30 Jan. 2013 | Comments (0)

Watch our November 2012 Book Discussion webcast, featuring authors, Geoffrey Matthews and Linda Holbeche, Ph.D., as they discuss their book, Engaged: Unleashing Your Organization's Potential Through Employee Engagement.


Last September, Bob Dylan released his 35th studio album. The end of 2012 witnessed the Rolling Stones celebrating their 50th anniversary, and in January, David Bowie returned to music headlines, over 40 years since he first sang his hit, “Changes.” Who would have thought back in the 1960s that these musicians would all still be so successful?  Despite the passing years, these artists have shown tremendous staying power. They have successfully dealt with changes – and have been able to reinvent themselves and keep coming back.  But can the same be said of your business? Like these artists, does it have the combination of nimbleness and staying power to last the course? 

More than ever, organizations need to become “changeable,” i.e. agile, flexible, and capable of sustainable effectiveness in scenarios of on-going change. Yet, agility alone is not enough to guarantee success: resilience, or the ability to recover from set-backs and learn from experience, is also vital – from both an organizational and individual level. This might be easier to achieve for a music artist or a band – but how can organizations achieve it?

The good news is that resilience is something that can be instilled in businesses. Moreover, research shows that resilient employees tend to also be more engaged. However, ironically, in times of change, the drive for agility can undermine both employee resilience and engagement, as dwindling resources and cuts often produce fear, anxiety, and inaction. Today’s “more-for-less” environment means that employees are under on-going pressure, risking burnout and sagging morale. So, how does a business break out of this vicious cycle?

Odds are that you will be tackling more change than ever in 2013. If that’s the case, then employee engagement must be a priority. As we argue in our book, Engaged: Unleashing Your Organization's Potential Through Employee Engagement [1], engagement matters more than ever in tough times. So, what can you do to help improve engagement levels? Here are some tips:

  1. Make engagement a priority at all levels of the organization. If your company’s actions are not being echoed in each workplace, the efforts will not take effect.  Conversely, it’s not enough to leave engagement to front-line supervisors; business leaders need to be seen to “walk the talk” as well.
  2. Take time to diagnose and actively address the root causes of employee disengagement. The aim should be to make employee engagement a daily focus for managers rather than simply an annual survey process.
  3. Make sure everyone understands the direction you’re headed. In times of change, business strategies may have to be sharply revised. Are your people “all on the same page?” Without a clear strategy, employees may be fearful about their future, and if they don’t understand it, they may not be taking the right actions for success.  Communication and explanation is vital so employees know where the business is headed and what they need to do, so that they can reconnect with the business’s new agenda.
  4. Rethink the topic of workplace wellness. Many organizations have taken steps here as a means of reigning in medical plan costs, but effective wellbeing strategies can also help people make the transition through change and cope with the demands made of them.  Good support here can help foster resilience for the long run.
  5. When cutting costs, cut work too by reengineering the way tasks get done. Simply cutting staff and expecting those remaining to cope with the same workload risks raising pressure and reducing the quality of delivery. Managers can help by coaching their staff and refocusing workloads onto priority areas.
  6. Keep your key talents in focus.  As career opportunities may be even more limited in tough times, make sure you bear your best performers in mind when filling jobs. Recruitment firms are aware of wide-scale pent-up career frustration given today’s tight labour markets and high turnover of key talent can be anticipated in 2013. Risk management and retention plans should be applied to people and jobs where key knowledge and skills are in short supply. Even if job advancement isn’t possible, how about cross-training, strategic project assignments, or job enrichment?
  7. Share success widely when it’s achieved. The recent Global Risks report by the World Economic Forum pointed to growing income disparity as the biggest risk factor facing businesses today. The danger is that business success benefits some – such as through equity based rewards – but not all. Playing fair by staff and sharing the benefits of success at all levels is the best way to recognize the common efforts being made and to build employee engagement and commitment.

Change will be with us again in 2013. It’s a permanent fact of business, but achieving success for the next 40 or 50 years will not come by just doing more of the same. Much like Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and David Bowie, resilience and changeability are keys to success. So, is your business taking the right steps here, or do you risk becoming a long-forgotten one-hit wonder?

View our complete listing of Employee Engagement blogs.

[1] http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-1119953537.html.  The book Engaged was also the subject of a Conference Board Human Capital webcast last November 20th – see https://www.conference-board.org/webcasts/ondemand/webcastdetail.cfm?webcastid=2845.

  • About the Author: Geoffrey Matthews

    Geoffrey Matthews

    Geoffrey Matthews is an experienced HR executive with an extensive background in employee engagement, organizational development, rewards, and international HR. He is co-author with Linda Holbeche of …

    Full Bio | More from Geoffrey Matthews

  • About the Author: Linda Holbeche Ph.D.

    Linda Holbeche Ph.D.

    Linda is co-Director of The Holbeche Partnership (THP), a research-based development consultancy. Linda has a strong interest in helping organisations and individuals achieve sustainable high performa…

    Full Bio | More from Linda Holbeche Ph.D.


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