Action Planning in Employee Engagement
So, Now What?
Senior Consultant, Talent Management
Disengagement in the workplace is a serious performance issue. And it’s reached crisis proportions. A Right Management global survey on the effectiveness of employee engagement
found that a majority (56%) of the more than 1,800 human resources managers concede their organization's employee engagement programs fall short on driving bottom-line business objectives. Knowing that high performers have a disproportionate impact on business results, HR departments worldwide are rethinking how to motivate and engage employees.
In previous roles I have led the development and integration of large, employee engagement programs that are directly tied to impact on the customer experience. Across a variety of large retail and restaurant clients, it was usually such issues as the company’s human capital strategy and how they defined and measured engagement that contributed to success or failure. Entire journal editions have been written in regards to the nuances of measuring and implementing engagement programs.
- Is engagement something people experience based on company practices or are some people, by their nature, more likely to be engaged?
- Is it defined by commitment, loyalty, pride or satisfaction? Or a combination?
- What are the superior questions that tie employee experience to customer experiences?
- Is the best way to measure it by looking at “top box” responses (only responses where people highly agree with engagement survey statements)?
I’ve seen Fortune 500 organizations invest time, money, technology and executive sponsorship into ensuring a seamless survey process: everything from subtle nuances in pre-survey executive communication, to the right window in the corporate calendar to maximize survey responses, to the perfect presentation deck that will highlight engagement results in a way that resonates with executive stakeholders. However, once it’s time to survey again, in nine months, a year or longer, I’ve seen small positive changes in engagement scores, and even at times, no changes. Why would scores stay flat or improve only slightly given all the time and effort put into the engagement initiative? Well, it could be due to a variety of factors such as a large organization that requires longer change cycles, or perhaps environmental factors or the employment landscape introduce external pressures that have a substantial effect on how employees perceive their own engagement. My experience, though, has taught me that the reason for small if any changes are the “Now What” factor.
What’s “Now What”?
Simply, it is the question all executive stakeholders should be ready to answer once they know what drives engagement at their organization. It is the most important part in ensuring the engagement story has a happy ending. I’ll say it again, more directly. Moving to action based on survey results is critical for organizational change. Here’s an example:
One of our clients, a Midwest insurance company, has become a model for conducting action planning in a focused manner. In the first year of the survey, overall engagement was at 54%. We learned that key drivers of engagement that require improvement were: 1) greater visibility of the senior leadership team; and 2) more information clarity regarding the company’s strategy. Based on the results, this organization took robust action focused on those two areas – and just those two areas. They began quarterly town hall meetings and e-mail communications articulating the new strategy and progress in achieving it. In year 2, overall engagement increased to 69%. A key driver of engagement was whether managers had capabilities to deliver meaningful feedback and solicit employee input. The company revamped its training for first-time managers to address these concerns. The following year, employee engagement increased to 71%. The company used this focused, disciplined approach in subsequent years and reached a point where 81% of employees are fully engaged – a level they have been able to maintain consistently. By the way, there are very few organizations in which 81% of employees are fully engaged.
Employee engagement is just one issue for businesses and, understandably, other critical priorities often take a front seat. But guess what happens after the next survey? Lower participation and/or lower engagement numbers. Why? Trust was violated. Not on purpose, but because the organization didn’t follow through on the promise and the valuable gift of feedback employees just gave them. Action planning is where the hard work starts and where the real magic happens. Go beyond answering the “what” and “so what” questions. You know what your drivers of engagement are. Ask yourself “Now What”? And Act. So that your organizational story has a happy ending.