“The success of your organisation doesn’t depend on your understanding of economics and organisational development or marketing. It depends, quite simply, on your understanding of psychology: how each individual employee connects with your company; how each individual employee connects with your customers” (The Gallup Organisation)

Most employees are amazingly resilient and capable of coping with difficult and challenging circumstances – even irate customers. The key, however, is that they need complete, current and accurate information that they have the power to implement. Granting employees this power seems to be scary for many managers – as such, many don’t empower their team members, maintaining the decision-making control and not involving employees, with a view that this just opens up a Pandora’s Box and would therefore rather avoid any potential negative consequences. A lack of empowerment, however, opens up the ‘box’ in other ways – an environment of low trust, cynicism, accusations and hostility.

Trustworthy behaviour on the part of leadership cultivates a trust environment. Add to that sincere engagement, then fear dissipates and people start believing that they can make a great contribution – their ideas are valued and their effort is truly appreciated. The energy that is subsequently released is translated into exceptional customer service because of the pride that develops within the teams. Focus changes from “how can I be served?” to “how can I serve you?” both within (‘customers’ in other departments) and without (customers that buy the products and services offered by the company). Customer-centricity becomes an operating maxim when an employee engagement strategy is modelled and lived by those in leadership.

Some of the guidelines for implementing an employee engagement strategy include the following:

1. Ownership of the engagement process by leadership – all managers must build engagement activities into everyday work tasks (this could include shop floor conversations, asking for ideas, caring, etc.). Engagement is not a fad, but genuine involvement with people.
2. Remove obstacles to engagement – managers must deal with issues as they arise, air the same with employees and work with them to remove the ‘blocks’ that potentially stand in the way of transparent communication.
3. Understand the process nature of engagement – leaders must create a continuous learning, continuous improvement, continuous measurement and continuous action process to maximise engagement to the point where it becomes a way of life for all.
4. Treat employees as ‘partners’ in the business – star performers do not like to be ‘managed’, but to do more of what they do best. Grant employees a say in their future (development, performance improvement and careers) and connect their contribution efforts to the value that it provides to the organisation.
5. Clarify the organisational vision, mission and values – continuously illustrate and demonstrate behaviours that are associated with what is valued by the organisation and what will bring it success.
6. Develop feedback loops – these are specifically designed channels of communication where good and bad news can be shared without fear. Not all customer service attempts are totally successful – the organisation must learn from failed attempts.
7. Demonstrate special care for longer-serving employees – Gallup shows in their research that the longer employees stay with an organisation, the less engaged they become. Include these employees in your engagement strategy.

“Managing is shifting from the executive suite to the operational level where everyone is now a manager of their own situation. When problems arise, each employee should have the ability to analyse the situation, determine the appropriate action and see to it that the action is carried out” (Anon). This engagement approach not only translates into empowered employees, but also subsequently catapults the customer service ability of the organisation.

Free To Grow consults in employee engagement strategy and offers workshops to develop an engaging culture within organisations (www.freetogrow.com)