Must-read books on employee engagement

Having spent over thirty years in marketing, employee engagement never featured that high on the agenda. Actually to be honest, it was never ever discussed. Wow, how times have changed! Employee engagement is now the single most important challenge facing marketing.

So what has changed? Fundamentally, there have been two opposing trends that have splintered and broken the way that the traditional workplace operates. On the one hand, the customer is now in control with raised expectations of what they expect from a company, its brand and its offering. On the other hand, business has become ever more complex, with more data, processes, structure, regulation, communication, competition and reporting demands.

The employee is sitting in the middle. They are being asked to ensure that the customer receives the best possible experience every time they touch the brand whilst they cope with all the increased complexity of actually getting anything done.

No wonder that according to the Gallup State of the Global Workplace 2013 study “currently, 13% of employees across 142 countries worldwide are engaged in their jobs — that is, they are emotionally invested in and focused on creating value for their organizations every day.” Of the remainder 63% are not engaged and 24% are actively disengaged.

What this means is that if you wish to establish mutually beneficial relationships with your customers — and to acquire market leadership — you must first win the hearts and minds of your employees. This is new territory for most leaders.

Here are a number of must-read books that will form the foundation for transforming the modern workplace for the long-term benefit of the company.

Employee Engagement and the Failure of Leadership by Dr. David West. This book is a compendium of facts that really bring home the importance of employee engagement in the modern working environment. It highlights the extent to which the current workplace is broken and what needs to be done to fix it. This is not for the faint of heart, it will make you feel uncomfortable but more importantly it will fundamentally change the way you see, support and engage with your colleagues.

Fired Up or Burned Out by Michael Lee Stallard. This book introduces the concept of connection, between employees and their co-workers and employees and the company, as the glue that helps establish a highly positive and collaborative team-working environment. In a well-connected environment people are more open, they share more and they want to help their colleagues. This increased level of cooperation promotes creativity, innovation and enhanced productivity. This book helps you establish connection as a key corporate priority and to understand what needs to be done to bring it to life.

Built to Last by Jim Collins. Why a company exists and what it stands for are of critical importance to an employee. This is the key foundation for any relationship between an employee and the employer. There is no better book to explain and provide a framework for defining a company’s core purpose and corporate values than this one.

Turn the Ship Around by L. David Marquet. This book is about leadership and how to devolve power from a command and control approach to one where employees at all levels can embrace decision-making and take full responsibility for taking action when needed. It is about helping every employee know their true worth and potential and inspiring them to make the greatest contribution they can for the benefit of customers, the company and their colleagues alike.

Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson and Employees First, Customers Second by Vineet Nayar. These two books are very different in their approach but they are both focused on how to unlock the potential within your talent base through the way you configure and manage an organization.

Companies are built on people and both these books provide valuable insights into how to create a corporate culture that creates a winning organization through a series of small, achievable steps.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. This may seem like a strange book to associate with employee engagement but the biggest challenge facing employees today is lack of time to fulfill their work duties. The problem is that there is an enormous amount of waste in people’s time due to too many coordination meetings, overflowing inboxes and significant need for rework. Teams need to adopt lean collaboration principles that promote alignment, sharing, cooperation, agility and speed. This book provides some great insights to the power of lean principles.

The traditional thinking is that employee engagement is an HR responsibility but it is not. It is without doubt a leadership issue and in my mind it is the responsibility of the entire executive team. The involvement of the CMO is also critical, due to the importance of employees in building successful customer relationships.

Organizations need to recognize that employee engagement can no longer be ignored. Reading these books may seem like a significant investment in time and it is, but it is warranted. Employee engagement is a serious issue and it needs to be addressed. Evidence would suggest that organizations that treat employee engagement as a corporate priority will gain significant competitive advantage in the years ahead. That has to be a goal worth striving for.

Authored by David Newberry

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