The Basis for Improvement


Top and middle management are faced daily with the task of bringing about change in the workplace. Despite their efforts, the change is sometimes poorly received by the shop-floor workers or team leaders. When resistance to change surfaces, the prevailing culture in western society is either to revert to the old way of doing things, or to impose the changes through brute force: through shouting matches, threats of reprimanding, pay cuts, etc. Either of these approaches simply serve to worsen the root cause of this resistance to change: the fact that the employees are not fully engaged in the running and welfare of the business.

Engagement is Key

Companies that fail to engage with their employees were outperformed by those that do by:

  • 10% in customer satisfaction ratings
  • 22% profitability
  • 21% in productivity
  • Experienced higher turnover, shrinkage, and absenteeism.

Identifying the correct employee engagement approaches is critical. Often the temptation is to go for the copy and paste solutions such as the daily team meeting in an office or a board room, where information is not available or not transparent, discussions are taken out of context and relevant people are absent. This is a major concern when you consider that the average employee usually attends 62 meetings per month, with over 30% of those meeting being perceived as a waste of time.

To put this into perspective on average;

  • 25% of meetings are spent discussing irrelevant issues
  • 73% of employees do other work during meetings
  • 75% of people have never received training on how to facilitate a meeting

Employee engagement is directly related to employee turnover. Research shows that 43% of employees will likely leave their companies even for a pay rise as little as 10%. What is more important is that these same employees said that they would stay if they felt the right engagement was put into practice and the company encouraged a culture were communication was valued and effective. The message is clear, organisations must differentiate themselves in terms of how they engage with their workforce or risk losing their employees.

But where are organisations still failing? In a time where communicating has never been easier, the answer most likely lies in the how. How organisations get their message across is vital; a study found that managers account for “at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units”. Amongst the main complaints is that there is a lack of standardisation and lack of transparency, only 22% of employees perceived their managers to be transparent. Lack of transparency causes an unclear understanding by employees of the performance of the company and its desired direction. Managers simply listening to their employees or boasting an open-door policy is no longer enough. Companies that went beyond this traditional process and put a standard formal engagement structure in place have witnessed an employee turnover rate below industry average.

Organisations should also fight against the paradigm of judging and blaming. When a problem arises, companies often think, “Who did this?” The real question should be, “Why did this happen?” Before making any form of judgement, one must always believe that the fault, first and foremost, lies in the process.

The First Steps

Changing small habits and routines can help accelerate the shift into an improvement culture, with employees engaged and contributing to add value. Leaders should start by having the relevant information and performance indicators available and shared with all employees. This will boost the sense of belonging and will foster meaningful discussions, that will hopefully close with a countermeasure assigned to a team member, giving him full autonomy in improving the results. Defining the right frequency for this performance check-up and quick reaction routines can define the success of the new initiative.

It is not in the CEO or the managerial offices that the major events happen. Therefore, management needs to be close to the work-floor, to understand the pains of the team members and to participate in creating the solutions. The proximity with the teams should be a priority and planned with high frequency, as this also contributes to employee morale and sense of appreciation.

To support both the teams’ interactions and the management interventions, visual representation will help promote transparency and build trust between management and employees. This will also pave the way to a company culture where every member is encouraged to contribute and there is room for everyone’s positive inputs.

Improvement requires continuity, there is no such thing as good enough. Demand changes, people change and so do behaviours. Leaders and organisations must turn their search for improvement into a habit, an every-day affair. To achieve this, one must look to all employees, top to bottom, as the source to maintaining success. Creating the right culture will foster autonomous, motivated, and empowered teams.

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