Sunday, October 25, 2009

Executive Engagement: Reversing The Negative Fallout Of 2009

Companies claim “our people are our most important asset” … but 2009 tested that assertion and makes me wonder how strongly they believe it.

Years of corporate surveys have shown that the key factors influencing executives’ engagement are opportunities to use their talent as well as increased career development and training. But in tough economic times like these, many companies act like it’s a lesson unlearned and drastically cut their employee development efforts.

Now, the results of those cuts are starting to show.

A recent Watson Wyatt survey found that engagement among high performers and executives – the populations companies can least afford to disengage – is down a staggering 23% and the same survey indicated a decline of 20% among those who would recommend their company as a good place to work.

That’s clearly not good news for attracting, involving and retaining valued employees and portends difficult times ahead in the war for talent when the recession ends.

Misplaced priorities

Most companies spend big bucks for outplacement and severance on those they exit as a way to reduce stress and help their former employees gain greater control over their careers. but for those who are retained, companies have provided little or no support.

Yet these folks are under greater pressure, their workloads have increased and their career aspirations have been put on hold.

How come? Doesn’t it make sense to offer help to those who stay as well as to those who go?

Retention by fear

Frightened, insecure, overworked and disgruntled executives are now more common than ever.

Yet, even though they know that sustained double digit unemployment, hiring freezes and reduced home and investment valuations have produced a thick layer of nervous and unhappy leaders – many companies appear not to care.

That lack of concern sends a message to workers throughout their organizations that they should just be grateful they have a job. And that message is getting through loud and clear.

I coach enough execs to know that many are not only worried about the possibility of losing their jobs, but are upset that their workload is growing longer, their objectives are beyond “stretch”, their future prospects appear limited and the recognition for their efforts seems non-existent.

That doesn’t bode well for them, the companies they work for or the economy as a whole.

A simple fix

Many companies cite recent economic conditions as the reason they’ve reduced expenditures on their employee development efforts.

Unfortunately, they used a hatchet instead of a scalpel to cut those costs and lost sight of the fact that programs that enhance career development – and give executives opportunities to maximize their contributions and really help their employers – are low-ticket items with the potential for high-ticket returns.

The best and most evolved of companies know that, now more than ever, they need their executives to be at the top of their game. They continue to invest in their people and recognize that it doesn’t cost much to instill and maintain a culture of career awareness and growth.

It’s time for others to learn that lesson and reverse the downward spiral of executive engagement that 2009 brought.

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