Despite what happens to the business environment, smart leaders always understand the importance of employee engagement. In an upswing, engaged employees help an organization leverage the positive environment and deliver incremental returns. In a bad business environment, the engaged employees are the best source of innovations and ideas on how to do best in a deteriorating environment.
There are a large number of companies across the globe which continue to invest in employee engagement programs despite the economic downswing. While this is a good sign, it is critical to ensure that scarce dollars are spent smartly to ensure good RoI from such programs.
Here are some of my thoughts about the key ingredients of an effective employee engagement program:
- Define: Let’s get the basics right first. Different organizations, HR professionals and HR Consultants define employee engagement differently. Some HR professionals confuse employee engagement with welfare activities like staff dinners, family get-togethers, picnics etc. These are small elements and employee engagement is a much more complex beast. I like to think about employee engagement in two ways: commitment and emotional attachment with the company or with the workgroup / manager. In different organizational contexts, different definitions may be suitable.
- Communicate: The key to a successful employee engagement initiative is top management commitment and communication around the program. The leadership needs to demonstrate its commitment to the initiative and drive its importance in all forums. Another essential aspect of communication is the emphasis on confidentiality of responses. This should ideally come from the head of the organization.
- Key Drivers: While slicing and dicing the data by employee demographics like departments, business units, job levels etc. is important to understand the variance in engagement levels, it is extremely important to be able to prioritize from the mountain of data generated by the survey. One could rely on techniques like regressions to understand the drivers of the intermediate outcome – employee engagement. A good regression model should yield an adjusted R-Squared value of 0.4 and above (by social research standards). Such an analysis would reveal the top influencers of engagement and these would act as high-yield levers to effect engagement levels.
- Benchmarking: Try and work with consulting firms which have robust benchmarking data for employee engagement and other workplace quality indicators. Firms offering comprehensive benchmarking will help you to further distill the data and arrive at action items. In most cases, organizations should look at industry benchmarks and country-level benchmarks (local labor market comparisons). Other benchmarks may be suitable depending on the context.
- Feedback: Employees give feedback in a survey and anticipate a flow of information back. So, inform employees about how you fared and what you plan to do about it. It’s easy to lose momentum after the survey because most organizations focus too much energy on the survey and too little on post-survey activities. Remember – surveys are just the starting point of any organizational development program.
- Act: This is the most crucial step and the area where most organizations fail to live upto the expectations. While the HR should play the role of the facilitator and provide operational support, the “act’ phase has to be driven by the leadership. They need to take the survey to the next level by acting on it. Define ideal state. Draw transformational and transactional change plans. Fix accountabilities. Fix timelines. Monitor and review progress. Improvize. All the time! ‘Change’ is a constant and your change program needs to run continuously.
- Involve: And while you are implementing solutions, do not forget to involve your middle management and front line managers. Educate them about why employee engagement matters and how it impacts business outcomes. Encourage them to make engagement a part of the business agenda.
The benefits of employee engagement are many. In today’s world, “people” are your only unique competitive advantage. It’s not an easy ride, but it’s really worth it!
What do you do to make your employee engagement initiatives successful? Do leave a comment. Or if you want a detailed discussion, email me at mittalabhishek05 @ gmail.com