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  • Heather Polivka

8 Reasons Most Employee Engagement Efforts Fail - Part 1

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.

On a global level, it is even worse. Only 15% of workers are engaged (Gallup Jan’21).

Employee Engagement was first a “thing” when it was introduced in an academic journal in 1990 by Kahn in his “Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work” article.

We have had three decades to work on engagement and have only achieved shifting it from 1:4 workers being engaged in 2000 to the 1:3-ish today.

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 moving the dial on employee engagement?

So far, I have come up with the eight primary reasons for why employee engagement efforts within companies are not more effective. In this first of the two-part series, I will discuss the first four reasons:

#1 There is no Engagement Strategy.

Only 25% of companies have an engagement strategy (Bain, 2018), even though 90% of leaders believe that engagement would help their business results.

I would assert that the other 75% are either not working on engagement, relying upon technology to do the engagement for them (more on that later), or throwing spaghetti tactics up against the wall to see what sticks with little research or data to guide them. None of these will move the dial on the employee experience or the outcome of engagement.

There is no “silver bullet” when it comes to Engagement. That is exactly why there needs to be a strategic and thoughtful anchor to a broad set of coordinated plans and tactics to move the dial.

Think of it like a head coach headed into a championship game. Do you know who (in this case what) you are up against? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your team? What lessons from the past can you carry forward? Do you have all the equipment you need? Do you have people in key roles? Where are you playing and how might that affect the game? Do you have a playbook? Does everyone know the playbook?

No head coach of any sport would start their season without a thoughtful plan and an objective to win. So why are we doing that when it comes to engagement?

#2 Do Not Address The #1 Reasons Employees Leave.

Earlier in my career, I had a job I LOVED. And I do mean, loved. My supervisor changed over and, suddenly, it was hell. I left. My story is not unique. In fact, 75% of people leave companies because of their bosses or immediate supervisors (Gallup 2017). I’ve seen a number of additional studies since then and the number tends to be between 60% to 75%.

Now guess which group are the most under-trained for their positions? First time managers.

A 2015 study designated this group the most underappreciated and undertrained employees in any company (Root, 2015). Forbes shared in 2018 that 98% of middle managers (yes, you read that right, 98%) felt that 40% of new managers were unprepared for their roles. It gets worse. They also felt that less than half were highly effective in their roles. When asked about their personal experience, 87% of middle managers wished they had received more management training when they first became managers.

I’ve seen a lot of management training and development plans for first-time managers within Fortune 500 organizations. They are not pretty. Oh sure, all of the compliance items get checked off the list. They might even learn about doing reviews as a once-a-year event.

Unfortunately, most first-time mangers do not get the training that addresses the day-to-day realities of how to be a great people leader. Recognition & Praise. Setting Expectations and holding people accountable. Shifting from an individual contributor to getting work done through others. Active Listening. Leveraging the talents and knowledge of your team. Not needing to know all the answers, rather how to get the answers.

Employee Engagement efforts are worthless if we do not address and support the most important influencer in the employee experience: their supervisor.

One of my first leadership roles was an Assistant Manager at The Gap. Yes, they taught us how to do payroll, count the tills, do the scheduling, etc. The most important part of their training, though, was a very simple book called the One Minute Manager. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not holding this up as THE standard for first-time manager training. And yet, a sad reality is that I got better first-time manager training as an Assistant Manager of a retail chain when I was 20 to set me up as a people leader than most get in office settings today.

#3 Missing the Human Touch.

Ever get a form letter of thanks? How much does that touch your heart? Or rather, how quickly does that go into the garbage? Ever stay on the line for a robocall?

What about now, during COVID? Are you aching for another zoom call? Or would you trade it in an instant for the opportunity to be with people, in person (safely)?

Today, texting a photo, sending a text, or emailing an e-card is really easy. Wouldn’t it hold a little more sentiment if you were to receive a hand-written postcard?

Think about it. The person needs to actually know your home address. They took the time to physically purchase a card. They wrote it by hand. They bought a stamp and mailed it. A physical manifestation of their sentiments arrives in your home…a tangible, physical expression. Your spouse sees it as they get the mail. You pin it to your office wall.

In these days where so much is virtual, a human element, no matter how small, carries so much greater impact.

While this relates to #2 and #4 on this list, I thought it important enough to call out specifically. Particularly for the times we are currently living in. A human element makes a huge difference. Scale is great, but for impact….there is nothing like another human letting you know you are seen and valued for who you are and what you contribute.

We need more human in our engagement efforts.

#4 Technology Driven versus Technology Supported.

Last I checked in November 2020, there were 162 technology platforms that claimed to address employee engagement. 162.

Why have the overall employee engagement numbers remained stagnant as all of these technology platforms have been introduced?

Before we dive into this further, let me share how much I love a good employee engagement platform. I geek out. Seriously. I am not anti-technology. Technology is great for scale and ease. For that reason, these technology platforms can be a great SUPPORT to enabling an engagement strategy and scaling some of the tactics.

There is a distinct difference between leveraging technology for ease and scale versus thinking a technology is “the solution”. Unfortunately, many companies who purchase an employee engagement technology platform think it is THE solution. The engagement technology is implemented, and they think they can check engagement off the list…NEXT! That is not the appropriate use of these awesome platforms.

Let’s use a personal example to illustrate technology supported vs. technology as the solution. I send electronic invites to my events (pre-COVID) via Evites, Facebook events, etc.. Ease and scale of issuing the invitation, but the technology is not the event itself.

We are all using Zoom, Google Meets, Facebook Live, etc to connect remotely with people. I’ll be using one of these platforms to host a virtual murder mystery party (so fun!). The technology provides the ease and scale for us to connect virtually. And that is not the same as the actual human connection, sharing, laughter, role-playing and problem-solving that will happen as part of the murder mystery during the zoom.

The closest we can get right now to technology being the solution is self-driving cars…and think about the hesitation that so many people have in self-driving cars! It used to be that the technology was the car for ease and scale of transport but was not the driving itself. That boundary is being seriously pushed right now with self-driving cars. And yet, a human still needs to tell the technology where to drive to and from.

To move the dial on engagement, technology is available to support the work for ease and scale. Combine the support of technology with the impact of human, high-touch noted in #3 and now you can really start to move the dial.

Technology supports a strategy. It provides scale and ease to engagement efforts. It is not an engagement solution in and of itself.

These first four reasons are a strong start as to why most Engagement efforts aren’t moving the dial on Employee Engagement. Join us for Part 2 of this blog next week when we reveal reasons #5 through #8 as to what is missing in most employee engagement and employee experience efforts.

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

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