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8 common errors when trying to evaluate employee engagement

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After several years of challenges, workforces are very weary. Organizations that want to compete in today's changing scenario must succeed in regaining engagement and enthusiasm among their teams, generating team experiences that strengthen their ties to the organization.

For this, first they must find out the level of engagement among their employees using measurement tools, and then implement the necessary actions for boosting this emotional link with the organization to ensure proper performance, in terms of results and in terms of desirable professional behaviour.

More and more companies aware of this are embarking on projects to measure engagement. However, as they do not have a valid and reliable assessment model, they frequently fall prey to one or more of the following mistakes.

1.- Not measuring. Obviously the biggest mistake is not to measure and to try to deduce workforce engagement based on top management's perceptions. Often organizations are reluctant to "touch base with" their workforces and prefer to probe their leaders' perceptions of engagement among their teams.

2.- Confuse satisfaction with engagement. The most common error is to ask people about their degree of satisfaction concerning a number of organizational aspects and translate it into terms of engagement.

Satisfaction is not the same as engagement: the former is a rather unstable factor deeply conditioned by the success of overcoming a need: when a shortcoming is covered, the success achieved initially raises satisfaction levels but these soon come down again. Engagement in contrast is a stable and sustainable factor that is more difficult to increase, yet it is hardly affected by small fluctuations in conditions.

3.- Infer engagement based on the work environment. In some cases, organizations traditionally measuring the work atmosphere choose to infer the level of engagement among their teams from the results: teams that better rate the work atmosphere are more engaged and inversely.

Certain factors impact engagement not others, and to different degrees. Although some of the variables included in work environment studies coincide with some of these factors ("bosses", team, remuneration, training...), the work environment study does not allow for assessing the extent of the impact of these variables on engagement.

4.- Directly ask about engagement. Going a step further than organizations which infer engagement from the work atmosphere, are those organizations that include items for measuring engagement in the work environment survey; for example, to what degree: "are you committed?" or "would you recommend this company to work?" or "do you feel proud to work for this company?" …

Engagement is a multifaceted concept. The classical Meyer and Allen model breaks it down into three components: affective (or the desire to belong), normative (or the feeling of obligation to the company) and continuance (or permanence out of interest). Although the ideal is to have emotionally engaged professionals, it is essential to know to what degree they remain out of a sense of obligation to the organization, and to what extent is it because our offer is the "least bad".

5.- Not measuring the reasons for engagement. Just as engagement cannot be inferred from work environment survey results (see error 3), an evaluation scale cannot be applied to engagement to infer the reasons for the engagement level obtained from this measurement.

If we said earlier that certain factors, and reasons, impact engagement and not others, and to different degrees, then aside from measuring engagement, we need to find out these reasons and measure their impact on engagement in our organization.

6.- Not measuring the consequences of engagement. One of the biggest challenges for the HR function, and where it often fails, is to measure the effect of their actions on the achievement of business goals.

We claim that an engaged workforce achieves greater results; it is more productive; it improves customer satisfaction... But how sure can we be? Only by finding out the effect of engagement levels on performance levels, or at least on professional behaviour...

7.- Measuring only for comparison. Often organizations ask us if we compare the engagement levels obtained with the scales used by their sector of activity or environment or size. Yes, we could provide this information, but does it help an organization to improve knowing "it is a 6.5" and your competitor "is a 7"?

An organization needs to know its level of engagement, the factors of the experience that most impact it, and the professional behaviour derived from this engagement. Then with all this information, start to make the right decisions on which actions and groups to dedicate efforts for boosting engagement.

8.- Focus on improving the worst-rated factors. Organizations that assess satisfaction or motivation or the work environment, design their action plans to try to improve the factors with the poorest scores (which is almost always compensation).

However, when we evaluate complex concepts like engagement, we have to be very careful when deciding on where to direct our—always limited—efforts. And that means having the required, yet sufficient, information to make the right decisions.

Ana Peñaranda

Ana Peñaranda es Gerente del área de Transformación de Personas de Tatum y dirige los proyectos de Evaluación y Desarrollo del Compromiso de la consultora, aplicando el Modelo TEE, del que es responsable técnica, junto con el equipo de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Además, está especializada en la implantación de valores y cultura organizativa, en gestión del cambio y en aplicación de políticas de calidad de vida laboral y conciliación. Su licenciatura en Psicología la cursó en la Universidad Complutense de Madrid y sus créditos de doctorado en la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.

El Modelo TEE (tatum experiential engagement) de evaluación y desarrollo del compromiso, desarrollado por tatum y la Universidad Complutense de Madrid, permite transformar los equipos aumentando su compromiso. Para ello, evalúa el nivel de compromiso de la plantilla, con una escala propia, e identifica las palancas de la experiencia laboral que más impactan en el compromiso de cada organización, y sobre las que ésta deberá actuar si quiere mejorar este vínculo afectivo. Además, el Modelo TEE define tres tipologías de personas en función de su nivel de compromiso, y determina la presencia de cada una de ellas por departamento o por nivel profesional o por centro de trabajo, etc., para poder implantar actuaciones diferentes en cada colectivo.

Ana Peñaranda is the Director of People Transformation at Tatum and manages the Engagement Review and Development projects of the consultancy and applying the TEE model—she is in charge of the technical side of this model together with the team at the Complutense University, Madrid, Spain. Moreover she is specialized in the implementation of organizational values and culture, change management and in the application of work-life balance plans. She graduated in Psychology from the Complutense University in Madrid and took her doctoral credits at the Autonomous University of Madrid. The TEE (Tatum Experiential Engagement) model for engagement evaluation and development, by Tatum and the Complutense University of Madrid, allows teams to be transformed, increasing their engagement. It does this by evaluating the engagement level of the workforce using its proprietary scale and identifies the levers of work experience that most impact engagement in each organization. Organizations must act upon these levers if they wish to improve this affective bond. The TEE model also defines three types of people depending on their engagement level and determines their presence by department, by professional level, or by work centre, and so on, in order to implement different actions for each group.

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