“Engagement” is the buzzword in business nowadays. But what does it really mean, and is it really enough?
When we think about the fans who root for a particular team, they are certainly engaged. They read the sports pages, go to games and root, and even wear team apparel. But nobody from the team calls them up and asks, “are you available to play third base tonight?”
A similar level of engagement is normal in many companies. Top management is transparent, shares the company’s vision and goals, and tells people what to do and what’s happening. But is that real engagement? Isn’t there a higher level? One where employees really join the team and dedicate their hearts, minds and souls to the company? I know that there is.
I Have Seen the Higher Level
I ran a company called Flooring America that the company I worked for, CCA Global Partners, had just bought out of bankruptcy. The owners of Flooring America franchises were incredibly unhappy that we were there. They had just gone into bankruptcy. We, the company that bought them, had been their main competitor. So there was a lack of trust. It was as though Burger King had bought McDonalds, was taking them over, and encountered fierce opposition.
Furthermore, CCA Global had very little time to win over the Flooring America franchisees. Per the court order, they were free to leave after a year. They couldn’t use the company name if they did, but they could stay in the flooring business.
So we, as a management team, had to take an incredibly unhappy group of people and find a way to win their hearts, minds and souls. What did we do? We worked with them to involve all the franchisees, all the employees of the company, to build a strategic vision and plan. We had town hall meetings all around the country we did surveys of employees. We did workshops with employees to get their input, we talked to suppliers to get their input, so that everybody was part of the process. We also created an advisory council of Flooring America franchisees and let them meet and make recommendations to us.
When the cooperatively produced plan was nearly final, we then went back to everybody to get more input, finalization and suggestions. The result was that 200 out of 202 franchisees decided to stay with us. And then results got even better. In the next four years, the company went from system-wide sales of $7 million to $2 billion. The same-store sales had increased to more than twice the industry average. And the store count doubled.
I believe that the stores performed, the group performed, because we had won the hearts, minds and souls of people at Flooring America. If we had simply locked the management team in a room, built a plan, and then gone around and paraded it in front of everyone, that might have allowed the company to survive. But we would not have been as wildly successful. After all, when a plan is delivered to people – one that they did not help create – their first reaction is, “What’s wrong with this . . . what’s the hidden agenda?” Why? Because that’s the way people think when they are not part of the process.
Are You Confident Enough as a Leader to Ask for Help?
That question seems to lie at the heart of engagement. Leaders who think they will look weak if they ask for participation and help are actually leaders who lack true confidence. But when leaders have the courage to ask for help, people respect them more, because of their willingness to listen. And dramatically better results follow.
Those improved results are now well documented, especially in research conducted by Gallup, which has long been investigating the impact of engagement on organizational performance. To cite just one recent example, an article by Chris Groscurth and Stephen Shields in the June 7th Gallup Business Journal, “Managing in Touch Financial Times: Does Engagement Help?”, reports that engaging front-line managers is critical to organizational performance. Also, that taking pains to manage engagement at all levels is a key to remaining profitable in challenging times – much like the transition we faced when bringing Flooring America on board.
So, is it really necessary to take pains to win the hearts, souls and minds of the people you lead? After all, it’s a lot of work. But if you want your company to succeed, you will do it. And isn’t that the reason you go to work every day? It is for me. And I believe you feel the same way too.