Employee Engagement … A Moving Target

istock_000000340142xsmall.jpgWelcome to the first of 12 weeks of blurb from the desk of Monique and Felicia. We’d firstly like to thank Francis for giving us the opportunity to contribute to this blog and we shall certainly do our best to keep the topics provocative and interesting ‘a la’ the brief we’ve been provided!

This week we decided to look at that area of Human Resources that has become a hot topic on the lips of many …..Employee Engagement.

What is employee engagement? Is it another fad? Is it the perfect marriage between employer and employee?

As with many other areas within our field, mention employee engagement to the average worker and you will see a blank face, eyes glazing over, a shift to the left then right and well….you know the rest.

So we take a stab at defining employee engagement so that at a minimum we provide you with our frame of reference. But why reinvent the wheel, we liked the definition provided by the customer experience consultants McDaniels and Partners. You make up your own mind:

Employee engagement:

is commitment to the organization; job ownership and pride; passion and excitement; and commitment to execution and the bottom line”.

Source: http://employeefactor.com/2007/10/employee_engagement_starts_wit.html

Sounds simple enough but is in fact easier said than done, let’s break it down, there seems to be 4 key themes here:

  1. ‘…commitment to the organisation’: this is not just about the old paradigm of seeking loyalty; but an identification, with and belief in, the organisations values, goals and culture.
  2. job ownership and pride’: if employees own their jobs this implies they are able to exercise some measure of autonomy in their role, and that they work to a high standard, not because the Organisation requires it but because they require it of themselves
  3. passion and excitement’: implies that employees are fully involved in, and enthusiastic about both their work and the organisation..’ hints at tapping into what motivates that individual
  4. ’and commitment to execution and the bottom line’; this speaks to the employees professionalism in his/her role and to their understanding of the organisations commercial goals/objectives and how they contribute to that.

Our experience over the years across varied industries (and oceans!) has been that it is indeed a rarity to find organisations with a consistently high level of employee engagement. McDaniel’s definition speaks to organisations playing a large part in providing the conditions that enable employee engagement to thrive. That said even if the organisation were to provide the right conditions is this any guarantee of employee engagement? To what extent do external factors and/or the motivations of the individual impact engagement? One could argue that just because an individual’s personal motivations lie outside of the workplace, that perceived lack of engagement does not necessarily equate to underperformance or mediocrity on the job.

Another angle would be to prioritising. Perhaps achieving engagement lies in prioritising the 4 themes, rather than the extent to which organisations are able to influence all 4 themes at once. Let’s explore this a little further:

It is the age old chicken and egg analogy, i.e. which comes first? Can you have job ownership and pride, passion and excitement or commitment to execution and the bottom line if you don’t first have ‘Commitment to the Organisation’?

We would suggest not. Employees need to believe in the organisation, what it stands for and what it seeks to achieve before any of the other attributes of engagement can become a reality. In fact Gurnek Baines et al in their book ‘Meaning Inc’ demonstrate that what the most profitable organisations have in common is that they have created ‘meaning’, beyond being in existence to make money, which their people buy-into (in other words a shared commitment between the organisation and its employees).

So lets , take our starting point: ‘…commitment to the organisation’; this is built on the premise that an organisations’ values, goals and culture have been clearly defined and articulated, but most of us know this is not the case; we can all attest to the need for organisations to go beyond Mission statements and for leaders and employees to consistently model the behaviours associated with the espoused values, goals and culture. In most organisations behaviours do not reflect their values; for example; an organisation says it values autonomy but leaders rebuke/chastise staff that do things on their own initiative, especially if it fails. Therefore the organisation is only paying lip service to the concept?

Furthermore, ‘…commitment to the organisation’ should not be confused with the length of service’. How many of us know individuals who have stayed with a company purely because of the benefits or the perception that they [the employee] would not be marketable externally and/or ‘there is nothing better to go to’?…in essence ‘better the devil you know!’

So how do we know when ‘Commitment to the organisation is present’? It’s much easier to explain when it is not present. The Ultimate litmus test of its presence is when we observe any new hire in their everyday interactions with existing employees. If the values the organisation ‘sold’ to the new employee are not being practised, i.e. the behaviours he/she observes are inconsistent with what’s been said, then there is a disconnect demonstrating a lack of buy-in from those existing employees; which could have a negative impact on that individual’s own commitment to the organisation.

The concept of employee engagement can probably raises more questions than answers but we are anxious to learn and hear from you. Does the definition provided by McDaniels resonate?

Tell us about your thoughts and experiences.

Perhaps your view is that employee engagement is essentially a utopian ideal, that trying to achieve it in a reality characterised by constant change is an untenable goal. Whatever your view we want to hear from you.

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