The engagement factor in the profit equation

Jonathan Faurie
Founder Turnaround Talk

Disruption is a word that South Africans are very familiar with. Despite having some serious employers, and the second biggest economy in Africa, South Africans have had to deal with a fragile economy for a long time.

In terms of our response to the Covid-19 Pandemic, Government has often been criticised for its draconian approach to preventing the spread of the virus. President Cyril Ramaphosa placed the country into lockdown on March 24, 2020, and more than 500 days later, we are only now at Adjusted Level 1 of our response.

This means that a lot of employees are returning back to their offices after months of spending time at their home offices/cubicles. It was a challenge for companies to engage with remote workers, it will be equally challenging to re-engage workers who may be feeling that they cannot cope with yet more disruption.

Whether you are a Blue-chip company, or a distressed company, employee engagement is the common denominator of success. I recently read an article on The Business Journals website which highlights the value of this engagement.

Let’s start with the most important component of your organizational structure. Culture will either support your growth or be the Achilles’ heel of your business.

There are leaders who don’t have a firm grasp on their culture. They fail to realize culture is the stimulus maximizing performance. It’s the oxygen a fire needs to support combustion. And the “culture oxygen” is a critical component driving success.

The article points out that culture contains many elements: values, beliefs, informal employee conversations, the actions of leaders, organizational strategies, blind spots, change, employee attitudes, and a myriad of other factors can also come into play. The complexity of culture demands you study and understand its makeup. It’s always there either helping or hindering progress.

The nemesis of culture is inconsistency — saying one thing then demonstrating another. A company’s website says its culture places a top priority on integrity and compliance. Their leaders must always support or act in a way that is consistent with these priorities.

Failing to do so will not cause anything good to happen. To keep employees engaged, know what you stand for and always be willing to take that stand.

Engaged employees increase productivity and profitability
Photo By: Canva

The article adds that this is the breakfast of champions. No personal progress occurs without feedback. We need information to confirm our actions as the right move. We need information to make necessary changes.

Employees want to know where they stand. They want to know what their manager thinks about their contribution. Athletes have a coach who moulds their performance into a winning strategy. Managers are employee coaches responsible for moulding their performance.

Honest feedback is the only path managers can take. Its important managers have facts. Hearsay doesn’t work. An honest assessment of performance is the desired conclusion. When managers fail in this responsibility, employees can become disillusioned and disengaged. Then, their contributions are less than sterling and everyone loses.

The article points out that this is not the same as providing feedback on performance. It’s about how a manager converses on a day-to-day basis.

Is the tone condescending? Is it threatening? Neither of these approaches will work for long. Leaders need to be civil yet straight-forward. They must make it a two-way conversation. It’s not “my way or the highway.”

A courteous but caring approach works. At times, a stern approach might be the action to take. But if you dialog in a civil manner, employees will respond. Then a sterner approach may not be necessary.

The article adds that taking this approach helps to maintain engagement. Share your wisdom and help employees become more proficient. This type of frequent conversation is a sure-fire method to keep employees engaged.

Authority comes with position. Only depending on authority to get things going is a losing strategy. The actions of a leader can trigger personal inspiration and grow followers. The leader who is able to trigger influence gets things done.

The article points out that pull works better than push. Influencing leaders are like a magnet attracting metal particles to its surface. Influence with a caring approach is a long-term winning tactic. It’s an influence that keeps employees engaged and productive.

It is important for business consultants to point out that Life is not static. It’s an ever-changing process. So is the workplace.

The article points out that managers need skills that will help them deal with change. One of the best ways to combat change is to share information on organizational reality. It’s the unknown information that causes rumours to flourish. Then rumours become the rudder propelling discontent and erroneous information.

To make change work, inform and involve employees. Engage them in the process and make them part of the solution. An engaged employee will make change smoother. A disengaged employee can become an obstacle, preventing progress.

Studies have shown that accurate predictions can create the habits and mindset that yield success.

Imagine the mindset and habits employees develop in such an exciting environment. They are always working towards what can be. It’s stimulating. Who could disengage in such a creative atmosphere?

Skills / talents
The article points out that matching job needs with employee skills is engagement glue. We all like to do what we have the ability to do. I will not enjoy playing baseball if I have no skills in this sport. It’s the same in the work environment. It’s true, matching skills and talents to a job doesn’t guarantee success — but it does offer a stronger possibility of producing great performance.

Maximize your hiring practices to explore applicant skills for a job opening. Other attributes, like attitude, are more difficult to match to a position. Use your “awareness antenna” for clues. The odds do favour a close match working in your favour. The result? A more engaged employee.

Strong leadership is key in employee engagement
Photo By: Canva

The article adds that managers willing to take the low road can demoralize employees. Fair treatment, honesty and integrity are still important. There may be occasional ebbs of unacceptable societal behaviours, but it’s strong character that still wins the day.

We want straight talk, not leanings towards being a liar. A shady approach creates a dark cloud of deceit where trust disintegrates. A moral character in leadership produces consistency of behaviours. And it is the latter that enables employees to be comfortable. It’s discomfort that produces disengagement.

The article points out that few employees are disinterested in earning more responsibility and pay. However, there are some only wanting a good payday and minimum responsibility. But I challenge the thought that this type of employee is fully engaged.

Ambition, talent and a desire to rise through the ranks are motivators. Employees with this mindset, if given the opportunity, will become valuable contributors. Organizational leaders should keep an eye out for employees displaying these characteristics. They are engaged.

Start from the bottom
There is a common belief in the business rescue industry that business rescue is triage for a distressed company. Often measures such as a changing of the guard – when it comes to management – and introducing increased levels of responsibility when it comes to financial management and financial reporting are short term fixes. The longer-term fixes are implemented in the company’s overall turnaround plan.

To me, the business rescue process is akin to hitting the reset button. Distressed companies very seldom return to profitability following the same steps and methodology that caused their distress in the first place. New management will come in with grand ideas about how they will transform the company. The secret is getting employees to buy-in to the process.

Remember, the products and services that a company produces/provides may be the company’s money maker. However, this money is only as bountiful as the level of engagement that the employees executing these services or producing these products are experiencing.