Let them try their wings. "Young talent wants space to prove itself," says Charles Handy, the philosopher-author of the modern workplace. "And giving command is a good way of testing [young talent] out. It makes life more exciting for them and creates more energy in the company." Handy cautions that the picture of young folks at the helm may look "less efficient from the outside," but arguably letting people grow and develop not only creates its own form of engagement, but it is also a way for the firm to decide whether the emerging leader is any kind of leader. And better to do that when the person is up and coming than stuck in the middle mucking up the works.
Make it pay. As the Towers Perrin study pointed out, employees feel underappreciated. Therefore, it is up to senior managers to loosen the purse strings, especially if employees have persevered during the down times. When fortunes improve, so too should the fortunes of everyone in the company. This is not a pipe dream; companies large and small reward their employees for gutting it out. Sadly, such companies may be the exception rather than the rule. But certainly engagement levels would increase as pay improved. That said, more and more compensation alone is not the solution to engagement. People also desire recognition for a job well done and the satisfaction of contributing to a good cause. Those forms of "psychic pay" matter too, and lead to higher levels of engagement.
Proof that Engagement Matters
So does engagement really matter? Well, if management literature is any indicator, the need for engagement has never been higher, perhaps because the demands of the global economy keep all of us working at capacity in ways that demand full attention. Research data supports the need for engagement, too. Again according to Towers Perrin, engagement is a crucial differentiator in performance. For example, eight in 10 workers feel "they can positively impact the quality of their company's products". Nearly 75 percent sense "they can positively impact customer service". And six in 10 plan to remain with their current employer. Clearly, engagement pays in terms of quality, service and retention - all critical differentiators of a successful enterprise.
Bottom line: Engagement is not about numbers; it is about performance. More especially, it is about creating an environment where people want to come to work. For those who experience this kind of purposeful workplace, it seems normal - in fact, the only kind of place to work. For those who have never experienced an engaged workplace, work is drudgery. It is up to managers to assume the role of leaders and do what they can to make the positive difference.
John Baldoni is a leadership communications consultant who works with Fortune 500 companies as well as nonprofits. He is a frequent keynote and workshop speaker as well as the author of six books on leadership. He invites readers to visit his leadership resource Website at www.johnbaldoni.com
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