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Employee engagement is business critical: response to the Twitter spat

PS Contributor Rob Briner touched a nerve when he questioned the value of employee engagement in an article on The People Space following a spat on Twitter. Jane Sunley responded on Twitter and now she argues why she believes employee engagement is the game changer for business

How we all do things around here

Employee engagement is indeed the subject of much debate, confusion and occasionally derision. Deloitte and others have called for a ‘new HR playbook’ – one that enables HR to be more agile, forward thinking and bolder in its solutions.

We would argue that, handled well, engagement is this game changer, and far from being the latest 'HR panacea'. According to Gallup's latest research, engaged employees are more present and productive; they are more attuned to the needs of customers; and they are more observant of processes, standards and systems. Gallup says that, when taken together, the behaviours of a highly engaged business results in 21% greater profitability.

Rob Briner is right to question whether doing stuff around engagement adds any meaningful value. And we agree that, in many quarters, it is, as he puts it, “in a big mess”. Perhaps understandably, Briner appears to have come across too many examples of people doing it badly. And we agree that simply measuring it via a survey and/or doing it badly is worse than not doing it at all.

Handled well, engagement is this game changer, and far from being the latest 'HR panacea'

We know from our experience that real employee engagement cannot be achieved through standalone initiatives such as a survey, having a lovely environment or great benefits. It can only work if it becomes a way of life, an all-encompassing, ongoing blueprint for the organisation. Engagement may be the term used, but this is about ensuring everybody in the organisation is clear on their role, how they contribute and that they are all working towards a shared vision that they can feel excited about. In short, it’s about being engaged, enabled and empowered.

This is not the sole responsibility of HR, however; they must conduct the orchestra rather than attempting to play violin, trumpet and the big bass drum. This starts with a clear comprehensive and connected plan. They need to ensure the right tools are in place for people to deliver, enabling employee engagement to become a way of life. This is not easy as it affects every touch point, at every stage of the employee journey, every day and of course starts with the way leaders behave and cascade information. It is achievable though; for those bold enough to invest their time, resources and energy in making it happen.

We use software that, among other data, allows us to prove links between doing the component parts of engagement well and performance and other key business indicators. I would, as mentioned in said Twitter spat, be delighted to explain this methodology to Briner.

Jane Sunley

I would argue that that done well, ensuring the business is clear on what ‘engagement means here’ and measuring that against how the company performs is business critical. It is alarming, therefore, that, also according to Gallup, at best, only 30% of employees are engaged at work. Such missed opportunities…

Last year Purple Cubed (who care deeply “about this mess’) researched employee engagement in the UK. Briner won’t be surprised by the top line conclusions:

  1. Employee engagement is seen as confusing, ambiguous and misunderstood – with the research throwing up many varied definitions (a batch of qualitative interviews alone offered 13 different definitions from 12 respondents)
  2. While the c-suite agree that employee engagement is critical to business success and survival, 86% of board directors admit they are not developing adequate strategies around engagement
  3. More than two-thirds of those surveyed don’t have a clear, all-encompassing employee engagement strategy – instead their engagement provisions mostly consist of isolated solutions depending on various definitions of what employee engagement is understood to mean

The solution? There are full recommendations in the Purple Cubed report though, in summary:

  • A simple, enduring, comprehensive and joined-up approach that delivers results – a blueprint for ‘how we all do things around here’ – with buy-in from the top (start simple and build)
  • The necessity for all business leaders to understand and accept accountability for employee engagement, enablement and empowerment (it is not a survey or an ‘HR initiative’ and starts with the people-centric CEO)
  • Investing in digitising and socialising communications and HR – because employees expect it, the business needs it and it’s vital to have simple yet robust metrics that can inform strategy and future tactical decisions.

The Purple Cubed research also concluded, as does Briner, that a clear, sensible and distinctive definition of employee engagement is indeed needed. Try out the following simple, tweet sized definition, which was subsequently given the full commitment of over 80% of leaders present at the research launch:

The right people, doing the right things, exceeding expectations, enthusiastically

At the end of the day, the definition doesn’t really matter, it’s about how well each organisation understands the challenges and how best they can deliver - it’s all about the outcomes; achieving them will transform any organisation for the better.

Jane Sunley is founder of Purple Cubed

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