Employee engagement strategies abound. Yet according to Gallup, levels of engagement are still low. Here is a story of a remarkable turnaround. A turn around in performance that was driven by a turn around in the engagement of the workforce.
In January 1994, the United States Navy formally commissioned the USS Santa Fe, its newest nuclear-powered fast attack submarine. Five years later, despite being one of the more modern ships in the fleet, her operating performance put her at the bottom of the fleet. Reenlistments were low, officer retention was zero, and training program effectiveness was rated at “not effective.” She was the ship every sailor wanted to avoid.
Sorry, Change in Plans
Captain David Marquet, author of the book, Turn the Ship Around, tells the story of spending a year preparing to command the USS Olympia, an older but one of the fleet’s best-performing ships. He learned every system, button, lever, valve, and sailor in preparation for taking command in his training. His superior technical knowledge of the ship would be the platform of his leadership. However, in a last-minute change, the Navy assigned him to the USS Santa Fe. The Santa Fe was a different ship with a different reactor, a different acoustic system, and different personnel. Leading from a foundation of superior technical knowledge was not going to work.
Sorry, Your Training as a Naval Officer Will Not Work Here
In his book, Captain Marquet tells the story of taking the ship out on its first training cruise as Captain. He ran a standard drill to test the crew’s ability to operate on battery power, simulating a reactor that went offline and had to be restarted. In true Navy tradition, he tells the Navigator, who had two years’ experience on the ship, to speed up, “ahead two thirds.” Who, in turn, ordered the Helmsman “ahead two thirds.” Who should have turned a dial to read two thirds. Except nothing happened. On this ship, there was no two thirds on the electric motor. Captain David Marquet had given a command that could not be carried out, to a subordinate who knew it could not be carried out, but went ahead and issued the command to another subordinate who could not carry it out. Captain Marquet realized that his leadership as captain would not work because the crew knew more about the ship than he did.
A System of Leadership to Engage the Crew
He had to design a new system of leadership. A system that would engage every sailor to be “independent, energetic, emotionally committed and engaged men thinking about what we needed to do and ways to do it right.” In short, Captain Marquet’s strategy to improve the performance of the USS Santa Fe was to engage 135 sailors to be fully engaged.
A year later, the USS Santa Fe received the best performance scores in its history, and a year after that, the best scores in the history of the Navy. Which begs the question, can engagement of the workforce, be THE strategy to achieve business objectives?
Making Employee Engagement Strategic
While I do not believe that employee engagement must be THE strategy, I do believe that employee engagement strategies must be a part of strategy development. There is ample evidence, which shows that organizations that consistently achieve their business objectives enjoy a highly engaged workforce. From my research, they make engagement a strategic priority by creating a causal link between the engagement of their workforce and their business strategy.
Gallup reports that an engaged workforce will generate:
● 41% Lower absenteeism.
● 58% Fewwe patient safety incidents, (healthcare application).
● 24% Less turnover in high-turnover organizations.
● 59% Less turnover in low-turnover organizations.
● 28% Less shrinkage.
● 70% Few safety incidents.
● 40% Fewer defects in quality.
● 10% Higher customer ratings.
● 17% Higher productivity.
● 20% Higher sales. and
● 21% Higher profitability.
Clearly, there is plenty of reasons to make an engaged workforce a strategic priority.