Having just spent three days at the CIPD conference in Manchester, I feel I have been immersed in all things to do with raising engagement.
I am suffering from engagement overload. Whilst it is pleasing to hear what you have know all along that engaged employees drive business success, it is after all the bleeding obvious. The business case is powerful, Tannith Dodge's session highlighted the differences between variances in engagement scores between shops and the variances between upper and lower quartile business performance. Apparently stores with the highest engagement scores sell more!
The difference between upper and lower quartile stores in their engagement scores is £104 million in sales.
My social media drinks session told me that not all my fellow delegates at the conference shared my view on this one, and yes there might be other factors at play, but any data that persuades the CEO to focus on the people dynamics of the business is a good thing in my book.
However does this renewed CEO interest in what we do, put us under added pressure to find the levers that drive engagement. Whilst listening to two excellent sessions on engagement initiatives in Essex County Council and Coca Cola Enterprises ( Supply Chain Management) I was struck that with average engagement figures ranging between 50-60% which mirrors the Gallup one third,one third, one third model. Most organisations have one third of their employees actively engaged, one third actively disengaged and one third not disengaged, but not actively engaged. So at any one at least one third of your workforce don't give a flying.
Assuming you are in the actively engaged category, and you do give a flying, what's the quickest lever you can pull. The MacLeod report highlighted that employees want an organisation with a clear vision and know their their part in that vision. They demand managers who are actively interested in them, listen to them and develop them in their careers. Finally the want organisations that have integrity and play their part in the wellbeing of the community they serve. Towers Perrin study of 200,000 employees, in 18 countries over 10 years put it more simply. Employees want opportunity and wellbeing (an organisation that cares about them), pride in the company and or brand, trust and involvement.
It is my view that personal development lever is quick and easy to pull, and will increase job satisfaction, enhance productivity and improve the customer experience. Additional by-products include reduced attrition, and reduce absence.
Since I know I am not particularly an innovative thinker, I am certain I am not the only one who has had this idea. Why hasn't HR embraced it, or perhaps more accurately why haven't we successfully sold the concept to the line.
Here's the rub. There is an inherent conflict between employee aspirations and management objectives and capability. Employees find it difficult to trust their bosses. We are stuck in a parent child relationship. It takes a special type of manager who can be trusted with the secret I am thinking of leaving my present role. Typically employees are reluctant to enter into such conversations since I might disadvantage myself in future pay and career conversations. Ironically employees are more likely to share their secrets with external recruiters which given their propensity to be driven by commission payments, impartial advice it is not. Moreover it is not in the manager's interest to move the high performers out. They get rewarded for delivery, helping your key players to move elsewhere in the business is counter intuitive. Assuming that I am altruistic, do I really know opportunities exist elsewhere in the organisation. So there we have it a catch I 22.
So what can we do about?
We need to sell the benefits of engaged employees to the line. Yes I mean that. We need passionate advocacy. We need hard data, making the business case . We need to name and shame low engagement and reward and celebrate high engagement. Praise engaging managers will in itself drive up engagement.
We need to train managers to have career conversations after all we train them to hire and fire perhaps we should address the bit in the middle. In my experience managers do not get training into how to listen. Just taking the time out to listen, showing genuine interest, exploring career possibilities will significantly drive engagement. As a big Malcolm Gladwell fan, to become an expert in anything you need 10,000 hours of practice. So let's not kid ourselves this is a one off training that will overnight turn our line managers to expert career coaches, however I am minded of the Hawthorne experiment. During the second world war psychologists were exploring the optimum level of illumination in munition factories. They were surprised to discover that the pilot group who experienced no change in illumination also experienced increased productivity. Just the additional TLC drove up product.
Perhaps that's the key driver of engagement. Show them you care. That can't be that difficult can it?
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