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  • Heather Polivka

8 Reasons Employee Engagement Efforts Fail - Part 2

We’re Baa-aack!

Thanks for coming back to dig further into the key reasons we believe that we have made so little progress in moving the dial on employee engagement in the past 30 years.

As a refresher: We are back at pre-COVID levels of employee engagement in the US (Gallup Oct ’20). That means about 1 in 3 works are engaged. 1 in 3. Ugh.

Study after study supports that higher engagement drives increased customer satisfaction, increased productivity and profitability, and lower rates of turnover, defects, and safety incidents.

So why so little progress?

In Part 1 of this blog, we covered the first four reasons:

#1 There is no Engagement Strategy.

#2 Most Engagement Efforts Do Not Address The #1 Reasons Employees Leave.

#3 Missing the Human Touch.

#4 Technology Driven versus Technology Supported.

Now let’s dive into the Final Four reasons:

#5 Engagement Efforts Do Not Address Key Aspects of Employee Experience

McKinsey, Gallup, Forrester and more have done extensive research on the key aspects of the employee experience that people care about and which impact engagement. While there are minor variations, they all come down to some form of the following:

1. Organization will be successful.

2. Growth and Development

3. Safety and Security

4. Social Cohesion

5. Trusting Relationships

6. Purpose and Valued.

7. Technology

8. Work Environment

We mentioned in #1 the lack of a strategy to guide the path of a number of engagement efforts and tactics. There is not a single one of these eight areas of the employee experience that are easy. If you don’t have a strategy and roadmap, it is inevitable that something will be missed.

Think of it like each of these eight items are a major aspect of planning a wedding: Dress. Location. Officiant. Etc. While a wedding is still a wedding without hosting a reception. The question is whether it was designed that way and expectations set accordingly, or was the reception just forgotten.

Many engagement efforts at companies are missing one or more of these eight areas. And it isn’t by design.

Or, worse, effort is put towards something that doesn’t really make a difference or won’t impact engagement in a meaningful way.

I once had a technology leader who felt strongly that we needed to be like Google to compete with Google for tech talent. Here was the problem with this theory: We weren’t Google. If we worked so hard to represent ourselves as “like Google” and they joined us only to find no nap pods or ping pong tables, much less lacking a tech-centric work environment, those people were going to be right out the door and we would be back at square one.

Whether talent will expect nap pods is entirely dependent upon the expectations set by a company …through their brand experience, mission, values, culture, leader messages, and the messages talent got while going through the hiring process. Basically, what promises were made and does your experience…in these eight areas…. match up?

Last, but not least on this point, a lot of leaders think that addressing engagement is about the latest, greatest replacement for a happy hour. Social Cohesion is one of the eight areas and an area that people are missing right now, so doing a virtual murder mystery or virtual scavenger hunt isn’t a bad idea. In fact, go for it! It will be fun! Do that with eyes wide open that the one virtual social event ..or even a number of social events….will not, in and of themselves, move the dial on engagement.

#6 Does Not Address Leaders Not “Walking The Talk”

Speaking of promises, how many leaders do you think are aware of the promises made by a company? Sure, many can recite their mission and values. What about their purpose? Brand Promises? Leader Messages? What was said last week in the All-Team Meeting?

From my experience working with leaders from all companies of all sizes and industries, the answer is: very few.

A key aspect of the employee experience is whether employees experience the promises made by a company and its leaders as being realized in the eight areas of the work experience they care about.

I believe most leaders want to be great leaders and good stewards for the company. But how can leaders ensure these promises are kept if they aren’t even aware of what they are? How can leaders “walk the talk” with their people if they don’t know what the talk is that they are supposed to be walking? With everything that is asked of leaders, why would leaders prioritize walking the talk and advancing the culture if it isn’t prioritized and made a bit easier to do?

Few companies have collected their promises into a single place for easy reference. As a result, most leaders do not know the talk to walk.

If these promises have been gathered and leaders are aware, seldom do we see the deep work done to create a shared understanding of what keeping these promises looks like, sounds like, and feel like. Left to their own devices, each person interprets for themselves. So, inadvertently, leaders aren’t Being The Talk.

