(Research Note: We also looked at engagement drivers for the top 5% (most engaged) employees. Accountability and Empowerment rise to the top two positions on this list. This suggests that the trend continues, but the statistics are less reliable because the group size is smaller, and because it is likely to contain a higher percentage of "outliers" - people who gave unusually high scores on the survey without really answering the questions in a thoughtful manner. Therefore, we have not included these findings.)
Engagement and Performance
We make an assumption when we look at the most engaged employees - we assume that these employees are, by and large, also top performers. This assumption is supported by the survey questions that stand out among these groups. Top performers want to be empowered so they can perform at their best, and they want to see themselves and others held accountable for achieving results.
On the other hand, in companies that do not empower employees or hold people accountable, it is reasonable to assume that some of the most talented employees would be more likely to be disengaged.
Empowerment, Autonomy, and Accountability - Conclusions
For companies that are interested in driving engagement to the highest levels, our research indicates that the way to do this is by empowering employees and by making sure that all employees are held accountable for achieving results. Moreover, these areas are important for attracting, retaining, and motivating the most talented employees. People who value empowerment and accountability will be discouraged in companies that do not promote and support these things. By contrast, poor performers might enjoy the safe haven of a company that does not demand accountability. These are employees who might have high levels of "satisfaction", but they are likely to be adding little or no value, and even worse, discouraging the talented people around them.
Empowerment, autonomy, and accountability must be addressed from several angles in order to be effective:
- Formal company policies, procedures, and processes should foster empowerment and autonomy where possible and appropriate, and they should require accountability at every step and at every level.
- The company culture needs to support empowerment and accountability. This can start with formal processes and policies, but the actions, communications, and signals sent by management need to engrain these things in the culture of the organization.
- Managers at all levels are where the rubber meets the road. Individual managers will have the biggest day-to-day impact on their employees in these areas. The organization needs to provide the framework and support that managers need. Then, it is ultimately up to each employee's manager to dictate the level of autonomy that employees have, and to define goals and hold all employees accountable for achieving results.
And finally, let's not forget the similarities on the three lists of engagement drivers. Empowerment, autonomy, and accountability stand out as uniquely important to the most engaged employees, but higher levels of engagement cannot be achieved through these things alone. The things that motivate all employees and the most engaged employees alike are just as important.
Fairness stands out as a top item on all three lists, which indicates that this area is an especially important driver of engagement. Respect, values, trust, teamwork, personal expression, and communication (openness) are also areas that matter to all employees, including the most engaged employees. Engagement won't happen without these things, and the steps noted above can be applied to these areas as well.