As a professional who leads HR communication and strategy, discussions on how to analyze, increase and measure employee engagement are a regular part of my meetings with HR executives and senior leadership. And what I’ve come to realize is that employee engagement means different things to different people… and how you achieve engagement has differing thoughts as well. But a common theme that surfaces in all my conversations is how to equate an engaged workforce to being successful as business?
For some companies, engagement means providing the tools necessary to be more collaborative (Sharepoint). For others, it’s a workforce that is more communicative (Yammer). And still, for other companies, engagement is based solely on the response rates and/or data collected from employee surveys.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) for me, these are all important aspects of employee engagement, but they do not paint the entire picture. What I’m finding out is that just because you increase employee engagement initiatives, it doesn’t mean those efforts translate into an increase in business results. And I am not the only who feels this disconnect. My leadership wants to see results. And I know yours does too.
In fact, recent research by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) shows that employees are more engaged than ever, but they are less focused and do not feel aligned with corporate objectives. So for those of you who rely solely on employee engagement surveys to help measure engagement, it alone is insufficient in driving business performance.
In today’s world, the way people work has fundamentally changed and organizations are more challenged than ever to achieve business priorities. And according to the CEB, a big part of the answer is that the global work environment has fundamentally changed in recent years. CEB research identifies the following trends:
- Decision making is more complex. Fifty percent of employees say more people are involved in decisions than there were just three years ago.
- Work requires more collaboration. Sixty percent of employees need to coordinate with at least 10 people to complete their day-to-day work; 30% of employees need to coordinate with 20 or more.
- Work is more global and virtual. Fifty-seven percent of employees say they are doing more work with colleagues in other locations.
- Work is more matrixed. Sixty-seven percent of employees say they are working with people from different teams and departments. Multiple dotted line reporting structures are common.
- Change is endemic and more frequent. Sixty-three percent of employees report that organizational objectives are changing more often than they were three years ago; 56% of organizations have experienced significant changes in the previous 12 months.
These realities make it more difficult for employees—however engaged they might be—to apply their energies in ways that matter and drive toward success.
HR is in a unique, enviable position to help the organization achieve its most critical business priorities. Because your functional area touches every business unit at your organization, you sit at the center of the C-suite, with the influence to leverage your workforce survey in a powerful way. But while surveys are good, they are not the same as listening to employees and helping them understand how they individually contribute to business success. This can either create a dilemma or an incredible opportunity for HR to make significant contributions to helping an organization achieve its business strategy.
So how can HR help?
First and foremost, the key is for HR to see the potential of everyone around them and ask, “How can we, and they, add value?” That kind of thinking will earn HR a seat at the table in all organizational conversations.
Second, HR can leverage its expertise to deepen its involvement in the organization by grooming new managers, translating employee engagement into actionable items, enhancing its interface with operations and linking HR metrics to business performance.
And finally, make sure your HR Dashboard contains metrics that connect to general operational measurements to show how the success of both correlate. Depending on the organization, different types of metrics will make a bigger impact when communicating to executives:
- Organizations that want bottom-line growth: These are businesses focused on cost-cutting and delayering. HR should prioritize measuring transaction effectiveness, quality of execution and quality of learning or training. For example, how well does the company perform on-the-job training and informal learning in the context of downsizing?
- Organizations that want top-line growth: These are businesses performing mergers and acquisitions, increasing new customers, expanding products and growing revenue. In these types of companies, HR must focus on the quality of direction and building big-picture strategic value.