Employee Engagement – Ignore the Outliers

by Jennifer Miller on August 29, 2013

in Book Review, Personal Effectiveness, Team Effectiveness, Workplace Issues

This is a multi-part series on employee engagement based on my interview with New York Times best-selling author Kevin Kruse. As a former business owner and winner of a “Best Place to Work” award, Kevin has a wealth of real-life experience. I found him to be funny, down-to-earth and very reasonable in his approach to building an engaged workforce. I’m very grateful for the wisdom he is sharing with The People Equation readers.

ROI Limits

Employee Engagement: Outliers will never be satisfied.

What’s the sweet spot in employee engagement for an effective workplace? What’s the tipping point at which a company goes from mediocre to a highly productive, engaged workforce? Gallop just released their study, “State of the American Workplace,” and they found that only 30% of the American workforce is engaged and inspired to work. This alarming statistic does not produce a successful, positive culture.

Is 100% employee engagement even possible?  

Kevin Kruse, author of “Employee Engagement is for Everyone,” says the quest for achieving 100% employee engagement can potentially turn into a time suck. Trying to please everyone in the name of employee engagement, while well-intentioned, has its drawbacks. As a business owner, Kevin said he was committed to engaging every single employee in his company. “When I was running my own businesses and striving to create a best place to work; I really put most of the burden upon myself and our managers [to create engagement]. And I spent almost all of my time on leadership training and/or perks and programs and cultural things to drive engagement.”

Over time, Kevin’s energy started to drain with this mindset and he adopted a slightly different take on employee engagement. He says:

People will approach me and say, “Kevin, you know we’ve got this one person that we are trying everything and we are just not getting them” or “Our admin pool is a weak spot and we’ve really got to focus all of our attention on that group.”  The reality is, you are going to have one disengaged person for every 20 something who are engaged.  So that means if you are holding a town hall meeting and there are 100 people in the cafeteria, you’ll have roughly four people that are disengaged.

My instinct in the past [as a leader] was to put all of the burden on myself and the managers [to be responsible for engagement.]. Through research uncovered when writing this book, I have changed my mindset. I would still do everything that I could as an owner, as a senior leader, as a manager, to build employee engagement, but now I say ignore the outliers.  There are just some people that aren’t going to get it.  It’s just how they are wired.  They would have that attitude, no matter where they worked. Or they have chosen the wrong career for the wrong reasons, and there are just certain things that are out of your control.

The individual has to bring more to the table in regards to employee engagement.  As a leader, you cover all of the bases and then look, if you’ve got a 10:1 or 20:1 engaged to disengaged ratio, that’s great. That’s way better than most people who are at a 1:1 right? So get into that best in class stratosphere and don’t worry about every last person who hasn’t gotten to where you wish they would be when it comes to engagement.

I liken Kevin’s philosophy to the economic theory of the law of diminishing returns. At some point, a leader needs to assess: is the extra effort required to get those last few people on board worth the effort? All companies have outliers. It’s up to a leader to determine when “enough is enough” when striving for employee engagement.

Interested in reading more about employee engagement? You may enjoy the other posts in the Kevin Kruse series.

Photo credit: Microsoft

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