What gap? Recent research conducted by the Gallup Organization indicates that 29% of the U.S. workforce is engaged (i.e. loyal, enthusiastic, and productive) whereas 55% is passively disengaged. That is, they are going through the motions, doing only what they must, "mailing it in," coasting, etc. What about the other 16%? Are they engaged? Yes. However, they are doing whatever they can to undermine their employer's efforts to succeed. They have a toxic impact on their associates and, in many instances, on customer relations. These are stunning statistics. How to explain them? Reasons vary from one organization to the next. However, most experts agree that no more than 5% of any given workforce consists of "bad apples," trouble-makers, chronic complainers, subversives, etc. How to close this gap between active, productive, and positive people and those who aren't?
In order to answer that question, Julie Gebauer and Don Lowman (with Joanne Gordon) completed on a rigorous examination of the 2007-2008 Global Workforce Study ("Closing the Engagement Gap: A Roadmap for Driving Superior Performance") sponsored by their employer, Towers Perrin. This study is based on data generated from two sources: 90,000 employees working full-time for midsize to large organizations in eighteen countries worldwide, and, "the world's largest employee normative database, with data that is updated annually from more than 2 million employees at a range of companies in more than forty companies." Gebauer and Lowman identified the top ten items that drive employee engagement around the world. (Please see Page 13.) Citing statistics somewhat different from Gallup's (i.e. 41% of global workers are enrolled but not yet engaged and 30% are disenchanted), they identify "five actions to convert the enrolled and enlist the disenchanted": Know Them, Grow Them, Inspire Them, Involve Them, and Reward Them. So far, no head-snapping revelations but then Gebauer and Don Lowman zero in companies (the "Engaging Eight") in which a rational-emotional-motivational connection with workers enables them to "willingly and enthusiastically put forth extra time, energy, and brainpower to help their companies compete and succeed." The exemplars are Campbell Soup Company, EMC Corporation, Honeywell International, McKesson Corporation, MGM Grand and Casino, North Shore-Long island Jewish Health System, Novartis AG, and Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI).
Throughout the balance of their book, Gebauer and Lowman devote a separate chapter to each of the aforementioned "actions" needed to close the performance gap between between active, productive, and positive people and those who aren't. I think it was a brilliant decision to take that approach rather than devote a separate chapter to each of the "Engaging Eight" because how companies achieve a given objective such as "growing" people varies (sometimes significantly) between and among them. However, profiles of the exemplary companies suggest a wealth of possibilities for results-driven executives to consider. Readers will also appreciate the "Key Acts of Engagement" recommended in Chapter 7 (Pages 236-255) It remains for them to determine how to increase their associates' engagement. In the final chapter, Gebauer and Lowman assert that most organizations "have a ready, willing, and capable reservoir of talent, energy, and dedication. But it's up to them to tap it in meaningful ways. And, as we have shown, direct bosses are critical catalysts of engagement, but without engaging programs and policies set up by the organization - and engaging behaviors from the most visible senior leaders - direct bosses' efforts will fail to deliver full engagement."
My own opinion is that "full engagement" is the ultimate destination of an on-going, never-ending process but seldom (if ever) reached. And even then, it is possible but unlikely that full engagement can be sustained. The point is, and here I completely agree with Gebauer and Lowman, all supervisors must create the conditions that drive engagement, including C-level executives' actions and behavior, learning and development opportunities, and the company's image and reputation. It is no coincidence that many of the companies that appear each year on Fortune magazine's lists of those most highly admired and best to work for also appear each year on the magazine's lists of those most profitable and most valuable.
One of Gebauer and Lowman's concluding points really caught my eye: "Only 1 in 10 of the 88,000 respondents in [the Towers Perrin] Global Workforce Study agreed that their organization's senior leaders treat employees as vital corporate assets." That is an astonishing statistic, one that underlines the importance of trust within a workforce. Fred Reichheld has much of value to say about it, characterized as "organizational glue" in several of his books, notably The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value (2001) with Thomas Teal and Loyalty Rules: How Today's Leaders Build Lasting Relationships (2003). Trust must be earned over time but can easily be lost and seldom regained. Presumably Julie Gebauer and Don Lowman agree with Reichheld that if there is an absence of trust within a workplace, it will be impossible to "unlock employee potential for superior results."