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The Official Baldrige Blog

Workforce Engagement: Do You Have Them at "Hello"?

illustration of three employees

Used with permission


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!   

About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly...

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For small businesses the connection beyond the workplace to their community and the degree to which the organizational supports employee connection to their communities makes a huge impact on my satisfaction as an employee. I am thinking about the ability to attend a Rotary meeting that may take an hour and a half by the time you leave the workplace, attend the meeting and return. Both the employee, the employing organization and the community benefit leading to high workforce engagement. I have to also put a big plug in for any organization that hosts an annual family picnic.
My thoughts? Mine consist of how I went about causing employees to become engaged and how they became so thankful for being treated so well that they went far far out of their way to do a better job. Their productivity rose by over 300%, their innovation and creativity went sky high, and they literally loved to come to work. How? Here is a sketch. Employees have five basic needs. Researchers Edward Deci and Richard Ryan proved that to be motivated anyone needs competence, autonomy and relatedness. The two additional needs are related to the first three: the need to be heard and the need to be respected. Unsurprisingly, the extent to which management meets those five needs DICTATES how well employees perform. Met to a 20% level, the most common case, releases a bit less than 20% of employee capabilities while met to a 60% level releases a bit less than 60%. In other words, a full spectrum exists and it is management's choice as to where in the spectrum they are. But how does a manager meet those 5 needs? Very simple! Just do your job to very high standards! The workforce is responsible for doing the work and knowing what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Management is responsible for providing the tangible support to employees they need to excel in their work: training, tools, parts, material, discipline, direction (only when employees don't know such as in emergencies), information, technical advice, and the like. Providing this support at the very highest standards of all values will meet the needs of almost all employees. Management is also responsible for providing intangible support: confidence, competence, autonomy, sense of ownership, peace of mind, trust, morale, commitment, and the like. These intangibles are actually closely linked to the tangible support elements, but they are still management's responsibility to provide. To the extent management provides high quality support, that is the extent to which the workforce performs. The highest quality support is nirvana to any workforce and they will repay in spades in terms of their efforts to excel and will apply 100% of their natural creativity, innovation and productivity to their work. Hope this helps, Ben Author "Leading People to be Highly Motivated and Committed"
My suggestion: go out to hear an outside opinion on your company: this method can be improved and represents a viewpoint that I did not notice so far. If a consultant has sponsorship from a public institution, the participant thinks that there is security, and your company can be examined from many viewpoints. A manager and a worker then can agree on a feasible method and what should be carried out.

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