I was with a client recently. Let’s call them “Peters’ Printers Ltd.” They wanted as many of my clients to grow their business. They felt sure they needed the staff to be more engaged and that by doing so the business would give a higher quality service, clients would be happier and therefore the business would grow.
Mmmm. I felt they had misunderstood the idea of staff engagement from my perspective. For me, staff engagement is about the staff members feeling part of a trusted team with skills, knowledge and ideas which they feel empowered to use for the benefit of the organisation. This comes from understanding the way the company works and how they can influence its growth and be part of its success. Mr Peters from the printers felt it was more about giving the staff rewards for achieving their goals.
So, how can staff grow your business?
Interestingly, for me, if we tell staff that if you achieve this goal you will get this, then that’s part of a carrot and stick type culture (also known by parents as bribery). It suggests that the staff member has the ability to achieve the goal otherwise there is no point in them trying to gain the carrot. This in return could lead to staff members making a decision about whether it’s worth the effort or not as you are rewarding achievement rather than effort. Therefore, if I believe, (that’s my mind-set) however right or wrong, that I am unlikely to achieve that then I am probably not going to even try, as it is likely to result in failure which may be humiliating and will suggest that I’m not as capable or as smart as I want people to believe I am.
If, however, I want staff to engage in the growth of the business then I don’t want them to only be doing things they already know they can achieve. Instead, it is my belief that I want them to engage in a process of trying, putting in effort which may or may not result in them achieving the goal. This is more about asking staff to engage with a learning process. By putting in the effort and trying we will find new ways of doing things. Some of the actions will not give us the results we want. However, they will give us an opportunity to learn from the action of doing.
However, this is the problem in the minds of many. How can we get staff to do this? What will be the carrot? The difficulty is if we don’t know they will achieve the goal then how can we reward achievement? Instead, we would need to reward the actual engagement. We would require staff to feel committed to the action of learning and the process of growth without actually knowing if they will achieve.
Why learning will grow your business
Therefore, if you want your staff to learn and grow and in turn help your organisation learn and grow, you now need to reward the effort of learning and trying. To be open to ideas and suggestions and the potential of those rather than just ones which result in a benefit.
So when I explained to the printers that I wanted the culture to be one of learning, sharing and growth where helping each other in achieving is rewarded and the whole organisational growth is rewarded rather than individual’s activities, Mr Peters’ could see this would stop people being secretive or blocking other people because it was now about the team effort. He could also see this was more akin to the concept of profit sharing as in a co-operative, or in the case of John Lewis, where staff benefit from the success of the business through profit pay-outs. Whilst he wasn’t sure he wanted to go that far and make staff partners in the business, he could see that changing the benefits to being across the board rather than individual based could change the mind-set.
In my view, the next step for the company is to help the staff feel more involved, to understand the business more so they can see how they can help it not only to continue its work but also to grow. Then to encourage a culture of learning and growth, to have a view that trying is acceptable and that we can grow and learn together from failure as well as success. Then we can look at an enterprise mind-set and how by encouraging staff to be more enterprising they can see how they can make changes, influence ideas and grow the business.
Real staff engagement needs trust, encouragement and an open mind-set.