Employee Engagement: What Soft Issues Mean for Hard Numbers?

Scene in the boardroom of a typical company:

HR Head: “We are proposing an Employee Engagement survey to be done in the company. It will give us insights about what people feel within the company. It might give us a handle on the attrition situation as well and we will know which specific areas to focus on.”

Executive I: “Well, that means money. We are tight on the budgets because of the market situation. We need to be focusing on getting more business. All I want from you is to make the employees more productive. We need to squeeze the last drops out of the system.”

Executive II: “But, I think doing a survey is not such a bad idea after all. Our competitors mention that XYZ firm does an employee survey for them in their pitch presentations. If we employ a reputed consulting firm, it would be nice to have their name in our official marketing materials.”

HR Head: “Yes, true. Moreover, employees too will feel a sense of being heard. After the survey, we will take focused action to change things.”

Executive I: “I remember clearly that we did do an employee survey about 6-7 years back. What did we do with it? Did the HR take any action based on the findings? It’s a useless waste of money. Fluff stuff.”

HR Head: “No, but this time it is going to be different…”

Sounds familiar. I think so. Many a times hard-nosed business executives miss the point of employee surveys. If the right metrics are used, flawless execution is achieved and there is executive intent to do something about it, employee engagement could unlock a lot of value for companies. Organizations focused on achieving sustainable organic growth can leverage the emotional economy – the power of human emotions – to build a large base of engaged employees and drive business outcomes.

Many organizations think of all this as a “process” which should be done once in a year or a “nice-to-do”, so that they can talk about it at various forums. Often surveys are done and the reports are shoved off in some cabinet and comfortably forgotten about. But, senior executives are missing the big picture. Employee Engagement is critical to business performance. Think this is all “fluff-stuff”? Think twice before jumping off to a conclusion. Take a look at some masked slides I created based on real data:

This clearly shows how improvements achieved on employee engagement levels as a result of focused actions and Organization Development interventions can yield better business performance. For instance, in the presentation, business centers which improved their engagement levels, improve their sales figure by almost twice more than centers which had a decline in engagement levels. Think of potential upsides on business measures that you can have, if the variance in engagement is reduced and engagement levels rise up.

Top executives need to get off the rhetorical “We are all about our people – our people make us what we are” and show more strategic intent towards their people. When all the process engineering is done, all the money is pumped into capacity-additions and every process is being monitored by six-sigma black belts, and you still want some more juice – you know where you should be looking at – your people.

Take a hard look at the soft numbers!!

P.S. – It’s important to note here that “employee engagement” has been defined differently by leading experts. When I refer to employee engagement, I am specifically talking about engagement levels with one’s manager or workgroup. It is there where bonds with a company are formed or broken. And don’t we know that there is no such thing as corporate culture; there are as many cultures within a company as there are managers. Each manager, with his own style, creates sub-cultures which impact the lives of employees.

10 thoughts on “Employee Engagement: What Soft Issues Mean for Hard Numbers?

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  3. While it is true that initial bonds are formed with one’s manager or work group, the maximum effect of employee engagement will not be felt unless it is driven by Senior Management. An individual business unit will benefit from a localized push to engaging the employee but a dynamic push, led by senior management will create a cultural transformation.

    Too often, companies try to move the accountability of engaging employees to HR or the local manager/work group. This leaves the success rate entirely in the hands of your least experienced management. If they are not engaged, the employees may become engaged with the wrong values.

    A coordinated effort, top down, bottom up, is the best activity as it will drive significant change in the organization.


  4. I am, in no way, undermining the importance of top management. In fact, as I am working with more and more companies on their engagement strategy, top management is consistently coming out as a top driver of engagement. Management commitment to engagement is critical. Otherwise, local managers won’t even have a platform to drive engagement. The ‘enablers’ just won’t exist without management support.


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