Mistake #7: Failing to understand the importance of employee engagement

Once an employee has agreed to join a company, they will have expectations about what it’s like to work in that company. These expectations will be based on your external brand promise, as well as the implicit and explicit promises made to the employee during their interview process.

You must work hard to meet those expectations in order to retain that employee. According to TalentKeepers, Inc, “59% of all attrition is occurring in the first year of employment and begins declining only after the 1-2 year period.” That is not an HR issue.  This is a serious business issue. And a costly one, at that.

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about “employee engagement”. In 2006, The Conference Board published “Employee Engagement, A Review of Current Research and Its Implications”. In that publication, they defined employee engagement as “a heightened emotional connection that an employee feels for his or her organization, that influences him or her to exert greater discretionary effort to his or her work”.

Among the key factors that create that emotional connection include:

  • Trust and integrity
  • Nature of the job
  • Line of sight between employee performance and company performance
  • Career growth opportunities
  • Pride about the company
  • Coworkers/team members
  • Employee development
  • Relationship with one’s manager

The study also notes that an employee who is truly engaged is not only likely to stay with a company, but will also significantly outperform their disengaged coworkers by 20-28 percent.

Clearly, having an engaged workforce helps a company become more successful. And equally clearly, those things that help employees become more engaged are within the purview of the company to create and/or change. So why don’t companies pay more attention to this topic?

The answer is that CEO’s don’t know how to pay attention to this topic. Some of these things, such as “trust and integrity” seem nebulous and a bit generic. Others like “relationship with one’s manager” seems like something other people should worry about. I disagree.

One of the most important things a CEO can do is to pay attention to the success and happiness of his people. At the end of the day, a CEO’s worth is measured by how much he can inspire, motivate and lead people to all work towards a common goal via a common methodology in an environment that is most conducive to business success. That’s it. Sales, marketing, engineering, etc. are actually all ancillary to this main focus. Not that these functions aren’t important. They obviously are. But a CEO’s value is not in selling, or programming code, or creating marketing campaigns. It is in leading people who lead people who lead people who perform these functions.

Equally responsible for employee engagement is the HR leader of an organization.  The factors influencing engagement mentioned above are all clearly within the purview of her role as head of human resources. Her team creates and drives the initiatives that make the company either a worthwhile or a worthless place to work.

The HR leader and the CEO are a true team in this endeavor and the HR leader should both coach and guide the CEO to be successful in this work. She is the one with the background, experience and toolkit to help promote and manage employee engagement. It is also the HR leader who should make the initial diagnosis of the issues within the organization and make recommendation for changes to promote a higher degree of employee engagement. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss the importance of ensuring that engagement is not based solely on compensation.


9 thoughts on “Mistake #7: Failing to understand the importance of employee engagement

  1. THe HR Leader and the CEO are a true Team if they both are engaged with one another in tandem. Usually there is a disconnect between the two which results in a marginalized work force. Engagement within the company leadership has to be a continuing pursuit.

    • Completely agree, Gregory. There has to be a partnership between the CEO and the HR Leader for anything to truly take root from an employee engagement perspective. And, as you point out, it’s not a one time thing but an ongoing pursuit.

  2. Very good food for thought but in a big Business Unit where does the delegation step in? Not every Project Manager is a People person and some lack PR skills so now we are back at square one?

    • Pete,

      Delegation is very important when you are dealing with a big business unit. However it is important to ensure that those you are delegating to have the necessary people skills in order to be successful. A Project Manager is a vital role and requires the skills necessary to lead a team to success. A person who lacks people skills will have a hard time gaining the respect of the team he/she is trying to lead to complete a vital project. Therefore, as an HR leader you need to ensure that you are providing the proper training and coaching to the Project Manager if they are lacking these skills. As a leader, you should also ensure that people skills is part of the assessment before placing a worker into a Project Manager role. Delegation does not mean you give up your responsibility to ensure the success of a project. Rather, it’s a way to extend your own leadership skills to others who can assist in getting the project done successfully.

    • Thanks for your comment, Pete. As Kathleen points out, delegation is very important. A leader can’t do everything by themselves. They need help and support.

      But they do need to provide the guidance and direction for what they want accomplished. Their actions also set the tone for what actions they expect from other people. A leader need not be a “people” person in order to be thoughtful about how she/he wants to engage people within their organization. A good HR partner can help them to think through all of this and plan what are the right actions for them to take.

      The key is that the leader acknowledges this is important and is willing to take some action in support of it.

  3. I agree there is great food for thought here. I have been fascinated by the topic of engagement for most of my career. A factor I think important to consider is the role that “shared values” play in engagement. According to Kouzes and Posner the authors of The Leadership Challenge, a strong culture based on shared values outperforms similar organizations by a huge margin.

    • Great comment, Ken. I couldn’t agree more. In a previous blog post, I wrote about the importance of creating the right culture to support your business. Each business will need the culture that’s right for them – it’s not one size fits all.

      And a great culture is the foundation to creating an environment that will engage employees. Without it, you’re not providing anything to which they can or want to engage.

  4. It is vital for employees to be engaged in the business if a company is to truly be successful, but engagement is a two-way street. It must be recognized for it to continue. Morale is deeply affected when employee engagement is abused by management. I speak from experience. I hate using myself as an example but, I was engaged enough to research huge issues on my own that resulted in saving a company millions of dollars; however, management took the praise for my work. I prefer to use my talents to help my employer be the best that it can be, but I want to be appreciated for my efforts. This goes back to trust and integrity. Employees who feel that they are valued and nurtured give more of themselves and care about the work they do. It isn’t just a job.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Rachel, and a perfect example of how an organization can shoot itself in the foot. In your example, management was focused on itself; not on promoting and engaging its employees. Rather than engage, they cause you to disengage. And I would bet that you weren’t alone in that. Everyone wants to be valued and recognized. If they’re not getting that from their current work place, they’ll find it somewhere else.

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