Why do some organizations successfully do more with less and improve their productivity over time, while similar organizations struggle?  

The differentiator may lie in an organization's ability to recognize the people factor in improvement. 

The real engine of change — and the secret behind the success of many organizations — is engaged teams who feel the drive to improve and succeed. 

Signs of Poor Employee Engagement

Generally speaking, humans want to improve. They like to make things better. Normalizing this behavior makes improvement your organization’s natural state. 

The strength of employee engagement within an organization has a significant impact on the success rate of change initiatives. It's easier to achieve positive change when your teams are excited and motivated. When teams feel powerless, they lack the motivation to drive change. The result is a weak process culture. 

While every business is different, the signs of a weak process culture are the same. People spend their days firefighting issues and problems. Little or no collaboration takes place amongst teams. Morale is low, and process and change initiatives frequently fail.

In companies with a weak process culture, the attitude towards process improvement and ownership is defeatist — processes aren’t working, but what can I do about it? I’m just a cog in the machine.

Invisible leadership is one of the biggest causes of a weak process culture, and poor employee engagement. Senior management may believe in the value of process and improvement, but they fail to clearly demonstrate support. Or worse, they verbalize their support but everyone knows it’s just lip service.

Introducing external experts can also hamper engagement by disenfranchising the true process owners — the employees on the ground.  

And complexity also plays a part — negatively impacting employee engagement and damaging growth, performance and innovation. A complex, confusing workplace leaves people feeling overwhelmed. Teams retreat into silos and focus on just getting the job done, rather than looking for ways to collaborate and improve the business.                                                                         

Teams need to feel motivated to drive change, simplify their work and to find better, faster ways of doing things. 

5 Steps to Improve Employee Engagement

Taking these five steps can improve employee engagement and drive a positive improvement culture:

1. Demonstrate active leadership

Get your leaders on board by proving there is an issue that needs addressing. Use evidence gathered from sources such as customer feedback or employee surveys to convince them it's time to take action. Then get out among the employees, encourage and gain true commitment for change. 

Assign a figurehead to communicate the vision to the organization, enabling people on the ground to act on improvement opportunities.

2. Empower the real process owners

Make process ownership real by establishing process owners and experts. Owners are the people with overall responsibility for the process operating effectively. The expert is the person who works with the process every day and knows it inside-out. Owners and experts must work in tandem.  

The people directly creating, selling or delivering products to customers are often in the best position to spot problems, solutions or suggest new techniques. Ideally, the person who incurs the problem should fix it when and where it happens. Not only can this lift team engagement, your chances of successfully resolving the issue will increase if teams are equipped and encouraged to act while the information is still fresh. 

Support teams with tools that make managing processes easy and you'll see engagement improve and processes come to life. Debate and act on suggestions for improvements to enable ongoing change and improvement.

3. Sustain momentum

To retain process improvement as a day-to-day priority, set up a structure and a schedule. Hold improvement opportunity workshops focused on problems and opportunities. Share ideas and encourage cross-fertilization between teams. 

Everyone needs to participate in these discussions, just as everyone needs to be involved in the drive for incremental change.

4. Provide useful, accessible process guidance

If process documentation is considered difficult to use by teams, they won’t use it. 

Meaningful guidance should help teams get it right, learn new processes and drive consistency across the organization. If it’s easy to understand and easy to use, teams will return to it again and again. Make process information available where and when teams need it by embedding it into tools they already use every day. 

5. Ongoing communication

Communication is critical to get and keep people involved, engaged and driving change. Celebrate successes, share information, keep it fun and establish a feedback loop.

The Building Blocks of Improvement and Engagement

For years the focus of process improvement has been on tools and methodologies, at the expense of harnessing the real engine of change — engaged teams who share a drive to improve and succeed. 

With the building blocks for a positive improvement culture in place, teams will feel incentivized to collaborate and innovate. And engaged teams armed with the right attitude can turn their efforts into real improvement for customers and for the bottom line.