Friday, 30 September 2011

Small and Medium Enterprises and Employee Engagement

Irrelevant, or something to really care about?

Employee Engagement is something most people working for larger organisations will be familiar with, as at some stage during their working lives they will have been told by their management that it is something they (management that is) care about. And a highly visual expression of this will have come through the annual (or bi-annual, 6 monthly, quarterly even) Employee Engagement Survey.

Yet, people working in Smaller and Medium Enterprises (SME’s), may be forgiven for thinking that as far as they are concerned, the concept of Employee Engagement is a bit like Loch Ness Monster: you’ve heard about it, but seriously question whether it actually exists. And that is perfectly understandable, as in most organisations, the mechanics used to measure, report, and act on employee engagement are such that there is absolutely no chance that a company with, say, 10 employees, can execute these.
But that is not to say that for that reason employee engagement doesn’t matter. If anything, the smaller the organisation, the more important it is that employees have fully bought into what the company is doing, feel proud of its achievements, and want to go the extra mile. Indeed: feel engaged.

So what can smaller companies do to ensure they look after their employees’ engagement? Organising a large, cumbersome, time-consuming and costly employee engagement survey would be a bad move for anyone employing 50 people or less, and even within the 50 – 100 employee band an organisation should ask itself whether an exercise mainly focussing on numbers is a good use of time, money and resources. Instead, they may wish to focus on one or more of the following alternatives:
  • Study the data you already have – every organisation has data. Staff turnover figures, disciplinary, sickness and absence stats and customer feedback and complaints are just some data points most organisations have access to, but most will already have much more. By carefully studying trends in these, and discussing such trends with your people, you should get some insight in whether as an organisation you are properly looking after your people and keeping them engaged. 
  •  Focus groups– run regular focus groups with groups of employees, allowing them to fully express themselves in terms of how they are currently experiencing their jobs, the company, their colleagues and company management. Ideally, such focus groups should be fully anonymous and therefore conducted with the help of an independent external facilitator, but if a lack of financial resources prevent this, and the company has a fairly open culture, what you could consider is to have some trusted internal facilitators run such events. 
  •  Staff meetings and Away days – get all your employees together once every so often (i.e. once a year), and create a programme in which the organisation can communicate with its people, people with the company, and with one another. By building in various interactive exercises (i.e. sub group break outs with discussions about relevant topics, Q&A sessions), employees get an improved sense of involvement – which is always beneficial when building an engaged workforce - and management gets a much better understanding of the general mood of their workforce. Also, such sessions allow management to showcase their views on the future, interact with their people in a low key and informal way, demonstrate their pride in the company, celebrate successes, and listen. All of these have been demonstrated many times to be key building blocks of engagement. 
  •  A company fun day or a night out in the pub – without suggesting for even one nano second to make this your organisation’s ONLY engagement related action, it should not be underestimated how important the odd moment of pure fun and relaxation can be for the ‘emotional wellbeing’ of your organisation. Being together informally, ideally with any organisational hierarchies firmly parked in the background, can help break barriers, offer opportunities for gauging insights normally well hidden from sight, and simply allow your people to be together and interact as ‘normal’ human beings.
Where the above is just a sample of ‘interventions’ any organisation employing more than one person can undertake, what they all have in common is that they bring people together, make them share, and ensure they listen to one another. It may not provide you with a large and detailed report, but that in itself may not be such a bad thing. What would be a bad thing is for your organisation to do nothing!


Ruud Jansen Venneboer
Managing Partner Think the Unthinkable