Managing employee engagement is one of those topics on the agenda of leaders, and particularly HR professionals, in any company. Nevertheless this concept poses several drawbacks. First of all is the difficulty in defining it.
Instead of trying to find an abstract and vague definition, perhaps it is easier to understand the concept by describing the consequences, brought about by a lack or loss of commitment from the people who are part of the company, as well as explaining some of the main reasons leading to such a scenario.
Thus my attempt to explain the concept is to say that when employees do not feel well treated or informed, or heard, or invited to participate in aspects defining the future of the organization, the problem is not that they dump their jobs and walk out. The problem is people dump their jobs and stay on. Hence they still remain on the payroll, but are disaffected and guided by the principle of minimal effort.
Assuming it is so, ostensibly the lack of commitment can have dire consequences for companies. Once this is accepted as a critical factor for securing long term success in organizations, it expedient to stress that it is difficult to find out the real impact of engagement on company performance.
For example, if you decide to use a metric like NPS (Net Promoter Score), and an improvement of ten points is achieved, it would be hard to predict how this increase in engagement would impact revenue, customer retention, or market share. Even improvement in some of the business metrics cannot be predicted with complete confidence.
Another way to measure engagement might be through individual interviews. Assuming the interviewer is objective, this may be valuable for its qualitative element but it still does not shed light on how engagement may influence performance and results.
By this I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t measure the level of employee engagement. On the contrary, I think it’s important to use both quantitative and qualitative methods, and it’s right to do so constantly over time and not a just as a simple annual practice.
From some of these measurement results, we know that engagement levels are currently very low. This is what studies show, like the one carried out by Gallup in 2012 which indicated that in the United States, less than 26% of workers were actively engaged within their companies. In another study undertaken globally in 2013 the results are even less encouraging.
I’d like to clarify that my interest in engagement is that as an innovation consultant, it’s very apparent to me that it’s impossible to build innovative cultures without high levels of engagement. If you wish, the term innovation can be swapped for change.
In fact the implications of change—or innovation—and engagement are far more interrelated than it would seem. It isn’t possible to achieve changes without commitment or engagement, yet change is a huge opportunity for greater engagement. This requires change to be designed by all, and not imposed by just a few.
Organizations that seek to adapt to a future, where collaboration and empowerment will be gaining traction, cannot impose change. This should be co-created with all those who are part of the organization.
Precisely that’s why when dealing with a deep change, for example a change that involves creating an innovative culture, I use a series of steps that contribute towards achieving greater engagement among those people who will be affected by these changes:
- Communicate: communication must be clear, concise, consistent and regular. It is important to include the reasons at the outset which lead the organization to think of change and this way tie in with the company’s goals. As I mentioned earlier, this is difficult to establish. Thereafter all on-going progress must be communicated.
- Train: this is about making sure that all stakeholders understand what is happening in the market and the business. It is also about providing these stakeholders with tools to both understand the need for change and to establish new roadmaps.
- Co-create: it’s not recommended that new initiatives be imposed following a "top-down" approach. It’s much more interesting to make the most of everyone’s points of view and knowledge within the organization. Plus open an orderly process to define the changes to tackle and plan their implementation, all in a collaborative manner. This way, in addition to obtaining more and better alternatives, greater initial engagement is achieved with the changes.
Ultimately if you want to improve the level of employee engagement, while creating an innovative culture that delivers results, the formula is quite simple (the implementation of the formula is somewhat more complex). It is about encouraging employees to produce ideas that generate value for customers and the company.
In doing so, a situation is created in which both parties, employees and the company, come off winning. Employees feel they form an integral part of the company and more engaged, while contributing their ideas to improve the organization’s performance.
Innovative companies see their employees as a source of inspiration and establish mechanisms to exploit their knowledge and creativity. This translates into ideas to improve processes, to create better customer experiences, or to develop new products or services.
This approach needs a humanistic leadership that puts people at the centre and sets as top priority the creation of an innovative culture where there is a high level of engagement among members of the organization.