Employee engagement solutions is one of the main pillars in the construct of a good employer. While appreciating the adage that the future will be the future, organizations should acknowledge the fact that they need to be ready for the future so as to take initiatives and reap exponential benefits.
As one traverses the often- conflicting perspectives that hold the world of human resources together, one realizes that there exists one irrefutable law: engaged employees perform far better than those who are not engaged or those who are disengaged. That said, when it comes to human behaviour, nothing is governed by an “all-or-none” rule and better performance does not necessarily presuppose higher levels of engagement.
Who is an engaged employee?
Gallup’s definition of employee engagement as, “The cognitive involvement and emotional enthusiasm that people have for their work and workplace” does capture the essence of what employee engagement is all about. However, this definition seems to work better when an “or-component” is included as a part of the employee engagement strategies. Because at times, some of the tasks may require only cognitive involvement, some only emotional enthusiasm and some both. Consequentially, the mentioned states of employees represent the entire spectrum from being actively engaged to being actively disengaged.
While no such all-encompassing definition of an engaged employee exists, in broader terms, engagement may be regarded as a three-fold relationship between the employee, the employer, and the organization. Needs form the base for any relationship and motivation plays a major part in the formation, development and maintenance of this relationship. When it comes to motivation, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a concept that while being either over-hyped or over-criticized is always over-cited. While the pyramid does not explain or hold true in a lot of cases, it might be interesting to look at it from the perspective of employee engagement. What are the needs of an engaged employee?
The journey from disengaged to engaged
Something to take note of here is the point where the non-engaged-engaged conversion takes place. The stage where employees begins to feel that they are skilled or good at their job but are still unaware of their individual contribution to the greater organizational goals is the stage of them becoming almost engaged. What drives the shift is the moment it is realized that all necessary and relevant support (both intrinsic and extrinsic) is available for their jobs. This in turn leads to the development of a sense of commitment and an ability to confront any task-related challenges.
Engaged employees begin to display passion in their work and show inclination if not assimilation with the organizational goals. This alignment is the key to increased employee productivity and consequentially to organizational growth.
We live in a world of instants. EBay seems to have it right. From instant noodles to instant feedback, we run on a “want it, get it” philosophy. We are quick to judge and the first day in any organization is often enough to let us know whether we fit in or not. A timely pay check and a secured job is not enough to motivate employees to actually get them to work. A recent survey by BCG states that on-boarding is the second most important HR practice of all the 22. Also, the data reveals that advanced on-boarding techniques have high ROI. So, a traditional on-boarding process of knowledge transfer sessions, form filling procedures and plain simple greetings is passé. A semi-upgraded process of on-boarding is present nowadays wherein there is more involvement of the HR Managers and Social Media, ERP, and other online groups but it still holds on to the traditional Knowledge transfer session but wrapped up in activities extended for up to seven days as in Sapient Nitro or as in Siemens.
Start at the beginning: get the right people on-board
Moving with time, firms should upgrade from their traditional on-boarding techniques to newer novel ones because most of the top employer brands like Google, Facebook, IBM, EY and Zappos have changed their on-boarding process as it has a major impact on the firms’ employer brand image. These practices include areas including gamification, providing mentors, extending on-boarding, applying technology to on-boarding and having pre-onboarding activities before the first day of work. These advanced techniques include gamification processes for knowledge transfer. Rack space has four-day onboarding effort that includes fun informal activities like games, costume parties, skits, etc. Another tech firm Bazaar voice sends new joiners on a week long scavenger hunt designed to bring them up to speed on company culture and company jargon.
Such innovative, informal, ice-breaking sessions must be kept. Consider an internal enlace for them, like small pet-projects where they can get a feel of the culture as well as display their potential and may even get engaged. Disengaged employees are a threat so in order to ensure that new hires haven’t made a mistake in accepting their new job, Zappos offers up to $4,000 to quit during their initial training. This technique may also soon catch up with employers not wasting time, money and effort on a not-so-serious candidate because it has been studies that disengaged employees stick around because of the pay and security only.
Communication is the key
Clarity is the essence of success in every venture in life. Communication expert, Babara Farfan has an exciting take on it. She says that expectations without support is a recipe for frustration and burnout. Some organizations have gone up on this and have emphasized more on having standards and non-negotiables. This helps create a sense of directed motivation and get rid of the expectational clash of managers and further reinforce expectations, thus empowering employees.
