What would the Godfather have advised?
It’s a question that many companies ask, particularly when they’re thinking about conducting an engagement survey for the first time. It reflects, I think, a natural desire to avoid seeking feedback when you’re concerned that something like a restructuring, a pay freeze or redundancies will have a negative impact on engagement. However, I’ve always thought that’s a rather dangerous approach. Far better to take a leaf out of Don Corleone’s book and insist on hearing bad news immediately. At least you can then act before employee disaffection begins to hit
customer satisfaction or sales or some other important metric.
With that in mind, I was very interested to hear Alex Lewis, HR Director of BAE Systems talking last week about managing engagement in times of economic adversity. The thrust of his talk was that it is in difficult times that the organisation is closest to the employees’ personal life, and a focus on engagement is most vital. And he highlighted four key employee needs.
- People need to know where the business is going and what change will mean for them. So it’s important to deal with those concerns directly and ensure that the key strategic messages are being properly understood.
- People will seek out their leaders and look to them for confidence. Line managers are the lens through which people view their company; managers need to involve people in the change process and support them through it.
- People will want to be involved in working out solutions. Shared ownership will help them feel fully committed to making their solutions work.
- People will look for honesty and integrity. Integrity is the foundation on which trust is built. Therefore, building trust is vital and people will hold managers to what they have said. Trust grows when what is said is done.
These four needs are, in fact, the four enablers of engagement that emerged from the extensive research captured in the Engaging for Success report to government (also known as the MacLeod Report) – A strong strategic narrative, Engaging managers, Employee voice and Integrity. Taken together, they include many of the
key ingredients of employee engagement.
Alex Lewis’s talk was a summary of the research carried out by one of the Engage for Success movement’s Research teams into managing engagement in adversity. That research suggests that Don Corleone was right: it’s important to get the bad news immediately. You can then start to help your people through the difficult times before engagement turns to disaffection and performance takes a dive.
90% of engagement effort fails to get beyond measurement
It’s estimated that around 70% of large companies regularly conduct engagement surveys. It’s also estimated that 90% of their engagement effort fails to get beyond measurement. Within the government sponsored “Engage for Success” movement it’s called transactional engagement and its limitations are manifest.
Companies which are really serious about engagement focus on what the “Engage for Success” movement calls transformational engagement. 90% of their engagement effort happens post-survey and focuses on building an environment which truly engages people, inspires them to give of their best, and aligns their efforts with the needs of the business.
The current imbalance between measurement and action is not, perhaps, surprising when we consider how many consultants who advise companies on engagement and engagement surveys, focus on the former rather than the latter.
However, if engagement is to be a real driver of business change and outstanding performance the balance of effort needs to shift. Engagement surveys need to be followed by structured action programmes which give everyone a voice, nourish an engaging management style, bring the company’s values to life, and imbue strategy with day to day meaning – the building blocks of an empowering and engaging work place.
Where do you stand on the measurement – action spectrum?
Answer: Help them find the 3 Ms of engagement
I recently read an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review in which Rosabeth Moss Kanter described the happiest people she knows as those who are dedicated to dealing with some of the most daunting problems the world has to offer, and who face those challenges with the conviction that they can do something about them. Happiness, she says, comes from the feeling that they are making a difference, and she goes on to say that she sees the same spirit in business teams creating new initiatives that they believe in.
This struck a chord. At Digital Opinion we’ve run engagement workshops that start by asking people to think about a time in which they felt fully engaged, and to recall the circumstances and feelings associated with the experience. Very frequently they talk about being seconded to a small team set up to solve a specific difficult problem. The feelings they describe are:
- A sense of ownership and responsibility
- Feeling part of a cohesive team united by a common, clearly defined goal
- A shared belief in the goal and how its achievement would benefit the broader organisation.
In fact these feelings mirror almost exactly the three primary sources of motivation that Moss Kanter has identified: mastery, membership, and meaning. Money, she says, is a distant fourth. Something that “acted as a score card, but it did not get people up-and-at ‘em … nor did it help people go home every day with a feeling of fulfilment.”
Of course, these kinds of challenges are not available to all employees every day. However, if leaders keep these three M’s of motivation in mind and seek out the kind of project-type opportunities I’ve described they could, perhaps start inspiring people with stretching goals and a renewed sense of meaning and involvement. It’s a way of engaging people while at the same time finding innovative solutions to difficult problems.