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Engaging environment challenges explained

Nigel Purse
strategy

Organisations that have good employee engagement generally thrive. This is because an engaged workforce has the commitment and pride in the organisation to willingly go the extra mile and actively want to stay with the organisation to build their career. However, what challenges do organisations and particularly their HR leaders face when striving to achieve this level of engagement? Contributor Nigel Purse, Founder – The Oxford Group

Convincing the CEO to commit

The place to start is with the business case for improving employee engagement – doing the research to ensure that you have the facts and figures linking employee engagement to the specific aspects of business performance that matter right now to your CEO and Board will reap big rewards.

However, to get action and change, you will also need to touch the CEO’s emotions and feelings. The Board and CEO may agree in theory that it makes economic sense to pay attention to employee engagement. After all, it is in their self-interest for sales, profit and share price to be moving in the right direction. But to move beyond theoretical support to a commitment to action, they need to be driven by their emotions. For CEOs, this often means tapping into their need for autonomy, reputation and legacy.

Most CEOs crave autonomy to set direction, control their own destiny and avoid outside interference – for example, from stakeholders, regulators, the press. High levels of employee engagement can be buffer against these external factors, even removing some such as customer dissatisfaction.

In addition, most CEO’s care deeply about their reputation, particularly with their peers (other CEOs), investors and within their social and family circles. Who wants a reputation for leading a business where people feel indifferent, or worse, about their jobs? Reputation matters, and being known for leading an organisation which is seen as a great place to work can be a key emotional driver for many CEOs.

Thirdly, many CEOs care about how they will be remembered. They know that increasing profit, or share value is soon forgotten. A lasting legacy comes from having truly transformed an organisation into one which people respect and admire for its success, the services and innovations it gives its customers and the opportunities it provides its people. Focusing on employee engagement is a tangible route to delivering this legacy.

Overcoming misconceptions

What are the drivers of employee engagement, and the tangible concrete steps that an organisation (with the leadership of its CEO) can take to move the dial? This is less obvious than it seems, and many HR leaders (and therefore CEOs) become victims of a common misunderstanding that can doom their employee engagement activities to failure or disrepute. The drivers of high levels of employee engagement are frequently defined as:

*Having leaders who communicate a clear narrative – about where the organisation has come from, where it is now, and where it is going
*Having managers who stretch, coach, develop and listen to their people, treating them as individuals
*Having a culture in which the “voice of the employee” is heard so that communication flows both ways, up and down within the organisation
*Having an organisation where the values on the wall are lived in the daily behaviour of leaders and people at all levels

These are indeed all proven drivers of employee engagement but the common misconception is where the accountability for these drivers sits. It is widely assumed to be the corporate centre but actually these factors are all driven by the behaviour of individual line managers.

The CEO has a critical role in promoting line manager behaviour and being a role model for good practice themselves. The CEO should set expectations for their line managers regarding the quality of the daily relationship line managers work to build with their members of staff, and through which employees:

*Understand the purpose of their role within the wider organisational narrative
*Get clarity about what’s expected of them and the coaching and development to be successful
*Have their voice and opinions heard
*Feel as if they are treated with respect, dignity and fairness.

Understanding this common misunderstanding, and how to avoid it, is critical to doing the right thing to shift the dial, and to gaining the CEO’s commitment. It’s not all about them; it is all about the expectations they have of others.

Build employee engagement into daily work

HR leaders need to be explicit with other managers and leaders that building engagement within their teams of employees is their primary responsibility. You would be surprised how seldom this is stated explicitly as a people management accountability. For example, how often does it appear in managers’ and leaders’ job descriptions? How frequently does it feature as part of a manager’s or leader’s annual objectives, against which their performance will be assessed and pay or bonus decided?

Next, managers and leaders need to be given the correct tools, skills and confidence to take the actions, and have the mindset that will enable them to build engagement by focusing on the quality of the trusting relationships they have with every member of their team.

These are three challenges that a vast majority of business will face at one stage or another, when aiming to increase employee engagement. However, truly understanding them will allow managers and senior leaders to reap the benefits of improved employee engagement.