Monday, October 24, 2016 - 16:11

By AIM Education & Training

While better products, services, strategies and technologies can provide an initial competitive advantage, they can be copied over time. An engaged workforce, on the other hand, is a sustainable competitive edge that can lead to significant returns on investment, company value and long-term stability.

There is a famous joke that tells of a CEO being asked how many people work in his company, to which they reply: "About half of them". While it tends to elicit laughter, it's ironically indicative of the state of employee engagement in the world today.

A constant worry for management staff is the significant number of people who have mentally, and sometimes physically, checked out while at work. Clearly, it's an important concern for CEOs and for good reason. While Rome wasn't built in a day, it was also not built by wasting time, effort and resources.

Kenexa's Work Trends Report found the UK's military was heavily engaged, leading it to receive a score of 75 per cent on the employee engagement index. A result significantly higher than other sectors, including banking (42 per cent) and the food industry (46 per cent).

Andrew Jackson, vice president of government solutions at Kenexa and former chief of recruitment in the British Army, said leadership and training courses have a lot to do with it.

"The main reasons come from strong leadership. If you have inspiring leaders and are well led, then it can drive up engagement. The military is also extremely mission orientated so it sends out a clear message of what it wants from its employees."

Replicating the culture and level of engagement the armed forces experience is not something that can be done overnight, if at all. However, there is a way to implement changes that go to the heart of a business's engagement strategy. Engagement can be enhanced by facilitating communication up and down the organisational ladder.

When it comes to employee engagement, the US Army believes that understanding where you sit in relation to others within the organisation's hierarchy is essential to engage workers. Speaking to Kellogg Insight, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Colonel Brian Halloran said this process can have a profound impact on decision-making.

"When I get my assignment, I not only have to understand my mission," Halloran says. "I've got to understand my boss's mission - and my boss's boss's mission - and where my goals fit into that."

Not only does this stop short-sighted decisions, it works to increase communication pathways between employees and management. This can ensure strategic goals are aligned with employee work.

"When you're circulating and getting to know people in your organisation two levels down, you have a better flow of information," Halloran says. "You can make sure that people understand why certain tasks are being asked to be done, where it fits in the big picture, and how we're all actually going to benefit."

There is no better organisation to look to than the armed forces when it comes to employee engagement. Its commitment is encapsulated by the many methods and practices that maintain consistently high engagement ratings. Two up, two down is an example of this and is a lesson to commercial entities seeking higher productivity, revenue and ROI.

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