Opinion: James Lambert: Engagement doesn’t need to be complicated 

What are the golden rules for building an engaged organisation?

White Paper by James Lambert, Business Consultant, BlessingWhite Europe

Employee Engagement is the hot topic of the HR community at the moment.  Observations of how engaged the ‘games makers’ were at the Olympic Games have brought the subject to the forefront once again – the big smiles, willingness to help, going the extra mile and genuine excitement and happiness to be in their role.  Can you bottle this up and take it back to the corporate world?

Over the last four years the economic climate has been challenging for most organisations. The shift on how we operate and the way we approach business has changed; organisations have looked at how to stay in the race, never mind breaking world records. This has meant sometimes the people agenda has been ignored and the opportunity for progression or career development has been left at the side of the road.

Is the downturn in the economy the real driving force behind the lack of engagement?  Are there other factors that we have chosen to ignore?

In my opinion Employee Engagement is often overcomplicated, because there are always going to be different factors in different organisations that mean people are more or less engaged.  I challenge you to stop and think about when you have been truly engaged in an organisation – how did this feel and what did it look like?

Frequent responses to this question include:  working in a high-­performing team, people wanted to go to work and deliver exceptional performance for themselves, their manager and the organisation. Off the back of this they were satisfied in their work and achieving their own personal goals, plus adding maximum contribution to the organisation. The next challenge is: how do you make this happen?

What’s interesting is…when organisations talk about Employee Engagement they usually go straight into the thought process of surveying to discover what the issues are in the organisation.  The survey is completed and data comes back, but what happens with the data? It gets analysed to try and find out what the issues are and how we can overcome them, but it’s missing one key factor – personal communication. Surveys, questions and data – it can only tell us so much. A computer can’t truly assess the answer to these questions: How is the employee feeling about their role? Are they satisfied at the end of the day when they leave their desk? Likewise, can a computer truly measure how effectively the individual is doing their job and the level of contribution they are adding to the organisation?

A number of recent articles on employee engagement and the state of engagement in the UK have stated that trust in leadership isdown, yet the number of people looking to remain in their current position has gone up.Senior leaders are more engaged than individuals lower down in the organisation.  What does this mean? How does this help us create a more engaged workforce?

The answer to this is in the foundation of the BlessingWhite business and the innovative work of founders Buck Blessing and Tod White, pioneers in the field of engagement. In the 70’s training was viewed as a tick box exercise to develop skills. Individuals would go on a ‘training course’ and then come back to work as usual. Rarely was what they learned in training discussed or implemented. Blessing and White revolutionised the thinking behind this and asked, what is the value on taking time away from your job? Why bother if you are not going to get any commercial gains from doing so?

One of the key messages from this development was that communication and action are essential components to  increase Employee Engagement.  Engagement should be viewed on the basis of satisfaction to the employee and contribution to the organisation. Without communication between an employee and their manager about these two areas neither knows what they are trying to achieve. From these early thoughts BlessingWhite went on to the ‘X Model’,and their on-going research subsequently identified five distinct levels of engagement, dependent on the amount of satisfaction and contribution. This model gives people the tool they require to start having open conversations around what a good day at work looks like for both the employee and the organisation.

One dead battery can’t jump-­start another…Engagement is contagious and building a culture of engagement has to start at the top of the organisation. If your senior team is not clear about the direction of the organisation and not achieving their own levels of satisfaction then they will struggle to create a fully engaged organisation. If the employees see an engaged senior leadership team this is a great starting point.

Whose responsibility is it to develop engagement? It has to be everyone’s; engagement is like confidence though, it is not a skill you can give to somebody. Individuals have to seek it out for themselves; leaders can guide them along a path but it has to be their responsibility.

Organisations must start creating an open culture of communication, trust and action. Individuals need to be given the tools to identify what satisfaction means to them, talk about it with a leader and see action from these conversations.  They may need time or help to decide what personal values and vision mean, but to start the thought process leaders need to foster an environment of trust and communication.

On the other side of the coin we also need to look at where employees sit on the contribution side. Our research highlighted that almost 1 in 5 employees needed greater clarity on what the organisation needs them to do and why.  This is essential to performance and satisfaction – how can someone do their job well if they don’t know what to do?

In simplest terms, in order to develop a more engaged workforce leaders need to become better at communicating with their employees. What do employees need to be satisfied in their role and what does employee contribution look like to the organisation? This can be done in a number of easy steps:

  • Building a culture of engagement has to start at the top
  • Get to know your employees better and what satisfaction look like to them
  • Create a culture of openness to discuss engagement
  • Ensure engagement is a daily priority, not a once-­a-­year initiative
  • Make sure agreements are actionable
  • Keep things simple, there is no need to over complicate.

On a final note…take time to think about your own personal level of satisfaction and what that looks like.  Consider how much contribution you reallygive your organisation, and plot this on the X model.  Finally, make a list of three things that will help to improve your engagement – this will form the starting point of discussions with your own manager.

For further information please contact: James.lambert@blessingwhite.com  07715 763 59

Tags: Opinion

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