by Derek Irvine
I appreciate a good analogy, especially when it comes to terms that can be defined in multiple ways. Employee engagement and alignment are a good example. Here’s a brilliant analogy from a local business journal:
“Employee engagement is essential to an organization’s success, and alignment is arguably even more important. As an example, consider a 400-meter relay race. The winning team carries the baton past the finish line first. The direction of the finish line represents alignment between employees and the organization’s vision and goals. The speed of each runner is akin to engagement. To win, every runner in the team must run fast (i.e. be engaged with the organization) but also run in the direction of the next runner or the finish line (i.e. be aligned).”
This is quite illustrative of how the power of thanks aligns employees with what we need them to do again and again (through frequent, timely recognition of precisely those actions and behaviors) and to engage them in the greater goal (when that recognition helps them link daily behaviors to the big picture).
Think of the alternatives:
1) Highly engaged, but unaligned employees
Attributes: They work hard and are excited to contribute to success, but are spending their time on all the wrong things. These employees often appear as high-potentials who struggle to get clarity on priorities.
Risks: They can burn out very quickly because they don’t see their efforts having a significant or valuable impact on greater goals. Because they can’t get the clarity or direction they need, they feel like they’re spinning their wheels.
What to Do: Management needs to step up to provide prioritization of projects to keep to turn these high-potentials into high-performers. Social recognition tied to your company’s core values and strategic objectives is also very effective as an ongoing reinforcing tool to help these employees realize how their efforts contribute to achieving the bigger priorities.
2) Highly aligned, but disengaged employees
Attributes: They know what they should be doing, they simply choose not to. In best case scenarios, they understand and agree with priorities strategic initiatives, they just don’t know how their work contributes to it. In worst case scenarios, they are actively working against your organization with subtle forms of project sabotage such as delaying project deliverables or hording knowledge.
Risks: They have an abundance of stored up potential, but seemingly no effective outlet for it.
What to Do: For worst case scenario employees, there can be coaching and performance improvement plan type activities to eliminate their negative behaviors. But if those mitigating steps don’t work, then the difficult step of termination may need to be taken. The good news is these types of employees are few and far-between. For the majority of employees in this category, helping them see how valuable they and their efforts are to the team can often do wonders to restore engagement. Again, social recognition from peers and leaders alike, works well to communicate this message of personal value and important contributions.
Think about yourself or your team members? Which category do you find yourself or those around you – highly engaged/unaligned; highly aligned/disengaged; highly aligned/highly engaged?
About Derek Irvine
The VP of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their organizations. As a renowned speaker and co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and "Winning with a Culture of Recognition," he teaches companies how to use recognition to proactively manage company culture. Derek holds a B.Comm and Masters of Business Studies from the Smurfit Graduate Business School at University College Dublin.