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Measuring’s not enough – 3 steps to employee engagement

In recent years, working with our clients, we have noticed a common trend focusing on employees engagement. I believe It all started when a book by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman reported on the stunning discovery that the greatest managers have a habit of “first break all the rules” as the book was titled.

In their 1997 book Buckingham and Coffman introduce the idea of employee engagement and how to measure it using a 12 questions survey (Q12). However at the time organisations were far too busy cashing in on the benefits of a healthy economy. Despite Human Resources practitioners’ interest in the subject, we had to wait until the economy turned “south” and left everyone disillusioned defeated and disengaged.

In such conditions of global crisis, engagement appeared to be the freshest idea to turn things around, after the usual cutting costs practice didn’t fully resolve the problem.

Since then, I’m often hearing IMI clients seeking to engage employees in taking ownership and in driving performance. The most obvious starting point for most of them is of course that of measuring engagement, to pinpoint the gap and rollout initiatives to close that gap.

The hope is that by closing the engagement gap it will automatically increase employees’ ability to innovate and more importantly will kick-start the process to drive productivity and increase profitability. While this chain reaction might eventually occur, measuring engagement will not necessarily mean more engaged people. On the contrary asking employees questions about how engaged they are at a time when morale might be very low, can have devastating effects and in fact has the potential of reducing engagement, unless appropriate actions are taken to follow up on the questions and truly engage staff.

The measurement of engagement is in effect an “input bias” that causes organisations to be side-tracked. As Francesca Gino explains in her recently published HBR press book “sidetracked“. Measuring effort does not directly translate into outcome. What most organisations want from more engaged employees is higher performance, measuring engagement does not translate into higher performance unless the necessary steps are taken to focus staff on delivering the performance required.

In our experience of working with organisations of all sizes across different industries,  we have observed three fundamental steps that seem to be very effective in gaining employees commitment to deliver high performance: Dialog, Involvement, and Follow up.

Dialog – With the IMI experience in helping managers develop employees commitment, we observed that being clear about what is required is the single most critical first step. Forming strong interpersonal relationships to build trust, openness and understanding is the foundation that enables organisations to develop clarity of outcomes, roles and responsibilities. Establishing this open and candid dialog also enables leaders to clearly understand employee’s motivation and barriers to action. Surveys are great for reaching a large pool of employees, but often they do not provide the level of clarity and qualitative information required to enable true engagement.

Involvement – In my work of facilitating teams to resolve problems at all levels of the organisation it strikes me to see the deep sense of ownership and commitment participants gain when they are given the opportunity to become involved with the decision making process. Once clarity is established about the outputs required to succeed it seems important to involve employees in developing their own solutions to overcome challenges and solve the problems that get in the way. By facilitating employees in finding a solution we also enable and empower them in taking effective and committed action.

Follow up – Another trend I observed while working with organisational teams is how success or failure can be simply determined by the level of review and feedback the team gives and receives during plans execution. True high performance can only be achieved by consistently reviewing the impact of our own actions against our objectives. To do this effectively, organisational leaders must learn how to give performance-enhancing feedback that recognises effective behaviours and to build upon them in order to channel efforts to improve outcomes. By providing employees with opportunities to become better at what they do they also become motivated to do more.

In conclusion, while measuring engagement will probably confirm what can already be observed about employee’s morale, it will not change employees’ perspective or their commitment to change.

It is possible however to engage employees by developing an open and frequent Dialogue about what they do and what is required, Involving them in the decision making process and resolving critical problems, and Follow up by providing them with performance enhancing feedback.

Fabio Grassi is Executive Learning Director at IMI. Fabio’s focus is to help executives and managers to develop teams performance, collaboration and motivation. Fabio’s approach is to facilitate tailored workshops aimed at the achievement of specific business outcomes. Fabio’s passion is to develop ethical leadership through executive coaching. e-mail Fabio Grassi or call on +353 87 9183282

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