Raise your hand if you execute an annual employee engagement survey. Many of you do. We do them for our clients. After all, these types of surveys provide lots of information about your employee engagement. But is it the right information?
The analysis available for your employee “engagement scores” can make a Cheesecake Factory menu seem limited. Measured against peers, against prior years, against competitors or even the industry.
It makes sense. After all, Gallup’s State of the American Workplace study outlines that organizations with the highest engagement scores (top 25%) averaged 18% higher productivity than those with the lowest engagement scores (bottom 25%), but those top companies also experienced:
We believe employee engagement scores can be misleading. It confines your company to the traditional concepts of engagement without looking holistically at the organization or the leadership. Worse, organizations can easily fall into the trap of using this information to cast stereotypes, instead of just becoming better listeners.
For example, surveys don’t measure commitment – the employee’s commitment to the company’s mission. While the majority of organizations still don’t have a clearly defined mission, even those companies that do usually don’t consider how to measure commitment to that mission. Commitment must be measured in terms of how much discretionary effort your employees are willing to invest for the success of your company. Or how your employees align their personal success with the overall success of your organization.
In our whitepaper on “Driving Company Performance Through Employee Engagement,” we refer to these employees as “entangled.” After all, what is engagement? We can be engaged in an individual television show without ever committing to watch the entire season.
We have one client who describes her annual engagement survey like this:
“It’s like taking an aerial photo of the city once a year and trying to discern from that photo the areas where a crime is most likely to occur. You may be able to find the right neighborhood, but it’s impossible to find the right house.”
Since engagement isn’t currently defined as building a team that is “committed” to mission, solutions for employee engagement focus on tactics that create incremental changes. This is why you see pharmaceutical companies becoming “health and wellness organizations” rather than drug companies. Banks and other financial groups focus on the customer’s quality of life instead of simply shuffling money.
And who hasn’t visited one of those companies that have made environmental changes like setting up a Ping-Pong table or buying a company Playstation 3? I know instantly it was a tactic with no underlying mission, because you can practically see the cobwebs on the Ping-Pong paddles. These environmental changes only work if they’re part of a bigger change. If you can spot it by visiting, don’t you think employees see it daily?
Creating committed talent requires a deeper dive into understanding what drives your employees – including the culture, management, leadership, job design, development, and even the employees you recruit and select.
As an example, consider how difficult it’s been recently for financial service companies to recruit. Viewed through traditional metrics, they seem like a great career choice. However, they suffer from reputations built through the late 90’s and culminating in the economic meltdown in late 2008. Employees don’t want to be affiliated with the industry that society “blames” for this economy. This is an issue of mission, culture and brand identity. A Playstation 3 won’t fix this perception.
Companies that understand the difference go far beyond standard surveys. Smart companies engage this process by developing a true culture, driven by a mission. They invest in people. Not necessarily spending more than other companies, but by changing the physical environment, adding benefits that were important to employees (like time off or flexibility), redesigning jobs, and continuously developing leaders from within the company.
Having helped many companies transform their cultures, we’ve seen firsthand how this affects employees. Many times you can actually feel a “buzz” of excitement and passion. Employees are no longer defined as employees. They are owners of the culture. They are evangelists for the brand.
When you meet a new person, don’t you eventually ask them what they do for a living? I can immediately identify people who work for a people-focused organization. They respond enthusiastically ABOUT the company they work for before they ever mention WHAT the company does. Do your employees do that?
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as adding a couple of questions to your annual survey.
Not many employees will answer questions like “How much discretionary effort are you willing to invest for the success of our company?” honestly.
For example, the employee satisfaction feedback processes we develop focus less on the subjective definition of “satisfied” and more on uncovering employee frustrations, joys and their unique insights into your company. After all, if you ask a person what’s wrong, they’ll tell you what’s wrong (not what’s right). But if you ask them what motivates them, it motivates them. It creates a culture of caring. It tells them their input is valued. It provides unique perspectives for creating new efficiencies.
It tells employees that you are committed to their success. In turn, they will eventually become committed to yours.
Consider changing how you approach employee engagement. Traditionally, executive leadership loves tangible measurements–financial performance, competitive compensation, business strategy. However, the most compelling employee motivations are intangible–access to leadership, regular communications, meaningful values and a regular confirmation that their actions contribute to the success of the company. So it requires a systemic change in the culture, the tactics and the metrics.
So, while true employee engagement is not a simple transformation, it’s not overly complex either. Following some guidelines can help: