Re-engaging with Engagement

Everyone is paying attention to it. Some attempt to measure it. And few understand what it is, why it makes a difference, and how to create it. I’m talking about engagement – the number one most pressing talent concern cited by nearly 300 global organizations participating in Brandon Hall Group’s 2014 Talent Management Study, and identified by 63% of organizations participating in our just-completed 2014 Engagement Study as a strategic organizational priority.

What Engagement Is and Isn’t

If you agree that engagement is not about how happy or satisfied employees are, then the question becomes what is it? Depending with whom you keep company, engagement seems to be described in any number of ways and each just a little bit different from the next. Some definitions are rooted in science: “Employee engagement is a vast data construct that touches almost all parts of human resource management facets we know hitherto.” OMG – really? What does that actually look like in practice? Let’s try the not-so-science-oriented definition. “Engaged employees put their whole-hearted selves behind what needs to be done.” Well, that one gives me the “warm fuzzies” at least, but I’m still left clueless as to how to create a “whole-hearted” employee.

I’d like to offer a hybrid definition for your consideration – one that reflects a cross of feeling and science. Simply put, engagement is a desire to commit. Desire is one’s passion. Passion is not easily measured if at all. Commitment is an employee’s unwavering dedication — to peers, to colleagues, to her work, to her company. Commitment is observable. It means that your security guard pulls a bag that looks suspicious even if it exposes itself before his shift starts. It means that your CEO picks up that candy wrapper on the floor rather than stepping over it. It means that your financial analyst takes the time to double and triple check the numbers before the audit. It means that your senior sales leader willfully turns down the opportunity to take an unsolicited offer with your competition even though the total compensation package may be more attractive. You get the idea.

Commitment is easily measured — via any number of metrics — including: error rates, productivity levels, absenteeism, turnover rates, promotion rates, revenue, customer satisfaction, customer retention, employee retention, profit, stock price, and market share as starters.

Why Engagement Matters

We may be challenged to align on the definition of engagement but most agree engagement makes a measurable business difference:

  • 80% of companies that prioritize engagement have reduced their turnover rates year over year (Brandon Hall Group Engagement Study, November 2014)
  • 31% of organizations that prioritize engagement advise that engagement drives increased productivity. (Brandon Hall Group Engagement Survey Study, November 2014).
  • Revenue growth in organizations with engaged employees outpaced their disengaged peers by at least 8% (Harvard).
  • Market share increased by more than 10% in engaged organizations than in disengaged organizations (Harvard).
  • Companies with engaged employees have 6% higher net profit margins than do companies with less engaged employees (IBM).

How to Create Engagement

Manipulating or engineering engagement via shallow and episodic means is futile. Creating engaged employees doesn’t happen because you sent a “great job” email to Sally today. It doesn’t happen because you awarded John with a 5-year service anniversary pin. It doesn’t happen because you implemented a hokey recognition program that turns into a popularity contest. It doesn’t happen because you conduct regular employee engagement surveys. It doesn’t even happen because you awarded a spot bonus. Engagement is not an event, a thing, an action, a program, or a survey. Engagement is continuous. It is everyday. I call it “everyday engagement,” and it happens because you have invested in it appropriately (32% of organizations told us they plan to increase their engagement budget over what they invested this fiscal year). And it happens when you figure out how to turn up the passion channel all the way to bright (an expression I have lifted from an esteemed, revered and very smart colleague).

In case you are wondering, igniting the passion channel starts with embedding a culture – a culture that brings employee commitment.

Four calls to action guide the creation of a culture of commitment:

  1. Involve others. Avoid letting the few decide for many. Expand participation in key decisions. In so doing, you prompt a venue for more, diverse, and innovative ideas, and you create a critical mass for setting change into motion.
  2. Enable action. By generating the critical mass who are rallied around a common and compelling purpose, you cultivate a team of employees who have the drive and will to “get it done” – whenever and however that means.
  3. Connect employees. Encouraging dialogue and teaming prompts transparency, open sharing, and honesty – requisites to employees trusting each other to make decisions and take actions in the best interest of the organization.
  4. Foster fairness. Take a stand to ensure equal treatment for equal contribution. Demonstrate to employees that their efforts toward organizational success will be rewarded in an egalitarian spirit.

I heartily propose that culture is the new engagement. Is your organization one where employees are encouraged to connect with each other? Where employees are treated fairly without exception? If not, you don’t, and won’t, ever have true engagement.

Until next time …

Laci Loew, Vice President and Principal Analyst,
Talent Management Practice, Brandon Hall Group

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