For the most part, organizations are poor at putting strategy into action. The hardest challenge in executing strategy is not necessarily identifying what to do, as much as determining how to align employees toward a common business objective.
Recent i4cp research has revealed that much of what drives alignment at high-performance organizations (HPOs) has a great deal to do with engagement. Does the workforce understand the strategy? Do employees understand what’s expected of them and how achieving those expectations will help the business achieve its goals? Do workers have access to resources (e.g. training, learning support, individual developments plans, mentors) that will enable them to fill the knowledge/skill gaps that may impede their ability to get the job done right. Do leaders—from front line up through senior management—understand the importance of, and how to, develop their employees to increase productivity and impact on the business?
In soon-to-be published research from i4cp and the American Management Association, business strategy execution ranks as the fifth most widely taught competency in the global leadership development programs of HPOs. In that same study, establishing and supporting a culture of engagement ranks third among HPOs—above business strategy execution. Clearly companies are aware of the importance of executing their business strategies, yet not all are as clear on the role that a culture of engagement plays in how to achieve that execution.
Leaders at high-performance organizations recognize that these critical capabilities are interdependent; that creating an engaged culture is a prerequisite for enabling execution of the business strategy. A critical element of alignment is a corporate culture that makes employee engagement the responsibility of every leader from the front line to top leadership, rather than relegating it to an activity wholly owned by human resources.
Frontline managers are the linchpin for building and sustaining engagement, which is why one of the best employee engagement practices identified by i4cp research is to include engagement as part of each manager's performance review—high-performance organizations are twice as likely as low-performance organizations (LPOs) to do this (40% vs. 19%). Most importantly, before front-line managers and leaders can engage the workforce, they must first be engaged themselves and clearly understand their roles as leaders responsible for developing and fostering the engagement of their teams.
i4cp’s latest study, Employee Engagement: Strategies and Practices, reveals four essential practices that high-performance organizations implement that have a positive impact on overall employee engagement.
- Maintain a culture in which employees understand organizational goals and are empowered to achieve them. This speaks directly to solid performance management processes and how competent managers are at helping their teams establish and remain focused on their goals.
- Measure the impact of engagement on the business. Approached and defined appropriately, engagement becomes a leading (not lagging) indicator of business growth. i4cp member organization Avnet, for example, attributes engagement to a four-year compounded annual growth rate of nearly 32% in earnings per share.
- Include engagement in manager performance appraisals and development plans. One of the strongest trends identified in i4cp’s Talent Management in the Trenches study is holding line managers accountable for the development of their people. This leading practices should be expanded to include engagement, which is strongly influenced by the availability and promotion of developmental opportunities.
- Emphasize prompt and focused follow through on engagement issues, with frequent and regular communications on the impact to the business. Employees at HPOs are twice as likely as those from LPOs to agree that their organization does an effective job of taking meaningful action following engagement surveys. This demonstrates that the organization is listening to its employees and is taking action on specific items that are impeding engagement and overall organizational productivity.
Engagement at high-performance organizations is not a survey score or a single event, nor is it a series of independent actions. Engagement is the result of purposeful alignment of culture, strategy, capabilities and performance, and re-thinking the ways in which these connect to execute the business strategy. One practice that all organizations can benefit from is found in linking the conversation and curriculum pertaining to two essential global leadership development competencies: business strategy execution and establishing a culture of engagement. This will empower your leaders to drive the business forward via a highly engaged workforce that is strongly aligned with the business’ goals.