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How to Get an Engaged, Productive and Focused Workforce

(posted: July 12th, 2010)

A 2007 Towers Perrin survey of nearly 90,000 employees worldwide found that only 21% felt fully engaged at work and nearly 40% were disenchanted or disengaged.

This negativity has a direct impact on the bottom line. They found that companies with low levels of employee engagement had a 33% annual decline in operating income and an 11% annual decline in earnings growth.

"Those with high engagement on the other hand, reported a 19% increase in operating income and 28% growth in earning per share."

No wonder there have been more articles and blogs on employee engagement that I could ever count. But the question is this: What are we as leaders really doing to change ourselves and our cultures?

"Leaders are the catalyst for change. Leaders can easily underestimate how their attitudes and behaviors affect the energy and engagement levels of their teams."

Be Wise - Energize!

Because energy is contagious, both the quality and quantity of a leader's energy can drain or galvanize a team.

In working with an executive team for one of my clients, we developed a goal for them to create a highly engaged, employee and customer-friendly, high performance culture. Through an extensive needs analysis we uncovered that burnout was rampant at all levels of the organization and the employees at this organization were definitely in that 40%.

We first helped the leadership team implement some simple and very effective tools for spreading "energy" through the ranks. We then developed a program focused on helping people managing their energy along with their time to prevent this high degree of burn out. Harvard Business Review has a wonderful article I picked up a number of best practices from (see "Managing Your Energy Not Your Time", HBR October 2007).

"Human beings don't work like computers; they can't operate at high speeds continuously, running multiple programs at once. And it is amazing how many people are expected to work like computers."

We do best and are most productive when we alternate between periods of intense focus and intermittent renewal. I will share a few ideas here from the HBR article, along with some tips from my bag of tricks:

  • How many of you sit at your desk and wolf down your lunch while reading through your emails? Get away from your desk so you come back more focused and fueled to face the rest of the day.
  • Set aside an uninterrupted 60 to 90 minutes each morning to focus on your top two to three priorities and not responding to emails or putting out whatever fires had flared up the night before.
  • Reduce interruptions by performing high concentration tasks away from phone and email. In fact I suggest responding to emails and voice mails ONLY at designated times during the day.
  • Engage in healthy conflict. The failure to be direct and holding in anger and frustration will zap your energy and have a negative impact on colleagues and those you manage. Patrick Lenoni's book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team talks to this point.
  • Make an effort to give people your full focus and try to listen "with both ears" without interrupting. I know this is difficult, but commit to ignore email while talking to people on the phone.
  • Fuel positive emotions in yourself and others by regularly expressing appreciation in detailed specific terms through notes, email, calls or conversations.
  • Identify your "sweet spot" activities; those that give you feelings of effortless absorption and fulfillment. Find ways to do more of these. One executive who hated doing sales reports delegated them to someone who loved that activity.
  • Share your passion and your values. Communicate what you stand for and what your larger mission is, beyond profit. What is it that gets you up in the morning? Why should others feel passionate about doing it too?

To effectively re-energize and engage their workforces, companies need to shift their emphasis from getting more out of people to investing in them so they are motivated and able to bring more of themselves to work every day.

If companies allow and encourage employees to create and stick to such rituals, they will be rewarded with a more engaged, productive and focused workforce.

Challenge Yourself
  • What are you doing to re-energize and engage yourself and your workforce?

I would love to hear.


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