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Employee Engagement - 'Leveraging Uniqueness'

Corporate exec, author and professional speaker Eddie LeMoine discussed employee-engagement issues during TRSA's Aug. 29-31 Canadian Plant Tours and Roundtable. 

Success in business today depends as much – if not more so – on the strength of your staff as opposed to the quality of your customer base.

That was the key takeaway that Eddie LeMoine, a corporate exec turned author, speaker and educator, brought to a crowd of more than 100 TRSA members at the association’s Canadian Plant Tours and Roundtable on Aug. 29-31 in Toronto.

“In the future, what I think will happen is people that treat their employees well, they’re going to get customers,” said LeMoine, in a talk that combined jokes, personal anecdotes and demographic research in a funny, fast-paced presentation. “The customers will follow your employees. So the big challenge in the future and the big complication in the future … it’s not going to be for customers. It’s going to be for people.”

Sounds simple enough, but anyone who’s supervised one or more employees knows that fostering staff engagement in ways that facilitate the application of “discretionary effort” by staff isn’t easy.

LeMoine suggested that a central role for leaders is to send the message to all staff members – as well as suppliers and customers – that they are critical to the organization’s success. Convincing them on this point can deliver a payback in the form of extra effort. “What employee engagement means is inclusion and ‘co-creation,’” LeMoine said. “Everyone in the organization gets involved. Then it goes beyond the managers and it goes out into your suppliers. It goes out into your client base. And we look for something magical. We look for discretionary effort. Discretionary effort means when a person is at work, what they do makes a difference.”

Corporate leaders have a key role to play in encouraging employee engagement, LeMoine said. He cited model bosses of the past such as the “tyrannical” style corporate execs of the early 20th century as woefully unsuited to today’s employee base. Likewise the “selling style of leadership” exhibited by more recent execs such as Enron’s Kenneth Lay or Martha Stewart aren’t likely to deliver the magic of employee engagement either.

While each executive must articulate his or her own program for fostering employee support, LeMoine suggested a three-part approach that he says is workable for virtually any executive in any size enterprise. To wit, motivating employees requires supervisors to:

  1. Know them
  2. Grow them
  3. Inspire them
     

A big hurdle in familiarizing yourself with employees in today’s age-diverse workplace is to get a handle on the different attitudes associated with various generations such as baby boomers (born roughly 1948-’64); Gen Xers (born roughly 1965-’84) and especially the fast-growing Gen Y category (born roughly 1985-’94). LeMoine elaborated on each group and its various traits, such as the multitasking skills of the Gen Y cohort and the baby boomers’ formidable work ethic and preoccupation with punctuality. While this type of background information can heighten awareness of age distinctions among each cohort, it’s no substitute for taking the time to get to know people that aren’t of your age group, he said “We have to learn the language of the generation that we’re not,” he said. “I want you to appreciate the values and beliefs of the other generation because … you’re not going to change them. You’re not going to change a 25-year-old any more than we’re going to change a 60-year-old. We are who we are and it’s who we have at our workplace, so how do we figure out how we all work together a little better?”

A related challenge for managers is matching employee skills and interests to the jobs available to them in ways that advance both career and corporate goals. LeMoine shared an anecdote about his brother-in-law to illustrate this issue. The in-law worked in the Western oil fields and he loved operating heavy machinery there. But the management at his company moved him around to different supervisory and training positions. This filled their short-term needs, but reduced the brother-in-law’s satisfaction to the point where he ultimately left the position for another job where he could do the work he enjoyed: running heavy machinery. “Lots of times we promote people into positions that are not the things they want to do,” LeMoine said.  “The only way you’ll know what that person’s strength is, is to sit down and have that conversation with them. So then you know exactly what it is that they want to do when they come into your organization.”

By extension, organizational growth requires aligning the staff skills so that they match up with and complement the goals of your company. That gives everyone a clear focus on success. When this alignment happens, career satisfaction boosts corporate expansion in a virtuous circle. “We grow people in our organization by finding what’s unique about that person,” LeMoine said. “And we leverage that uniqueness.”