We knew something was different from the moment we walked through the door. Unlike other visits to this fast-food chain, this day’s visit was no lackluster transaction. The door had barely closed behind us when we heard a cheerful “Hi there! How are you folks doing today?” Startled, we looked up to find Tammy behind the counter greeting us with bright eyes and a warm smile. It was as if she had been standing there all day, just waiting for us to arrive, and she took our order with a gusto and flair rarely witnessed in this environment.
She cheerfully took our order, offered the obligatory up-sales along the way, and actually COUNTED BACK our change (a skill that seems to be lost in today’s retail world). Because our fries would take a couple of minutes, she asked for our name and suggested that we be seated until they called us back up for the remainder of the order. We gladly obliged. In what felt like a blink, Tammy was out in the lobby delivering our lunch with sincere apologies for the wait. The funny thing is – I believe she really meant it. This wasn’t some “script” she was following because she had to – she was truly serving us because she wanted to. The difference is pronounced.
We ate lunch quickly and resumed our travels; however I found myself reflecting on that simple interaction many times in the days that followed. Tammy took pride in her work, and it showed. That level of service is what builds loyalty and repeat customers, two critical factors to her company’s success.
I can’t help but wonder: What would happen if every restaurant worker, postal carrier, accountant, receptionist, doctor, consultant, engineer, and delivery person demonstrated enthusiasm for a job well done? How might that impact our companies? Our reputation? Our profitability? Our legacy?
The term “Employee Engagement” has gained notoriety among management thought leaders in recent years. Although there is no standard definition, it is generally accepted that employee engagement is the “emotional connection” an employee has to an organization and its goals. Engaged employees feel a close attachment to their work, both personally and professionally. They get more than just a wage or salary from their work and are attached to the values, ethics, and actions of the organization.
Engaged employees like Tammy are worth their proverbial weight in gold. Unfortunately, they represent only 29% of the workforce according to a recent study conducted by MSW Research and Dale Carnegie Training. The research surveyed 1500 employees nationally, and found that 26% of those surveyed are actively “disengaged” at work and almost half (45%) are only “partially” engaged. A copy of the full report can be downloaded here.
The impact of this disengagement can be devastating, affecting morale, productivity, profitability and long-term viability of a company. Although there are countless resources available on the topic, there is no quick fix to the problem. A process to recruit and hire great talent at the front end is paramount. However retaining them over time will require an investment of time and energy. Fortunately, there are some very simple things business owners and managers can do to help foster higher engagement in their organizations. Following are four ideas to consider:
- Be Available. Losing a connection to your people is a path to disaster. Even if you can’t communicate face-to-face on a regular basis, make it a point to reach out to your people on an ongoing basis – not just when you need something.
- Be Responsive. Although you can’t always deliver what people want to hear, DO have the tough conversations, and be timely. Answer their questions, respond to their emails, and return their calls. Naturally, you need to honor your own time and commitments, but do respond to your people. This shows you value their input and builds your credibility as a leader.
- Be Sincere. When communicating with your team, be aware of what your body language says about you. Look people directly in the eyes. Allow them to finish their sentences. Don’t interrupt. Don’t look at your watch, your phone, your computer screen or the person over their shoulder. Make people feel important by giving them your time, even if just for a short moment.
- Be Appreciative. There’s an old adage that says ‘Once I did bad and that I heard ever. Twice I did good and that I heard never.’ As managers of people, it is critical to look for things that your people are doing RIGHT, and acknowledge them for it. This strengthens your relationship and builds trust. When hard days arrive – and they always do – people are much more open to correction and coaching if the relationship is built on a strong foundation.
These four steps are certainly common sense – but not always common action.
Photo Credit: free clip art from MS office
Susan Dooley is a Leadership Coach with Dale Carnegie Training of Southeast Michigan, and a frequent contributor to eBootCamp.