Copyright TIGERS Success Series

By Dianne Crampton

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Let’s take off the table the false notion that losses in business productivity and employee engagement are solely tied to sagging consumer confidence and a drop off in consumption.

In reality, business productivity and engagement are internal business issues and based on an intricate balance among business systems, strategies, and effective group norms that support cooperation and workforce development initiatives.

When these pillars of business productivity are properly balanced and supported by a company’s leaders, improved performance and employee engagement are the outcomes.

An engaged workforce operates from a cooperative ethic. This stands in contrast to an internally competitive operation where one employee’s gain is offset by another employee’s loss. That loss could show itself in an employee’s lack of access to learning opportunities, advancement and incentives — or the opportunity to openly express daily work concerns and suggest ways to address them.

As the economy continues with weak growth, companies that facilitate workforce cooperation now by engaging employees in open and honest discussions over what is working and not working in the workplace will be better positioned to benefit from the inevitable economic recovery than companies that are not paying attention to such things.

One tool, recently released by TIGERS Success Series to help facilitate this process is the TIGERS Team Wheel™ game. This team development exercise helps employees and their leaders identify behaviors that build strong, cooperative teams and behaviors that will predictably cause problems. This tool also unlocks an employee’s desire to contribute to ideas that make work more productive.

Since many companies are unable to raise salaries —  with some increasing employee workloads instead of hiring new employees — leaders that respond now to employee engagement issues will be ahead of the curve, at just the right time, in creating a healthy workforce dynamic that spurs productivity.

Indeed, matters become worse when employees are told they are lucky to have a job, rather than having leaders instead correct the issues that dampen morale and reduce productivity. 

Talk About It

Employee cooperation is based on the notion that employees are helping one another to be successful. However, when management fails to acknowledge the hardships employees are facing, a hopeless feeling is released into the workplace that is toxic to morale and productivity.

Employees who must put on a happy face and disown their feelings about work, squelch ideas on how their work could be improved, and deny economic circumstances become disengaged in order to cope with discouragement and difficult work conditions.

A powerful solution to this downward spiral is for company owners to encourage employees by talking to them about how things are going. Employers who give employees the opportunity to vent about their frustrations often discover that employees begin to feel better. However, employees will soon begin to feel manipulated if afterwards workable solutions are not addressed. 

The key to this strategy, therefore, is to make sure employees feel that they are being listened to and not patronized. This means that business owners need to take in what their workers are saying, and if they are upset about their jobs, discover what the problem is and what they can do to help.

Take Action

When productivity and morale suffers, business owners and company leaders make matters worse by not addressing issues head on and taking action on well considered employee recommendations.

Leaders who believe that there is no need to take action because it would only be  a response to short-term volatility and, therefore, not important will discover that failure to makes changes now will result in unprecedented employee turnover once the economy corrects itself. Leaving a company to work for another is the employee’s response to low engagement. For the employer, loss in productivity is magnified due to the loss of a trained workforce.

The Harvard Business Review posted a study that summarized what has occurred in previous recessions. Since the 1980s, recessions according to HBR, have had these similarities:

  • 60% of companies “barely survived”
  • 30% of companies failed
  • 10% of companies adapted, were ready to leap forward when the recovery came and became “breakthrough performers”

Ultimately, employees know what would make their work more productive. In a shrinking workforce, they also know what makes their work more difficult. Leaders who facilitate employee problem solving, who listen and take action on employee identified improvements now can avoid falling into the 30% category of companies that failed.

Harnessing Employee Ideas

Leaders who champion the idea that all employees are responsible for new ideas, cost savings and developing revenue from sources where it didn’t exist before are bringing their workforce into balance with systems, strategies and the norms that support cooperation.

For example, earlier this year when Google interviewed their employees about what they valued most from work, extravagant benefits and salaries did not make the top ten list. Instead, employees named the one-on-one meetings with even-keeled bosses who coached them through solving problems and who took an interest in their lives and careers.

Tangibles like salary and benefits aren’t enough to guarantee morale and productivity. Good communication with leaders who listen and work to remove success barriers, and engage employees in solving problems, cooperatively boost engagement and improve productivity.  

Unless something dramatically changes, looking ahead to 2012 will be similar to looking back to 2009.

So how can a company keep good employees engaged and productive? It comes down to bringing workforce strategies and systems into balance with workforce development and cooperation by listening to employees and resolving problems now. Leaders who can foster a culture of cooperation throughout their workforce, just as in previous recessions, will prevail.