Authentic engagement means shaping your business into something that your employees want it to be. Allowing it to be changed and reinvented by them. It’s realising that your organisation is them. Not simply occupied by them. Engagement is not a top-down mandate that needs to be sold to the employee audience. Engagement happens when we allow organisations to be the true product of the people within it; both the great leaders and everyone else. There is no point having engagement for engagements sake. It’s about having an authentic organisation alive with ideas and people free to deliver, to ultimately stay ahead of the market and succeed, should they wish.
What is your motive for having great employee engagement? It might be to drive staff retention rates, productivity or innovation. Many HR Directors find themselves charged with measuring and increasing employee engagement as an organisational HR health check. Many also find themselves frustrated with it being labelled a project or an HR ‘problem’ to solve.
We believe employee engagement is about empowering and unlocking the people in your organisation to bring their full selves to the party. Rather than lobbying for their buy-in, it’s about leveraging the ideas, motivations and points of view they offer naturally. And allowing them to grow. This is not something HR can achieve alone. Whilst they are well poised to lead the charge, it takes commitment from all other functional heads to promote an empowered culture. This isn’t something that can be handed over and demanded of HR, it takes a company-wide effort to unlock engagement.
Often, we find organisational leaders trying to come up with a motivating, enticing initiative or idea that would really get their people engaged. They do a hard sell and attempt to artificially create momentum around said new initiative. Take the hard work out of engagement by capturing what people are already engaged in. Allow them to bring what motivates them and make space for it in your organisation. By making space, the things that people want to implement and change will start to reshape your organisation organically, whilst giving them a sense of authentic ownership. Of course, this does mean letting go of control to some extent and allowing employees to create an organisation they want. This doesn’t have to mean giving way on the overall strategy but it might mean growing your business or changing internal workings in a different way to how you had planned. The journey may be different even if the destination is the same. The upside is, you might get there faster and with genuinely engaged people as they did it, to coin a phrase, their way.
There are some structures that can support the creation of an empowered culture. First and foremost, engagement is a mind-set of willingness that allows individuals and teams to make an impact but making this a reality can be fast tracked with some simple adjustments to tools you are probably already using.
Surveys are one of the most commonly used tools for measuring engagement. To ensure they are giving you the insights that are really useful you need to check; what are we asking and what are we doing with the answers?
When questioning your employees on their engagement, you’re sending a message of what the leadership really care about through the questions you’re posing. Asking whether they would recommend the organisation as an employer to a friend is a business-centric question, and whilst it indicates the answer to just that, it is of little interest to your employees. Not only that, but it sounds as though you’re only interested in ‘The Organization’ succeeding, whether they are there or not. These types of questions do little to inspire or ironically; engage, anyone.
Your questions need to be far more personal and tap into the real viewpoints, desires and fears of your people, unfiltered. Ask questions you really need answers to, from their perspective. It can be the opportunity people have been craving to let loose and say what they really think. And ask for what they really want. This not only gives you tangible, useful answers and data but does some of the work in engaging people in the first place. People feel more genuinely engaged when they feel listened to and like they have a choice in what happens next.
Secondly, we believe that quantitative responses on their own are not enough to give a true picture of engagement levels and more critically; what will increase them. No one can tell you what really concerns or motivates them on a scale of 1-10 or through a simple yes/no answer. Although it is more time consuming, qualitative answers will give you the true story of what’s going on, and what is hindering authentic empowerment of your people. Asking about the real ambitions, concerns, barriers and ideas your people see, in both interview-style and digital surveys (with un-capped comment boxes) will give you the best insights. It might take you two or three times as long to do the analysis but you will be left with a rich story of who and how your people are, and what they need to be engaged (and highly productive). You will also have a deposit of ideas and initiatives with readily-incentivised individuals who just need permission to hit the ‘go’ button.
Once you have the insights gathered, it’s everyone’s job to hear them and take action. Publishing the narrative and themes coming out of your organization to everyone in it is critical, so is giving them the opportunity to do something about it. Creating pathways for people to make the changes they’ve been calling for is essential. There are many ways to create these pathways; challenging the hierarchy, embedding internal coaches, leadership development and project initiation. All in aid of getting new ideas living, concerns handled and business results delivered. What these drive is a thriving, productive culture where anyone can, and has permission to make a change and get stuff done. The incentive is organizational health. The by-product is fantastic engagement.
Engagement is everyone’s job. It is a way of thinking and working that means everyone can take ownership for the successes and challenges. It means everyone has a voice and permission to act. HR can be the custodian; ensuring it’s high on the business agenda, putting structures in place that capture people’s narrative, supporting the changes that are wanted. But it’s everyone’s job to care about the engagement of others and it’s everyone’s job to get engaged. If we all saw engagement as a top priority, we would listen more carefully, challenge more willingly and take risks more readily. We would also stop tolerating our own excuses for not being engaged and do something about it.
Make engagement top of your business agenda; start asking the real questions and listening for honest answers. Most of all, be willing to let employees influence the shape and direction of your organization, as when it feels truly theirs not only will you get the best from them, you’ll all have a great time doing it.