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Employee Engagement

Two examples, Delta Airlines and Marlin Steel, demonstrate the power of employee engagement. These companies care about their employees, and, in return, their employees care about the company. The results speak for themselves. If employee engagement is this effective, why doesn't every firm apply the concept?

How can employee engagement be a solution to low revenues and marginal profits, now that after a recession we seem to be in an era of stagnant growth? Delta Airlines and Marlin Steel show how satisfied employees can contribute to the bottom line.

The principle is simple

  • Employees who care about the well-being of their firm are more likely to make suggestions and sacrifices to benefit their employer.
  • Employees who feel empowered are more satisfied with their jobs, as the empowerment provides them with direction and a feeling of being valuable contributors.

Results of employee engagement

Delta and MarlinDelta airlines created a profit-sharing program and rules of the road that set the tone for employee relations and compensation strategy. Delta rewards people for their perseverance in tough times and incentivizes them to help propel Delta into the future. This approach not only helped save Delta from bankruptcy, but also helped turn it into a consistently profitable airline.

Marlin Steel uses a matrix to incentivize people to get cross-trained in as many skills as possible, to give the company greater flexibility in responding to the ebb and flow of work. The more skills you have, the higher your salary. Over the past 15 years, relying on the ingenuity and motivation of their frontline employees resulted in a doubling of its workforce, while its sales increased sevenfold.

These examples demonstrate that to benefit from employee engagement, you have to turn it into outcomes that benefit your organization—not just rely on the principle for its own sake. And the way to do that is through innovation. In the end, it's the culture for innovation that has a sustainable positive effect on company revenues and profitability in times of slow economic growth. The engagement of employees is just one component of such a culture.

How it's done

Engaging employees is important, and the impact on your organization's performance can truly be significant and is well worth the effort, as Delta Airlines and Marlin Steel demonstrate. But without an innovation framework, employee engagement is going to be a costly and frustrating affair for everyone.

For employees to engage, they need to be enabled to do so. But just giving them time and resources does not lead to innovation since while these can benefit innovation, so can scarcity. To be successful, employees' efforts need to be channeled, purposely leading to innovative approaches and beneficial outcomes for the organization.

In addition, while engaging all employees in the well-being of the firm is a great idea, engaging them all in the same way, probably is not a good idea. Not all employees are interested in pursuing novel things, and fewer still will have the guts and ability to handle the ambiguity and uncertainty that innovation involves.

The trick is to identify those who like to be involved in innovation, and have others support their efforts with feedback and useful connections. That way everyone is involved, but in a role that suits each individual employee best.

If you are curious to know what the best way is to engage your employees in innovation - we recommend that you take our 5-minute Innovation & Talent Profile Quiz.