5 Steps to Creating Employee Engagement

July 3, 2013 Michael George

Research by Gallup and others has concluded that when employees are engaged at work they are more productive, drive higher levels of profitability, are more customer-focused, and more likely to stay with their current employer.
Source: Gallup, Wright Management

Additional research of 50 multi-national companies conducted by Towers Perrin concluded that engagement levels are an accurate predictor of company success. Organizations with highly engaged employees realized an average increase in operating income of nearly 20% in the year they were studied. This solid correlation should heighten every HR leader’s commitment to improving employee engagement.

Best-in-class companies know that an employee engagement strategy linked to the achievement of corporate goals will help them to win in the marketplace. Thus, employee engagement is not just a human resources initiative – it is rapidly becoming a business imperative for many organizations.

For those with low engagement levels, it is possible to improve employee engagement by creating a comprehensive effort designed to link individual contributions to the desired business outcomes for every employee, manager, and leader in the organization. Here are 5 steps to creating an engaged workforce.

1. Understand the difference between engagement and alignment

Creating engagement starts with understanding the difference between engagement and alignment. Alignment is knowing what to do, whereas engagement is wanting to do it. Too often, employers fail to answer “why,” and provide employees little motivation to take initiative and go above and beyond. Employees should be encouraged to ask questions, and challenge the status quo. Managers must be equipped to answer these challenges in a way that attaches meaning to the employee’s day-to-day endeavors.

2. Assess the degree of disengagement in your organization

It’s critical to understand both the degree and impact of employee disengagement throughout your organization. Gallup’s engagement ratio is one indicator of an organization’s health that tracks the proportion of engaged to actively disengaged employees.

According to Gallup, in world-class organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is about 10:1. In average organizations, the ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees is just under 2:1. This translates into about 54 percent of U.S. employees being categorized as not engaged, 17 percent identified as actively disengaged, and only 29 percent classified as engaged.

Employee Engagement
Source: Gallup

Actively disengaged employees negatively affect the organization’s bottom line while breaking the spirits of colleagues, and eroding corporate culture in the process. It is estimated that within the U.S., active disengagement costs companies more than $370 billion in lost productivity alone. In contrast, organizations that achieve an engagement ratio at or near 8:1 are able to greatly reduce the negative impact of actively disengaged employees while maximizing the organization’s potential for growth.

3. Focus on the critical areas that drive engagement

Studies from organizations like Aon, The Conference Board, Gallup, DDI, Towers Perrin and others have analyzing what factors really count for high levels of engagement have revealed several key reasons. NY Times bestselling author (his latest book is Employee Engagement 2.0) and serial entrepreneur Kevin Kruse has put together what he calls the Employee Engagement Research Master List of 29 Studies on his blog if you’re interested in reading more research.

One of the primary drivers cited by highly engaged employees is that “senior management has a sincere interest in my well-being,” followed closely by “I have improved my skills and capabilities over the past year.”

Understanding how your organization ranks in handling these two primary drivers can offer insight into ways to improve employee engagement. Initiatives like organizational goal alignment, continuous and ongoing feedback from managers, learning and development opportunities, and providing employees with a greater sense of autonomy have all been identified as ways HR can affect how the workforce views leadership’s interest and commitment to employee well-being.

Likewise, programs that specifically address skill development and career advancement have been shown to have a dramatic impact on employee engagement, as well as retention of critical talent.

4. Realize that engagement is an ongoing process

The most engaged employees are those who understand how their roles and responsibilities relate to a larger meaning, and have clearly defined objectives that contribute to the company’s performance and success.

These employees are also able to work more independently, prioritizing what is important, without being bogged down in meaningless activities that do not relate to the company’s mission.

To keep employees engaged requires a shift from the idea that goal setting, performance feedback, or development planning is a once or twice a year activity, to a mindset that recognizes the high impact and value of talent management as an ongoing effort.

The benefit of a year-round effort is that as things change, every employee can reconnect with a shifting set of organizational priorities. This offers a greater level of agility without risking disengagement as business priorities change over time.

5. Don’t underestimate the role of technology in creating engagement

HR professionals and managers now have powerful tools that can help to create engaged employees. The key is providing a technology foundation that creates an environment of connectedness with other employees, the company vision and management.

There are three types of tools that we think can help create engagement:

  • Social intranets: In the past, companies have relied on intranets to try to accomplish this. But most intranets are nothing but content repositories and do little to foster collaboration or engagement. We’re now seeing more companies creating more engaging social intranets that shift the focus away from links and forms to collaboration. By making it easy for employees to connect with each other on any device, at any time, social intranets have the potential to change the way people work. For instance, Virgin America has increased the amount of time their employees spend on their intranet by a factor of 6 with a social intranet. The result has been a significantly more engaged, aligned and happier workforce.
  • Immersive collaboration tools: Collaboration tools such as Google Apps are changing the way people work. Traditional “productivity” applications such as Microsoft Office focus on making the individual task worker more productive at the expense of collaboration. Google Apps shifts this paradigm completely by bringing collaboration into productivity applications. It’s easy to share and work on documents together, edit simultaneously, kick off a chat while you’re working or even spin up a video chat instantly from email. More collaboration improves outcomes and increase engagement.
  • Real-time feedback systems: Finally, traditional performance management systems that reinforce a slow and bureaucratic review process are being replaced by systems and rewards that are more real-time. These can be systems like Work.com that allow employees to give each other real-time feedback or systems like Badgeville that gamify the work environment.

This is a major shift in the role of HR and HR technology. As HR moves from being an administrative function to being a talent management function, the systems that HR professionals need to create with IT will need to become true systems of engagement rather than systems of record. The tools we describe above are just three examples of the types of systems of engagement we expect to see. With today’s flexible platforms and devices, we’re only limited by our imagination.

Conclusion

Engaged employees will exceed expectations and increase production levels because they want to, not because they have to. Creating a work culture and environment that focuses on employee engagement benefits the individual as well as the business.

The benefits and advantages of improving employee engagement are many, including higher retention rates, superior customer service, and increased profitability. Engaged employees are excited and enthusiastic about their jobs, tend to resist distractions, routinely produce significantly more than required, search for ways to improve, volunteer for difficult assignments, encourage better performance in those around them, and are proud to be involved with their organization, making them far more likely to stay with the company.

An empty office at 5:05 PM could be a sign of poor engagement, or even active disengagement on the part of the workforce. Begin to reinforce a commitment to each employee’s well-being, success, and career development and watch as employees stay to finish the job, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Employee Engagement

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