Employee Engagement: What Happens When We Get Turned On

Peter Hunter

The new management buzzword appears to be "Engagement," and like most management buzzwords there are many worthy people sitting down to educate the rest of us about what engagement is.

What is odd though is that while everybody seems very keen to tell us what it is or how to measure it, nobody appears to know what to do to produce it.

Perhaps the easiest thing to do is to look first at what managers do to their workforces that prevents them from engaging.

They tell people what to do, they don’t listen to their workforce, they don’t recognize what they do and they don’t support them.

Bob Nelson, the author of Keeping Up In A Down Economy, says that he is convinced that each employee has one $50,000 idea and that it is the job of the manager to engage the employee to find this idea.

Experience suggests that searching for that one idea worth $50,000 is a very one dimensional way of looking at the value of employee engagement.

We have found that the ideas of each employee are worth way more than $50,000 but finding them is not a search for a single big idea, it is instead the result of creating the environment that allows a continuous flow of ideas from the workforce.

On a drilling rig in the North Sea, which had been operating for 25 years, there was no record of any ideas having been implemented as a result of input from the drilling crew.

None at all!

In a single year the emphasis of management changed from telling the drilling crews what to do, to asking them what they needed to do their jobs better. A transformation from "Directive" to "Consultative" management.

During that year, 403 ideas were collected from a workforce of 50 men.

That is only eight ideas per man.

The way those ideas were collected and how they were used was the change that allowed the crews to engage.

Of the ideas collected fifty percent were implemented and of those a further fifty percent, (twenty five percent of the total collected) could be said to add a measurable financial value to the operation, the remainder being safety related.

The value added of these one hundred ideas for that year was approximately $5.7 Million. That means the average value of each idea was nearly $58,000 or a value added of $144,000 for each member of the crew.

The ideas collected that year included some big hitters as Bob Nelson suggested, but in general the value was added by the cumulative effect of many small ideas that came from a transformation in the way that the crew felt about what they did.

They had become engaged.