“Engagement is fundamentally an individualized equation. What might make one employee engaged might turn off the person in the next cubicle...To truly be engaged, people need to be satisfied with their immediate work and their career opportunities”
Christopher Rice, Fraser Marlow and Mary Ann Masarech have written a book jam-packed with analyses and descriptions of what employee engagement is and is not. They provide strategies, tactics, hints and tips to those seeking to improve their organization’s levels of employee engagement. In doing so, Rice and his co-authors explore the importance of organizational culture, the return on investment of having engaged employees and the importance of career development and managers themselves being engaged.
It's About Give and Take
"Full employee engagement represents an alignment of maximum satisfaction for the individual with maximum contribution for the organization. EE = MSi+ MCo, where MSi represents individuals who have maximum satisfaction at work, and MCo represents employees who are willing and able to perform mission critical tasks successfully."
Rice et al. identify that these two parameters feed off each other, the challenge being to manage this relationship to achieve employee engagement. It is vital to do so in a sustainable way. Building a culture of engagement does not happen instantly, but it is a key ingredient to becoming a high performing organization. The authors identify and discuss factors which can influence individuals to attain and maintain full engagement.
- Compensation: is important for attraction and retention purposes. However, many studies show that compensation alone doesn’t have a significant impact on engagement.
- Career: the authors devote a chapter to this complex topic because there is no straightforward solution. Employees and employers should work together to identify new challenges or experiences, opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge, and discuss future growth opportunities at the organization.
- Job Fit: is a combination of employees liking their work because it satisfies their values and interests, allows them to use their unique talents, is stimulating and provides opportunities to grow, and matters to other parts of the organization, customers, or the broader community. Job conditions are another important component and reflect the organization’s culture and the requirements of a particular role. Here the authors note that what is a terrible role for one person will be someone else’s idea of nirvana.
- Recognition and Rewards: help individuals feel valued and appreciated. Again this is personal and needs to be individualized, and the authors posit that recognition is most effective at the local level.
- Clarity of Priorities and Alignment with Overall Strategy: employees need to understand what is expected of them. A chapter of the book is devoted to this topic as there are many variables and considerations to create goal alignment and effective performance management.
- Resources and Tools: insufficient resources will erode satisfaction.
- Feedback and Development: this is critical for ensuring employees understand how they are doing, know their strengths and have opportunities to build the knowledge and skills required to stay up to date with future organizational requirements.
- Immediate Manager: these individuals are in a pivotal role to influence engagement levels.
- Senior Executives: have a wide ranging responsibility to walk the talk and model the expectations they have for the rest of the workforce.
- Organizational Change: impacts employee satisfaction and contribution, for example by altering reporting lines and relationships, new technology or ways of working which may impact job requirements.
- The World Outside: changes in the organization’s external environment will have an impact on your employee engagement levels so must not be ignored.
Engagement is Not a One Off Activity
"Fully engaged is not a fixed state of being. Once it is realized, you can’t check it off your to-do list and move on to another project. If you’re serious about engagement, it must stay on your leadership radar and be woven into your daily conversations."
Many organizations run staff surveys which provide them with large amounts of data on how their employees feel about their work. These are often run bi-annually and a lot of energy and effort is expended in creating action plans in response to these surveys. Frequently I have observed organizations which then move their focus elsewhere to look at the tasks and mission critical activities that need to be implemented to achieve their strategic goals. This usually leads to attention moving away from engagement with the sense that the ‘action plan will address the issues.’ However, despondency can set in when the organization runs another survey to find little has changed. The authors focus on how to address this in two specific chapters and discuss some of the pitfalls that can result from surveys and action plans and the potential solutions.
The pitfalls include the following:
- Disagreement at the top: senior executives may not be on the same page.
- Communication mistakes: leaders fail to engage the hearts and minds of their employees, don’t communicate frequently enough or don’t allow enough time for discussion of the information they have shared.
- Disconnects on the front lines: employees don’t see how their job contributes to the organizational strategy.
The potential solutions to avoid the above pitfalls include:
- Align senior leaders: ensure they are on the same page and in agreement with each other about the organization’s mission, vision, values and strategy.
- Communicate deliberately and often: create an approach that addresses the communication barriers within your organization.
- Communicate for clarity and inspiration: share the why of a decision as well as the what, it is the why that adds commitment to clarity.
- Beyond Leadership Behaviour: recognizing that engagement is everybody’s responsibility, the organization needs to encourage manager-employee dialogue, create an effective performance management system and clarify the organization’s mission and values.
You Can’t Build Engagement if you are Disengaged
"It takes a lot of energy to infuse your team with a sense of purpose and urgency. And while drive and enthusiasm can be positively infectious, disengagement is contagious too. You can’t fake being engaged."
While Rice and colleagues are explicit in that all individuals are responsible for their own engagement they are absolutely clear that a leader has to go first. The authors note that senior managers have a propensity for engagement because they have more autonomy and are closer to the decision-making. However, some become disengaged for various reasons and it is unlikely that subordinates will flag their observations with their executive. The authors emphasize the importance of executives managing their own self-awareness, including regular reflection of key questions posed in the book and seeking feedback from others with whom they work and interact.
This is a book to which I will return as I develop strategies for engagement within my organization. The authors have provided a wonderful book brimming with explanations and ideas to improve employee engagement. It is a must read for any manager seeking to address engagement in their organization.