From cruise control to top gear

| March 13, 2012

Late last year First 5000 partner Deloitte Private released a new series on the enormous opportunities open to Australians: Building the Lucky Country.

Based on this report, Deloitte Private account director Michael Hyatt outlines how to get your workers more engaged and more productive.

One of the key ‘levers’ of Building the Lucky Country is the notion that ‘your next worker may be on cruise control’.

We know that the cost to Australian business of disengaged employees is north of $39 billion dollars a year.

How engaged is your workforce? Do you know how much your business is contributing lost productivity?

There is a real need to understand the level of employee engagement so you can develop a more productive workplace. A supportive workforce is not going to cut it anymore. You need to move employees from wherever they are now to commit to your business objectives and willingly put in discretionary effort. So how do you do that?

First thing to do is determine the level of employee engagement. Together with that you need to understand the root causes of why people have disengaged: is it cultural, performance management processes, communication, or where they fit in?

Each business has rich veins of data that, if used correctly, will provide great insights about how employees are feeling, what they are thinking and their levels of engagement.

If we are serious about our own personal health we visit the doctor for a check-up and get guidance from the expert (our doctor) to guide us in changing our behaviours to get healthier and help us sustain it. Business is no different, it needs regular ‘check-ups’ too.

In this case on the health of its employee engagement, by using targeted tools (engagement surveys, pulse checks, EVPs) you can determine what the underlying causes of disengagement are and thereby increase your ability to change behaviours through well-structured strategies.

Committed employees will use their discretionary effort in ways that will increase productivity, morale and belief in what they are doing.

According to Deloitte’s Lucky Country series effective employee engagement does indeed provide significant business benefits, such as:

Greater productivity leading to:
• Higher operating incomes, net income growth and earnings per share
• A significant reduction in staff turnover
• Significant savings in skills and training costs.

One of the hardest things to do is to create an environment that fosters that discretionary effort from employees, and that’s not always an easy thing to do.

Disengaged employees generally feel undervalued, have low opinions of their managers, have lower performance, have higher absenteeism rates and are less committed to the organisation. Tackling employee engagement really needs to start with leadership, if you don’t take it seriously your competitors will.

There is indisputable evidence for the establishment of innovative employee engagement strategies.

So how do leaders evaluate whether an employee is in ‘cruise control’; and if so, how do they encourage more engagement from them?

Once leaders have the insights derived from the tools and data, they can determine what areas of the business need attention. The insights about your people and business will be invaluable in developing the right creative engagement strategies. Coupled with the correct strategies is the right supporting infrastructure.

The business must have the right conditions – in place to facilitate discretionary effort. These conditions may include a flexible leave policy, accessible training programs, clearly linked performance and rewards. You want your engagement strategies to produce the behaviours you seek – do not forget the underlying business structures will either support or sabotage them.

Once a business has visibility of its employees and garnered real insights from the data, it can put strategies in place, improve its infrastructure and raise the level of engagement with employees. Business conditions, whether they are internal and external, will always impact the bottom line in some way – an engaged workforce will help smooth out the peaks and troughs.

Getting your ‘check-up’ is the first step: changing behaviours isn’t easy but at least you will be tackling the issues with your eyes open. Employees may not be business owners but if they believe in what you are endeavouring to achieve and committed to the cause they will increase their discretionary effort and your bottom line.

Deloitte’s Lucky Country series also notes that the pressures of the skills shortage make it all the more important for businesses to help their employees shift from ‘cruise control’ to ‘top gear’. The challenge is getting all employees – or at least most of them – to commit to delivery.


This opinion piece was first published on Deloitte Private Matters and is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.