Professor Hlupic has been voted one of the Most Influential HR Thinkers in the world for two years in a row. Here she discusses how organisations with the most effective employee engagement strategies can raise performance and involvement across the organisation.
Engaged employees are one of the biggest assets for any organisation, a fact acknowledged, understood and accepted by many business leaders. For at least a decade, the so-called ‘employee opinion surveys’ have been a regular feature at the better-run corporations and many smaller enterprises.
However, it is possible to detect a trace of scepticism over the commercial relevance of such initiatives. Is engagement really a business necessity, or a nice-to-have extra? My work and research on the subject over the years leads me to conclude that the smartest approach isn’t to discuss whether ‘engagement’ is or isn’t important. Without a doubt, it is a vital building block for the success of any organisation, but the problem is that the approach to fostering engagement is piecemeal and incremental.
Too often, employee engagement is defined very narrowly as merely a tactic or a means to an end. What recent researches have shown is that we need a different mindset, and a different understanding of an organisation, which should be seen as a dynamic, behavioural entity where everything is interconnected, not a static collection of assets.
This requires many business leaders to adopt a different mentality; away from the compartmentalisation and a rigid hierarchy where the development of people is treated as a separate department, and towards an approach where this is seen as the responsibility of the whole management community.
The mindset of leaders plays a crucial role in engaging employees. So how can we recognise good and bad behaviours? There are some examples of the traits that an un-engaging leader might have. He/she might be:
• Disconnected: being emotionally detached from the team and taking little interest in individual members
• Controlling: micromanaging and leading by controlling rather than sharing information
• Self-focused: keeping interesting tasks and projects for themselves, denying others the opportunity to develop
• Bullying: delegating but then bullying and blaming others when things go wrong
• Negative: failing to encourage, praise or reward good performance; focussing on negative aspects of performance and ignoring the positives
• Arrogant: self-focussed and taking all the glory for themselves without acknowledging contributions from other members of the team
• Rigid: imposing strict procedures, rules and regulations, rather than encouraging personal initiative
• Dictatorial: managing on the basis of fear and obedience; failing to engage in dialogue, giving directions without any justification or ‘buy–in’
• Unsupportive: providing little or no guidance and mentoring to team members
• Indecisive: failing to resolve problems due to disinterest or indecision
• Impatient: often stressed and frustrated, arguing and shouting at subordinates
• Insensitive: reprimanding individuals in front of colleagues, taking pleasure in putting others down
• Visionless: lacking in energy, enthusiasm, ideas and vision that would inspire and motivate others
• Profit-driven: driven solely by the pursuit of profit as opposed to organisational purpose and service quality
In order for leaders and organisations to succeed in becoming more engaging focus must be put on both mindset and culture. Key words for companies with effective employee engagement include collaboration, trust, transparency, purpose, and teamwork. When organisations achieve all of these, engagement, innovation, performance and profit follow suit.
Organisations with the most effective employee engagement strategies can raise performance and involvement across the whole organization in many dimensions, unleashing the potential of all the people employed. The behaviour and ethos of a leader plays a crucial role in achieving this. Optimal leaders treat innovation and strategy as an ongoing challenge for the whole team, not just a handful of decisions to be made by the Board, they give autonomy to employees to experiment with new ideas; and distribute decision making on the basis of knowledge rather than formal position in organisational hierarchy.
The implications for the HR-related professions are immense, as people and business development need to become more closely integrated at every level of management. For example, employee engagement scores and responses to training programmes need to become more closely tailored to current and emerging business needs. It is not enough to report contented participants; there needs to be a will to demonstrate added value – which may be defined more broadly than accounting profit – to the wider business.
We may be some time away from the brink of a cultural change across UK management to viewing people and their engagement as being a strategic necessity. However, thanks to ongoing research in the area, the extensive benefits of successful employee engagement to an organisation can now be conclusively demonstrated.