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Hammering rocks—or building cathedrals?

Bob Hills //August 17, 2011//

Hammering rocks—or building cathedrals?

Bob Hills //August 17, 2011//

I’m sure that you have all heard the story about a man that came across three masons who were working at chipping chunks of granite into large blocks. When the man asked each mason what they were doing the first replied, “I’m hammering this stupid rock”, the second replied, “I’m molding this block so it can be used with others to construct a wall”, and the third replied, “I am building a cathedral.”

No doubt the third mason is the most engaged in his work – he is working with more passion and feels a strong connection to the company’s purpose.

How many employees in your organization are “building cathedrals” versus “hammering rocks”? The difference is determined by the level of “employee engagement”. An actively engaged individual significantly contributes to the company’s success while attaining high personal satisfaction in their role. Personal satisfaction will vary from individual-to-individual but typically includes the individual’s opportunity to apply their talents, receiving recognition for their work, and the ability to learn and grow.

Simply put, engaged individuals like their work, do it well, and help achieve the company’s goals.

Employee engagement can be a differentiator for your business. Actively engaged employees are customer-focused, produce high-quality results and are highly productive. This leads to high customer loyalty, more discretionary effort and greater profitability for your business. Sadly, in a typical company today, only three-in-ten employees are actively engaged in their jobs (according to a recent study by BlessingWhite). However, companies that actively address employee engagement have been able to improve on that ratio.

Addressing employee engagement isn’t as simple as a human resource initiative; it involves the broader business culture and methodology. Many elements employed to strengthen strategy-execution alignment in your business will directly influence employee engagement in your organization. Here are a few foundational elements that apply to both:

Accountability – Top-performing businesses focus on outcomes. They define and deliberately measure success at every level in the organization. These measures ultimately help focus each person, team, and department on driving performance and results.

Empowerment – The best way to maximize individual contribution is through empowerment. Empowerment is balancing the rights of the individual to be involved in decisions that affect them and the responsibilities of self-leadership – figuring out the best, most effective way to get the job done. In general, people are much more motivated to support what they help define and create.

Participation – Beyond empowerment, providing individuals the opportunity to apply their talents and knowledge is a powerful motivator. An overall business process that regularly invites individuals to share or apply their expertise will more naturally produce engaged employees. Areas for participation beyond normal assignments might include providing input to strategic and operational planning, contributing to new initiatives or simply setting and measuring their own personal objectives.

Communications – In high-performing businesses, there is a cultural alignment between the employees and the company (values), combined with a strategic alignment between the activities of all individuals and the company goals (operational plans). Communications from every level of the organization, tops-down and bottoms-up, is essential for strategy-execution alignment and high employee engagement.

Instilling these foundational elements into your organization is a win-win proposition for your business and your employees. These elements enable strategy-execution alignment while actively engaging every individual in the organization. Engaged individuals contribute more to the business while getting more satisfaction from their jobs. This, in turn, enables your business to reach its goals more reliably and quickly.

Like changing the foundation on any existing structure, the effort required to transform accountability, empowerment, participation and communication in your organization should not be underestimated. In many companies, this represents a fundamental shift in company culture. Like a strategy-execution methodology, employee engagement is something that has to be inherent across the organization for it to be effective.

Everyone in your organization has a “hammer”. But how are they being used – to just “hammer rocks”, to “provide blocks for walls” or to “build cathedrals”? The more people who are engaged in “building cathedrals,” the more and bigger “cathedrals” your business can build.
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