Employee engagement has been a hot-fire concept in business circles for close to a decade -- almost to the point that it’s potentially becoming a buzzword. It’s hard to specifically discuss, because what “engages” one employee might do nothing to move the needle for another person (think of a concept like free burritos or a pool table; some people will adore companies that offer that, and some will shrug and not get it).
The one standard -- in first-world, capitalistic societies at least -- seems to be money. Most people would prefer more money if working in enterprise. There are studies out there all over the place saying that people want purpose and vision from a company, and that’s true -- but at the same time, your company having purpose will not pay for your rent or your car. You need to make a certain amount of money to have the life you wish to have. Those are simply facts.
But this is a problem: companies are often cost-averse, and even the most successful companies at generating money would have no logical reason to keep giving everyone raises. Some business models, like banks, can afford to carry lots of VPs -- but most companies cannot do that.
So, if people generally desire more money in exchange for performance, but companies can’t be giving everyone raises all the time, how do we find a sweet spot around “employee engagement” that’s not fiscal?
Employee engagement model: The New York Public Library
Here's the article we'll commence with: "How Employees Shaped Strategy At The New York Public Library." Good, long article with lots of examples.
The crux of what they did:
In the spring of 2014, we proposed a radical approach: offer anyone on staff – over 2,500 individuals, many of them union members – the chance to shape the library through strategic conversations with senior leaders. We believed that if the Library was to be truly nimble, senior leaders couldn’t unilaterally come up with a plan. Involving staff in conceiving, designing, and implementing the change would result in a course of action that was more fit-to-purpose and more likely to be well executed. Staff would fully understand the changes and be accountable to each other for their implementation.
Here's the central takeaway:
Staff was energized by the opportunity to shape how the library worked. As a core team member put it, “We entered the process with the perspective of employees and came out with the perspective of leaders.” They were deeply appreciative of the chance to interact with, and learn from, peers across NYPL, something that rarely happened otherwise. They were excited to master new skills and knowledge relevant to librarians such as sophisticated data collection and analysis.
Cool. What next?
What are the challenges with this employee engagement model?
Opening up "strategy" as a "community" concept would terrify some in leadership positions. What if a good idea came from down the chain? Does that mean my perch is threatened in some way? The psychology here is probably the biggest hurdle -- not the process.
What would be the positives of this employee engagement model, though?
- Employees would feel more connected to their work.
- They'd also feel more empowered.
- There would be an increasing sense of respect, which doesn't exist at many companies.
- You'd get better ideas.
- You'd also get different ideas.
- It doesn't cost anything.
- Turnover would likely be reduced because employees would feel like they had a strategic stake in the future of the place.
- You'd create an instant leadership pipeline.
- Employees are being recognized without any Starbucks gift cards or raises needed.
Solid list, right? Seems so.
How do we move to this employee engagement model, then?
The psychology aspect mentioned above is the biggest roadblock. Aside from that, this is what we need:
Process: Who are the teams? The reporting lines? How does it all work? Who "vets" the ideas that come of this?
Stakeholders: Need to understand who ultimately “owns” this process being successful.
Compensation/bonuses/perks: If you participate in this employee engagement model and a great idea comes from it, how will you be rewarded? If you consistently bring good ideas to the table through this, can there then be a financial reward?
Understand the flaws of hierarchy: Ah, back to the psychological. Hierarchy is actually designed to protect ineptitude; it's by no means designed to get the best ideas or innovations from people. But you need ideas and innovations to make more money. So you can't invest in just hierarchy -- you need to invest in turning strategy into a community deal, and not just "this is what the pre-existing power core does."
Higher employee engagement leads to a reduced turnover rate. Download our free infographic to discover how to hire with a focus on retention.
The beauty of this employee engagement model is that you're doing it and it doesn't even feel like "employee engagement." It just feels like empowering people and respecting their potential ideas. Instead of some program managed in spreadsheets, this is organic.
What else would you add on this employee engagement model, or the concept in general? Let us know in the comments!