The outcome? Leaders lead with their own interpretation of the promises they can recall or their point of view of the experience they want to create. The experience of working in one division, function, or team is different from the next. Some teams are ones you want to be a part of, and some teams are the ones you want to avoid. Most engagement efforts do not tackle this common phenomenon in any meaningful way.

#7 Engagement Tactics are Not Tangible or Actionable

Many Fortune 500 companies do an annual employee engagement survey. Then, based upon the score of your area, a team would be pulled together to review the results, put together recommendations, and then implement some portion of those recommendations. This would generally take three to five months. To what affect? Somewhere between none and minimal, but it checked the box of “we listened and responded” to employee feedback.

It reminded me of when I landed in passport control in Russia about ten years ago. I went to station after station, with papers in octuplicate (had to look that up…it’s a real thing…means eight copies), aggressive stamping at each station, some took a copy of the papers and some did not. At the end, I had 3 pieces of paper with about ten stamps on it. I exited passport control, they stamped again, giving me back 2 pieces of paper. What did all of this achieve? I’m uncertain except for the fact that I had just spent 45 minutes to get a net-net of 11 stamps and 2 pieces of paper.

Too many employee engagement efforts are not tangible. They aren’t actionable. They aren’t clear about what they are trying to achieve. They are a flurry of activity to what end? How should a manager kick off their team meeting today to create social cohesion? What could a manager share in a 1:1 meeting that would build trusting relationships? What is a team activity that will be fun, build social cohesion and develop the team? How does a team member understand it is just as much their job to make their peers feel valued as it is their supervisors?

These are the types of questions that an employee engagement strategy and its resulting tactics address.

#8 No Connection To Customer Experience

This may be last on the list, but it is not the least important. In fact, quite the opposite. We started and ended this list with two of the most important aspects that are missing from most employee engagement work.

I am inspired and enthusiastic about HR taking on the employee experience to impact the outcome called engagement. What is interesting is how much of this work is happening in a silo, not connected to the work that their marketing department has done on the customer experience.

Who delivers on the customer experience? Employees.

So how could we possibly design and work on employee experience without connecting it to how it ultimately delivers on the customer experience? How can we justify the resources to focus on employee experience if we do not tie it to how it drives business strategy and business outcomes with our customers?

The sense of purpose and mission of many companies point to an impact outside of the organization. That sense of purpose and impact is one of the eight areas that employees care about. It is a missed opportunity to not leverage that sense of purpose and impact to connect the employee experience to the customer experience.

When employees experience the promises in their day-to-day work…in the focus of their work, how their work is prioritized, how decisions are made, what behavior is rewarded and so much more…and when they are empowered to deliver on these same promises to the customers, they do. They do it to such an extent that the profitability of companies in the top quartile of engagement outperform companies in the bottom quartile of engagement by 10% on customer satisfaction.

Employee experience work to improve engagement needs to be tied to the customer experience to move the dial more effectively on engagement and produce the ROI to justify the business case to undertake these efforts in the first place.

Phew. Simple, but not easy.

This concludes our list of the eight key reasons why most employee engagement efforts are not as effective as they could be. We do not suggest that tackling employee engagement and addressing these eight opportunities is easy. It is not.

There has been more progress made in impacting the customer experience over the past 30 years than there has the employee experience. Too many studies and company examples exist to demonstrate that creating an employee-centric work experience, connected to the customer experience, yields strong business results. It is possible to address these eight gaps through investment in many of the things we have discussed in these two blogs:

- Invest in creating an Engagement strategy.

- Train, support, and value first-time managers to grow as great people leaders.

- Invest in high-touch, human touch points.

- Leverage technology for scale and ease, but not as a replacement for the other items on this list.

- Ensure the strategy and tactics address the eight key aspects of the employee experience on an ongoing basis.

- Define what it means to “Walk The Talk” of your company as a leader, at a tangible level.

- Make engagement tangible and actionable. Marketing creates engagement plans for target consumers, the same can be done internally for employees and managers.

- Connect the employee experience work to the customer experience work to create an end-to-end brand experience.

It is possible. It is simple, but not easy. Employee engagement efforts pay off when done well. We would love to see more companies, and their employees, benefit from their engagement efforts. It’s a win-win waiting to happen.

Interested in discussing your engagement efforts? Want to explore how we might help or support? Schedule a no-obligation strategy call now!

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