Enthusiasm drives employee engagement…and innovation

As much talk and attention innovation gets, the topic of employee engagement isn’t far behind. And with good reason, the latest report from Gallup concluded that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work. Damn!

But Gallup also points out that companies with engaged employees outperform those without by up to 202%, so there’s something we can learn from organizations with highly engaged employees.

It’s important that we must make a distinction here, for an engaged employee is not a satisfied employee. The point being that just because companies post pictures and videos of their employees having fun doesn’t mean that they are also satisfied with their work.

With that said, the following thread on Quora caught my attention because the person responding indicated why she was both engaged and satisfied with her work: Why are so many people content with just earning a salary and working 9-6 their entire adult life?

During some of the years I worked for Nike I was the leader of the global product safety and compliance team. We were responsible for reducing product risks and hazards and ensuring that the products complied with all applicable regulations in the countries where they were sold.

During those years Nike was selling 300,000,000 pairs of shoes every year. Three hundred million. It’s more now. Some of them were children’s shoes (more tightly regulated than adult shoes in many countries). That doesn’t take into account the apparel with reflective features so that drivers can see runners after dark, ensuring the absence of drawcords from the necks of children’s apparel, the work we did educating designers and developers about how to create safer products, or many other things we did.

When you can have a part in making products safer for hundreds of millions of people all over the world, that is immensely satisfying work, especially when you are part of a team of smart, engaged, creative, diligent professionals (chemists, engineers, risk managers) who are just as committed to the task as you are.

I have changed the world. I didn’t need to write an app or move to Silicon Valley to do it. People in ordinary-sounding (to you) day jobs change the world EVERY SINGLE DAY.

The fact that you don’t see it says more about you than it does about them.

The person who responded this questions used to work at Nike, which is an extremely innovative company in its own right. A company that plays a big role in people’s lives, a company that has a larger purpose than any one person. So her response isn’t surprising!

In her response she points out a few things most innovative organizations have in common: The most innovative companies attract the best and brightest simply because they have a large stake in creating the future. They bring out the best in people. In other words, it generates genuine excitement to be a part of something like that.

And that’s the key, enthusiasm!

emotions that lead to employee engagement

Most organizations are not like this. The most excitement they generate is they can provide a paycheck to someone. Beyond that, they all share the same sets of problems most innovative organizations don’t have: no career growth, no mentoring, meaningless assignments, poor communication and no recognition.

The end result is most employees in non-innovative organizations are actively looking for their next job, sleepwalking through their workday and being completely disengaged from their work; and much less being satisfied with it.

As an organization looking to get their employees excited, engaged and satisfied with their work, how do you counter this?

Much like innovation is as much about attitude and perspective than about process, there isn’t a set-in-stone way to get employees engaged in their work. But, there are principles any organization can apply to inspire progress, while at the same time creating the conditions for innovation. For example, innovative organizations fulfill three things all people need to be engaged with their work: freedom, challenge and support.

Innovative organizations, like Nike, provide their employees with the freedom to try and fail, challenging goals and assignments, and the support to make ideas happen.

No doubt employee engagement hits the bottom line, so taking the time to understand what engages people is a leadership imperative. Learning from innovative organizations like Nike, Google, Amazon, Pixar, Rackspace and  Zappos, to name a few, is as good starting point for you.

Bottom line: Innovative organizations stand for something more than just “making money”, non-innovative organizations stand for more of the same. Innovative organizations also walk the talk when they say that their people are their most important asset, while non-innovative organizations treat their employees like replaceable parts.