From engagement to effectiveness: In search of excellence

Monday, 6 December 2010 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

We looked at the essence of engaging employees. We identified engaged employees as the engine of an enterprise. We also looked at making employee engagement right by having a recipe of 10 Cs.

Having discussed all that, one may get the false impression that employee engagement is the panacea for all corporate illnesses. The truth is far from it. Employee engagement should be appropriately blended to achieve results. It is a move from engagement to effectiveness, in true search of excellence.

Excellence is all about being exceptionally good. When applied to enterprises, it involves exceptional achievements in a consistent manner. It was 28 years ago, that Tom Peters and Robert Waterman wrote the bestselling book, ‘In Search of Excellence’. They revolved their case for excellence around eight key themes. They can be summarised as follows:

1.    A bias for action – active decision making – ‘getting on with it’. Facilitate quick decision making and problem solving tends to avoid bureaucratic control

2.    Close to the customer – Learning from the people served by the business.

3.    Autonomy and entrepreneurship – Fostering innovation and nurturing ‘champions’.

4.    Productivity through people – Treating rank and file employees as a source of quality.

5.    Hands-on, value-driven – management philosophy that guides everyday practice – management showing its commitment.

6.    Stick to the knitting – Stay with the business that you know.

7.    Simple form, lean staff – Some of the best companies have minimal indirect staff.

8.    Simultaneous loose-tight properties – Autonomy in shop-floor activities plus centralised values.

Though time has passed by, the validity of their findings remains still high in terms of acting as pointers. These pointers inspire us to think and act with focused efforts towards excellence. As Peters and Waterman reflected in 2001, to mark the 20th anniversary of their seminal work, it was all about organisation and people. How best to utilise people to achieve organisational objectives. I would see that as a challenge in connecting engagement with effectiveness.

Figure 1 offers interesting insights in this regard. As figure 1 shows, there is another ‘E’ that has come to the scene, which is employee enablement. Employee enablement deals with matching people with positions. It is to ensure that the motivated employees, who are highly engaged, are at the right position with right resources, and with right level of authority of decision making. It deals with the organisational support, in the form of structure and resources. Also, it encompasses a vast array of facets ranging from job design to performance standards, where HR professionals have a vital role to play.

In brief, engagement is all obtaining the right level of passion from people. Enablement is about giving the right position to the people. Both will ensure the right person achieving the right results using the right amount of resources in the right period of time producing right results. That is what excellence is all about.

There is ample proof for such an endeavour. According to a cross-industry analysis done by Hay Group in 2009 with more than 400 companies across the globe, interesting patterns could be seen. The organisations who scored highest (top quartile) in employee engagement demonstrated 2.5 higher revenue growth compared to that of those who scored the lowest (bottom quartile). The organisations in the top quartile on both engagement and enablement, showed 4.5 times higher results, highlighting the joint contribution.

The combined effect of engaging and enabling employees is the employee effectiveness. The achievement of objectives in performing up to the expectations, which legendary Peter Drucker called “doing the right things”. Effective employees contribute to the achievement of results in a balanced manner in line with the Balanced Scorecard pioneered by David Kaplan and Robert Norton of Harvard Business School, in early nineties. The four facets of financial, customer, processes and people are all integrated, interrelated and interwoven, in demonstrating the path towards excellence.

The argument here is quite straightforward. As Prof. Uditha Liyanage simplified it, Balanced Scorecard in essence, is all about, wanting, getting, giving, doing and having. It deals with “wanting” to reach the desired dream (vision and strategy), by “getting” the returns (financial perspective), by “giving” the products and services (customer perspective), by “doing” the work (internal process perspective), by “having” the right people (people perspective) as interconnected aspects. This is depicted in figure 2.

To zoom deeper into the “have” aspect or the people perspective, employee engagement coupled with enablement, leading to effectiveness appear as essential ingredients. It aptly demonstrates the way forward to achieve “humane results”.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a Senior Faculty Member and a Management Consultant attached to the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura. He also serves as an adjunct faculty in International Human Resource Management at the Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma, USA. He has over two decades of both private and public sector working experience in diverse environments including Unilever and Nestlé. He has engaged in consultancies in more than 10 countries. He is a Commonwealth AMDISA Doctoral Fellow and Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow. He holds a Ph.D. and an MBA from the Postgraduate Institute of Management, University of Sri Jayewardenepura and a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Moratuwa. He is also a member of the Chartered Management Institute, UK.)

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