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Engagement key to successful work force

Employee engagement is the key to having a productive work force, according to industry experts at a recent Daily Transcript roundtable discussion.

The most successful companies not only listen to their workers, but implement their suggestions.

"[If] we create the environment where they can ask questions and they can say, 'Well, this isn't working and the success of my job is being affected by something downstream,' then we have to follow up on that," said Dave Bialis, senior vice president and general manager of Cox Communications. "If they tell you and you don’t follow up, then you take one step forward and eight steps back."

Tom Ingrassia, chief financial officer of the law firm Pettit Kohn Ingrassia & Lutz, agreed.

"People who feel engaged are much less likely to leave just because it's time to go," he said. "If they understand and they're given an opportunity to succeed -- and their mangers are engaged in their success -- that's [helpful]. It takes a little bit of effort."

Giving employees a sense of belonging also is important.

"Whether I'm a baby boomer or if I'm college graduate lucky enough to land a job, we both want to work for a cause," said Jeff Lindeman, senior director of organizational performance and development at the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority. "We both want to know that what we're doing somehow matters in the overall scheme of things. Unfortunately, we've created a system where it's about the process or the forms getting turned in and not about how do you maximize the ROI of your work force."

Having an engaged work force can help companies retain their employees even when the salary and benefits are not particularly high. This strategy is especially helpful for startup ventures that don't have the money to compete with the highest bidder.

"The people who are attracted to companies like mine aren't necessarily there for the highest pay," said Scott Herron, CEO of MaintenanceNet, a provider of contract management services with 65 employees and counting. "They're there for an opportunity to feel like 'I'm going to have an effect on a product; I'm going to have an effect on a market.'"

Ryan Estis, who runs a training and development firm focusing on leadership and sales, said giving workers a sense of personal accomplishment and confidence in the organization makes attracting and keeping talented workers easy.

"If you're growing, and people can see that their role is going to impact in the future success, those are huge drivers that cancel out some of the compensation conversation," Estis said.
Confidence in management has been difficult to achieve during the recent times of economic turmoil and massive layoffs, however.

"Trust [is] sorely missing in today's work force," Lindeman said. "[Employees] need to trust that we're working together toward something that works for the business and has some benefit for me. That's an important skill set that every leader at every level of the organization needs to cultivate."

Bialis said Cox has put a premium on retention, focusing on equipping the supervisors in the organization.

"People leave supervisors; they don't leave companies," he said. "So we have a whole program on the supervisor. We want them to understand the why of what they're doing. We give them a lot of how to do it and what to do, but we never tell them why. We're doing a lot more training.

"Besides rewards, recognition and pay, they want to feel like they're a part of something," Bialis added.

Claudia Schwartz, founder and principal of HR Results, said employees need to feel wanted.

"Companies that are good at relationships, they build their trust and they instill a sense of significance in each person," she said. "I think significance is really underrated, and the company's that get significance, the ROI is huge."

Phil Blair, president of job placement agency Manpower, said the talent is out there for companies to have, they just need to adjust their pay rates accordingly.

"In employment, you don’t pay any more than you have to," he said. "Well that 'have to' is changing. My question is, 'Are you going to pay what you need to, to find good people?"

Once the talent is in place, Blair said the key to a successful company is a lively and inviting workplace.

"I want it to be a fun place to work because I think that's when people give 110 percent of their effort," he said. "That's when you get the energy; that's when you get the creativity."

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Roundtable Participants

Dave Bialis, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Cox Communications

Phil Blair, President, Manpower Inc.

Ryan Estis, Principal & Chief Experience Officer, Ryan Estis & Associates

Scott Herron, Chief Executive Officer, MaintenanceNet

Tom Ingrassia, Chief Finance Officer, Pettit Kohn

Jeff Lindeman, Senior Director of Organizational Performance & Development, San Diego Regional Airport Authority

Claudia Schwartz, Founder/Principal, HR Results

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Manpower's Phil Blair on the latest hiring trends

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