Author Rodd Wagner wrote the book on employee engagement — literally. His new book, Widgets: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They're Real People, guides leaders on breaking free of the impersonal management practices that have reduced employees to a “resource” instead of people. With experience as VP of Employee Engagement for BI Worldwide plus global research and interviews, Rodd has plenty of insights on engaging the workforce. He shared some of them with us below.
Q: How are companies treating employees like "widgets"? Why is this happening even amid the current trend of focusing on engagement?
A: Employee engagement, as it is generally practiced, has become routinized and hackneyed. Many employees are suspicious of engagement initiatives and not comfortable giving candid answers on surveys that go to the leadership of the company. People would stop giving honest answers altogether if they saw how some consultancies question the character and integrity of employees who, not getting what they need from their employers, give their companies low marks.
Q: What should a manager do today to make their employees more engaged? What actions should they take in the long term?
A: Our research identified 12 imperatives — New Rules of Engagement, we call them — that most powerfully motivate employees. These are at the heart of the unwritten social contract between employee and company. There is a chapter about each in Widgets. They are:
- Get Inside Their Heads
- Make Them Fearless
- Make Money a Non-Issue
- Help Them Thrive
- Be Cool
- Be Boldly Transparent
- Don’t Kill the Meaning
- See Their Future
- Magnify Their Success
- Unite Them
- Let Them Lead
- Take It to Extremes
One could write a whole book about each of these imperatives. They can seem simple on the surface, but they are sometimes complicated because they are tough to implement consistently and because the underlying assumptions about the employee-employer relationship has changed so dramatically.
Increasingly — as with employee-directed retirement savings plans and employee-driven social media like Glassdoor — the information and power will be in the hands of the employees, and it will be incumbent on the company to be responsive rather than trying to drive employee engagement.
Ultimately, “engagement,” if that’s what we still call it, will improve only to the degree that organizations are truly invested in the happiness of their employees. If an employee knows her leaders or managers really want her to thrive, to become wealthy through her hard work, to be well recognized for her accomplishments, to become part of a highly collaborative team — to hit the mark on all of the New Rules — she will reciprocate with everything she’s got.
You can access Rodd’s New Rules and get a measure of your personal engagement levels at www.iamnotawidget.com. Thanks again to Rodd for taking the time to chat with us about making employees happier!