I believe that leaders are responsible for creating the work environment that brings out the very best in people.

The most effective leaders I work with (and have worked for in the past) strive to constantly inspire higher levels of performance from their teams. Simultaneously they make every effort to retain their most important employees over the long-term. Motivating employees to put forth their best effort while building loyalty is perhaps a leader’s most difficult, and yet most rewarding, challenge. While the desire to get the most discretionary effort from a workforce has been the same for decades, today’s rate of organizational change, combined with increased job mobility and decreased company loyalty, makes it that much more difficult and important.

LSA Global’s research on best places to work shows levels of disengagement range between 50 and 89 percent. This is a vexing problem for leaders whose success is dependent upon the success of their teams. Actively disengaged workers are up to 10 times more likely to underperform and look for other opportunities than more engaged staff.

And employee engagement is far more than a simple retention issue. Disengaged employees produce on average 12 percent lower profits, 19 percent lower operating income, and 28 percent lower earnings per share, while their engaged counterparts report 18 percent greater productivity, 12 percent higher customer satisfaction, and 51 percent less voluntary turnover.

The good news is that employee engagement can be measured and improved. And if leaders take the following actions to improve employee engagement, business performance can improve dramatically.

Create Strong Goal Alignment 

Smart leaders know that engagement starts with alignment. Alignment means ensuring employees understand and agree with the organization's strategic direction and how they specifically contribute to company goals. As one recent client CEO stated: “Employees may have their oars in the water, but if they don’t know what direction the ship is headed or exactly how their oar propels the ship toward its goal, then you risk their disengagement and decreased performance.”

Along with strong goal alignment, the intrinsic value employees find in their roles is paramount. Do their jobs expand or contract their contentment? All things equal, happy employees are more likely to be engaged employees.

As a leader, make sure employees:

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  • understand and can articulate the company’s strategic direction and priorities 
  • know how the work they do contributes to the company’s overall goals 
  • believe the company will be successful in the future 
  • know how they fit into the company’s future plans 
  • enjoy their work 
  • have a job role that aligns with their career goals, leverages their strengths, provides a sense of accomplishment, and is interesting as well as challenging.

Build Trust in Senior Leaders 

While alignment with goals focuses on the degree to which employees buy into the direction of the company, the degree to which employees believe in the leaders setting those goals is equally, if not more, important. Engaged employees perceive their leaders to be capable and trustworthy. Remember, it is possible to believe in the direction of the ship without believing in the ability and integrity of the ship's captain and first mates to steer the ship effectively.

As a leader, make sure senior leaders:

  • are honest and trustworthy enough to lead the company to future success 
  • consistently demonstrate integrity and transparency during both good and bad times.

Develop Effective Management Practices 

Once you have created strong alignment and built trust in senior leaders, it is time to ensure that managers perform their jobs, are respected by their employees, and care about employee growth and development. Why? Because the type and amount of supervision and direction that managers give their employees has the highest correlation with employee engagement.

As a leader, make sure that your managers earn the trust and respect of their team by:

  • communicating openly and honestly 
  • setting clear expectations and providing the support people need to succeed 
  • regularly giving constructive feedback on job performance 
  • developing their people and discussing career opportunities  
  • acknowledging and appreciating high-quality work 
  • being accessible and responding to ideas, requests, and suggestions 
  • acting as an effective coach and mentor 
  • demonstrating concern about the well-being of their team 
  • sharing how the organization’s future plans affect the team and the reasons behind decisions 
  • treating everyone fairly and resolving conflict in a straightforward, unbiased manner 
  • making work with the team enjoyable.

Make Sure Your Employees Feel Valued 

Whether employees feel valued is also highly correlated with their level of engagement. This action category is all about the organization’s commitment to its people—from investing in employee development to fair compensation and commitment to making the company a great place to work.

At its core, employee engagement is about the willingness of employees to exert discretionary effort toward their work. Do employees consistently think about ways to do their jobs better? And, do they trust that they will be recognized and valued for doing so? If employees don't perceive that extra effort will yield commensurate recognition, there is often not enough incentive for them to try harder.

As a leader, ensure that you:

  • Encourage your employees to think about ways to do their jobs better. 
  • Recognize people when they contribute to the company’s success.  
  • Invest time and resources to make people more successful. 
  • Value employees as your most important resource. 
  • Pay fairly for the value people bring. 
  • Commit to creating a highly desirable place to work.