Getting Employee Engagement Practices Right!

Many readers of the first two posts in this series have asked for ideas on what to do to enhance Employee Engagement. This blog post is based on a series of conversations with HR Professionals and explains how to get Employee Engagement practices right.

First: Define what you want to manage

In one organization the term Employee Engagement was linked to a "marriage" of the employee and the organization, and the expectation from employees was to be ‘wedded to the company’ (Anil Gole of Greaves Cotton). In Essar Oil, Harsh Bhosale indicated that they believed engagement was the extent to which the company captures the ‘hearts and minds’ of people. The organization has firm faith that engaged employees form a committed and motivated workforce, which in turn delivers better business results. Dhananjay Bhansod of Leighton Welspun says that it is about how the employee ‘identifies’ with the organization and its goals, and works towards helping the organization achieve them.

"Employee Engagement for us is a desire to stay with the organization and perform through a deep sense of ownership and commitment," says Tanaya Mishra of JSW. “For achieving business results, Employee Engagement is essential,” is the viewpoint of Vishwanath Lele of Shapoorji & Pallonji. Yet another CHRO, who is a dear friend, mentions that not only is it fun to work with and enhance the engagement of a team, but the measurement of a team’s engagement can predict company performance and employee retention!

A multinational FMCG major in India says that ‘engaged employees are employees who perform at their peak, with a clear alignment of their personal goals and interests with that of the team and organization.’ At the Indo-French Cement giant, Lafarge, Aparna Sharma is working with a definition of Employee Engagement that encompasses employee commitment to the organization and its values, willingness to help colleagues, positive attitude towards the organization’s goals and giving their best in achieving these goals.

It is easy to see that these are combinations of four different but related behavioral constructs:

  1. Loyalty: Faithfulness and a strong feeling of allegiance to the organization
  2. Commitment: Mutual transactional bond of being committed to actions to be performed in return for a reward
  3. Satisfaction: Fulfillment of employee needs, both intrinsic and extrinsic
  4. Engagement: Employee connect with organizational purpose

Second: Find the right tools to measure and assess

Different brands of Employee Engagement survey methods vary from Gallup, Watson Towers, Hewitt Associates, Synnovate, Bain & Co., and People in Business. Some organizations have an internally developed survey undertaken globally, and one company reported that they supported survey results through the focus group method for qualitatively richer outcomes. Another MNC said they used a combination of surveys, group discussions, as well as one-on-one interviews to make an assessment and create insights for HR to manage.

My personal recommendation would be a combination of quantitative and qualitative measures that include:

  1. A 360-degree approach with data from the external interface of the organization, for example, consumers and vendors.
  2. Surveys that capture reactions of employees. Make sure that your survey focuses on Employee Engagement, and is not an outgrowth of employee satisfaction studies, as often happens.
  3. In depth-interviews revealing the real reasons for engagement or non-engagement. The data from here can lead to a truly transformational HR strategy for Employee Engagement.
  4. Focus groups, not only of employees, but also of the external interfaces that they encounter, where the moments of truth actually lie. Such focus groups can project the collective unconscious of the people’s ethos that connects with the organizational system.

Ask yourself three questions to get the tools right:

  1. Am I deploying multiple measures both qualitative and quantitative, and not relying on one method alone?
  2. Am I using an external agency for doing the assessment and not doing it internally?
  3. Have I assured myself that I am measuring ‘engagement’ and not ‘satisfaction’ so that I am on the right track?

Third: Design and execute interventions to improve engagement

All companies hold fun activities like picnics, parties, motivational talks, variety entertainment programs, cricket and sporting contests, games, quizzes and hobby groups in an attempt to engage the whole person beyond the role he plays at work. Sometimes, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) or community building, welfare activities are also counted as Employee Engagement initiatives.

Others believe that creating a link between performance and reward is the best way to improve engagement. Competitive salaries, variable pay, total rewards, are some practices that emphasize the material organizational values. The use of growing the careers of the employee through career planning, developing competencies and leadership, rewards linked to Balanced Score Card achievement, Career Ladders, Family Connect, rewards for innovation in management has also been reported. Positivity is reinforced with accolades for innovation and appreciation initiatives.

Some believe in communicating business goals through town halls, open house meetings, informal chats with top management over coffee, emails, CEO blogs, posters, messages about vision and mission that build the culture of the company.

Designing of interventions to build organization culture and engagement needs to be done in a transformational manner for true results. Whatever the practices, it is the purity of intent, intensity of engagement and leadership qualities of the system holders that eventually yields results that grow organization culture and engagement in deeper ways. Without the clarity and conviction of leadership, anything you do will have only transactional and superficial outcomes.

Fourth: Review, track and improve your own processes, people and culture

Most companies have a practice of sharing the results of Employee Engagement activities with groups of employees in all units and departments of the company. In quite a few places, the survey results were received by profit center heads, department heads as an evaluation of their ‘popularity’ or effectiveness in interpersonal relations. The grapevine is bound to make comparisons between leaders and a proactive HR Manager will need to manage the outcomes of such processes.

Once results are shared, the employee’s suggestions are sought on actions to be taken by management, and a process owner (HR?) is appointed. The plans are then written down and monitored. Employees are happy that their voice is heard, and HR is happy that the next year’s measure of engagement indicates an upward trend.

Sometimes, productivity, work engagement, and attitudes towards management, do not change through engagement initiatives. The reason is that interventions focus on the transactional hygiene factors that only create extrinsic reasons to prevent dissatisfaction.

The design of a proper intervention focuses on three things:

  1. People who lead and manage the intervention - CHRO’s, HR Managers and executives, as well as consultants and associates hired by them. Do they have the leadership qualities, strategic thinking and implementation capability to understand the breadth and depth of the change they want?
  2. Enabling structures in the organization and cultural institutions that support the direction of the change initiative.
  3. Actual initiatives or process improvements that support and evoke an intrinsic level of Employee Engagement and create interest in work.

The essence of Employee Engagement is the intrinsic motivation of human beings arising from how jobs are designed, how roles are lived, how leadership motivates, and how culture builds excitement and enthusiasm and supports positive engagement. We will discuss these aspects in upcoming posts.


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