Engaged employees are effective employees: They want to make a meaningful contribution

Recently I met with a group of HR managers. The topic of our conversation was leadership effectiveness and the investment in it.

As we discussed the direct correlation between employee engagement, employee productivity and leadership effectiveness, one of the questions posed was this: “If our CEO (or other executive team members for that matter) does not believe in the value of investing in leadership development, how do we convince him or her?” It may be easiest to help executives understand the importance if we turn to research.
In its 2014 career study, global consulting organization BlessingWhite found that satisfaction and contribution are mutually reinforcing and that the top three items people are looking for at work are interesting work, meaningful work and work/life balance. Additionally, it is important to people that their contributions are recognized. The amount of recognition will vary from person to person. Make note that this study involved employees of all generational groups.
Simply put, employees want to contribute AND they want satisfaction. Fraser Marlow, head of research for BlessingWhite, shared the following comments in his article titled “Satisfaction and Contribution: The Virtuous Circle.”

  • Leaders can ask a lot more of people, and they will deliver higher contributions for a while. But, unless leaders also make an effort to ramp up satisfaction at the same time (through recognition, for example), something will eventually give.
  • If factors are dragging down satisfaction in the workplace, people will continue to work as hard – for a while – but eventually, unless these factors are addressed, the two will move in the same direction and performance will drop.

The results of the BlessingWhite research reminded me of a local employee study. Earlier in 2014, the CEO of a Milwaukee-based organization with approximately 350 employees asked us to come in and learn from its Generation Y population what is most important to them at work. After conducting a number of focus groups and online surveys, employee inputs showed that the three items most important to the Gen Y population were 1) the opportunity to do meaningful work AND be recognized for their work; 2) a more intentional focus on fostering work/life balance: and 3) a more intentional focus on growth opportunities and career path. At the time, I recall the CEO asking, “I wonder what the rest of the employees would say if we asked.” Perhaps the BlessingWhite results answer that question.
It is important for executives within organizations to understand that what our emerging workforce is looking for is not markedly different from what our total workforce is looking for.
In its recently published 2014/2015 Global Leadership Forecast (and specifically noted in an article titled, “What’s Keeping CEOs Up at Night”), the Conference Board reported that human capital remains CEOs’ top challenge. When asked about strategies to address the human capital challenge, the article goes on to share that four of the top 10 strategies selected by CEOs focused on leadership. These strategies are: 1) Improve leadership development programs; 2) Enhance the effectiveness of senior management teams; 3) Improve the effectiveness of front-line supervisors and managers; and 4) Improve succession planning. CEOs went on to share the leadership behaviors and attributes critical to the success of a leader. These were identified as 1) Retaining and developing talent; 2) Managing complexity; 3) Leading change; 4) Leading with integrity; and 5) Having an entrepreneurial mindset.
The Global Leadership Forecast, for the first time, asked leaders to assess their readiness to execute necessary leadership tasks. Only 27 percent of leaders reported they were “very prepared” to be the kind of leader that creates an optimal workplace where employees deliver their very best. And only 9 percent of HR leaders indicated their leaders were “very ready” to address the human capital challenge.
Over the years, we have met with many HR leaders who speak of the line outside their door. Leaders consistently rely on HR to address difficult situations with employees. A difficult situation can be viewed as one in which an employee is not meeting an expectation for performance, for conduct or for attendance and timeliness. The majority of leaders do not know what to say or what to do, either reactively or proactively, when it comes to the challenge of maximizing contribution and satisfaction. They ARE, however, coming to work trying to do their best and HOPING that they are doing the right things as a leader.
But hope is not a very good strategy.
Aleta Norris is a co-founding partner of Living As A Leader, a Brookfield-based leadership training, coaching and consulting firm. You may send her your ‘Leading Generation Y’ question at anorris@livingasaleader.com, or visit www.livingasaleader.com

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