By Craig A. Waldron
One of the biggest problems we face in the public sector is the engagement of our employees. An engaged employee is defined as an employee whose interests coincide with the city’s interests. When you have an engaged employee, you have a super employee!
These are employees who are very satisfied with the essence of their work and believe they are contributing to the organization. They feel an emotional attachment to the city and agree with the values and the vision of the organization. They take great pride in their work and constantly go the proverbial extra mile.
The realm of employee engagement becomes even more difficult in the public sector. I would argue that the roles of employees in the public sector are much more complex. We do our business in the open, we answer to many stakeholders, and we operate in tough political environments that can change every two years. Finally, we have many goals (equity, quality of life, efficiency, equality) versus the profit motive that is the clear direction in the private sector.
Why engagement matters
So why should we worry about employee engagement? As Robert Lavinga, author of Engaging Government Employees, points out, engaged employees have:
It should also be pointed out that in these days of intense competition for talent, engaged employees are 2.5 times more likely to recommend their workplace to others. This becomes particularly critical when considering that the cost of replacing an upper-level employee is often estimated at four times their annual salary.
Steps to improved engagement
If this is such a crucial issue for our cities, what can we do? The most effective employee engagement plans I have observed in cities appear to be multi-step, yet straightforward processes. The most critical element in all phases of any engagement effort involves extensive and ongoing communication.
The first step entails forming an effective engagement team. This team needs to be made up of your highest performers, who will support your overall effort and are committed to enhancing engagement. They should also be a representative mix of the overall organization. Again, it is critical to communicate to all employees that the organization is moving forward with this engagement effort, what the effort is all about, and what outcomes are expected. Once that is clear, you can move to the second phase.
The second phase involves the preparation of an engagement survey to help with understanding the current status within your organization, the level of engagement that already exists, and what needs to be done to improve engagement. Through this effort, you will get an assessment of your strengths as well as your engagement weaknesses. You may want to consider an outside organization to actually conduct the survey to ensure a level of confidence and trust within your organization.
The next phase involves an extensive analysis of the survey results, which are shared with the whole organization. At this point, you develop an aggressive strategy to address what was learned in your survey. This will give you a detailed action plan that includes long-term and short-term recommendations and solutions.
The next step is to implement your detailed action plan. At this point, it is critical that you move forward with the execution of your plan and recruit the help of your internal engagement team to make this happen. And remember, along the way, to continue communicating plans to all employees.
You may also want to read The 4 Disciplines of Execution, by Chris McChesney and Sean Covey. This book is one of the best works that I have seen on implementation.
Your action plan will have the tasks spelled out, who is responsible, the timeline, and how the success of each task is measured. It is absolutely critical that those who are expected to complete the task be held accountable.
An example would state that we are going develop brown bag educational lunches for assistant supervisors that focus on out-of-the-box leadership. The action plan would state that the city manager is responsible for the task, and the lunches will be held on a quarterly basis. A participant survey will test the effectiveness of the sessions and seek suggestions for continuous improvement.
City attributes for success
Lavinga has shown that this generalized approach can be quite successful and will tend to work in a city that has the following attributes:
In addition to the aforementioned items, the Harvard Business Review has referenced a number of other critical items that help ensure employee engagement. It says employee engagement is strengthened when the organization’s leaders:
Craig A. Waldron is co-director of the Center for Public Administration and Leadership at the Hamline University School of Business. The Hamline School of Business (www.hamline.edu/business) is a member of the LMC Business Leadership Council (www.lmc.org/sponsors).
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