by Michael C. Mankins
Nobody washes a rental car.
People will go the extra mile only if they feel they have ownership. It’s much the same in the workplace. Employees who take ownership of their work — and who feel that what they are doing matters — are far more likely than others to feel engaged on the job.
You can have great talent that is appropriately teamed. You can eliminate structural barriers to effective collaboration, and you can design meetings and other interactions so that people can actually get things done. But if your company’s employees don’t have a sense of ownership and engagement, all the other steps won’t make much difference. By the same token, if you can increase the average level of engagement in your organization, you will likely see the productivity of your entire workforce increase.
How powerful is engagement? Look at DaVita, a market leader in providing dialysis treatments for kidney patients. Fifteen years ago, Total Renal Care (as it was then known) was unprofitable and short on cash, and half of its executives had recently quit or been fired. So new CEO Kent Thiry set about building a different kind of company.
He began to speak of DaVita as a village and himself as mayor. He involved employees in changing the culture (a group of 800 representatives chose the new name.) He made a point of recognizing hundreds of employees every year who went the extra mile for patients. DaVita’s “wildly spirited nationwide meeting, in which thousands of employees celebrate awards, mourn the death of patients, and connect with the emotional side of their work, is truly something to behold,” reports one journalist. At these meetings, Thiry often hollers out three questions for attendees to answer; one is “Whose company is it?” The huge audience yells back in one voice: “Ours!”
Fueled by this kind of engagement, DaVita’s performance over the past 15 years has been truly remarkable. Revenues have risen from $1.4 billion to $11.8 billion, earnings from $-30 million to $663 million. Patient outcomes have improved, employee turnover has declined, and DaVita has consistently been listed on Fortune’s annual compilation of Most Admired Companies.
Not every company is going to take DaVita’s route, but nearly every organization can foster greater engagement. Here are a few tips that often escape the conventional wisdom on the subject:
Executives often think of engagement as “soft,” but it’s both measurable and powerful. And it’s the often-missing link in companies’ attempts to increase the productivity of their human capital.