The makings of a winner

by Martin Williams

Engaged employees work harder and smarter

Charlie Lang
founder, executive coach and trainer
Progress-U Ltd
Photos: Wallace Chan

Top performance is driven by three key factors: the right conditions, ability and willingness. Employees that have the right tools and opportunities to perform, the necessary education, skills, intelligence and experience, as well as enthusiasm, are well on their way to success.

This is according to Charlie Lang, founder, executive coach and trainer, Progress-U Ltd, who spoke about the role of emotional commitment in career success and top performance at a recent Career Times seminar.

To illustrate his point, Mr Lang recounted the story of two mechanical engineers. The first, a project engineer, was good at his job, but found the work monotonous and developed only a passable engagement level. The second hailed from an identical background and worked for the same company, but was interested in his role as a sales engineer. He thrived in his career.

"The second person was me. The first was also me," Mr Lang told the audience, explaining that he had spent three months as a project engineer while pushing for a change in role. "It's important to keep in mind that if we're in a job that doesn't really excite or interest us, it is difficult to make a good career and get satisfaction along the way."

Long-term commitment

Mr Lang conceded that it is hard to optimise the three drivers for top performance. He referred to one survey that tracked the achievements of recruits 18 months after they started their new jobs and found that 19 per cent were considered excellent, 35 per cent mediocre and 46 per cent were deemed to have failed.

The reasons provided for failure were that those particular recruits could not accept feedback and had a lack of emotional intelligence and poor motivation. A mere 11 per cent of the "failed" recruits lacked the necessary technical skills for the role.

Noting that experts differ on the exact definitions of the terms "engagement" and "motivation", Mr Lang said he broadly considers engagement to involve both employers and employees, while motivation tends to come from employers.

"Motivation can be fleeting," he said. "For example, you get a pay rise and for a while you become more motivated, but then you return to your previous level."

He believes that staff engagement signifies a more long-term commitment, and that highly engaged people are positive about their companies, tend to stay in their jobs, work harder and generate more profits. He stressed that, to be truly successful, employees need both engagement and motivation.

Quizzed on their perception of employee engagement levels in Hong Kong, audience members offered figures of just 10, 15 and 20 per cent. This was in stark contrast to the levels of 68 and 52 per cent calculated by consulting firm Watson Wyatt in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

Another study found emotional commitment to the organisation, team and manager, coupled with an employee's love of the job itself, to be the main drivers of high engagement.

Although "rational" commitments ranked lower on the list of drivers, this is what most organisations focus on, since it is more "factual" and easier to substantiate, according to Mr Lang.

Do the right things

Employers can improve their selection processes to gain a better idea of how committed a candidate is likely to be, Mr Lang pointed out. Companies should look at success factors and perform an effective screening process to identify the right fit. At the same time, prospective employees should assess whether the company suits their own goals and aspirations.

Mr Lang also asked the audience to offer factors creating emotional commitment to the workplace. Responses ranged from a culture without office politics, affection for management and a sense that the work is meaningful.

Acknowledging these indicators, he noted that companies that communicate their missions, strategies and goals to staff typically have highly committed employees.

Looking at four stages of the development of mankind — the hunter-gatherer era from six million years ago, the agricultural age from 12,000 years ago, the industrial age starting in the 19th century and the current knowledge age, Mr Lang said that while the industrial age management style was authoritarian, modern workers do not constantly want to be told what to do.

Recounting his advice to an eyewear business wanting to develop a world-class culture, he said, "The right way forward for this company was to develop a leadership culture where managers help staff figure out for themselves the right thing to do."

In line with survival of the fittest, the most powerful leaders traditionally have the strongest sense of belonging to their groups. Influential figures such as Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi were good at rallying people around them. "They exaggerated differences and emphasised similarities. You can do the same in your team," he concluded.

Simple essentials

  • The right conditions, ability and willingness are key to high performance
  • Engagement and motivation place employees on the road to success
  • Effective screening ensures the right employer-employee match

Taken from Career Times 28 August 2009, p. B7
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