By Dr. Anita Davis-Defoe

  Envision leading an organization where a fourth of the employees are totally turned off by their jobs, at least half of the employees do just enough to get by, and only the remaining 25 percent are enthusiastic. Do you think such an organization can survive, but more importantly, will such an organization thrive?  Do you doubt that there are companies around that have such workforces?

    As the year 2009 begins to wind down, achieving and maintaining competitive edge is a dominant concern for leaders everywhere, and organizations will certainly need to elevate their minds. Business thought consultants seem to agree that in boardrooms, during leadership seminars, and in progressive human resource departments the words “employee engagement” are being uttered rather consistently. Employee engagement is becoming the distinguishing success factor separating organizations that are thriving from those just barely surviving.

     Employee engagement is best defined as “the critical measure by which organizations are able to inspire and mobilize their people to accelerate reaching company objectives. Engaged employees are motivated to succeed, take pride in their company, are committed to the success of the enterprise and are extraordinary persuasive brand advocates.”

    Gallup reports that “Companies that had higher levels of employee engagement outperformed the S&P by 24% over a three-year span.”

     First introduced in 1923, the Standard and Poor (S&P) is widely used as a measure of the general level of stock prices, and is representative of industries that span the United States economy. The S&P supposedly represents the cream of the crop when it comes to organizations. To say that high levels of employee engagement have been shown to drive high performing organizations is quite a statement to say the least. Critical for any organization seeking to benefit from its minds is determining what employees currently perceive, focus on key engagement drivers, identify obstacles to success, and eliminate speculation as to what will foster effective change. Ensuring that employees are committed to their organizations and are aligned with company strategy is the essential ingredient in ensuring execution of strategic programming that leads to sustainable high performance with exceptional returns on investment.

     Most significant of the employee engagement findings is that for the most part, the majority of people want to go above and beyond, to be an integral part of the company’s success. Something–often a disconnect with an immediate supervisor or a feeling that the organization doesn’t care about them–is getting in the way, somehow diminishing motivation and a will to give the best of themselves. Thus, there is a huge, untapped potential that many executives, managers and employees do not recognize and, therefore, have not addressed. And it’s sapping organizational potential.

    In speaking about the organizational climate in the United States, Curt Coffman, an author and the Employee Engagement Global Practice Leader for the Gallup Organization’s Consulting Arm said, “We’re running as an economy at 30 percent efficiency because so many workers are not contributing as much as they could. Just think of the impact if [only] 30 percent of a bank’s branches opened every day.”

    Scary thought to say the least, so what must leaders do to tap into the power of its “organizational mine.” Building high employee motivation and morale is both challenging and yet supremely simple. Building high employee motivation and morale requires that leaders pay attention every day to profoundly meaningful aspects of their impact on life at work. Model these leadership behaviors as possible strategies to enhance employee engagement:

1.  Your Arrival at Work Sets the Employee Motivation Tone for the Day- Picture Ms. Stressed-Out and Grumpy. She arrives at work with a frown on the face. The body language telegraphs “over-worked” and unhappy. He or she moves slowly and treats the first person who approaches abruptly. It takes only a few minutes for the entire workplace to get the word. Stay away from Ms. Stressed-Out and Grumpy if you know what’s good for you this morning. Your arrival and the first moments you spend with staff each day have an immeasurable impact on positive employee motivation and morale. Start the day right. Smile. Walk tall and confidently. Walk around your workplace and greet people. Share the goals and expectations for the day. Let the staff know that today is going to be a great day. It starts with you. You can make their day!!

2. Use Simple, Powerful Words for Employee Motivation – Part of management and leadership success is liking and being appreciative of people. Send the right message by using simple, powerful, motivational words to demonstrate that you value staff.  Say “please” and “thank you” and “you’re doing a good job;” these words mean more than you can imagine.  How often do you take the time to use these simple, powerful words, and others like them, in your interaction with staff? You can make their day!!

3. For Employee Motivation, Make Sure People Know What You Expect- Setting clear expectations is often a supervisor’s first failure. Supervisors think they have clearly stated work objectives, numbers needed, report deadlines and requirements, but the employee received a different message. Or, the requirements change in the middle of the day, job, or project. While the new expectations are communicated – usually poorly – the reason for the change or the context for the change is rarely discussed. This causes staff members to think that the company leaders don’t know what they are doing. This is hardly a confidence, morale-building feeling. This is bad news for employee motivation and morale. Make sure you get feedback from the employee so you know he or she understands what you need. Share the goals and reasons for doing the task or project.  If you must make a change midway through a task or a project, tell the staff why the change is needed; tell them everything you know. You can make their day!!

4. Provide Regular Feedback for Employee Motivation – The motivation and morale builder always identified first is getting feedback, being told how you are doing at work. Staff members want to know when they have done a project well and when you are disappointed in their results. They need this information as soon as possible following the event. They need to work with you to make sure they produce a positive outcome the next time. Set up a daily or weekly schedule and make sure feedback happens. You’ll be surprised how effective this tool can be in building employee motivation and morale. You can make their day!!

5. Make Time for People for Employee Motivation – Spend time daily with each person you supervise. Managers might aim for an hour a week with each of their direct reports. Many studies indicate that a key employee work motivation factor is spending positive interaction time with the supervisor. Schedule quarterly performance development meetings on a public calendar so people can see when they can expect some quality time and attention from you. You can make their year!!

With increasing globalization and technological advancement, organizations around the globe must create cultures and climates that maximize their greatest resource, and that is its human capital. Finding ways to tap into this wellspring of innovation, creativity and ideas for process improvement are an imperative if an organization is going to benefit from its transformational mine during the waning months of 2009! The new buzz word is “employee engagement” and if your organization is not practicing it, thriving is definitely out of the question, and surviving is merely a possibility.

Anita Davis-DeFoe is an Associate Editor with Caribbean Voice, a South Florida newspaper, and a Life Strategist Columnist for She Caribbean (St. Lucia), and Caribbean Belle (Trinidad).  Dr. DeFoe is the Florida Bureau Chief for Caribbean Voice-New York and serves as its editor for EVOLVE, InPowerment for Women, a newsprint for women and girls, and is the of Soulfully Speaking and Spirit in the Village on CaribVoice Radio.
     Sadly, that’s the profile of the typical firm in the United States, and increasingly, this is the case inside organizations all across the Caribbean. If you somehow believe that your organization is different, that it could not possibly be one like this, then organizational development experts dare you to take a closer look inside and genuinely analyze the situation.  Bearing out these statistics, a number of highly respected management and leadership research consulting organizations concur that there’s a major population of workers—“roughly half of all Americans in the workforce–who show up, do what’s expected of them, but don’t go that extra mile, don’t turn on the creative juices, don’t get inspired to create great products or services.” This trend is spreading like a wildfire, as island nations like Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, St. Lucia, and St. Maarteen; countless others are also experiencing organizational dysfunction.