Training Today: Righting Engagement Wrongs

The focus on increasing engagement needs to shift. Leaders need to build belief—belief in the organization’s future and belief in serving a purpose greater than only shareholder return.

By Sebastian Bailey, Ph.D., President, Mind Gym, Inc.

The evidence is clear:The way employees feel and how a company performs are inextricably linked. A large-scale study looking at the data from 199 separate research papers and using almost 1 million data points found that organizations in the top quartile for employee engagement enjoyed 12 percent higher customer satisfaction, 16 percent higher profitability, and 18 percent greater productivity, as well as lower attrition, absenteeism, and quality defects. But despite business leaders believing the case for employee engagement, the metrics suggest it is at an all-time low. The reason for this is that organizations try to increase engagement in the wrong ways, including:

The engagement survey becomes the key activity. All the effort goes into collecting data and then cascading the results and asking again for what should be done, rather than taking prompt action to tackle the root cause. “Nothing’s changed since the last survey” is a typical response and proof that this is prevalent. As one prescient HR manager commented, “You don’t fatten a pig by weighing it.”

Leaders choose to make a few grand gestures and then are easily distracted. After big announcements and bold promises, momentum peters out when something more urgent, glamorous, or susceptible to quick wins comes along.

The challenge is delegated to HR. The “people” function is charged with fixing the engagement “problem.” But HR alone has little chance of turning the tide.

The focus on increasing engagement needs to shift. Leaders need to build belief—belief in the organization’s future and belief in serving a purpose greater than only shareholder return. This compelling corporate story needs to be told in an authentic, trustworthy, and transparent way that is relevant to individuals. Managers need to build trust through productive and appreciative performance conversations. Finally, individuals need to be allowed to develop dispositions of optimism, confidence, resilience, and competence.

With a focus on these things, not only will people come to work with a skip in their step, but they will stay longer, work harder, and be more vociferous ambassadors for the organization.

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