Other aspect that may come into play would be humanizing technology at workplace. Nowadays people have dehumanized communication and believe that every message should be electronically delivered in a textual format. One Google VP recently replaced his newsletter e-mail with a three-minute YouTube Video. According to Carlisle, “After surveying people afterwards, we saw employees had better recollection of it, and overall more positive feelings toward the organization.” Carlisle also insists that some messages are always best delivered in person. Old school methods of tactable interpersonal interactions may pose for a comeback because it has the clear hands up on sustaining long-term employee engagement and overall human effectiveness.
In keeping with the times
A recent study by Aon Hewitt highlighted a three-fold perspective towards employee engagement activities. Though not exhaustive, given the different facets, nuances and outcomes of human behaviours, these can actually help us gain an insight as to what work may be required to engage employees further.
The first precept talks about “say”. Which initiative on the employer’s part would make an employee consistently speak positively about the organization to co-workers, potential employees and customers? Though various initiatives have been taken like improving internal communications, feedbacks and soliciting employee opinion on various issues, getting them to grow and develop their passion just like Fundoo Friday of HCL or MADJAM that helps other employees recognize the inputs and contributions of their colleagues to the organizations. But what about those who are not consequentially or have not purposefully ascribed themselves to it. Mike Metzger C.E.O. of Payscale holds super-transparency of business concept in very high regard.
Super transparency of business can be one element which can actually get everyone onboard and actually start talking. This transparency can instill a sense of perceived ownership amongst the employees. Now, this should not get projected like a sleazy manipulation for the employees to work but rather focus on making compliances easier and more suited to the demography. ESOP facilities as of late has been on the rise as a part of employee engagement. Super transparency would enable them to participate further and engage more. One may argue that transparency can bring out counterproductive inhibitions, but presence of non-negotiables acts as a boundary to sensibly restrict any entropy. Yet, transparency helps monitor progress, take effective decisions due to free flow of information and feel wanted.
Can happiness be a company policy?
Another way to make employees feel for the firm and to speak about it positively is to come up with some ground- breaking policies with respect to gender diversity and minorities and may be try becoming a forerunner in some socio-perceptual change.
The second precept talks about “stay”. This talks about employees having an intense desire to be a member of the organization. To develop this attribute, organizations should actually democratize the responsibility of engaging the employers. Mary Anne Masarech, the lead consultant of GP Strategies says that the role of the managers should be limited but not restricted to creating a conducive environment while the actual engagement proposals should be by the employees as well as for the employees. Another problem that can be sorted out by this is the dialectic of action planning that is usually done by management and that of the actual action which should basically be incorporated as part of the job.
The third precept is of striving and an important change that may occur would be in the field of performance management. The bell curve or the normal distribution system curve is now widely accepted in performance management. This forced ranking method is used by over 80% of the companies but a recent survey by EY indicates that 61% of the respondent perceived it as unreliable and outdated because of its inherent nature of relativity, non-absoluteness and reduced objectivity it leads to increased competition amongst employees and reduced collaboration and cohesiveness.
Up the curve
The antidote to this would be a Power Law Curve or the Paretian Distribution as found out by research conducted by Ernest O’Boyle and Herman Aguinis in 2011-2012.
This essentially accounts for a wider variation in performance. The concept of a generic average is undermined and rather the concept of hyper-performers is accommodated. They are actually very important for the organization as they are related to a high percentage of delivered business value. Thus, they need to be engaged, attracted, retained, and empowered significantly more than the others. Also, this model focuses on continuous development due to its non-restrictive nature so as to who can become a hyper-performer.
The number crunch
Coming to the analytics part, one disturbing trend that is picking up is that of almost excessive reliability on numerical data and paucity of humanized action on the ground. And this is not just in the sector of employee engagement activities in Indian companies. The list of behavioural indicators that can be mapped doesn’t actually fall into a binary structure as such. It is not that these sample data collected are inconsequential, but they should only be used to analyse not decide. Decision making should be more inclusive and decentralized. Moreover, these data should be used to personalize interventions such as in allotting mentors, projects, team, etc. This personal touch will go far so as to engage employees specifically and actually help them achieve the stage of self-actualization.
Terri Citterman, author of “From the C.E.O’s perspective” comments that employee engagement is really less about expense and more about effort. Companies fail because they don’t actually make the effort. They may try but they don’t try hard enough. It may be worth mentioning that the content, context and intent of these interventions should be clear before embarking on any such processes for it to be successful.