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Lately, the phrase “employee engagement” is starting to get worn out. HR professionals are using it to justify their work, decisions and well… anything that doesn’t fit nicely into another box. But while we’re constantly using the employee engagement to describe our actions, our colleagues outside of HR are starting to roll their eyes… they don’t “get” employee engagement. Other than knowing it’s a buzzword that’s starting to wear out its welcome.

That’s because we’re not doing a good job at showing organizations why employee engagement is so important. It’s not just a catchphrase, it is the most important thing that HR can bring to the table that we’ve worked so hard to get a seat at.

It’s time to demystify employee engagement – so you can add more strategic value in your HR practice, and so the business will help you continuously move the engagement needle in the right direction going forward.

I was listening to a large consulting vendor talk about “demystifying employee engagement” the other day, and it was filled with lots of charts, consulting phrases and high-level talk without any substance or value at all. I think we walked away from the conversation more confused than we were walking in.

Let’s actually break engagement down – without fancy arrows or named processes or ridiculousness. Here’s how to tie your employee engagement to the business in a way that matters to them.

Breakdown Your Survey Questions

Since most of us use a vendor to help us create the survey questions and deliver the survey, you’re not starting from scratch. However, you need to go through the survey categories and questions with a fine tooth comb… instead of just taking the vendors recommendations without question.

Each category and question you ask, must tie to a business/company goal. For example, if one of your company’s goals is to increase their profit margins by 10%, your questions need to support that goal. A category that may apply in this scenario is innovation or cost reduction. Then you need to ask your employees questions that help them actually achieve that goal. Do you have the tools you need to do your job as efficiently as possible? Are you able to implement cost savings initiatives effectively?

The key component here, is that your survey is filled with questions and therefore responses, that actually matter to the organization. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t ask questions just because your vendor has indicated that they are “best practice.” If your organization does not truly care about the category/questions/results, it’s a waste of your employees’ time and effort.

Stick with items that you can draw a direct line from the question to the business’s goal. It will take some additional time and effort from you, and perhaps asking tough questions to create the linear connection, but the outcome will make engagement much more enticing to your audience outside of HR.

Use Metrics to Connect the Dots

When you get the results from your survey, you have to learn to tell the story behind the numbers in a way that people outside of HR understand. Think of it like a marketing exercise. Marketers don’t just say this product does X, Y and Z. They share benefits about a product that matter to you – the product will save you time, money and energy.

The numbers of percent engaged, is just a starting point for you to create a story that matters to your audience.

Let’s use an example here: Clinical Group Engagement Survey Results: 68% in the leadership category

Many of us would stop here – share with the Clinical organization that they are at 68% engaged in leadership, 5% below the average norm for the category based on the vendor’s data and 3% lower than the rest of the organization in this category.

Here’s how you would connect the dots and create meaningful engagement data for the Clinical organization.

We asked about Leadership in our engagement survey because we know that our leaders are the most critical component for retaining key talent at our company. With an upcoming FDA trial beginning in the next year, we need consistent leaders and employees to deliver optimal FDA results.

With an engagement score of 68%, it shows us that your organization is more at risk than others within the company – leaving us with some concerns as to how to create the consistent workforce we need, particularly in your organization (the drivers of the trial).

In addition to potential retention issues, this number shows us that we have some opportunity to improve leadership capabilities within your group. Focusing on the leaders themselves, in addition to retention.

There can be a lot more detail here, but the main connection is:

  1. The business cares about meeting their FDA trial (their goal is passing the trial, which will then result in a significant profit)
  2. To meet the trial goal, the Clinical organization needs to retain their employees, especially those considered key talent
  3. Solutions to do that can include: improving the individual leadership skills of their management team, focus groups to better understand the disconnect, determine if there’s a specific gap issue/person negatively influencing the results

The business, or more specifically in this example – the Clinical organization, cares about how they can keep their employees for the FDA trial. Understanding that need and how it relates to the business’s bottom line – passing the trial (2016 goal) to increase profit, should be the baseline for you to conduct all engagement conversations with this group.

Crafting the Right Engagement Action Plans

Now that you’ve asked the right questions and tied the metrics to specific, meaningful outcomes, it’s time to create engagement action plans that make sense. As you know, engagement isn’t only owned by HR – but the biggest needle movers of engagement, are leaders.

In order to get your leaders on board with action planning and implementing the necessary changes, you have to craft the right action plans based on what they care about.

I’m sure you’ve seen this before (I know I have)… the HR partner goes to the leader and says, here are your results, focus on these two categories and create an action plan that makes sense for your group.

Here’s the problem with that approach:

  1. The leader is NOT an expert in engagement, or he/she would not need to focus on those areas. So telling them to take complete control of the situation will set everyone up for failure.
  2. The plans they create may not at all be tied to engagement, but focus on tactical things, items they’ve been wanting to check-off for some time, or something else entirely. Therefore, not having any way to move the actual engagement needle.
  3. This is another item on their “to-do list” – they will do just enough to check the box, but they don’t actually care about the results.

But this is all fixable – you can easily help your leaders craft action plans that meet the needs of their department and the overall organization.

In the Clinical example above, I mentioned a few possible items for their action plan: create focus groups to determine areas of issue; deliver more leadership training to this organization focused specifically on gaps.

When you consider your own action plans, you must consider what the ultimate goal is. It’s not increasing the engagement number in that category for next year – that’s not SMART enough.

It is: focusing on a specific outcome that can be implemented and then measured. And surprisingly, it’s usually easier than you think.

I’ll keep with the Clinical example here – the focus groups resulted in several insights including:

  • Not hearing from their direct manager often enough
  • Not feeling comfortable going to their manager to ask questions because they were so busy on the trial
  • Having too many meetings at the request of their leader

These three items were pretty easy to fix within a year’s time. Our action plan based on these results included:

  • Standardized weekly meetings for all teams – we provided an easy to use template for them as a resource
  • Creating a peer mentoring group in the department for questions; a SharePoint site for best practices and a connected Yammer discussion board
  • Implementing better meeting practices – cut the meeting times down to 45 minutes instead of 60; requiring an agenda prior to each meeting with specific outcomes/decisions needed; and having a meeting-free day for work

With these fixes, the next-year’s survey results increased dramatically – we didn’t solve every problem, but these “easy” fixes were able to move the needle because they were directly connected to the business’s goals, the department needs and the employee’s desires.

Closing Thoughts

There’s so much more to “demystify” – join me for a free webinar to walk through the exact steps I’ve taken for various clients, to increase employee engagement year-over-year (by 15% and more).

Snag your spot here!