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How to Boost Employee Engagement

Quality staff are some of the least engaged of all functional employees; four steps will help

Quality employees are less engaged than those of most other functions, according to a CEB survey of over 22,500 employees in 40 countries. Only 13.4% of Quality staff reported a willingness “to go above and beyond” in their work — a figure that’s 2.9% lower than the average across all functions, and has been falling steadily for Quality teams since 2013. What’s more, just 32.2% of Quality staff reported a high intent to stay with their current firm — which is also lower than the average.

So Quality employees are less engaged than staff in most other corporate functions around a big business. Quality executives should take these alarming signs seriously. Quality employees are already exposed to many causes of dissatisfaction with their work or their employer, from supplier quality issues to dissatisfied customers posting negative opinions on social media.

Employee engagement, however, is something that is more directly under managers’ control. They can take direct action to improve how staff feel about their work, and they should do so before this lack of interest affects the quality of the company’s goods or services.

Four Ways to Tackle the Problem

A major cause of Quality employees’ dissatisfaction is the people they work with directly — their colleagues and managers.  It’s here where Quality staff are least satisfied compared to employees at other functions: just 35.1% of Quality employees are happy with the people around them, a figure that’s worryingly lower than the average of 37.8%, according to CEB employee engagement survey data. Close this gap between Quality and other functions, and you’ll end up with happier, more engaged workers. Quality teams should take four steps.

  1. Clarify changing requirements to improve employees’ performance: Quality employees are not satisfied with their colleagues’ performance, and their frustration is justified. As the Quality function evolves from conducing what are primarily box-ticking exercises to one where they actively look for ways to make improvements to a company’s products or processes, many employees find it hard to understand new work requirements, and all this leads to poor performance.

    The best solution is to create a competency model that clarifies what Quality managers expect from their employees. Use simple and specific examples to tell your staff what behaviors you want to see. For example, if you want your employees to be better at problem solving, state that you expect them to:

    • Simplify complex situations to create a unique vision or a solution that brings business value to the customer.

    • Quickly identify the root cause of the problem or issue rather than being distracted by the details surrounding it.

  2. Boost collaboration with co-workers outside Quality: Quality employees now spend more time working with cross-functional stakeholders than ever before. Since many business partners outside of the Quality team still lack a clear understanding of the function’s role, these interactions can lead to frustration.

    Quality managers should improve these relationships by starting with their own employees. Ask yourself: Are your staff able to think from the business’s standpoint? Can your staff articulate the value of quality for people outside Quality? Have you taught your staff how to work with cross-functional stakeholders? If not, it’s time to make your employees more business-minded. This post can help.

  3. Help managers see the bigger picture: Just 36.3% of Quality staff are satisfied with their managers, which is below the average across corporate functions. The likely cause: the change in scope your function is undergoing.  Managers — especially those on the front line — may not understand Quality’s high-level objectives and will instead prioritize the work they are directly responsible for.

    If these managers are sending out signals that conflict with new Quality objectives, or assessing employees on other priorities, staff can feel their managers don’t understand the bigger picture and are evaluating them unfairly.

    Senior managers can resolve this problem by helping line managers understand the function’s strategic vision. For instance, Quality executives at one firm in CEB’s networks created a leader profile, a brief summary of competencies that the function expected managers to have.

    The profile included not only operational capabilities, but also strategic capabilities, which helped Quality managers understand that they were responsible for understanding and carrying out the function’s strategic vision.  Quality leaders incorporated the profile into managers’ annual performance reviews to encourage managers to work towards these goals.

  4. Develop managers’ soft skills: Quality managers — who often have a technology or engineering background — may not be as adept at “soft skills,” such as managing people, as their counterparts elsewhere in the firm. Chances are that some managers are promoted into this role without these important capabilities.

    To sharpen managers’ people management skills, ensure they perform in four important areas (chart 1 spells these out). Also, help them create an inclusive atmosphere to build a rapport with employees. In an inclusive workplace, employees feel they are treated fairly and respectively, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.  Developing this type of atmosphere will strengthen relationships between managers and their direct reports.

    Chart 1: Four behaviors that are crucial for management  Source: CEB analysis


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