Employee engagement’s not something we thought much about a decade ago. Employee satisfaction was the focus then, and HR departments were tasked with measuring it. And then dealing with the aftermath!
How times have changed. Blame it on the Millennial generation if you must; but it’s more the case that a great realisation has dawned. Staff are no longer nameless components, tasked with annual performance targets and reviewed once a year.
Today their contribution to business performance is quickly felt in the ways they deal with customers and partners. What they tin turn feel can be instantly transmitted to a wider market through social media. So, one unsatisfactory call or meeting can become a real reputation issue. In the past week alone, I have unsatisfactory customer experiences from banks and mobile networks – sectors reputed to invest the most in ‘customer service training’.
Global researcher Gallup reports that only 19% of employees worldwide are actively engaged, so there’s work to do. I haven’t come across reliable date for Africa, but in South Africa the latest research shows only 9% of staff are engaged. It’s more shocking to realise that means 91% are not performing to their full potential.
Engagement happens when employees understand where they fit into the enterprise, enjoy association with the organisational brand and see a value in staying around. It helps if they understand the purpose of the organisation – which is never simply to make a profit. One question I like to ask is ‘how do employees explain to friends and family why they work here’.
So, how should you begin to get a handle on the situation in your company? In the age of metrics, it is right that we benchmark, then take action, then measure again. But traditional employee surveys often fail to give you any concrete information. Staff generally report what they think you want to hear. Unless a recent crisis in the business allows them to vent their true feelings.
I’m beginning to favour discussion groups over surveys, but they require careful moderation. The issue is trust. How can we make it safe for employees to share opinions? Using external researchers can help, but staff always suspect that the HR police will know exactly who said what, and then exact retribution.
Staff response levels can be significantly improved if you first mobilise a network of influencers down through the organisation. Staffer who believe that their colleagues should contribute their thoughts, and can reassure them about safety. It takes time and effort, but doing this recently we achieved a 90% response rate from a workforce (most of whom do not work online).
Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside