Employee engagement is not a racket

by Melany Gallant | Posted | Engagement

Employee engagement is not a racket

Liz Ryan at Bloomberg Businessweek put a stake in the ground on Friday, publishing an article where she decried that employee engagement is a racket. Another in a long line of people management trends.

Liz explains that employee engagement is a made-up construct that can't be measured through annual employee engagement surveys because:

"They are horrible for collecting stories-in-context, the kind of feedback that is likely to compel an overstressed leadership team to act."

With this point, I couldn't agree more. Employee engagement surveys are a tool, one of many that organizations should be using to gain a complete picture of engagement.

So how else should organizations monitor and measure engagement? Through a strategic performance management process that ensures managers and employees engage (pun intended) in meaningful, ongoing performance discussions.

Why? Because employee engagement is not a racket. Studies have shown that engagement can be tied directly to business outcomes such as increased productivity, improved corporate performance, and increased customer satisfaction.

However, the stories-in-context point the Ryan makes is a good one. You can't understand what motivates an employee without talking to them. And leaving it to a once-a-year online survey isn't going to get you the insight you need to act.

No, instead you need to know what motivates your employees to perform and you can't get a complete picture of these engagement drivers if you let an annual engagement survey be your single data source.

Top 10 global drivers of employee engagement

In their Global Workforce Study, Towers Perrin identified the top 10 global drivers of employee engagement as:

  1. Senior management sincerely interested in employee well-being
  2. Improved my skills and capabilities over the last year
  3. Organization's reputation for social responsibility
  4. Input into decision making in my department
  5. Organization quickly resolves customer concerns
  6. Set high personal standards
  7. Have excellent career advancement opportunities
  8. Enjoy challenging work assignments that broaden skills
  9. Good relationship with supervisor
  10. Organization encourages innovative thinking

Do you know whether these drivers of employee engagement are being discussed between your managers and employees? What processes do you have in place to ensure managers are providing meaningful, ongoing performance feedback to employees? How do your development plans support not only the business goals of your organization but also the career aspirations of your employees?

To understand employee engagement as something your leadership team can act on, these are the questions HR and leadership must be able to answer at any point in the year.

You want to increase employee engagement? Make corporate culture intentional.

Ryan also points out that it's unimportant for say, your IT people to know your mission, vision values; that "you don't need them to memorize the company's fight song" so long as they are focused on doing their jobs.

I couldn't disagree more. Corporate culture needs to be intentional. To motivate and engage your employees you need to first understand where you want the business to go (think mission, vision) and what values support that.

Then you need to tie those values to core competencies in your organization so that they are supported and reflected in each job-role (yes, even with your IT team).

There also needs to be executive buy-in. Leadership in your organization needs to lead by example. Your organization's culture and values also need to be continuously reinforced, not just by senior leadership but also by leadership at all levels of the organization.

Values drive the behavior that is desired or expected of employees at each stage of the employee life cycle. Talent management explicitly supports this by translating values into specific competencies and goals that can be assessed and rewarded at each stage.

The ability to reinforce corporate culture and values in a meaningful way through your talent management processes is underpinned by effective competency management. The same competencies that are used in the creation of the job description can consistently be reflected in ongoing processes - performance appraisals, multirater feedback reviews, development planning, talent assessments to name a few.

A strong talent management process - one that supports ongoing feedback between managers and employees - can help organizations drive employee engagement in a way that fosters strategic returns for the organization.

Yes, Liz is right. Asking people what they think more than once a year is definitely needed. That doesn't mean, however that employee engagement is a racket.

For more information on what organizations can do to increase employee engagement, visit the Employee Engagement Center of Excellence.

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