Role of HR in Enabling Employee Engagement

One of my HR colleagues recently read my blog post on “Getting Employee Engagement Practices Right!” and commented that although Employee Engagement is important to every HR practitioner, what is the HR capability and preparedness to take on such a noble cause? What is the role of HR in facilitating Employee Engagement and how can we build the capacity to deliver?


This fourth blog post in the EE series speaks about the deeper preparedness that needs to be built within HR to understand, design, implement and monitor organizational development and Employee Engagement for success. I will share some success secrets here, based on my experience and understanding of EE initiatives across several organizations.

First and Foremost - Never Forget to Understand Your Stakeholders!

HR rarely sits down and takes stock of what their stakeholders really want out of Employee Engagement programs. Avoid rushing into activities that will deliver great benefits only to find out later that none of them is what others really wanted out of HR. The key to success lies in tuning into stakeholder expectations, listening to the conversation about engagement, and then going to the drawing board to develop the desired initiatives. Some important points to consider while doing this are:

They are the most vital component of organizational development. Experience shows that they have a lot to tell us.

  • The common belief is that employees are interested in work and intrinsically motivated. It is true! Everybody comes to work, wanting to do something to be proud of, even if it is a small part of a larger process
  • Employees like to know about the company strategy and plans
  • They like to have a voice and space to express themselves
  • Employees need to hear success stories about HR initiatives

Top Management
A lot is said about HR being a ‘Business Partner’ but it essentially means:

  • Topline and below line quantifiable results of HR investment
  • Facilitating an organizational culture that works
  • At the ground level -Less cynicism and criticism
  • More boss-subordinate dialogue

Middle Management
In an increasingly flat world, middle management feels burdened with all the responsibility and no authority. They only want:

  • Enabling processes and institutions
  • Empowerment
  • Being able to influence business strategy

External Stakeholders: Customers, Vendors and Third Parties
HR from the outside-in means we listen to external parties who determine our existence. Put your ear to the ground and you will find that they want people who are able to deliver:

  • Better service levels
  • Partnerships that work

HR Team
Although HR professionals are not always the happiest people on earth, they are great believers in working in human contexts. They would like to have:

  • Something that they can truly believe in
  • That which adds value to them and builds their competencies as HR professionals
  • Enlivening processes in HR, and not managing through chaos

Design and Implement HR Processes That Meet Stakeholder Expectations

Any discussion on the HR Role in Employee Engagement is incomplete without addressing the nature of supporting processes created along the way. The design of these processes is iterative and evolutionary. Over time, things work smoothly in a process driven firm. I will expand on this further in an upcoming post, as it merits separate treatment.

Build HR Capability to Deliver Results

Building HR Capability is always a tricky question. In times of increasingly shorter life cycles, higher attrition and lower commitment to long-term outcomes, the tendency is to create initiatives that show results in the short term and keep the workforce pepped up and motivated. The real results of Employee Engagement take time to show and no effort is wasted.

Today, HR practitioners need to be professionally qualified, trained and certified in the new methodologies and templates that form the basic processes of HR. Since working on Employee Engagement requires an HR professional to look beyond process implementation into the living experiences of people, they would need to understand human behavior beyond the transactional. A deeper emotional connect with people needs to be maintained to ensure that the results go deep and lead to a culture that endures. Understanding the nature of human behavior at work is basic to creating the empathy and compassion required to build the community. Those with an eye on long-term successes and membership in HR professions will need to be the prime movers in creating and implementing Employee Engagement initiatives that bring true results.

It is important to recognize that Employee Engagement goes beyond program management. While all Engagement programs need to be managed to meet the established deliverables, HR’s level of involvement goes beyond the call of duty and takes the spirit of the program forward. This is HR capability that cannot be created unless there is the right HR Leadership, which inspires the HR program manager and inculcates the spirit of the initiative.

Plan for contingencies - What problems can you expect?

Embarking on the Employee Engagement journey is actually the easier part, staying on course is where the real challenges lie. In my earlier post on “Getting Employee Engagement Practices Right!” you will find several tips for designing interventions. However, this is only half the battle. Many issues come up during implementation and execution, which could derail the course of events and throw you off course. The original focus and intent is often thrown to the winds of practical compromise, cost cutting, peer pressure, resistance to change, and organizational politics.

One fundamental must be clear even before you begin - Can HR make up for weak leadership through Employee Engagement Programs?

Employee Engagement initiatives are only part of the solution that brings vibrancy and energy to the employee-organization interface. It is well understood that organizational culture flows top down from leadership at multiple levels. If leadership is strong and well accepted, it will reflect in the nature of Employee Engagement that prevails. In such situations, HR initiatives will go with the flow and enhance the already good work ethic.

However, if the organization has weak leadership, either at the top or senior levels, and this leads to poor Employee Engagement, high levels of cynicism and lack of faith in management, then the effects of Employee Engagement and organizational development programs will be limited. In such a scenario, Employee Engagement programs will mitigate or manage leadership that fails to inspire.HR then is not only an enabler but also plays a remedial role in ensuring that good things are improved with effort, poor things are less impactful and the great things are institutionalized.


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