Employee Engagement is a Two-Way Street

Posted by: in Corporate and Strategy on October 18, 2012

The responsibility of keeping employees well informed about and engaged in the business is a mutual one.

That is to say, it is critical that company leadership and managers maintain an ongoing dialogue with employees to assure that they understand, comprehend and act on the challenges and opportunities that confront the business.

But, at the same time, it is just as important for the individual employee to stay engaged in, be curious about, and stay informed about the business: what makes it tick, its history and heritage, its internal and external challenges and opportunities, and its paths to success.

That said, I surprised myself last week when I momentarily forgot this little truth. I had the honor of delivering a webinar on behalf of Citrix and Ziff-Davis on the subject of keeping a distributed workforce engaged and connected to the business. It was done as a companion piece to a parallel white paper I’d prepared on the same subject.

As the date of the webinar approached, I was polishing my presentation, which focused mostly on what I assumed the audience would be most interested in: techniques and new technologies for communicating with remote employees and keeping them informed and engaged, topics that I did indeed cover. Belatedly, I realized I was forgetting one important element – which I added almost as an after-thought to my presentation.

Two Sides to the Same Coin
In talking about the attitudes and behaviors that leaders and managers must have toward a distributed workforce, as well as the communications techniques, messages and tools that organizations must use to reach them, it occurred to me that there are two sides to that coin.

Yes, it is incumbent upon communicators, managers and leaders to make every possible effort to keep employees in the loop and engaged in the business. It is one of their most important roles. And doing so with employees who are not, as a rule, in the main office but rather working from afar in a remote or home office presents additional communications challenges. Yet it is even more critical because distributed employees can become easily disengaged.

But this is a two-way street, as I told my audience. The burden of staying connected and engaged in the business is just as much a responsibility of the individual employee as it is his/her employer.

So, the natural question arises: how do you instill in employees the urge to stay engaged and informed? Frankly, it has to be self-motivated, something they desire, connected to their urge to succeed.

If I were to give a speech to a college graduating class, I would tell them that if they’re going to get ahead in business, they must be engaged in the business itself at least as much as their own role. While they work to master their job and its intricacies, while doing the job well, they must, at the same time, strive to understand the details of what drives the business. In fact, they must make a concerted effort always to connect their role to the larger mission of the business.

Managers, whether consciously or not, gravitate toward those employees who are fully engaged in the business over and above their own narrow role and responsibilities. These are the employees that managers are eager to hire and promote – as opposed to the clock-punchers, the folks who are out the door at 5 o’clock, regardless of what’s on their desks.

Comparing the two types of employees, it becomes obvious which is going to contribute more to the company’s strategies and ultimate successes: the one that connects consistently what he/she does every day with where the company is going, the one whose individual efforts always support the organization’s larger purpose.

By: Jack LeMenager

Jack is a director in the Corporate & Strategy practice of WCG, a unit of W2O Group.

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