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How Coaching can improve Employee Engagement

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As we move out of the recession, many firms are trying to improve their productivity and regain their competitive advantage through increased employee engagement. This blog suggests that using a coaching technique can speed up this process.

What is ‘employee engagement’?

At its most basic level this is about helping your employees to engage more fully in your company, and that usually means you have to take some action, or do things differently.  It might be stating the obvious, but happy people work harder and healthy people take fewer days off sick. So an employer who can improve the health and happiness of their workforce will find that productivity will definitely improve, which should lead to greater profits.

Employee engagement happens when people feel that their job is sufficiently challenging, enjoyable and rewarding, and that they are considered to be a valued member of staff.  If people are listened to and given an opportunity to develop their knowledge and skills they are more likely to feel that they are cared about and therefore more likely to contribute their whole selves to the company.

A great example of good employee engagement is the UK key-cutting and shoe repair company Timpson, found in every high street. James Timpson, the Managing Director, knows that trying to micro manage staff in 1240 stores would be impossible to achieve, so Timpson made the brave step of allowing workers much more autonomy while helping all staff to feel they were part of the Timpson family. This (and some of their other initiatives) has paid dividends to the company and made the workforce much happier and more productive.

So how do I improve Employee Engagement?

Firstly take a long hard look at your company and decide whether your employees are already engaged and committed to the company.  Ask yourself these questions, and the answers may help you to evaluate just how engaged your people really are:

a)  who gets the credit for a good idea – is it the person who had the idea or is the credit snatched by their manager?

b)  do you trust your people to sort out a problem, or do you and your managers get involved every time?

c)  are you available to give advice and guidance to your staff if they need it, or are you always in meetings?

d)  do your senior managers take responsibility if things go wrong, or do they always blame others?

e)  do you say good morning to your staff, or walk straight past them?

If we look at the Macleod Review, published in 2009, we find that good employers do more of these four things:

1. Provide leadership which transmits vision and values how each individual contributes. This means that you must have a clear vision of where the company is going, how it’s going to get there, and how your employees fit into that vision. Then you need to make sure that you have communicated that vision to everyone in the company.

2. Give their employees a voice to express their views and concerns (and of course listen to them). This may include setting up discussion groups and attitude surveys, as well as getting rid of a blame culture.

3. Demonstrate a behaviour which is consistent with the company’s stated values, and this leads to trust and integrity. Trust can be lost in an instant if you start to say one thing and do another. For example, if your company proclaims that ‘our people are our greatest asset’ and ‘we value all our staff’, and yet you bully and intimidate members of staff, then it won’t take long for them to realise that your behaviour doesn’t match your fine words.

4. Train their line managers to empower rather than control their staff. Management training is crucially important to the success of your business, and yet it’s often overlooked; after all, everyone knows how to manage people, don’t they?  Way back in 1960, Douglas McGregor wrote about Theory X and Theory Y managers: Theory X managers think of their staff as naughty children who must be made to behave in a particular way, and Theory Y managers think their staff is full of bright, capable people who all want to do a good job.  Obviously Theory Y managers get much better results from their staff.

And how can Coaching help?

The coaching relationship starts from the premise that the person you are coaching, whether it is one of your managers, a supervisor or the newest member of the team, wants to do a good job. If you assume that your employee wants to be engaged with their work and committed to the company, then you can use coaching to help them to get there, and you can start to understand and remove the barriers to good employee engagement.

When you’re coaching someone to improve their performance you will probably start by setting out in clear detail exactly what you want that person to achieve, which means that you have to be clear about how their performance fits in with the company’s vision and values. You could then go on to ask them what support they need in order to achieve that specified performance.  And then you listen to the answer. When people feel listened to they will start to trust. If you then take some action based on their answer they will start to feel confident that your behaviour reflects your values.

Poor managers will often think that they are using coaching skills when in fact they are doing all the talking and very little listening.

But coaching skills, like most other management skills, need to be taught and understood – they will not simply spring from common sense.  So training your managers to be good coaches will go a long way towards improving your employee engagement.

About the author: Dr Anita Pickerden has been training and coaching leaders and managers for many years in both public and private sector organisations in the UK and overseas. She is also an associate lecturer, delivering courses on project management for the retail sector.

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