Employee Engagement – Where to Focus?

After having worked with multiple organizations across multiple geographies on Employee Engagement programs, there is still an interesting debate I have with clients, colleagues, friends and HR practitioners.

The question is “Do we need to focus exclusively on workgroup-level engagement or focus on enterprise-level systems / processes first?”

Some feel that workgroup engagement is paramount, since managers hold the key to employee engagement. They cite oft-repeated quotes like “People join companies, but leave managers.” I feel that there is a lot of merit in this thought process. On the other hand, there are frameworks and approaches which emphasize on organization-level engagement with a sharp focus on fixing systems & processes of human capital management.


So, companies ask their internal experts and consultants – “Which is the best solution for us?” I am afraid the answer is not so simple as A or B or C. The issue merits careful consideration.

In organizations which achieve a high level of maturity on the Human Capital Management cotinuum, there is a supportive platform for people management at a workgroup level. There are established systems for key people processes like hiring, on-boarding, training, development, career pathing, retention, exit etc. Having tools and processes is half the task done.  And the other half is all about manager education around sensitization to people management. Most “business” managers are best at what they are initially expected to do – “business”. It is not only because companies demand that as a first priority, but I feel another root cause is lack of focus on people management in management education. So, manager education is needed to help them understand the importance of employee engagement and why it matters to their business. In such a case, an engagement program focused on building workgroup engagement and refining enterprise-level enablers is more suited.

However, many organizations are simply not “there” when it comes to HR capabilities. Or leave HR policies, but there might be a lot of turmoil at the top which can act as a barrier to engagement. There are policies after policies after policies -with no connect to current context, business strategy or employee expectations. Most systems are at best “average” and “ad-hoc”. There is no clear line of sight with respect to strategic direction, accountabilities and business imperatives. In such a scenario, how can HR or the leadership expect managers to deal with the performance management process. How can managers hire the right candidates if we don’t even have a identified pool of candidates and tools to manage the information? How can managers explain career paths to people, if they are unsure about their own? How can managers retain people, if compensation is not benchmarked? How can managers ensure positive exits and build reasonable “return” probabilities, if there is no formal process for handling exits? Frontline managers are often found struggling and grappling with these issues and such a situation is definitely not conducive to build engagement at a workgroup level. In such a situation, what is needed is a robust measurement of enterprise-enablers, with a mild focus on workgroup issues. Then, issues would need to be prioritized using analytics and probing techniques to chart a way forward.

But, the next question is how does an organization determine the maturity of its processes. It is usually done by process audits, benchmarking or even an initial survey covering both workgroup engagement measures and enterprise-level measures to set baseline metrics, understand employee expectations and set the direction for future interventions. Leaders could also use simple, yet powerful tools like Appreciative Inquiry to ascertain the best solution for their organizations.

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6 thoughts on “Employee Engagement – Where to Focus?

  1. While a workgroup-level effort is more intuitive–and probably has the most eventual impact on engagement, you make a good point… If the higher-level situation is a mess, you need to address that in order for anything else to reach its potential.


    • Thanks for stopping by, Deb.I have seen many clients where the “big picture” is a terrible mess and engagement initiatives are directed at a workgroup level. The situation leaves managers and workgroups feeling like “headless chickens”!!


  2. Debbie is right on- and so is Abhishek. Let’s stop trying to engage headless chickens and make sure there is a clear vision based in values for them to engage with!


  3. Pingback: What Drives Employee Engagement? « Mumblr

  4. Pingback: List of the Top Blog Posts of 2009 « Mumblr

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