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Seattle Business Week:The Engaged Workforce

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Fierce CEO, Halley Bock, is currently writing a column for Seattle Business Week Magazine focusing on family owned businesses. We wanted to share with you her most recent article on engaged workforces.

According to a recent study conducted by Gallup, 71% of the workforce is unengaged, costing the U.S. economy an estimated $385 billion in productivity loss each year. Conversely, organizations with high levels of employee engagement experienced 5-16% greater financial performance than their less fortunate peers.

Bottom line: employee engagement is a huge factor in an organization’s success and is one of the best leading indicators of financial performance. In other words, if you want to know how your company will perform in a year – measure employee engagement today.

For any organization, creating high levels of engagement is difficult. For family businesses, it can be yet more complex given the built-in dynamic of family versus non-family members in the workforce.

Here are 3 key areas of focus for those seeking to join the ranks of highly engaged and highly profitable companies.

1. Redefine “family”. Merriam Webster has a few definitions for “family”. There is the most common definition: a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head. Then there is this definition: a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation.

For reasons, some obvious and some not, I prefer the latter when I think of my “family” business. The only purpose I have for the traditional meaning is to merely define how the company is set-up akin to checking a box for Sub-S, LLC, or C-Corp on a tax return. Beyond that component, the notion of the traditional family business ends.

Instead, we become a family dedicated to the mission and vision of the company and committed to one another regardless of rank, title, or relation. Flattening the significance of how your organization is structured is essential to creating a landscape upon which everyone will enthusiastically build upon. If there is no sense of ownership, then there can be no meaningful engagement.

2. Ask questions. As French philosopher Alain said, “Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it’s the only one you have.” Many businesses (family or otherwise) were built on one great idea. For some lucky few, that idea will sustain the business for years to come. More than likely, the organization will remain relevant and viable by constantly adjusting to the ever-changing markets and needs of today’s society.

While this may seem like a no-brainer, I have seen more than a few family-owned businesses fail because the next generation was simply mimicking the founder’s original concept or seeking strategic advice from an insular group of family members.

To ensure your company is around for the next generation while keeping your workforce engaged, constantly ask your employees for honest feedback, ideas, and suggestions as it pertains to where the company is going and how it’s going to get there.

3. Speak of the “unspeakable”. The Papuans of New Guinea have a term, mokita, which means “that which everyone knows and no one speaks of.” And they judge the health of any community by the number of mokitas existing within it. That said, the more mokitas – the less healthy the community.

As you can imagine, family businesses are more susceptible to mokitas than other organizations. First, there may be fear of retaliation if an employee calls out Uncle Bob’s fondness for online poker tournaments and morning martinis. Second, there are opportunities for collusion amongst family members who can “gang up” on your corporate ethics.

And, finally, if other family members aren’t calling out behavior, then employees assume it’s a known issue and that by saying nothing, the behavior is condoned.

Unfortunately, one or two rotten eggs along with an apathetic management team can ruin the lot for everyone – seriously tanking employee engagement. It’s extremely important that all employees feel they can speak the truth and that their honest feedback is more important than any sacred cows currently occupying space within the company.

If you want your workforce to bring all of themselves to work each day then nothing should be off-limits. In fact, a recent study conducted by The Executive Board found that organizations where employees felt they could share honest feedback without fear of retaliation financially outperformed their peers by 7.9%.

Here’s to creating an honest, collaborative, and engaged family business in 2012.

This article first appeared in Seattle Business Week Magazine. Click here to see the full article.


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