5 Steps to Take to Escape Old Employee Engagement Ideas
Last week I was having a conversation with some colleagues about the renewed focus on employee engagement in the Federal government and how Federal agencies can meet the goal of reaching 67% engagement by 2016. Moving the engagement index up by 3 percentage points over a two year period is an ambitious goal that will require thinking differently about employee engagement. Of course, as John Maynard Keynes wrote, “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones.” So, with that in mind, here are a few steps you can take to escape some old ideas about engagement:
- Start with the organization’s strategic plan – Any efforts to increase employee engagement should start with a look at the strategic plan and associated strategic initiatives of the organization. As with any other major initiative the organization takes on, the return on investment for engagement initiatives should be linked to, and traceable from, the organization’s stated priorities. Linking the outcomes of an engagement initiative to the organization’s strategic objectives elevates those initiatives, bringing attention and accountability to the process while at the same time providing concrete evidence of the success or failure of the work.
- Recognize that the factors that drive engagement may not be the same as the factors that drive mission results – There has been a great deal of research linking increased engagement to organizational performance using a variety of measures (e.g. here, here and here) and it’s well established that organizations with higher levels of engagement outperform the market. However, it is important to remember that there may not be 100% overlap between the factors that drive employee engagement and the factors that drive mission results for the organization. While increased engagement may indeed provide positive business outcomes, a host of other factors including systems, governance processes, policies, or available resource can affect business results and mitigate the effects of increased engagement. As you plan efforts to increase engagement, first identify the drivers of key organizational performance measures and prioritize efforts that also influence specific desired outcomes for your organization.
- Consider engagement to be situational – Studies by Gallup, IBM, and CIPD all show that engagement varies across job types, industries, culture, and context. While large scale engagement studies that demonstrate relationships between specific workplace factors and engagement can help narrow your focus when considering ways to enhance engagement, your chances of success will increase if you take the time to identify the specific characteristics of your organization and workforce that are affecting engagement at your organization.
- Engagement is an individual, not a collective phenomenon – The most common measures of employee engagement take individual survey results and compile them across various levels of the organization to calculate the percentage of employees ranging from actively engaged to actively disengaged. Group level data on engagement can provide insights into the scope and scale of your problem, but doesn’t provide much help in figuring out how to really improve it. The truth is, engagement increases as the overlap between what the organization offers and what the individual wants increases. When there is consistency between individual interests and the structures, processes, and objectives of the organization, individual engagement will increase. So, you should look to add richness and depth to your data to understand the trends and themes shared by large portions of the workforce (which may not be identified by a standard survey) and use that data to shape initiatives aimed at improving engagement.
- Measuring once a year is not enough – A few years ago I was recovering from some health issues that wreaked havoc with my blood pressure. As I worked with the medical team to normalize things, the doctors initially had me checking my blood pressure 2 – 3 times a day, and as time progressed the measurement intervals went down to 2 -3 times per week, then to 2-3 times per month. The only way to truly understand what was influencing my blood pressure was to measure it frequently and look for patterns and trends. The same is true for employee engagement. A number of workplace and personal variables can affect engagement and understanding how it varies over time can provide valuable insight into how it can best be improved. There are a variety of quick and inexpensive approaches for measuring employee engagement on a quarterly, monthly, or even, real-time basis. Consider implementing new strategies to provide you with more high fidelity insight into the factors influencing engagement and to the success of your efforts to affect it.
Concerns over employee engagement have been around for more than a decade and making significant improvement continues to be a major business priority. Achieving the desired gains will require escaping from some of our old ideas about engagement.
If you’ve had success improving engagement in your organization, share your story with us!