By Sarah Fister Gale
Jan. 15, 2020
Road maps are a form of content that will help you navigate key areas of people management. Road maps focus on the changing terrain of employee engagement. This guide offers a step-by-step process for creating a measurable engagement strategy that will deliver results.
Most of your employees are probably not engaged and it’s hurting your bottom line.
But don’t feel bad. Almost every company is in the same boat.
Despite years of talking about the importance of employee engagement to hiring, retention and productivity, only 34 percent of employees are engaged, according to data from Gallup. Worse, 13 percent of employees are actively disengaged. “The numbers have improved over the last decade, but not as much as we want,” said Jim Harter, chief workplace scientist for Gallup.
The good news is that employee engagement can be improved if companies focus on the right things. Harter has seen dozens of organizations across industries increase engagement levels when they implement targeted strategies and stick with them over time. “Change happens incrementally but it does happen,” he said.
When it does, the payoff is clear. Gallup research shows organizations with high levels of employee engagement achieve better earnings-per-share, and see substantially better customer engagement, higher productivity, better retention, fewer accidents and higher profitability.
The trick is understanding who has the power to influence employee engagement, and what they can do to generate change, said Jill Christensen, employee engagement consultant and author of “If Not You, Who? Cracking the Code of Employee Disengagement.”
“Poor engagement is not HR’s fault,” she said. Employee engagement is regularly blamed on HR because it is a “people problem,” but in fact, it is entirely shaped by the actions of senior leaders. They define the culture, the mission and the attitude in any organization, and their actions determine how employees respond. “Senior leaders need to drive the employee engagement journey from the start,” she said. “If they don’t it will fail.”
HR should be involved. HR still needs to plan, implement and measure employee engagement strategies — but senior leaders need to be the voices of the program to make it work. It’s a collaboration, and this road map provides a framework for how senior leaders and HR can work together to make engagement happen.
PART 1: MAKE A PLAN
Get leaders on board. Leaders will never independently take ownership of engagement, so HR has to pull them in. Harter suggests sharing data linking employee engagement to business performance to pique their interest, then showing them how their words and actions impact outcomes.
Ask employees what they think. If you want to identify your engagement issues, you have to listen to what employees are saying, said Amanda Popiela, researcher with The Conference Board. “Continuous listening strategies are key to understanding engagement.” Along with reviewing annual survey results, she suggests conducting periodic pulse surveys, hosting employee focus groups, monitoring social media posts, and talking to employee teams about what they love about working for your organization, and what needs to change.
Identify skill gaps. Most leaders and managers are never taught good coaching skills, like how to give feedback, build trust or manage conflict, all of which is key to driving employee engagement. So management training has to be part of the plan. Look for content that is quick and easy to access and let managers know they will be expected to use it.
Set realistic goals and expectations. If you want to foster change you have to hold managers accountable, Christensen said. She suggested setting a goal to increase engagement levels by a specific amount in one year then tying those results to performance reviews. “That’s how you make culture change happen.”
PART 2: START ENGAGING
Make employee engagement part of every conversation. Define specific communication steps for managers and leaders to integrate engagement into their talking points. These might include discussing engagement issues in every team meeting, sharing engagement strategies in town hall events, and having weekly one-on-ones with team members to identify their specific concerns or needs. “You need to tell them exactly what to do or they won’t do it,” Christensen warned.
Keep employees up to date. Employees want to feel like they have a voice and that their opinions matter, so keep them in the loop. Report employee engagement survey results, share your action plans to address specific problems, and keep them up to date on progress. “Exceptional communication is an important part of employee engagement,” Harter said.
Teach managers to coach. Managers are busy and will often skip training to focus on the next deadline. So you have to make it easy to access, immediately relevant and a clear priority, Popiela said. One way to do that is to get senior leadership involved. Popiela recently worked with a financial services company whose CEO posts a monthly webcast discussing one tip for managers on how to improve engagement. “Managers know what they should be doing, but they don’t always do it,” she said. These short, thought-provoking webcasts make them stop and think about what they could do better.
Deal with the disengaged. When teams have toxic, negative or disruptive members, no amount of coaching will make a difference. “These employees can be toxic,” Christensen said. And it’s up to managers to deal with them. They need to be ready to have these difficult conversations, set clear performance goals, and fire people who refuse to change. A lot of managers ignore toxic employees because they don’t have the skills to deal with them, but the consequences of this approach can be severe, she said. “When leaders don’t take action with these employees, it will breed disengagement in everyone around them.”
PART 3: MEASURE RESULTS
Conduct annual survey results. The annual employee survey is the best baseline measure of engagement and proof that your efforts are working. Remember, even small shifts are a good sign. “Change takes time,” Harter said. But companies that stick with it can achieve dramatic and sustainable change over a few years.
Conduct pulse surveys. Short pulse surveys that sample a percentage of the employee population, or ask everyone a few questions, can give you a sense of progress and help you see what’s working (or not). But don’t overdo it, and don’t use surveys to replace real conversations.
Check your eNPS. Employers can now use NPS to measure employee engagement. The one-question survey tells you how likely your staff members are to recommend your company as a place to work on a scale from 0 to 10. “It’s a simple way to gauge engagement,” Christensen said. And it can be a quick easy way to demonstrate results.
Share the data. Any time you survey employees you have to share the results, otherwise it could actually make things worse. Report engagement levels to the entire company, celebrate big successes and share what you plan to do next, Popiela said. Then discuss the data with executives, drawing connections where possible between engagement and productivity, retention, and business performance. “It’s important to show them the ‘so what’ of improved engagement,” she said. “Especially when it effects the bottom line.”
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