Making Every Employee Part Of The Team

One of the most important ingredients to the success of any business is employee engagement. Here are a variety of strategies you can use to measure, set goals and improve this vital component. And don't forget the importance of commnication: “The tone comes from the top. People may doubt what I say, but they always believe what I do,” advises Keen CFOs' Bill Keenan.

“Employees who are engaged with their employers are more passionate about their work, drive innovation and help to move their companies forward.”  That’s been the experience of Anna Schiefer, human resources director for McGraw-Hill. In contrast, she pointed out, employees who are disengaged from their employers can have a cancerous effect on their co-workers and, according to a recent Gallup poll, contribute to a $350 billion per year drain on the financial performance of American businesses.

Schiefer spoke about the importance of employee engagement at last month’s Media Finance Focus 2011, the annual conference for MFM and BCCA. McGraw-Hill uses employee climate surveys to measure the seven drivers for employee engagement:

  1. Competence — Employees feel they have the skills and support necessary for doing what we ask of them.
  2. Trust and Values — Employers must work to earn the trust of their employees. That process involves demonstrating integrity, in terms of both an employer’s personal example and the level of trust demonstrated in his or her daily interactions with employees.    
  3. Future Vision — Company leaders must communicate confidence and enthusiasm about the future. Employees are more motivated when they know the answers to three key questions: “Where are we going?” “Why does it matter?” and “How does it involve me?”
  4. Recognition/Feeling Valued — Employee recognition programs work. They help employees to feel that their contributions and efforts are valued by the company and make a difference in meeting company goals. Programs where employees are nominated by their peers are particularly effective. As Schiefer observed, it only takes a few minutes to compose a personal note thanking or recognizing an employee, and the return on that investment is quantifiable and significant.    
  5. Communication — “Don’t measure the effectiveness of your communications programs by quantity. We improve employee engagement by what we communicate and how effectively it’s done,” Schiefer advised. To be effective communicators, managers must be good listeners. Being open and honest with employees is the key to engendering two-way communication and getting employees to openly share their insights on businesses practices that need to be changed or improved.   
  6. Compensation — While our sales departments can easily see the correlation between their performance and their compensation, Schiefer encourages her peers to help their employers identify opportunities for creating a similar connection between performance and pay in other departments. While compensation is important, Schiefer has found the top three drivers for employee engagement are the opportunity for growth, receiving recognition and experiencing the trust of managers and supervisors. When economic conditions make it more difficult to reward an employee with the merit increase he or she deserves, companies should increase their focus on these other drivers.
  7. Growth & Development — Managers should take a one-on-one approach toward understanding the career goals of the employees.  Questionnaires and other tools can help to refocus what a manager may assume about the employee’s career path and identify ways to keep valued employees who may have little chance for direct advancement in a department or specific location but are interested in opportunities for growth that exist elsewhere in the organization.

McGraw-Hill’s employee climate surveys are designed to provide quantifiable data on how well the company is influencing each of these key drivers for employee engagement. In addition to sharing results, its HR managers work with department heads in setting goals for addressing areas that require improvement and developing an action plan for achieving them. 

To prevent the goals from being treated like New Year’s resolutions, the action plans are tied to bottom line results. HR managers work with managers to secure their buy-in. The company conducts its climate surveys in two or three year intervals, which allow time for the changes to be implemented and have an effect. When greater urgency is required in order to reverse situations where employees have become disengaged, Schiefer says the process should be accelerated to occur within a year.

Bill Keenan, CEO of the Keen CFOs interim financial management firm and an incoming member of the MFM Board of Directors, also participated in the panel. He reinforced the importance of communication. “The tone comes from the top. People may doubt what I say, but they always believe what I do,” he reminded MFM/BCCA conference attendees.

In addition, “Bosses can’t discourage openness by shooting the messenger,” Keenan warned. ”No one will talk about what’s not working if they feel they will be punished for even bringing it up.”


