7 insights from Talent Lab 2

Employee Engagement | 04 April 2016

As we wrap up the second PageUp Talent Lab, “has the war for talent become a crusade for engagement?”, allow me to share with you 7 notable insights, as well as some of my favourite posts.

1. It’s about alignment, not happiness

Today’s definition of employee engagement is a little more discerning and precise than when the term first worked its way into business lingo. We have moved away from descriptors of employee satisfaction and happiness at work toward a worker’s alignment with their workplace on 4 levels:

  • alignment with the organisation’s vision, values and purpose
  • alignment with the work environment and conditions
  • alignment with the people – leaders, managers, colleagues
  • alignment with the job – its challenge and scope for personal growth.

These four factors represent the variables that employees directly and indirectly use to evaluate their commitment to the organisation. Not all four need to rate high at once and they may fluctuate over time. Their combination gives each employee a unique engagement profile and any one or a combination of them can trigger a change in both discretionary effort and intention to stay.

2. Surveys are on the nose

A growing undercurrent of scepticism surrounds employee engagement surveys. There is tacit agreement that some sort of measure is necessary for two reasons:

  • as a metric that provides an internal benchmark against which improvements or deterioration can be tracked, and
  • as an external benchmark to provide evidence for the employment value proposition and being a great place to work.

That said, measuring engagement through annual surveys attracts the following criticism:

  • lack of alignment to business outcomes
  • long, boring attempts to measure too many things
  • data integrity issues
  • leadership lip service to engagement
  • poor track record of actioning survey results, and overall
  • survey fatigue

3. HR produces ‘train track’ metrics

In too many instances, business metrics and HR metrics run in parallel, like train tracks, never converging to jointly create insights into business challenges and opportunities.

Not enough HR units can answer questions such as “what does an increased engagement score mean for our revenue, profitability, customer satisfaction or growth?”

In the Lab, we referred to it as measurement myopia, a condition in which the afflicted can no longer recall why the measure exists but relentlessly pursues it.

4. Generational stereotypes are over-stated

We expected to hear that engaging millennials needs to look markedly different to engaging the ‘traditional’ workforce. We didn’t. On the contrary, we heard that the strongest drivers of engagement are not delineated by generational differences. Rather, they reflect changes to societal expectations of the workplace, with all generations valuing:

  • flexibility
  • autonomy
  • making an impact
  • collaborative colleagues, and
  • meaningful work.

5. Technology is under-rated

Connectivity through technology was not seen as a key driver of engagement, despite growing employee expectations of consumer-like social and mobile online experiences at work.

In the engagement conversation, technology’s current role appears to be in the tracking and measurement of it. Understandably, significantly greater weight is put to human interactions and the vision and purpose of the organisation, and the employees’ connections to these.

That said, I wouldn’t be too quick to downplay the importance of technology – to anything in our future. Just try to extricate someone (or yourself) from their favourite device and see how strong that connection is.

6. Performance and engagement are two sides of the same coin

Which comes first – high performance or high engagement? The popular press most frequently establishes the need for high engagement to elicit high performance (typically because it unleashes discretionary effort). But we found it works the other way around as well: high performance also inspires higher levels of engagement (people love to be on winning teams). There is also an interesting paradox at play here:

  • You can drive high performance without the necessity for engagement (at least in the short term). How? Pay more and set serious stretch targets.
  • You can also create a highly engaged workforce with poor performance outcomes. Happy, happy, happy – but we’re going broke.

Leaders agreed that there needs to be a business-specific balance between the recognition of high performance and fostering an engaging workplace.

7. Mobilising brand ambassadors strikes a chord

Finally, we found strong support for the concept of employee engagement feeding brand ambassador programs such as Adobe’s SocialShift. Smart companies are recognising the power of authentic employee-initiated social media in place of shiny corporate marketing campaigns to sell both the customer and employment value propositions.

Most organisations we spoke with saw great upside opportunities in this realm that remain largely untapped right now.

That’s the 7.

In the coming weeks, we kick-off Talent Lab 3 “Organisational performance – how can HR move the needle?”   Before I go, here are my 5 favourite posts from Talent Lab 2 on PageUp Talent.

  1. When a flower dies, we don’t blame the flower, by Maree Merrett
  1. The Cobra Effect, by John Sumser
  1. The new laws of engagement, by Jane Lewis
  1. Digging deep to align values and engagement, by Michelle Greenhalgh
  1. Engaging with multiple personalities, by Vaughan Paul

A big thank you to all our amazing contributors!

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