How to REALLY Make Your Employees Your Greatest Asset

I work with a lot of small business owners.  Not only that, but many of my friends are small business owners.  And one of the most common complaints I hear from them is that their employees don’t “Think like we do” or “They don’t seem to come up with new ideas” or “They just aren’t as into the business as I’d like them to be.”  These may come off as complaints, but when you are face to face with these CEOs, what’s clear is that this is something that makes them sad.  I don’t have any other word for it.  iStock_000006951680XSmall

On the employee side of the equation,  how many times have you heard or read “Our employees are our greatest asset”?  As far as I’m concerned, this is probably the most laughable line in business.  It’s something that many businesses SAY, but many of their employees don’t experience.  Having been an employee, I found these phrases laughable because the corporate decisions always appeared to be more focused on profits and making money (not that that there’s anything wrong with that) at the expense of employees.  I say this because it always seemed like when there were costs to cut, the employees always ended up getting the cutting end of the deal.

Profits and happy employees are not mutually exclusive!

One statistical truth is that engaged employees make for profitable companies.  So how is a company supposed to get at what engages employees?  More importantly, what’s a good way to start making decisions around discovering what the obstacles are to having engaged employees and then how to break those obstacles down so that your employees feel like they are part of the team.

Leave it to the Gallup Organization to come up with a way to not only measure employee engagement, but to find the correlation to thriving profitable companies.  They call it the Gallup Q12 survey.

The Gallup Organization has been measuring and studying what makes companies profitable for decades.  Their research which includes data from hundreds of thousands of companies and employees worldwide shows that more than 70% of American employees aren’t working to their full potential!  Not only that, but their lack of engagement is actually SLOWING our economic growth and recovery.

Reading this, you might think that it’s all the fault of the employee.  I would say that this is not so.  Having lived through this transition that started in the early 1980s, I’d say that it was a simple by product of cost cutting decisions that came up during the economic downturn that started in the late 70’s with the energy crisis, the slow but steady layoffs that came as American manufacturing became less competitive and the desperate need for corporations to build and maintain profitability.

This was a result of the break in the psychological contract between employers and employees.  The contract was a simple one; be a loyal and dedicated employee and you will have a job for life.  This transitioned into; get a degree and you’ll find a good job where you can start right after college and retire after 40 years.  And today — well, we know what it is today; good luck finding and keeping a job.

As a result, today’s employees are in it to win it.  Job hopping is perceived as a good thing; gathering and learning skills along the way and then leaving one company to join another and put those skills to use.  Then grabbing new skills along the way to leave and put those skills to use someplace else.  If a company is going to be in it for themselves – what would you expect employees to do?!

Gallup Q12 is BIG on human relations

Enough of the rant.  I told you all this so that you can understand that context from which the Gallup Q12 Survey operates.  Engaging customers and employees is the “magic bullet” so to speak.  But to do that, you have to set a baseline.  And this is the benefit of the Gallup Q12 — it gives you the intellectual starting point from which to start your employee engagement program.

Here are the 12 questions in the survey:

1) Do you know what is expected of you at work?
2) Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?
3) At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
4) In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
5) Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
6) Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
7) At work, do your opinions seem to count?
8) Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
9) Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
10) Do you have a best friend at work?
11) In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
12) In the last year, have you had opportunities to learn and grow?

One of the first things you’ll notice about the survey is how qualitative the questions are.  You might wonder why it matters if your opinion counts or if you have a best friend at work — kind of sounds like coddling doesn’t it?

Maybe so.  But you can count on the fact that Gallup has searched and researched this thing six ways from Sunday and THIS is what matters to employees.  After all, employees are people and people are not computers or machines.  Today’s work is more knowledge based and knowledge based work demands knowledge based employee relations.

How do you process this data?

I’ve been looking at the Gallup Q12 for several years and one of my big questions was — how do you process this kind of qualitative data, track it and make changes?  Typically, we run surveys, generate numbers to three decimal places and then publish a report.  If you were to do that with the Q12 — I don’t think you’d get a full picture of what was really going on.  So I went looking for people who had actually taken the survey as employees and I was pleasantly surprised to hear how it worked.

The survey is really nothing more than a starting off point for discussions.  Employees take the survey and then those results are processed.  Instead of just publishing the results, each manager gets results for their team and then shares those results in small groups.  The interaction might look something like this:

“In our team only 20% feel like their opinions count.  Let’s talk about this.  What are some behaviors or examples that let you know or make you feel like your opinions count? ”

You can see how this might work.  People can give examples of what’s working and then the group can generate specific behaviors that managers can put in place to increase engagement on this level.  You can also see how critical it is that a company resolves this issue.  Think about it — if employees don’t feel comfortable in sharing their opinions, what kind of impact will that have on problem solving, or generating new ideas?

Now it’s your turn — we’ve re-created a Gallup Q12 Survey here — give it a shot and see how you rate against some of our other readers:

Ivana Taylor is the publisher of DIYMarketers and the President of Third Force, a strategic marketing firm. She's the marketing expert and book editor for Small Business Trends and a frequent contributor to AMEX Open Forum.

Posted in Best Practice

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