Monday, 18 April 2016

Engagement is dead, long live Engagement

It seems that every 5 years or so, a discussion emerges as to whether Employee Engagement, and actively trying to improve it, is still a ‘live’ concept, or that it is dead in the water. Looking at forums, such as those on the business networking site LinkedIn, suggests it is that time again.

And maybe understandably so; as one thing 40 years or so of measuring employee satisfaction, opinion and, more recently, engagement has shown is that a. it isn’t easy, and b. seeing results isn’t always obvious. Yet, companies have been doing this for a long time, and as the cycles suggest, despite its faults, many organisations continue to see its value, and keep coming back to it.

In many ways, working actively to try and improve engagement in an organisation is a bit like taking out membership of your local gym. Just taking out the membership isn’t going to improve your fitness or health; even the odd hour of spinning, rowing or running isn’t necessarily going to be of much help: it requires commitment, stamina, continuity and a plan! And just as many gym memberships fail to ‘deliver’, so do many engagement projects. But would anyone argue that going to the gym isn’t a good idea in principle? Likewise, so I would suggest, is the intention to look after your employees’ engagement.

No longer working on employee engagement projects on a daily basis, yet having sufficient overview of what is happening in organisations, allows me to take a step back every so often, and observe the ‘battlefield’ which is called HR Consulting. Doing so strongly suggests to me that good organisations will continue to focus on these topics, and will be better off as a result

So why do we see this debate emerge time and again you may wonder? I think there are a few reasons, key one being that it is not easy or simple to measure, analyse, report, and give follow up to employee engagement, and, increasingly, people demand ‘simple’. Hence the emergence of things like instant feedback tools (where you press the relevant emoji that represents your feeling there and then), monthly 5-question ‘health checks’, ‘pulse surveys’ etc. So because we failed to explain to managers that it would be useful to maybe invest an hour or so of their time understanding what employee engagement is really about (and I honestly believe it doesn’t take any longer), we just brought the topic down to a level that helps no-one.

I have said in the past that there is a ‘tragedy of employee engagement surveys’, by which I mean that it tends to make good managers even better ones, that some average managers ‘get it’, and grow as a result, but that for the remainder, it may actually work against them. And as much as I hate to say so, sadly there are quite a few bad/poor/mediocre managers around. And what do these people do when they are out of their depth? They become loud, sometimes aggressive, and mock the tools they were given, but failed to understand. It is my firm belief that the reason why in some organisations engagement projects fail to catch on is because of this very fact.

So no, engagement isn’t dead, and nor are employee engagement projects in organisations. Far from it. Sure they evolve, and may take on different formats than before, but all I can say is that if your organisation is one that believes it needs to be simple, fast and instant, is think again. The motivation of your people, and the value add this has for your organisation, deserves more than the expression through a Smiley!

Want to discuss this further? Please get in touch:

Ruud Jansen Venneboer
Managing Partner

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