Employee Engagement is Not Enough - Page 1

Oct 23, 2009

Theresa Welbourne

The topic of employee engagement is getting more attention today as leaders look toward 2010 and start to think about how to grow their businesses while simultaneously motivating and retaining high performing employees. The popularity and ease of using survey tools has led many firms to jump-start this effort using traditional employee survey data.

This brings technology front and center of many employee engagement initiatives because, in most cases, data are being collected from online surveys, and reports are provided using some form of technology. In this paper, I make the case that traditional employee engagement approaches may not be what you need. This is because, for some subsets of your employee population, working to increase traditional employee engagement survey scores may backfire and lower performance. In today's fragile economy, backfiring is not a good strategy. Lowering performance is particularly problematic. Thus, understanding the conditions under which employee performance may increase or decrease is key for success.

Valour Pulse is the name I’ve given to a diagnostic process developed from 20 years of work on the drivers of firm performance. Valour is an acronym that stands for the four key constructs:

  • Val stands for the degree to which employees feel valued by their managers and peers.
  • O represents the degree to which employees feel a sense of ownership in their job and in their company.
  • U is for sense-of-urgency or the culture or atmosphere for moving forward in a fast-paced environment.
  • R reflects the rewards that employees feel they receive and that rewards are fair.

The valour survey provides a diagnostic tool that shows the percentage of employees that are highly engaged, at risk of turnover, or disengaged. It also highlights those employees for whom small changes will lead to higher performance. Lastly, it shows what you do not get with traditional approaches to engagement, i.e., which percentage of your employees are in an entitlement state and are most likely to resist change. It is the last group, the entitled demographic, that will experience lower performance by increasing scores on traditional employee engagement items.

Engaged in What?

The valour survey work focuses on not just the question of how many employees in your organization are engaged, but what they are engaged in. This is critical because what employees are engaged in doing at work is more important than if they are, or, are not engaged. For those in the entitled group, you first have to lower their value, ownership, and rewards (val-o-r). By doing this, you instill a sense of urgency for change. Our experience to date with clients shows that urgency is more difficult to manage and change than val-o-r.

We have not met an organization or manager who can move the entitled person from entitled to fully engaged without first lowering val-o-r. That’s because the entitled individuals are accustomed to getting rewarded for not doing much at work. Why would they change? They need a burning platform, or some incentive to move and that does not come from giving them more rewards. Keep in mind that in a traditional employee engagement survey, a manager would be coached to simply raise the scores of these individuals because most engagement surveys do not assess urgency; they measure aspects that could be bundled into the val-o-r buckets.

This would explain why, recently, a company that won the Most Engaged Company of the Year award later that same week declared bankruptcy. "Engaged in what?" becomes the important question to answer. People with an entitlement mindset are engaged in doing less work, doing less focused activities and, perhaps, in resisting the type of changes needed to drive the company forward. They might be converted by using the intervention described above or they may need to be managed out of the organization.

Mass Confusion

In our ongoing studies within clients and in the Leadership Pulse work (a research study gathering and distributing data among 15,000 global leaders done since 2003), we have found that every year employees, managers and even the most senior leaders are getting more and more confused at work. That is why the "Engaged in what?" question is so critical. We also find that asking employees questions and doing survey work once a year simply is not enough if you want to manage your people well.

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Tags: productivity, employee morale, motivation, eePulse, Welbourne,

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