Employee engagement is like eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly: We know it’s important and everyone talks about it, but most of us don’t do a very good job of it.
Researchers have been measuring employee engagement at work for almost two decades. But since 2000, when Gallup began annual surveys, the percentage of employees who say they are engaged at work has never risen above 33%.
For some groups, such as millennials, the levels are even lower.
But engagement still matters. Engaged employees stay longer at their jobs, which reduces turnover costs. And research shows that companies with the most engaged employees are more profitable and deliver greater shareholder value than their less engaged peers.
A Common Struggle to Engage Employees
A core reason companies struggle to engage employees is that they don’t define it clearly. Some vague notion of “employee satisfaction or commitment” isn’t enough.
Take the case of a heavy equipment company that had employees who loved their jobs and were highly engaged with the company. But their employees had difficulty working across organizational boundaries. This missing link — how connected employees were with each other across the organization — had major repercussions for the firm. These company silos slowed the company down in a highly competitive market, leading to flat sales.
Another company, a large healthcare provider, wasn’t engaging employees well despite leaders’ efforts to communicate consistently about organizational strategy and goals. In reality, large segments of the workforce were disengaged with their job tasks — no amount of talk about organizational strategy was going to help these employees overcome the staffing challenges they faced on the frontlines. The company missed the mark because it didn’t accurately measure how engaged employee were.
It’s not that these 2 companies — and many others like them — don’t want their employees to be more engaged. And it’s not that they aren’t trying to measure and improve it. It’s just that they don’t measure or manage engagement efforts in the most effective way.
A recent Harvard Business School Publishing Report found that managers and leadership development experts from many organizations agree that creating engaged employees is a key goal of leadership development efforts. The Association for Talent Development found that high-performing organizations list engagement as a priority for their leaders.
We use a leader-first approach as described in our newest white paper, Improving Employee Engagement: The E4 Solution for Leaders.
As a practical matter, leaders are called upon to find ways to engage employees because they are most likely to take day-to-day responsibility for improving employee engagement.
So how do leaders know what to focus on? Do frontline employees need to understand the company’s high-level strategy and goals? Does every worker need to have a friend at work? Is there some managerial magic to ensuring that every direct report loves their job?
We have developed a data-driven framework to assess engagement and determine how leaders can best improve it. What works for leaders in one organization may not work in another. The framework looks at 4 levels:
- Leader Engagement: How employees are connected to and energized by their leaders.
- Job Engagement: How involved and absorbed employees are in their work.
- Team Engagement: To what degree employees are motivated and energized by their coworkers.
- Organizational Engagement: How passionate employees are about the organization as a whole.
These 4 areas are based on our research and decades of hands-on work with leaders and organizations around the world. They give companies a data-driven approach to assessing their engagement and identifying what leadership competencies, leadership culture, or climate factors – if properly developed — are most likely to increase these scores.
The E4 Process
With this data-driven framework as a foundation, we’ve developed the E4 process that enables companies to identify what changes their leaders can make to improve employee engagement — and reap the benefits that come with it.
The E4 Process has 3 major phases:
- Phase 1: We develop a plan in partnership with your organization that starts by identifying business priorities, desired outcomes, and how to measure these outcomes. The plan usually includes interviews and focus groups with key stakeholders to ensure alignment, identify common barriers, and gather critical insights. This also helps us partner with the organization to determine which leader competencies, culture, or organizational climate factors have the most potential for increased success.
- Phase 2: During the second phase, we conduct a thorough assessment and analysis of engagement in the organization based on each of the 4 areas — leader, job, team, and organizational engagement. We also gather data about the extent to which leaders demonstrate the competencies, leader culture dimensions, or organizational climate factors that have the most potential for improving engagement. Using analytics, we identify the factors that best predict higher engagement. That subset of factors becomes the foundation around which we design and deliver a targeted leadership development initiative to make leaders highly effective at driving engagement.
- Phase 3: Finally, we work with your organization to create measurable action plans for individual leaders. We measure changes over time and how that impacts the business priorities identified in Phase 1.
We’re not suggesting that improving employee engagement is simple or even easy, but it is possible. And it can transform your organization’s ability to get results. The E4 process provides a systematic, data-driven, measurable process to give your employee engagement a sustainable shot in the arm.
For more information, download our white paper, Improving Employee Engagement: The E4 Solution for Leaders.