For engagement to take root and provide a sustainable foundation for business performance, an organisation needs engaging leadership and engaging management
Despite huge interest in employee engagement and a growing industry in measurement, the level of engaged employees has barely moved in the past 10 years. So what’s going on? Smart businesses know that it is not enough to simply measure and focus on the numbers – leaders and managers need to be both engaged and engaging for business success.
In 2001, Gallup stated that in the US, just 25 per cent of the workforce was engaged and 19 per cent were actively disengaged. Ten years on, BlessingWhite’s Employee Index reported a worldwide average of 31 per cent engaged and 17 per cent disengaged.
In our work with major organisations all over the world we have noticed that for some, their efforts to measure and boost engagement can become counterproductive. This effect arises from several sources, such as treating the act of measuring engagement as the engagement activity itself, rather than as an indicator of organisational health and connectivity; seeing engagement as something separate from leadership – a responsibility owned by HR rather than a fundamental aspect of managing the business; and focusing just on boosting the numbers rather than addressing the underlying issues. It arises also from generating a set of processes rather than engaging people in dialogue; trying to impose generic activities rolled out across the organisation; and measuring and then not taking action.
Building engagement into the business operation is not just about systems and processes – it’s about people, and the primary people are the organisation’s leaders and managers. For engagement to take root and provide a sustainable foundation for business performance, an organisation needs engaging leadership and engaging management.
It is hard to engage others if you’re not engaged yourself, and there’s no guarantee that being in a position of authority is a guarantee of engagement. In fact, when working with a leading insurance company looking to create a more “engaged and enabled” culture, one of the first questions we asked leaders and managers was “how engaged are you, and what would increase your level of engagement?” Their responses identified things they wanted their own bosses to do and things they realised they could initiate themselves.
So, what can leaders practically do to help increase their own and other’s levels of engagement?
During the Strategic HR Network’s 6th Annual Congress in March 2011, we heard presenters from Diageo and Standard Chartered Bank talk about the practical actions that leaders in their businesses were taking to increase and sustain levels of engagement. We facilitated conversations between participants at the Congress to compare the lessons from the presented examples with their own organisations’ experiences. The conclusions we came to were that the key actions leaders need in order to raise levels of engagement are: telling a compelling story of the company, the current reality and future vision; being in contact with employees, involving people to help the business address its challenges and achieve its vision; and empathic listening – if you want to hear the employee voice you have to listen to it, with respect and an open mind.
The challenge of creating sustainable levels of engagement lies in the constant attention of leaders and managers on all the people around them: treating people as individuals, building trust, inviting contributions and comment, coaching and developing them. If you want to address engagement, do it engagingly.