Keenan said another example of effective communication is when managers follow up after giving instructions by asking, “Did I explain that well enough?” as opposed to the usual  “Did you understand that?” which can discourage an employee from asking for more direction in order to avoid being perceived as incompetent.

Keenan said one of the best examples in leadership he’s seen came from a colleague who’s a pilot. He recalled a time when they were flying back from a business meeting in a five-passenger aircraft and encountered thick fog meaning they had to rely on solely on the plane’s instruments. At one point a local air traffic controller asked for the plane’s location and the pilot didn’t reply. Several minutes — or what seemed like it — went by before the pilot answered.  At that point, his friend’s wife, who was seated in the co-pilot’s seat, asked him, “Thanks, but why the delay?”  His pilot friend replied “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.”

As Kennan explained, the “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate” axiom is commonly learned and applied by military pilots as part of their training. It reminds them that first and foremost they must stay in control of the airplane. Next comes navigation, which involves knowing where they are, where they’re going and how they plan to get there.

Once these first two requirements have been met, they can effectively communicate with others about their status. Kennan says we can benefit by applying this process as leaders within our organizations. “You can’t involve employees in a future vision from a place of confidence and enthusiasm without first having a sense for where the company is and where it’s going,” he observed.

MFM will be helping media industry CFO’s and other senior financial executives acquire the information and insights they need for aviating through the current climate at our annual CFO Summit, which will be held July 20-21 at the Williamsburg Lodge in Williamsburg, Va. 

The co-chairs for this year’s Summit are John Kampfe, EVP and CFO, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., and Sam Bush, SVP, treasurer and CFO, Saga Communications. They have put together a terrific agenda and lineup of presenters for addressing such pressing topics as:

  • A keynote on the role of today’s CFO, by Reuben Daniels, managing partner, EA Markets LLC. 
  • The economists’ view, from Gregory Miller, senior economist/SVP for SunTrust Bank.
  • A discussion about strategic planning and innovation, presented by A.T. Kearney’s Greg Portell.
  • Strategies for financing, which will be moderated by John Kampfe and include a presentation by David Bank from RBC Capital Markets.
  • Pending legislative issues, which will be presented by Lee Shubert, Sciarrino & Shubert, PLLC; and Steven Vest, SVP for global public policy, Time Warner.
  • A presentation on effective leadership by Rob Fazio, talent and leadership vonsultant, Leadership Research Institute.
  • A discussion on the legal risks involved in social media led Ken Goldstein, Esq., VP, worldwide media liability manager, Chubb Specialty Insurance.
  • A review of Business Intelligence & Management Tools, presented by Oracle.
  • A presentation on managing medical costs and employee benefit trends, by Edward Pudlowski, principal, human capital practice, Ernst & Young.
  • Our CFO roundtable, a “roll up your sleeves” discussion of the topics most important to media industry CFOs.

More information on the Summit may be found on MFM’s website.

Given the many foggy areas surrounding the future of our economy and industry, the Summit will be a great way to ensure we have the information we need in order to “Aviate, Navigate, and Communicate” the future vision for our businesses in a manner that addresses the key drivers for assuring employee engagement.

I hope that you will plan to join your senior financial manager colleagues in Williamsburg next month.


Mary M. Collins is president & CEO of the Media Financial Management Association and its BCCA subsidiary. Her column appears in TVNewsCheck every other week. You can read her earlier columns here.


Comments (1)

Leave a Reply

James Skupien says:

June 27, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Excellent and important article. Your 100% correct on the importance of recognition/feeling valued to employee engagement . I’m pleased to see the connection made between recognition and feeling valued as well. Too often, people view recognition as a grab for attention. It is not. Employees (at all levels) need to know their work is necessary, needed, valued and appreciated. Recognition is the optimal means for conveying that value and appreciation — preferably frequently, specifically and as soon after the event worthy of recognition as possible.

I write frequently on this top on my blog, A recent article was
Why Should I Thank Them for Doing Their Job? Simple acknowledgment and appreciation of hard work well done is something we all need if we are to keep delivering at the top of our game.

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