Read the transcript: Kevin Kruse on employee engagement and productivity in the workplace
Last week I brought you an interview I had with Kevin Kruse, author of “We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement” and a keynote speaker at the 2011 RPO Summit. Kevin’s book serves as a guide to managers on how to properly approach employee engagement so as to have the best results possible for an organization.
Kevin and I talked about the obstacles that often stand in the way of implementing great employee engagement and productivity-enhancing practices and how a manager’s everyday interactions with employees can help keep them engaged.
Joel: Today I’m very fortunate to have caught up with Kevin Kruse. He’s the author of a new book called “We: How to Increase Performance in Profits Through Full Engagement.” Kevin gave a great keynote at the HRO Today Summit about the nature of engagement and the overall impact it has on an organization. He’s been kind enough to catch up with us. So first of all, Kevin, thanks so much for taking the time out of your schedule.
Kevin: Thanks for having me. Anything to get the word out, I appreciate it.
Joel: One of the things we discussed right before we came on the air was that a lot of organizations might know that what you write about is common sense, but they fail to implement it. So right out of the gate, what are some of the obstacles an organization encounters when they are trying to adopt what you’re talking about into how they’re managing their workforce?
Kevin: Well, Joel, it’s a good point. We all see the data that shows us that only about one out of three employees are fully engaged at work, and there’s about one out of three that are actively disengaged. The rest are somewhere in the middle. It’s a crisis, but of course it’s also an opportunity for businesses to get better.
One of the obstacles is that unfortunately too many senior leaders still don’t realize that this soft stuff on leadership engagement actually does yield amazing results. And if they look at the data behind it, there’s hard evidence that shows a direct one-to-one correlation between employee engagement and total shareholder return, growth, profits, all of that. But even the leaders that do get it often don’t realize that it has to become part of the culture, part of a daily leadership practice.
Employee engagement surveys are great, but one of the problems with them is that in too many organizations, it’s an annual event and they think, “Oh yeah, employee engagement? We’re on that. We do that survey once a year, and we make sure the managers get their scores and talk to their teams. We do that.”
But that means the manager has a cop out and can say, “Oh yeah, we’ll deal with engagement in that meeting that we do once a year.”
We still need to do those surveys, and probably need to do them more frequently, but we really need to make sure that frontline managers and frontline leaders realize it’s the little things every day that drive engagement.
Joel: That’s interesting. I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but would you say that it’s really the difference between managing your employees and leading your employees? Is that an element of this that would make an impact?
Kevin: That sums it up really well, Joel. It’s really easy for all of us to go into task mode. We all have more and more on our plate and overflowing inboxes and we’re doubled up on meetings, so that managers manage things generally. You manage tasks, you manage projects. You should not really be managing people. You should be leading people. And so with all these cuts, it’s harder than even before. But we need to wear two hats; we need to manage things and lead people. We need to be both task oriented, but also people oriented.
Joel: If I don’t even know where to begin … Well, obviously picking up your book would be a good start, right?
Kevin: Absolutely, that’s the best thing you can do, Joel! More than one copy as a matter of fact.
Joel: So let’s say I’ve done that, but I’m still flummoxed. I don’t know what my first step ought to be. What’s the one thing as a manager, as a leader of a team, I ought to do to go in the right direction?
Kevin: Yeah, it’s going to sound very simple. It’s not a secret, but it’s just not done that often. The one thing is talk to your team members one-on-one. Sit down with them, buy them a cup of coffee, call them into your office, take them out to lunch, whatever. Just be direct—How engaged are you at work? What could we be doing better to drive your engagement?
Engagement is individualized, so ask them what is it that’s going to make them really excited to come to work and stay productive all day. Our research shows that it’s often related to feelings of growth, feelings of recognition, or feelings of trust. So in this conversation, that’s the real secret. You can poke on those things:
“Hey, Joel, where do you want to be in five years? And what do you need to know? What kind of skills do you need to get there? How can I help you to get that?”
Make sure that you’re giving recognition to this person on a daily basis—when deserved, of course. Make sure that they trust the future path. You can just ask them. Start that conversation, even if you don’t have answers right away. Just having that conversation, they’re going to know that they count, that you care, that engagement is important. And that itself can make a big difference.
Joel: That’s fabulous advice. I even wrote it down myself for my own techniques that I use with my team: growth, recognition and trust. What I like about it is that it’s so foundational and so common but yet something we might fail to do on a day-to-day basis. Last question for you and it might be a little bit of a curve ball, but I need to ask it for the benefit of our readers. Given that the workforce is composed so differently today than it was even two years ago—where you have more contracted laborers on staff, where I’m outsourcing certain aspects, where I have a higher contingent workforce—can the discipline be applied across the different members of our workforce, or are there nuances, depending upon the type of employee that I’m leading?
Kevin: I think that’s a great question. I don’t have a definitive answer for it. I’ll tell you my own experience. I always had small to mid-sized companies, and we built flexible workforces in similar ways. We certainly had our core full-time, in-house employees, and we had employees who were full-time, but they worked remotely all around the world. And then we had contractors. Some were long-term contractors, others were part-timers. And then even our suppliers, our vendors for lack of a better word. What we did was even if you weren’t technically an employee, we wouldn’t give you the employee engagement survey, but we would reach out and ask how engaged were they with doing business with us?
I cared about our contractors and our flex workforce in the same way, so I felt it was just the extended family. And in fact, I can remember going toe-to-toe with some CFOs, because at holiday time at the end of the year, I would send gift baskets and other tokens of recognition and thanks to our vendors. And the CFOs would always come to me and say, “Wait a minute, these are freelancers. They should be sending you a gift basket. You gave them money, and they should be saying thank you to you.”
Well, maybe they should be sending it to me, but I should also send it to them, because they have choices. They could accept the next job or decline the next job. They could give us extra discretionary effort or not. They could decide to charge us for scope creep or let it slide. So I wanted to motivate them and engage them the same way we engage our own workforce. I think it’s harder when they’re not under one roof and they are working for maybe more than one company, but I think the same approach could apply.
Joel: I’m really glad to hear it, because we write a lot about that, and I think that the investments that you make there, like you said earlier in your talk, the soft stuff turns into the hard data, and that’s good stuff.
So again, we’ve been talking to Kevin Kruse. He’s the author of “We: How to Increase Performance and Profits Through Full Engagement.” His talk was fantastic. I think you can get a taste of that in this brief interview. I encourage you to check out the book, and check out Kevin at KevinKruse.com.
Kevin, thanks so much for your time.
Kevin: Thanks Joel.