As I often tell organizations, “If you’re a six on a scale of zero to 10, what’s it going to take to get you to seven?” There are many tools and firms out there that can assist you in doing this, but are you willing to invest?

These are just a few of the new “rules of engagement.” And it’s probably a good time to start working on culture anyway. By 2020, the majority of the U.S. workforce will be Gen Y/Millennials and newcomers from Generation Z. Your culture and engagement levels will shift whether you want them to or not.

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