Monday, June 15, 2009

Employee Engagement: In or Out?

Should we be worried about employee engagement during this recession? After all, we are all trying to survive, should we be concerned if our employees are engaged?

I read a very interesting article in BusinessWeek on the subject. The authors made some very good points. Paul Hebert states that the managers are at the root of our employee engagement problems and that "they need to be improved.". Where Gregg Lederman discusses the link between engaged employees and a better customer experience. By paying attention to engagement and by increasing engagement, you will reap the rewards in customer loyalty and revenue.

I believe both ideas are important. It is true, employees don't leave companies they leave their manager. The manager plays a pivotal role in engagement of their employees. There is a ton of research that discusses this relationship and the importance of communication, job expectations, job content and training have on engagement scores. All of which the manager has "control" over.

Maybe managers do need to be improved, but they may need to be engaged as well. They are employees as well. Perhaps, they need leadership and direction from their own managers. So when we discuss employee engagement it should be for ALL employees including our managers.

We have always believed in the relationship of engaged employees and loyal customers. We define the relationship as a "service mirror" or "spillover effect", where customers actually reflecting your employees engagement.

So to answer the initial question should we be concerned about engagement now, I say absolutely yes! I believe the companies that are paying attention to engagement will definitely weather this storm.

So what are some steps you can take to understand who is engaged and who isn't?

1) Make sure your employee survey measures engagement as well as satisfaction
2) Look at your data in a granular way, In other words, slice and dice your data so that you can see which departments, managers, divisions have high and low engagement.
3) Conduct follow ups to get ideas for improvement. Ask your employees they have great ideas.
4) Do this in the spirit of continuous improvement and not a "witch hunt"
5) If possible track customer engagement data to see changes over time after improvements in the employee experience have been made.

What are your thoughts? Is employee engagement so yesterday or is it still in?


Linda Russell said...

Employee engagement is a hot topic right now on Twitter, blogs, news, and within many organizations. My biggest challenge with the way many people talk about it is the tendency to discuss "employee engagement programs" or "initiatives." I like that you mention the spirit of continuous improvement. To me, engagement is driven by overall culture. It's not a singular task or objective to be marked off a list, but something that leaders at all levels embody every single day.

Employee surveys can help highlight areas of low engagement, but if the response to the survey is to create an employee engagement program, I doubt the next survey will show much improvement. Even if the company approaches is as a necessary culture shift, it takes time for employees to truly believe and trust in the new direction. Regardless of how long it takes, it's well worth the effort in the long run for organizations who want to succeed.

Christy said...

There's this layer of management that separates the employee from the Sr. leavel leadership. Sr. Leaders have the vision and the direction, but the message doesn't always get trickled down to the employee.

A great deal of people in middle management positions are there because they were promoted based on performance, based on being highly skilled in their field. However, that doesn't necessarily mean they have communication or leadership skills. Employees need transparency and the WIIFM (what's in it for me) conversations. Unfortunately, a lot of middle managers see knowledge as power and will only tell employees what they think they need to know, instead of the whole picture.

I wouldn't necessarily think of engagement solutions as initiatives or programs, but more as providing leadership with the tools and training to better communicate with their employees and the understanding of the links between training, communication, etc. and high performance.

One of the reasons internal Web 2.0 tools are so successful is because they create channels for employees and Sr. level leadership to connect directly. CEO blogs allow employees to hear it straight from the source - and when employees comment, the CEO gets the feedback, ideas, and insight from employees that aren't always communicated up the chain.

I agree though that if you have a culture that doesn't support engagement and open communication, then influencing engagement will be difficult. That's when it starts from the top - Sr. Leadership will have to set the example and then hold their reports accountable to the same behavior.

Michelle S said...

I think employee engagement should be in and agree that it needs to be ongoing, goal oriented, accountable from management to leadership. Especially in our current economy when companies are downsizing and doing more with less and asking more of existing employees.

Anonymous said...

I still believe that Employee Engagement matters, and matters big time. I put up a post here on what I felt are the key ingredients of an effective EE program.

Also, I completely agree with your point about measuring customer engagement side by side. Proving linkages between employee and customer data and, taking a step further, linking those with business data makes execs sit up and take notice.

Anonymous said...

How do people see employees? As a commodity or as capital?

Unknown said...

I believe employees are definitely capital. They each bring their own skills, experience and expertise which is unique for each person. Right now, with unemployment being at 10%, you could make the argument that people are a commodity, but I have always seen people as unique each adding value to the organization in a different way. Excellent question!