The Push and Pull of Employee Engagement

employee engagement

Most organizations are very aware of the importance of employee engagement. Studies abound showing the connection between engaged employees and satisfied customers, increase profitability and productivity.

Many organizations set a goal of being at the top quartile. While many factors can impact engagement, it has become absolutely clear from our research that the number one factor is the effectiveness of leaders. In a study of 30,661 Leaders we found that those at the 10th percentile had direct reports whose average employee commitment score was at the 24th percentile while those at the 90th percentile had employees at the 80th. The formula here is: poor boss = dissatisfied, unengaged employee or great boss = highly satisfied and engaged employee.

Most people rely on two basic skills to motivate others and get work accomplished.  The best single words to describe these two skills are “Push” and “Pull.” When pushing we “do everything possible to accomplish goals.” When people pull they, “inspire and energize others.” The question we asked was which of these skills does the most to create satisfied and engaged employees? Intuitively the answer for most is quite obvious. They see a much clearer connection between a leader’s ability to pull and engagement than pushing. In fact, many might even assume that leaders who push too hard might erode satisfaction and engagement.

To understand this dynamic we did a study with 160,576 employees who reported into 20,597 work groups or team.  We measured their immediate manager’s effectiveness on both pushing and pulling.  The results showed some surprising trends.

If a leaders was not highly skilled (at the top quartile) at either pushing or pulling the average employee engagement scores for that group was at the 42nd percentile. In other words they were below average.

If a leader was highly skilled at pushing (e.g., top quartile) but not at pulling the average employee engagement scores for that group was at the 61st percentile. It is apparent that push without pull is better than neither. Over the years it has become apparent to me that successful accomplishment of work is a key factor driving employee engagement. When a work group is not accomplishing important work the organization tends to provide an abundance of negative consequences.

On the other hand, if a leader was highly skilled at pulling (e.g., top quartile) but not at pushing, the average employee engagement scores for that group were at the 63rd percentile. This is better, but not by much.

The magic formula here is when leaders were highly skilled (e.g., top quartile) at both pushing and pulling. When this occurred the average employee engagement scores for that group were at the 76th percentile. These work groups were at the coveted top quartile level in terms of their satisfaction, engagement and commitment. The lesson here for me is for me to remember that both skills are very important. We all need a little push some times. Some things are difficult and they don’t ever begin unless someone gives us that little push. The magic happens when leaders can combine push with pull. When they can inspire others and when they can energize their team. What we know from talking to leaders is they already know how to push and if challenged they will push harder. The more difficult skill that has to be learned by all leaders is the ability to pull.

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