Engaging employees is key to business success

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Engaging employees is key to business success

To make sure it works, there are five lessons for companies to learn, as they seek to accelerate the process of building employee engagement:

By Ashok Gopal

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Published: Sun 23 Aug 2015, 12:00 AM

Last updated: Sun 23 Aug 2015, 6:50 PM

The banking landscape in the UAE is among the most competitive in the world. Over 50 banks compete for a share of a discerning customer's wallet.
In such a scenario, it is no surprise that for banks, efficiency building measures are the order of the day, trying to squeeze out that last bit of value and cost saving for every dollar spent. And yet, while this might yield incremental benefits, the path to quantum impact on both the top and bottom line might be hidden in full sight.
Consider this situation, undoubtedly experienced by every bank. There are two relationship managers in a corporate bank - both have similar backgrounds, similar experience and handle similar customers. And yet one overachieves significantly, the other fails. One branch consistently engages customers better than similar branches. Some teams retain all their people, other teams bleed.
So, why does this happen? At the heart of this is employee engagement, a much spoken about concept that often gets compromised at the altar of action - strange, given that organisations that do in fact impact engagement and workplace culture produce gravity-defying business results - across sectors, across geographies and often across the inevitable economic cycles that define today's world.
Mashreq has benefitted significantly through investment in this engagement journey. To quote Farhad Irani, architect of a business turnaround at the Mashreq's retail banking group: "Fundamentally, banking is a simple business, with two primary levers - technology and people. Our technology is cutting edge, but sooner or later can be replicated. That leaves people as our edge. But not any people - engaged, committed people who demonstrate that tigers can fly - our constant endeavour is to create that flying tiger culture, where engaged employees are empowered to give their best, every single day. Because flying tigers win - others don't".
Clearly, employee engagement needs to be central to the way corporations do business. But this is not easy, it is a time-consuming process that needs persistent, often frustrating endeavour (early on, it is a 'three steps forward, two backward' process). But the results make it worthwhile.
To make sure it works, there are five lessons for companies to learn, as they seek to accelerate the process of building employee engagement:
i) Engagement is the means to an end, not an end in itself: Too often, companies get obsessive about an engagement score - but an engagement score by itself means nothing, if engagement does not translate into performance. At Mashreq, more engaged branches produce more, deliver better to customers. Engaged relationship managers sell more. Leaders need to see engagement as a business driver, not as an end in itself.
ii) Engagement happens everyday: Engagement does not happen just around big events, like an engagement survey or a salary change or promotions - it happens every single day. Hence, if engagement is not thought about and acted on everyday, true engagement remains a mirage. At Mashreq, an engagement calendar is created that looks at engagement-related action through the year.
iii) Think global, act local: People join companies, but leave managers. In every organisation, engagement varies from one team to another. So, the only way to get engagement impacted each day is to have managers and teams discuss and drive engagement at their level, rather than kicking it upstairs to the leadership. Make every people manager accountable to an engagement action plan. In 2015, for instance, there are more than 1,100 engagement related plans that teams and individuals are working on across Mashreq.
iv) Build the right engagement governance structure: While action is taken team by team, the process still needs leadership sponsorship. In an era where performance is purely quarter to quarter focused, it is easy to lose track of softer, longer term impact dimensions such as engagement. Having a strong governance structure, spearheaded by the leadership and supported by key designated influencers allows engagement to retain its importance.
v) Look at all actions through the lens of engagement impact: Both at macro and micro levels, evaluate each new initiative and existing process through an 'engagement impact' lens - this holds true for both tactical initiatives (such as a new recognition system) and transformational initiatives (such as changing the performance management system). Engagement should be a key part of driving every strategic initiative in the organisation.
Considering these steps will help hasten the impact of your engagement focus - and give you the results that you sought in the first place.
The writer is the head of talent and performance management, Mashreq Bank. Views expressed by him are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policies.

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