Imagine a company where employees come to work engaged, determined and committed to support the goals of the organization (physically, psychologically, and emotionally). 95% of the time this is the case when an employee starts working for you; before things get in the way of their enthusiastic engagement. What gets in the way?
• Unclear expectations
• A variance in what the employee is doing and what we want them to do
• Lack of appropriate preparation and/or training
• Poor management
• A lack of alignment between the employee’s personal values and goals, and the organization’s values and goals (real or perceived)
The list can go on and on. As employees disengage, their enthusiasm is muted under the weight of uncertainty, procedures and compliance. The important point is to understand that the desire to engage exists, but we as leaders and managers maintain a culture that disengages employees. The good news is that we are just as capable of creating a culture to reengage them, through respect, responsibility, information, rewards & loyalty. I refer to this transition from disengagement to engagement as moving from compliance to Commitment®.
Creating that kind of environment requires a commitment from all levels of the organization along with a cultural/systemic approach led by company leadership; it is not a series of programs or systems put in place and led by Human Resources.
What is really down right disturbing to me is that this concept of engagement isn’t new anymore; we just aren’t making meaningful progress. Employees who rate themselves as highly engaged is pegged at around 30% with actively disengaged at close to 20% and rising.
As Millennials become the dominant generational group in the workforce do we think those numbers will get better by themselves?
Overcoming Myths About Engagement
• Happy employees equals engaged employees
• Customer “satisfaction” equals engagement
• Employee “tenure” equals engagement
• Employee engagement is a human resources program/function
• Employee engagement is an annual or semi -annual survey conducted by HR and ignored by management.
Enterprises or organizations do not exist to facilitate dreams or create employment for their employees. Instead, they have or should have, a value proposition that they are trying to deliver whether that is a return to shareholders or serving a social purpose. If in fact they fall short of that, you have an execution issue. It doesn’t matter whether you are for profit or not for profit, if you do not achieve the organization’s objectives you are not executing. It is that simple.
Employee engagement is described in a lot of different ways. For me there is only one real meaningful definition and that is represented by alignment. Alignment happens when employees see a clear correlation between the goals of the organization and their ability to satisfy goals of their own; as a result they execute consistently!
Optimally, alignment is not only with their personal and professional goals, but also alignment with their values. We call this congruency.
When you use congruency as a filter, it refocuses your hiring efforts to look for alignment within the people you invite into your organization. It does this on multiple levels:
• Are they aligned in the way they view the activity?
• Do they believe they have the ability and capacity to do the activity?
• Are their personal values aligned with that of the organization?
• Are they willing to do the “work”?
• Do they believe in the organizational mission?
Having been in and around the human resources arena for over 30 years, it is still pretty alarming to me how few organizations look for this alignment or congruency in their hiring practices, even in organizations who believe they have a very strong value structure. However, those who understand these principles and can successfully execute on them, create an engaged workforce that generates optimal business results.
Engagement is not a project to be relegated to your Human Resources organization. Nor is it a program or a survey that you administer annually or that you simply purchase off the shelf from another organization. Instead, it is a cultural transition that must be led from the top and deployed across all areas of management.
I am not however prepared to let HR completely off the hook. HR practitioners (in my opinion) need to let go of the security blanket of compliance and focus on three critical roles:
• Subject Matter Expert; in this area I include not only the traditional compliance activities, but also skills in attracting and retaining talent. There is no other functional area where this responsibility clearly resides. To be effective in today’s environment the successful HR practitioner also has to have business acumen. “Liking” people is not enough.
I also refer to these as technical skills.
• Project Management; the execution of a true engagement and talent management strategy is similar to quality in the 80’s and 90’s. It can’t live in a department; it has to be woven into the fabric of the organization.
When I see organizations announce that employee engagement is dead because they have been doing a survey for five years and nothing has changed I want to fire the entire leadership team, but especially HR. Management and leadership skills need to be deployed throughout the organization. Engagement is a process and a culture, not an event.
• Facilitation; We need to help our client organizations recognize that by building relationships with individuals as people first and resources second we can create enormous gains in sustainability, productivity, and profitability through alignment of organizational and individual goals. Skills like setting and managing expectations, giving feedback constructively, coaching, mentoring, and taking appropriate corrective action are management competencies, not just HR competencies.
Just like quality they need to be deployed throughout the organization and measured to reinforce accountability.
HR can’t do these things alone. I very much like Brett Minchington of Employment Brand International’s perspective that employment brands represent collaboration between human resources, marketing, and communications professionals with top down support and systemic alignment with all messaging and business systems.
If you are completely unfamiliar with the concept of your employment brand then first fire your HR department and then contact the last few millennials you were unsuccessful hiring and they will explain it to you.
I have been successful in building engaged cultures in a number of organizations representing multiple sectors and organizational cultures. While implementation is customized for each business, the base elements are the same.
Here are some common attributes of organizations that have implemented and maintained cultures of high engagement:
An Appropriate Culture
People join and stay with cultures, not organizations. As leaders you are the guardian of the culture. Notice that I say “join”…They make an affirmative choice to join up or commit to you.
Hire Hard - Manage Easy
My friend and colleague Joseph Skursky of Market Leader Solutions, uses this motto as the basis of his recruitment and selection system. I can assure you through experience that hiring people who align with your culture and values may be difficult, but not nearly as difficult as trying to change someone’s values.
You can hire people who share your culture and values and still not be homogenized. Diversity presents itself in a lot of forms, but if you are recruiting people who fundamentally are not in synch with your culture and values you need to either change your culture and values or your recruiting model.
It is critical that leadership can effectively communicate business goals and expectations for employees to achieve. Why does our organization exist? What value or purpose do we serve? Do I/Should I care?
Management is different than leadership, period. It is their role to take direction from leadership and make it real and implementable for their own team.
Context is where we begin to personalize our purpose and make it more relevant to people. Where does my role fit in? Does what I do serve the larger organizational purpose? Is there a clear line of sight for me between organizational goals and my own personal goals?
The Role of Human Resources as Change Agents
As employee engagement is a cultural change led by company leadership, it requires Human Resource practitioners to see themselves in a different context and a different role. The expectation is that Human Resource Professionals take on the new role as Change Agents, adapting skills to support leadership and the engaged organization.
I wrote several years ago that the current delta between engaged and unengaged employees coupled with the talent shortage and other things going on in our environment represented the greatest opportunity for human resources since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 legally prohibited systemic discrimination and I still believe that today.
Certifications are nice and impressive to your HR colleagues, but no real substitute for moving the performance bar in the right direction….