In considering "workforce engagement" (a term that may sound somewhat turgid at first to those who are not business management experts), I recently thought of Renée Zellweger's character, Dorothy Boyd, in the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire.
Despite pressing financial needs that were tied to her responsibilities as a single parent, Dorothy leaves a well-established sports talent agency to join co-worker Jerry in starting a business with little beyond a bold vision. Disregarding the potential romantic draw behind Dorothy's risky decision, I wonder how her degree of engagement in her work may have impacted her sudden decision to terminate her employment. In other words, what was missing in her work with the agency? And what promising conditions did she see in the new company that motivated her to leap into the relative unknown?
Such questions might be considered in relation to several categories of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence—including Leadership (category 1), Customer Focus (category 3), and Workforce Focus (category 5). Those first two Criteria categories are relevant to Jerry Maguire given that Jerry denounces unethical practices in the sports management business and then moves to establish a company with a stronger customer focus. But it seems to me that Jerry and Dorothy's previous employer had equally great opportunities for improvement in the workforce-focused performance areas of category 5.
Over the past decade of revisions to the Criteria, category 5 has evolved to sharply focus on how organizations can effectively engage individuals in their work, moving beyond merely how to promote their satisfaction. Today, item 5.2 is titled "Workforce Engagement," asking questions such as "How do you foster an organizational culture that is characterized by open communication, high-performance work, and an engaged workforce?" and "How do you ensure that your organizational culture benefits from the diverse ideas, cultures, and thinking of your workforce?"
So what does high "workforce engagement" look like in everyday practice and how does an organization promote it? Through best-practice-sharing events such as the annual Quest for Excellence® conference, the Baldrige Program has highlighted many examples of effective processes and practices in this and other performance areas from role-model U.S. organizations in every sector of the economy.
Consider the following practice described by Quint Studer, founder of the Studer Group, a 2010 Baldrige Award-winning small business:
Here's a little simple tool that we use ... [a tip Studer gave to the president of the company as he took on more direct ownership of some operations]. I said, "We have about 50 coaches [employees] ... every day, write a coach an e-mail. Just one a day. Just say, 'I'm just thinking about you, wondering how you're doing today.'"
I said, "Just do one a day. If you do one a day for the entire year, that means every person will get an informal e-mail from you, five to six times a year."
And he said, "I can't believe the impact. Just that one little note, and they write back and tell me, 'my son, my husband, my wife, here's what's going on.'"
And those are the things that you have to do virtually. Well, see, if we weren't virtual, I'd see you, and I'd say, "Hey, how's it going today?"
So you have to build in certain techniques to take the place of that, because whether we're virtual or not virtual, we're still all in relationship businesses, and we're always going to have to do relationships. And our relationships are going to be with our workforce.
Please share your thoughts and practices for building and boosting employee engagement. And come to the Quest conference early next week in Washington, D.C., to learn more best practices!