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What Military teaches us about Employee Engagement

There are various ways for a company to gain a sustainable competitive advantage. One way to ensure success is via having an engaged workforce.

In the UK, the military has the most engaged workforce with an employment engagement index (EEI) score of 75% which exceeds other sectors such as banking (42%), retail and wholesale trade (49%) and the food industry (46%). The EEI consists of four components: pride, satisfaction, advocacy and retention. It focuses on how closely aligned the employees are to the organisation’s goals and how personally vested they are in the outcomes. The fact that the military is number one should come as no surprise since military staff are widely perceived to be mission orientated and motivated by pride.

Attaining the same level of engagement as the UK military may be a difficult feat to achieve, but there is one takeaway that all companies can implement; that is facilitating communication up and down the organisational ladder.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Colonel, Brian Halloran, believes that understanding your position in relation to others within the organisation’s hierarchy is crucial to engage workers.

"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."

Applying this approach to a more commercial context, a company could carry out practices such as outlining its mission, vision and values; conducting an employee opinion survey; conducting regular performance appraisals; and cross-training employees. These practices not only stop short-sighted decisions, but it also works to increase communication pathways between management and employees. Ultimately, employee work is more closely-knitted with strategic goals.

"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."

Outlining mission, vision and values: managers fall down if they pay hollow lip service to the company values. Managers in such companies seem to think that paying people a good salary is sufficient incentive for people to perform to their best. This is not the case; the organisation must support an employee’s ability to achieve meaningful goals – walking the talk of the mission statement (Harvard Business Review).

The Employee Opinion Survey is a mechanism for obtaining employee feedback on a variety of work-related issues. Importantly, management must respond to the feedback with concrete actions and change. Employees should also be involved in those change efforts.

Regular performance appraisals should be run by organisations to encourage managers to engage with employees, evaluating performance and seeking and giving feedback.

Cross-training employees allows employees to work in different parts of the organisation. Naturally the person will learn new skills, increase their value to the company and combat position fatigue.

Take Home Message:

There is no better organisation to look to than the military when it comes to employee engagement. Imitating its consistently high engagement ratings is a possibility once a company applies a list of practices and employees understand their position in the bigger picture. Doing so allows a company to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage which can drive significant returns on investment, company value and long-term stability.


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