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Tue, Mar 19, 2013

Talent Strategies

Who Owns Employee Engagement?

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This guest post is by Don MacPherson, president and co-founder of Modern Survey, a Human Capital measurement software company in Minneapolis. Don is an employee performance expert with 18 years of experience in the field of human capital measurement. Don leads Modern Survey’s consulting and employee engagement practice and oversees all Sales, Marketing, and Consulting efforts. For more information on Modern Survey’s research on employee engagement go to www.modernsurvey.com/fall-2012-national-norms-study-2-op1.

The path to employee engagement is a simple one. The organization makes engagement possible by providing a framework for making engagement possible. That framework begins by communicating a set of organizational values so they are known and understood throughout the organization. Managers and senior leaders are responsible for driving engagement by recognizing employees, developing them, and filling them with belief in the future of their organization. Ultimately, however, each individual employee chooses whether or not to bring their best to work on a day to day basis. That is the frustrating part of the employee engagement equation.

Many organizations have the proper cultural framework in place and a skilled set of managers and senior leaders who are focused on engaging employees, yet these organizations are not able to fully engage the vast majority of their employees. Most employees consciously or subconsciously choose to bring less than their best.

According to Modern Survey’s research, only 13% of the U.S. workforce is fully engaged and another 22% are moderately engaged. That leaves 65% of U.S. employees either under engaged or disengaged. Even among organizations that Modern Survey deems “Extraordinary”, 40% of their employees are under engaged or disengaged. It’s better, but there is still a great deal of performance potential left untapped.

Ask any human resource professional if they expect employees to bring their best to work every day. Most will say “yes”. Then ask if their organization sets an expectation among new hire candidates that, if hired, they are required to bring their best to work. As many as 98% of HR professionals will sheepishly respond “no” to that question.

Much attention has been given to the idea of employees being responsible for their own engagement. This is a strong shift from the manager or leadership owning engagement. At the moment, it’s a flawed concept. The reason is that the vast majority of employees don’t even know what the concept of engagement is. In the Fall 2012 study of U.S. Workforce Engagement, Modern Survey found that only 42% of all employees understand the concept of employee engagement. It’s a massive challenge for people to own their own engagement when they don’t understand the concept. The more depressing statistic is that only 55% of managers of employees responded that they understood the concept of engagement.

Yes, organizations need to create and maintain the framework for making engagement possible. However, if our organizations are to aspire to fully engage the majority of their employees, a huge educational initiative needs to occur. Every manager needs to understand what engagement is, why it is important, what the drivers are and how to have conversations with employees about it. If employers are to hold the individual employee accountable for their own engagement, the educational initiative needs to extend down to each and every employee. It would be unfair to attempt to hold people accountable for something nearly 60% of them don’t understand.

This is the great opportunity for HR professionals. American organizations spend over half their budgets on employees and employee related expenses. There is no other part of our organizations where there is a greater gap between current performance and performance potential. By educating every employee about the concept of engagement and equipping managers with the tools to engage employees, HR professionals can help their organizations close this gap and make a greater impression on performance than any other part of the company.

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  • ramya divya

    Communication between employees and management is important and mangers can go for an employee service portal,which can be a tool to achieve employee engagement. There is an informative whitepaper on this very topic, readers will find it useful @ http://bit.ly/YflG9k

  • Lisa Chase

    I find the concept of making employees responsible for their own engagement curious. Engagement is based on a willingness to give more than expected. But the employee/employer construct is based on an fairness doctrine. I have what you need; employee needs money, employer needs labor (or knowledge or skill). Until an employer is willing or able to quantify, codify or establish other non-monetary gains and make them apparent to the employee, the employee will continue to give what they feel is fair.

  • http://www.stevebellnow.com/ Steve Bell

    Having been a manager for over 25+ years, everything comes in cycles. Back in the day, managers were definitely responsible for their employee engagement. Performance of the team was their performance. Then it shifted to employee owned (or even team based). It should and needs to be both sides own employee engagement. The post highlights the parts that the leadership team owns… Employee’s need to own their part as well… There needs to be simple metrics that both the leadership team and employees can see how well employee engagement is doing. You want to change something – remember measure it!

  • David

    While it makes sense for HR to promote engagement, it reads as if you believe they have a primary responsibility to both educate and promulgate engagement initiatives. Why HR? This would seem to be the responsibility of all management?

  • http://www.malvee.com/jobber Emile Bons

    I think improving employee engagement is definetely a task of the company as a whole. We try to offer solutions that improve to share the results of the employee engagement improvement process with everybody within the organization and we try to make the task of improving it a task of every single manager within the organization.

  • http://proaxios.com/ Dr. Jim Bohn

    Katz and Kahn (1978) state it this way:

    Three categories of behavior are required to achieve high levels of organizational effectiveness. People must join and remain in the organization; they must perform dependably the roles assigned to them; and they must engage in occasional innovative and cooperative behavior beyond the requirements of the role but in service of organizational objectives. (p. 424)

    The last clause (written 35 years ago!) is employee engagement.

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  • http://www.modernsurvey.com Don MacPherson

    David, I am advocating for HR to do this work because I think HR will do it the best across most organizations. When HR can elevate employee performance and leadership effectiveness, I want them to seize the opportunity.

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