These are the thoughts and takeaways from the latest Employee Relations Think Tank (ERTT) held on Tuesday 5th November 2013 hosted by British Airway’s Stuart Kennedy (Head of Employee Relations), titled ‘Measuring and Monitoring Engagement as a Value Add’.
The following summary has been prepared to reflect a segment of the discussion held amongst senior HR and ER professionals from leading national and international businesses. Specific company details, experiences and examples have been omitted from this summary as all discussions are held under ‘Chatham House Rules’.
In today’s candidate driven market, maximising engagement amongst your workforce is crucial for staying ahead of your competitors and ensuring employees are working to their full potential. Whilst the benefits of high engagement are generally accepted as hugely important, how many businesses are measuring it as a ‘value add’ in relation to their financials? From observation it would seem that most businesses seem to be at the start of their journey when it comes to engagement, in particular measuring the impact alongside financial data. However the appetite is very much there, in addition to tackling the following:
- Heightening engagement with front line and remote employee populations
- Ensuring engagement is consistent across different geographies
- Tailoring engagement strategies to employees based on their seniority
- Boosting engagement with little or no monetary incentives
- Articulating to the business the benefits of engagement in relation to cost savings – for example improved retention, reduced absence and heightened performance
- Revitalising the employee engagement survey to ensure it’s relevant and fit for purpose.
Rolling out the strategy
When looking at implementing an engagement strategy, ironically what seems to often be overlooked is the initial consultation or engagement with employees. What elements of their jobs are important to them, how do they want to be communicated with and how often? This data should help you segment your audience and develop a tailored communication plan that will work for different employee demographics. For certain employee groups, face-to-face engagement with their managers is more important than the opportunity for continued dialogue on social platforms such as Yammer. Generally speaking, most businesses are great at targeting communication at their consumers but neglect to use or gather data relative to the employee population.
What’s more, when it comes to communicating corporate messages amongst employees; a pure top down cascade approach is not always enough. Often the message will get stuck with middle managers; therefore a bottom up approach is advisable additionally. For example enlisting employee advocates on the ‘ground’ should help with publicising corporate messages amongst colleagues. It’s also highly advisable to pilot your engagement strategy at a local level before rolling it out across the wider organisation in order to measure the impact effectively.
What story are you trying to tell?
It’s human nature to buy into well constructed stories, especially if you feel a part of them. And whilst your organisation will have an overriding story of its rise to success – different business units and functions will relate to it and be weaved into the story in different ways. Therefore, working at a local level is crucial for showing employees the value they play in driving the business forward.
The recruitment process is likely to be your starting point for showcasing your business’s story; after all it’s your opportunity to show prospective employees what makes you a great business to join. It’s therefore crucial to maintain this buzz during the on-boarding process and to continue to knit it into the everyday communication throughout an employee’s tenure.
Allow the employee population a voice
One of most common reasons an employee feels unengaged or detached from their employer is because they don’t feel that they are being listened to. Make sure your engagement activities are two-sided and provide employees with the tools to communicate back. Introducing initiatives such as ‘Team Talks’, whereby employees suggest to their managers things that need changing / improving within their teams, works well when they can actually see the results of their suggestions. However, you can stand to do more harm than good if you fail to deliver on your promises and set unrealistic expectations for managing their requests.
A by-product of advanced communication technology is the desire for instantaneous action or response. An annual survey is no longer enough. Tools such as Yammer can be really effective for opening up continuous communication lines and gleaning more of a real-time perception of employees’ attitudes towards the business. If resourced adequately, such tools can prevent small issues from escalating and provide that vital two-way communication.
Engaging a remote workforce
Engaging a field based or remote workforce typically presents the greatest challenge as they often don’t have access to the same communication channels as office based employees, such as the intranet or email. What’s more, they often develop their own unique sub-cultures and communities through a lack of identification to the main business. Organisations need to understand what works for these communities within their own business contexts. Will your employee base respond well to personalised direct mail, text messages, being reunited more regularly with managers and colleagues etc? What’s key is giving your line-managers the tools to manage their remote workforce effectively and ensure they understand the importance of relaying business messages from the top.
Are your line-managers your biggest blocker?
Generally speaking people don’t leave bad organisations, they leave bad managers. Therefore it’s crucial to ensure your line-managers have the tools to effectively manage! We’re often guiltily of making assumptions around management capability, particularly when it comes to employees who have long tenure and have naturally stepped into a management position after working on the ‘ground’. One of the basic lessons of management is understanding that it’s a two-way process; which is why it’s so important to ensure they have the confidence and capability to tackle difficult conversations. HR shouldn’t need to be involved every step of the way! What’s more, distinguishing their management responsibilities and outlining what’s expected of them with regards to their duty to develop their team is crucial.
The business case for engagement
A good business case rests on statistical evidence and strong data analytics. When it comes to showcasing the importance of engagement, it should be no different. Assign a value to poor levels of engagement and the impact it has on the business; such as attrition, sickness, productivity or loss of time due to injury. What’s more looking at metrics from websites like glassdoor.co.uk should help cement the need for investment if your business is ranking poorly for variables like: ‘culture and values’, ‘work / life balance’, ‘senior management’ and ‘career opportunities’. Finally, it’s always wise to relate your business case measurables back to your company’s core values – for example if they include ‘safety’ or ‘profit’, demonstrate the business impact in relation to engagement. Research highlights that highly engaged organisations have fewer accidents at work and incur less reputational damage.
The engagement survey
The annual engagement survey is often looked upon as out-dated and irrelevant for assessing employees’ attitudes towards the business. Often we’re in danger of collecting a lot of meaningless data that disappears into clunky HR systems; making it harder to analyse and draw conclusions from. What’s evident is the need to introduce more of an on-going measure of engagement, rather than relying on one annual score – potentially using some sort of interactive ‘net-promoter’ tool looking at one killer question. Surely, one of the best indicators of high engagement is whether your employee population would recommend your company as a great place to work?
When looking at engagement the ERTT recommends you:
- Effectively use business data to build a compelling case for engagement
- Never underestimate the importance of websites like glassdoor.co.uk for demonstrating the importance of investing in engagement
- Remember that technology is not the answer to everything – generally going back to basics and putting more of a focus on face to face communication is more effective
- Understand your audience. Segment your employee base to ensure you are communicating with them via their preferred channel
- Remember that engagement will always come back to the ability of your line-managers and their relationship building skills
- Don’t rely on a one size fits all model – you cannot tackle engagement amongst employees with one strategy
- Don’t over complicate the message!
- Use marketing principles internally to better understand and communicate to your employee population
- Bear in mind that the more data you collect and questions you ask, the higher the burden and responsibility there is to get it right!