Five steps to being a strong company

Employee engagement will be your key to not only surviving this mess, but to coming out the other side in strong shape. NAOMI SIMSON

Naomi Simson

By Naomi Simson

This blog first appeared 3 October 2008

In challenging times, businesses cannot afford the luxury of unproductive staff. Every Australian business will be looking to cut costs as they negotiate the unknown waters of the next three months. But just cutting costs can be short sighted. Strong businesses will continue focus on people – having teams of “A” graders who are truly engaged.

Getting people more productive will have a much bigger impact more quickly than simply cutting the stationery or the Christmas party budget. Unproductive staff cost Australian businesses $32 billion a year (according to a Gallup organisation employee engagement study 2006). That’s three times the federal budget surplus and enough to comfortably build new hospitals, better rail networks, or reduce payroll tax.

Now is the time to reduce such a waste. To be competitive is to have a focused team of engaged employees, who are there for the long haul. In troubling times it is those that focus on their people that will be able to maximise the opportunities that will arise.

Employee engagement is becoming the holy grail of organisational success.

It’s a person’s emotional and intellectual commitment to an organisation. The key; capturing the hearts and minds of employees. The catch; finding out what inspires employees to make that extra discretionary effort. The pay offs; work becomes pleasurable, more productive and more profitable.

If you don’t catch the hearts and minds of your people, no amount of money will keep them long term – and when there is no cash to splash around and bonuses are non existent then smart companies are looking for alternatives.

Research by Hewitt suggests engaging staff is a challenge for many Australian businesses with the nation’s average engagement score only at 54%.

At RedBalloon we were recently awarded an engagement score of 97% by Hewitt Associates. We clearly practice what we preach – so I thought I would share with you some of what we do. Here are my top five steps to employee engagement.

1) Be nice. People are people – and we all like to be noticed and treated well. Simply noticing people’s contribution will make a huge difference. Everyone likes to feel they are doing a good job and that what they are contributing is making a difference.

People are people – and we all like to be noticed and treated well. Simply noticing people’s contribution will make a huge difference. Everyone likes to feel they are doing a good job and that what they are contributing is making a difference.

Anthony Grant, director of Coaching Psychology, University of Sydney, says high performing teams have five times the number of positive interactions than low performing teams. “This includes positive reinforcement and meaningful complements, saying thanks and ‘good job’.”

2) Right resources to get the job done. You’ve got to give people the tools to get the job done. By nature people do want to do a good job, but if they are stopped because they haven’t got the right resources then they are going to be far less productive. At RedBalloon it is a continual process of review… and learning. Even small things can make a big difference.

3) Inspiring leadership and individual autonomy. As a leader, you’ve got to tell it how it is; there is no point trying to dress things up. The people who can help the most to get you through tough times are your people. They’re the ones with more ideas on how to save or make money than you have.

Listening is an essential part of leadership, then being decisive and getting the whole organisation aligned to the single purpose, will make the biggest single difference to employee engagement. Grant says: “Good relationships work when people don’t feel the other person has a hidden agenda.” If businesses are to make a contribution toward the billions of dollars wasted each year due to unproductive and disengaged employees, they need to focus on leadership behavior to produce engagement results across their teams.

Human capital expert firm Sork HC works with numerous clients and says the main area of focus for sophisticated businesses today, beyond individual competency, is “leadership behavior that sets individuals, teams and organisations apart from the rest”. A third of people leave because of “bad management” – most say they were simply not noticed.

4) Saying thanks in an authentic way. Being noticed authentically is good, but people want to be noticed in different ways. This is not a one size fits all solution. Some prefer a quiet note from their direct boss, others prefer acknowledgement from their peers. But the thing to note is that according to Gallup, people will have forgotten the acknowledgement as little as seven days later.

So you have to do it regularly… and in a real way. Grant says: “If rewards come from higher up, they can be meaningless, like having a great distant auntie giving you a grey jumper, you think ‘this person doesn’t even know me’.”

5) Personalised, non-monetary rewards. Shared experiences produce relationships, they generate conversations, create memories and build emotional bonds; they are the currency of making dreams come true. Sork says: “Salary and remuneration is essentially regarded as compensation for minimum performance. Acknowledgement and recognition is a key ingredient or driver of discretionary effort.”

It does not have to cost a lot to be effective. In fact much of employee engagement is simply about making sure that people know what they are there to do in the day, that they have the tools to get the job done, that they are noticed for what they contribute, and they go home feeling like a winner.

If you do that, you will be on a winning formula – that will greatly enhance your competitive edge.


Naomi Simson is the founder and CEO (Chief Experiences Officer) of RedBalloon Days, Naomi is passionate about pleasure! Backed by enthusiasm, energy and drive and recently named one of Australia’s best bosses (Australia’s Marketing Employer of Choice), the Entrepreneurs Organisation (Sydney Chapter) President 2007 – 2008 and mother of two, Naomi also inspires others as a regular speaker, writes a blog and has recently completed her first book .

To read more Naomi Simson blogs, click here .



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