Employee Engagement: does it deliver a 21st Century organisation?

Of all the current focus areas of management practice, the whole notion of employee engagement stands out as possessing a high degree of face validity. We have all been there.  We can appreciate the impact of our own unique workplace and the relationship we have with our superior on our motivation, commitment and productivity. The challenge is that our past experience does not necessarily mirror the new realities in the current and future world of work. The workplace itself is at a point of tectonic change, occasioned by the thrust of the Fourth Industrial Revolution becoming reality before our very eyes.

Lifelong learning, contingent forms of employment and adaption to career step changes, in and outside of corporates is already upon us. What then, does employee engagement mean in this changing context, since Gallup first developed the G12 questions almost 20 years ago.?

In my experience, ineffective leadership coupled with misaligned organisational design, are the biggest barriers to successful employee engagement. There are three levels at which engagement can fail or succeed and all need to be addressed by leadership, rather than left to HR, juggling one side of the triangle with a survey.

  • Strategic – Am I aligned or inspired by the strategy of my organization? Can I find purpose and meaning in either its aspirations or how it goes about achieving them?
  • Structural – There are design impediments to me being fully engaged including how my work is structured, how I am paid, how I collaborate with colleagues, the opportunities for learning, and how I am empowered to do meaningful work.
  • Workplace – the way I am able to communicate, interact and relate to my leaders and co-workers, the attitudes and mindsets of my fellow workers and recognition of my contribution

How then do some of the more successful engagement programmes address these levels?  My experience suggests the following are key to any organization wanting to be ‘future-fit’:

  1. Don’t seek perfection. Not everyone will ever, at the same time, be fully engaged at work. But do aim that, overall, a critical mass of your people are engaged most of the time.
  1. Go beyond traditional employment definitions. Try to understand who really delivers value, since not everyone gives equal value, and not everyone who delivers value is an employee. Don’t forget the CX element!
  1. Remove the barriers to engagement at levels 1 and 2. This is a whole organization approach – excellent and sustained engagement is a wholesale cultural adjustment.
  1. Rethink the role of managers. Equip managers with a clear mandate, critical knowledge and skillsets which champion engagement and success. This means investing time and resources in the change we want to see (Hint – it’s not going to happen by osmosis!).
  1. Look to the future. Plan how the organization needs to look for 5-10 years ahead. Assure and proactively equip your people for future roles and co-create space for meaningful innovation – future and design thinking is a critical skill and builds commitment – ‘I belong!’. Diversity of teams and viewpoints need to be built in as part of future-thinking.
  1. Lead by example. If it is not happening at the top, it’s unlikely to happen lower down. Engagement requires a conscious choice and commitment by leaders at the top to actively live out high engagement practices. Everything leaders say and do (and don’t say and do) sends a message. Celebrate with your people and communicate what’s working and what the future holds.
  1. Inform your shareholders and other stakeholders what the organizational change involves and seek their commitment to the journey – leadership is not just executive.
  1. Share the learning formally through brand communications and informally such as videos, art and culture: this deepens knowledge of the success story widely, generates experiences of truly belonging and builds loyalty at all levels.

Ian Paterson is Head of Strategy and Digitisation at N2Growth Africa EMEAA and is a consultant and facilitator in the fields of strategy, organisational design, and change management. Ian will be speaking more about the strategic challenges and solutions at the 2019  ALL-AFRICA EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT INDABA & CONFERENCE in Johannesburg 17-18 September. Indaba is free to HR professionals and HR Futures readers can access 15% discount to the Conference by using the code HRFutures2019 when booking here.

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