Tips: Get employees involved in the big picture

A March 2002 poll by online publication Gallup Management Journal found that only 31 per cent of workers are actually engaged in their jobs and directly contributing to the goals of the company. The study analyzed psychometric, attitudinal and financial data across more than 10,885 business units in 51 organizations in 23 industries.

So, how do you get the other 69 per cent engaged? IT managers and learning experts say the key is to give workers big-picture goals. Rather than have them complete a set of tasks, put them on a team charged with fulfilling a major goal, such as launching a new product or creating new customer service channels. Then give them the means – through conferences, workshops, internal training and mentoring programs – to acquire the skills they need to meet those goals.

“It’s like throwing puzzle pieces at people without ever showing them the full puzzle,” said Rich Berens, executive vice-president of client services at Maumee, Ohio-based Root Learning Inc. and a former director of the company’s technology service. If you give employees the big picture, they’ll come to their own conclusions, he said. “People will tolerate your conclusions, but they act on their own.”

Project-based training provides motivation and turns learning into a priority for workers, said Harvard Business School professor Rob Austin. IT workers in a finance seminar might question why they’re learning about credits and debits, but if it’s applied in the context of the expensive enterprise resource planning implementation being launched the following month, it takes on new meaning, Austin said. The benefits of such on-the-job cross-training via cross-functional projects can be tremendous. When you’re at a project meeting and you can’t tell who’s in sales and who’s in IT, you know that your cross-training objectives have been met, he said.