Creating an employee engagement plan that adds value to your business

By | December 7, 2010

SimonK2-Leeds-07-232x300Simon Kingsnorth of Optimal HR spotted Dr David Spicer’s blog on What makes a great employer? – he was Simon’s tutor when he did his executive MBA at Bradford.  Here he writes a guest blog with his own thoughts – having held senior positions in HR in HSBC and other multi-national corporates, he has wide experience to draw on.

Creating an employee engagement plan that adds value to your business
Over the past five years, employee engagement has increased in importance for many organisations – and rightly so.   There has been a realisation that the successful organisations today have competitive advantage anchored in the way that their people behave.

Gone are the days of competitive advantage through finance, location, and other organisational factors. Today business leaders know that engaged employees are more productive, take fewer days sick and create higher levels of customer satisfaction.  After all there has been plenty of compelling data from studies by organisations such as Towers Perrins, Sirota in the US and even the 2009 Govt report – Engaging for Success, authored by David McLeod.

1. How do you create a culture of engagement?
Well there is no one size fits all approach, but there are a number of steps that organisations can follow to build their culture toward increasing engagement. I outline these below.

But first a definition of engagement that works for me. Its relatively straight forward – it’s “creating a culture and climate where people will give their discretionary effort – go the extra mile”. This is built on foundations of
•    Pride – in the business, and its products – the test is whether your people would be proud to tell their friends over a beer, or glass of wine who they work for and how good their products are.
•    Advocacy – are your people telling people how good your business is and effectively acting as brand ambassadors?
•   Trust – in the leadership of the business

2. Emotional attachments to your employer

You will have noticed that these are emotional attachments, and this is no mistake – it’s emotional attachment to goals and a motivation to act which produces the spectacular results that engaged people produce.

But it’s not as simple as that – the rational conditions need to be right too. Commitment is built on psychological alignment to the organisation and its goals and performance alignment built on rational factors such as ‘do I understand what’s expected of me’, ‘can I see the contribution that I make to moving this organisation forward’.

In a way it’s no different to customers – they buy emotionally but the rational factors need to stack up too – just think about the brands that you buy.

3. Building successful employee engagement

Build a business case and get your senior team on side. This is important because employee engagement is a business imperative.  It’s not pink and fluffy – it has hard core business benefits that are measurable. Decide what you will measure – attrition, sick days, customer satisfaction, referrals, productivity are all good examples.  Have some internally focused measures – attrition for example, and some external indicators. Why?  Because there is no doubt that employee experience = customer experience.  This has been demonstrated as early as 1998 by Sears and more recently in the UK by leading financial services businesses.
Understand your people You can do this by asking them to complete a survey or by holding focus groups. You want to understand what they think is great and also not so great. Care here – surveys need to be constructed carefully to ensure you are asking the right questions and not leading people towards an answer.  Also with focus groups – people need to be convinced that they can say what they think, not what their employer wants to hear! Independence for focus group facilitators and anonymity for questionnaires is important.
Critical success factors – you need to identify the drivers of employee engagement for your organisation. These will differ case to case but there are some themes that have been found to be central to engagement.

Role and influence of first line manager – the first line manager is where the rubber hits the road for employees. He or she is responsible in large part for creating the “people experience” by translating the culture, strategy, policies and procedures of the organisation into a reality for the individual. Remember the old adage – people join organisations but leave managers.
Employer brand – what does your brand say about you – quite often turnover is due to unfulfilled expectations on joining a company – “I didn’t think it would be like this!” – the best organisations have an internal and external consistency in this area – there’s a remarkable consistency in what employees and customers say about the business. Your vision and values should be consistent internally and externally and will be key in determining the behaviours that prevail in your organisation.
Fulfilling work – being able to do what you are best at each day – playing to strengths – this is about person job fit, recognition and having the tools to deliver. It’s important in psychological well-being and feeling fairly treated.
A sense of having a stake in how decisions are made – being consulted and being involved – critical to ownership of problems and solutions both at the customer interface externally and internally.

Creating a culture where the values and behavioural drivers are well understood and embedded. Start by asking your people what’s important to them – what are the biggest motivators  – what would de-motivate them by its absence? This needs to be prioritised and fed back to senior management and refined.  It’s an iterative process – when you have a set of words that matter to all internal stakeholders.  You must move to making them come alive through actions and building them into performance management systems and processes, recruitment and selection and learning and development. They should form the basis for leadership development.

It’s generally reckoned that short term fixes can be more damaging to engagement than doing nothing at all.  What are the best and worst employee engagement initiatives that you have seen?  And why did or didn’t they work?

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