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4 Ways to Ride the Next Wave of Economic Growth

4 Ways to Ride the Next Wave of Economic Growth

by Angela James and Jennifer Robison

Story Highlights

  • High economic growth is in the forecast
  • Shift manager responsibilities to be people-focused
  • Improve employee engagement to foster customer engagement

Some industries limped through 2020, and some exploded with growth.

Either way, if forecasts of an economic boom in 2021 are right, all industries need to prepare for an influx of consumer spending.

Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but a boom isn't unalloyed good news.

Industries that barely made it through the pandemic -- such as hospitality and retail -- are facing massive supplier and labor shortages. Many industries that flourished in 2020 have been pushed past their capabilities and are meeting the market with supply chain disruptions, material scarcities and burned-out employees. As a result, the fortunate and unfortunate alike risk being sidelined during a once-in-a-generation economic upswing.

Getting on the right side of this problem isn't simple. But Gallup sees four key strategies that both kinds of industries should adopt.

1. Develop your managers.

The people who impact everything should be developed to impact it well. Having studied what the best organizations and managers do differently for three decades, Gallup can say that it's impossible to overstate managers' impact -- they affect everything from recruitment to quality to share price. But most managers were never properly trained as people leaders.

Now is the time to shift managers from boss to coach. Managers developed to coach employee performance, our studies show, are far more engaging, have lower turnover and have more productive teams. People don't leave companies; they leave managers. And those left-behind managers struggle to reach their leaders' goals.

2. Recruit and retain strategically.

The war for talent is already heating up. Before you enter the battlefield, recognize that employees are "customers of the workplace" and that this is a buyer's market. Employment brands and recruitment messages should demonstrate an engaging, inspiring, purposeful employee experience.

Some companies use CliftonStrengths to demonstrate their commitment to development -- a top concern of high-talent employees, Gallup research shows. But a word of caution: CliftonStrengths should be coached to maximize the investment. A Gallup study of 1.2 million employees who received strengths-based interventions found that 90% of the workgroups studied showed 10% to 19% increased sales, 14% to 29% increased profit and a 9% to 15% increase in employee engagement.

When finding and keeping anyone is difficult -- and the highest performers are easily poached -- being strategic about recruiting and retaining workers is vital.

The war for talent is already heating up. Before you enter the battlefield, recognize that employees are "customers of the workplace" and that this is a buyer's market.

3. Renew your culture of engagement.

Gallup defines culture as "the way we do things around here." In the highest-performing cultures Gallup has studied, "the way we do things around here" includes values and a mission that are understood and shared across the organization, a purpose incorporated into everyday decisions and work behaviors, belief in the brand, hiring and developing talented leaders, and, above all else, workplace engagement.

The pandemic changed the way all companies "do things around here" to some extent. But one thing that should never change is a cultural commitment to engagement. It's the performance dimension of culture, and it has a direct impact on both people and the bottom line.

Granted, your employees' engagement priorities may have changed in the past year. During the pandemic, workers' need for communication was paramount, Gallup found, but yours may now need something else -- like more opportunities to do what they do best, maybe even recognition. Pulse surveys and one-on-ones with managers can determine that.

4. Value the customer experience.

To a customer, the employee is your brand. When a company is working beyond its capacity and employees can't serve customers the way customers want, that relationship is in jeopardy. It's probably finished when that customer faces a disengaged employee.

Engaged employees, on the other hand, create experiences, unique to each customer, that increase the value of the brand. That experience, Gallup finds, drives higher long-term profits, loyalty and organic growth.

The behavior of engaged employees is somewhat industry-specific. Gallup's research on the hospitality industry, for example, found that the highest-performing housekeepers see through their customers' eyes by turning on the ceiling fan and laying on the bed before they leave the hotel room. Some of Gallup's manufacturing clients invite customers to the factory floor to talk with employees about the impact of products on the customers' customers.

In any case, employees' engagement drives the customer experience. And whether customers are hard to serve or hard to find, their experience dictates your future.

Engaged Employees Create Engaged Customers

There's a throughline to these four strategies: engagement. That's no accident.

For the best leaders and managers, engagement isn't extra work. It is the work -- because engaged employees create engaged customers. And engaged customers are lucrative.

In normal times, engaged employees perform better on every metric: absenteeism, turnover, shrinkage, productivity, even safety. But these aren't normal times. Some industries are abnormally busy and need engagement to preserve their growth and expand it. Some companies are abnormally slow and need engagement to recover.

That's why engagement is at the core of each strategy. Remember that in the days ahead.

Engagement gives leaders reins for a once-in-a-generation gift horse. With a little luck and a good strategy, that's all you need to make the most of the opportunities in store.

Set the stage for rapid organic growth:


Angela James is Senior Market Leader, Learning and Development, at Gallup.

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