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Are You Trying to Build Employee Engagement from the Ceiling Down?

Thanks largely in part to the publicity around cultures of “cool,” high performing companies like Google, Facebook, and Zappos, there is a perception that engaging employees is all about letting them bring their dogs to work, giving them free food, and helping them to de-stress by getting massages and playing video games.

The thinking is if we just make our employees feel happy and at home, they will be engaged and perform better and our company will be more profitable. This is kind of like me saying I want to lose 10 pounds so I’m going to buy an outfit that’s a size too small, put on some pretty jewelry to match, and the weight loss will follow naturally. In reality, without some good old fashioned hard work at the gym the pants are still going to rip at the seams when I try to sit down.

This Harvard Business Review article totally nails it—the real secret to an engaged workforce is managing individual employees to help them become better at their jobs. No matter how many great snacks an employer offers, or how many happy hours it sponsors, its employees will not be engaged if:

  • They have no direction or clear personal objectives
  • They have no one to coach them on how to achieve these objectives
  • They are not recognized when they do reach or exceed their goals

If every manager were able to effectively coach his or her employees toward better performance, engagement would automatically rise. Why? Because an employee who does good work and is recognized for it will be happier and more engaged. Engaged employees produce better work. A company who is full of these engaged, productive, and skilled employees will perform better.

Then we see a virtuous circle forming—employees who work for high-performing companies are more engaged. (This is kind of a chicken and egg debate—no one really knows which comes first.) High performing companies can afford higher salaries and better benefits along with many of the perks mentioned above. Of course there is also nothing like the ego boost of being on the winning team—beating out your competitors, growing your headcount, being featured in the media, and having recruiters from other companies try to steal you away because you work for THAT company.

One thing is certain—great companies are not built upon a foundation of free lunches and dry cleaning. They start by hiring the right people with the right talent to build a world-class product. They ensure that they have a management structure in place to nurture this talent. Then they make sure this talent stays by offering perks that make it hard for competitors to match.

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