standards

Keys to Employee Engagement: Expectations

For the next two weeks, we’re going to discuss employee engagement.  It may sound like a buzzword, but engaged employees tend to stick with their employers, so engagement has a big influence on employee retention and reduced turnover.

What we’ll be writing is not new.  The concepts here were first published by the Gallup Organization in 1999 in a book called “First, Break All the Rules.”  This book introduced the 12 Questions or Q12 of Employee Engagement, and the questions are ones that can easily be used by companies of all sizes.  The research that went into their development encompassed over 1 million employees representing a good cross-section of industries and sizes.

The first question in the Q12 is “Do I know what is expected of me at work?”

A starting point in thinking about how your employees would answer this is whether or not you have written job descriptions for each position in the organization. More importantly, do you share or disWhen Understanding Equals Expectations, Engagement Occurscuss these job descriptions with the people actually doing the job to ensure they reflect organizational realities and that they are understood?

We mention job descriptions are a starting point. They usually describe reporting relationships, responsibilities, accountabilities and so on.  But what about standards of performance or how the job should be done?

Companies who have implemented ISO 9000 understand that one of the requirements for attaining ISO certification is to have a written description of all business processes.  They may be in the form of a process map or simply in paragraphs. Building on job descriptions, these processes tell employees how to do the tasks inherent in their jobs and how to handle different kinds of situations.

When I was a summer student, I worked as a shift chemist in a smelting plant and did assays on the incoming ore and intermediate process material to help guide the operation of the plant. I operated a piece of equipment that performed these assays electronically. On night shift one night,  the machine went down, but assays still needed to be done.  Fortunately, someone had considered this possibility and created written instructions on what to do.  There were detailed descriptions of how to do the assays with “wet chemical” tests, and I was able to complete the shift and submit my assays on time and accurately.

Although I was technically a temporary employee with limited experience, the written instructions developed by the employer allowed me to complete my tasks and handle what otherwise could have been a chaotic situation.

Another aspect of knowing how to do the job right is performance standards or other metrics. Not only should these be defined, they should also be measureable and tracked.

We used to have a standard that incoming phone calls were to be answered within 3 rings so clients could feel we were responsive to their needs. A grocery store cashier could have a standard of 99% accuracy in the pricing they entered. A sales person in a call centre might have a standard of making 60 calls an hour.

These standards need to be realistic. For the grocery store cashier, 100% would be unrealistic, so some recognition that no employee is perfect helps. Considering most grocery products are bar coded, 99% might not be a bad standard. For the sales person, our suggested 60 calls an hour represents one call per minute.  That might not be realistic if the pitch takes more than a minute on average.

The company must have systems in place to help enable employees to meet the standard. For the call centre salesperson, the company should probably have automated dialling and a list of people/numbers to call so the sales person can focus their efforts on their primary task – making calls.

When employees have a clear understanding of their jobs, they’re more likely to do them right, with fewer mistakes.  Your customers will be happier….and so will your employees.