Most organizations realize the need for (and huge bottom-line benefits of) an engaged workforce, but the majority still struggle with it.
The cost of Employee Disengagement can be startling, and while studies show 90% of leaders agreeing that it directly impacts business success, only 25% have a strategy to address it
In addition, most of those trying to drive Employee Engagement aren't getting the results they hoped for.... and their efforts may even be causing further dysfunction and mistrust.
Where is it Going Wrong?
For most organizations the issue is that the Employee Engagement concept still belongs to the Human Resources department. They are expected to gather opinions from the workforce and work with Management to determine any course of action.
It usually goes something like this;
HR distributes an annual survey about the Company's Mission, Management, Cafeteria, etc....
10%-20% of employees comply. Many use it as a complaint forum and have low expectations
Reminder sent out to employees a few weeks later to encourage participation
Additional employees go through the motions...without much thought going into their answers
Survey deadline extended 2 weeks to 'give employees a chance to voice concerns'
HR and Management finally start collating the results to 'hunt-n-peck' through the data
Survey 'averages' and suggestions are reviewed. Management decide what actions will be taken
The 'You Spoke We Listened' message is delivered from senior level executive(s)
By the time any message (never mind change) is forthcoming, the staff have forgotten about the survey, view it simply as another management agenda item and become even more disengaged.
What started out with good intentions, ended up consuming a lot of HR/Management time and may have actually backfired.
The Problem with this Approach
Today's workforce (not just Millennials) expects rapid turnaround and to be participants in any change for the better. The thought of waiting months for management to provide a one-size-fits-all direction based on sifting through hundreds/thousands of point-in-time annual surveys is viewed as tedious and antiquated.
In a world of rapid communication via texting and email, this is akin to quills, parchments and the pony express.
Imagine your IT Dept. only doing an annual virus scan on mission critical systems...
Could you imagine if (horror of horrors) we only got to jump on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram once a year to see what was going on around us and provide our two cents worth.
Employees have individual ideas, suggestions, concerns and perceptions that can be taped each and every day, yet must wait until the annual survey comes around.
If that's not a 21st century #EpicFail then maybe I need to dig out my old 35mm camera and mail-order CD catalogs.
How we can Improve the Process and the Results
A 2014 Forbes article by Josh Bersin stated the "days of the annual engagement survey are slowly coming to an end, to be replaced by a much more holistic, integrated, and real-time approach"
With that in mind, leadership needs to adopt the concept of the employees (and the team they work with) identifying relevant needs and being empowered to make timely, ongoing changes at the local level.
This ensures that not only are the findings highly pertinent, but they work collaboratively and adopt an empirical approach to making things better.
High levels of Engagement are found where Employees are Empowered, have Great Working Relationships and there is a Strong Corporate Culture.
To accomplish this, the organization must put in place a systematized mechanism to take regular health-checks of the workforce via much simpler surveys. These diagnostics should focus on the employee's emotional needs (think Maslow) rather than subjective opinions of management, the company, etc...
The results of the diagnostic need to be instantaneous, focused and available to all team members. This ensures that if a certain department is struggling in a given area, it is highlighted to the team and they can immediately start a plan of action to address the problem.
This also builds leadership throughout the team as they take responsibility for improving the quality of their own work life. Individuals will start to ask "what am I going to do?" rather than "what is management going to do?"
After a period of time (usually 8-12 weeks) the team will retake the survey, see how their scores have increased and decided what to focus on next.
Repeat ad infinitum...
The employees will actually look forward to this so they can track their own progress, rather than shrug their shoulders at the thought of another meaningless questionnaire.
They will now be fully engaged in the engagement process, and as individuals and teams improve independently, the organization improves collectively.